Damon Albarn – Dr Dee (Parlophone/EMI) CD REVIEW

WELL, IT’S A long way from Britpop, but then, so is Gorillaz.
Dr Dee, however, is an almost stupendously – preposterously? – ambitious project for someone whose career to date, apart from some canny lyric writing and some careful choices of band mates, amounts to a whole lot of monotone mumbling.
Apparently it’s tangentially connected to an opera about a certain John Dee, a Renaissance-era astronomer and advisor to royalty. “Fascinating!” you may well mutter, under your breath.
Unfortunately, there’s no actual story/libretto, and it really just comes across like 17 often excruciatingly arty vignettes. It’s never less than eccentric. ‘Apple Carts’ comes across like some perverted idea of Elizabethan minstrelsy, but the very next song, ‘O Spirit, Animate Us’, is like a prayer rendered by counter tenors and ancient music consort; a liturgy. There are members of the BBC Philharmonic and vocal group Palace Voices. There are harpsichords, chimes, oboes, and austere operatic bits that sometimes stick in the craw. Oh, and organ.
Albarn should probably be applauded for having the temerity, in the conservative climate of modern pop, to attempt something as outlandish as this, and there are some genuinely touching, lovely moments. But it would have needed to have some kind of narrative or musical arc to make it comprehensible to one’s senses.
The problem with an album like this is that it’s almost impossible to get to grips with. Spend a lot of time with it, and it may get under your skin, or just cause a rash. I don’t feel inclined to risk it. GARY STEEL
Music = 3/5
Sound = 3.5/5

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