Damon Albarn – Dr Dee

Damon Albarn – Dr Dee

4/5

2012

Between Blur, Gorillaz and the myriad other groups, projects and collaborations that bear Damon Albarn’s signature stamp, a common thread running through all his work is that his music generally finds its foundations in Britpop, electronica, hip-hop and African music. That’s what makes Dr Dee such a refreshing change of pace. Composing an opera about John Dee, an influential 16th century intellectual, Albarn’s normal music obsessions wouldn’t work in this context, so he strips everything back, leaning heavily on Elizabethan-era English folk without sacrificing his sense of songcraft. Unlike his first opera, the Chinese Journey To The WestDr Dee doesn’t feel like it needs the visual element to be thoroughly enjoyed: Rather than bits of background music, the tracks on Dr Dee more or less sound like actual songs, even if they are far from any sort of pop music tradition. Moreover, many of the songs here are among the most haunting that Albarn has ever penned. “Apple Carts” is a muted, minor-key ballad that descends on mournful recorders and strings; Albarn’s uplifting vocal and the sustained church organ in “O Spirit, Animate Us” veer it to something like a funeral hymn; “The Marvelous Dream” and “Cathedrals,” meanwhile, are like breaths of morning air among the melancholy. What helps the album from blurring into moody monochrome are the other vocalists, who not only make Dr Dee seem anything close to a traditional opera but add some liveliness to the proceedings, such as on “Watching The Fire That Waltzed Away.”  Also, Albarn can’t help but slide a bit of African influence in at times, getting longtime collaborator Tony Allen to play the kora and messing around with polyrhythms on “Preparation.” Anyone looking for the immediate pop highs of much of Albarn’s typical fare will be disappointed, but stick with it, and Dr Dee reveals itself to be a charming, intriguing collection. You are unlikely to hear anything like it all year.

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Posted on May 3, 2012, in Damon Albarn. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. This sounds like fun, thanks for the recommendation. 🙂

  2. I’m catching up on my blog reading after a 2-week break seeking Turkey 🙂 I looked this up after reading your review and heard samples from the album. I think I’m going to enjoy this very much. Thanks for the intro.

    • I was actually a bit surprised how much I enjoyed “Dr Dee” the whole way through. And I hope you enjoyed Turkey–a friend of mine went there recently, and it seems like a lovely place.

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