there is a spirit here that won't be broken

 

Thomas Dolby

 

While known mainly for "She Blinded Me With Science", Thomas Dolby has produced a few actual albums too. His early 80s stuff is quirky synthpop, and his 90s stuff is more atmospheric. The only aberration in this is the late-80s album Aliens Ate My Buick, which was total 80s cheese-funk (I heard it a long time ago, but unfortunately don't have it now). I can't imgaine he's going to be producing much more music in the future, as he's head of some software company now.

review index: The Golden Age of Wireless / The Flat Earth / Astronauts & Heretics / The Gate to the Mind's Eye

missing albums: Aliens Ate My Buick.

apex: The Gate to the Mind's Eye
nadir: The Golden Age of Wireless
overlooked: The Flat Earth


The Golden Age of Wireless - 1982

Rating: ***
Best songs: She Blinded Me With Science, One of Our Submarines, Airwaves, Flying North
Worst songs: Radio Silence, Europa and the Pirate Twins

 

Thomas Dolby may have been doomed to a life of session musicianitude had he not written "She Blinded Me With Science". After this album was released (and flopped), said song became a big hit in the US (thanks to MTV; it also ended up being his only hit, therefore putting him on the T'Pau level in the eye of the consumer), and as such said song was appended to the beginning of said album for re-release.

What the heck does this matter? Well, it explains as to why the album doesn't sound a thing like "Science" -- most if it is really atmospheric, though the odd song slips by that's irritatingly repetative (subject #1: "Radio Silence", which sounds like it could fit on a contemporaneous Jethro Tull record; subject #2: "Europa and the Pirate Twins", which at least spawned a nice sequel a few albums down the road). It's not bad on the whole, though, so I'll give it my generic rating.


The Flat Earth - 1984

Rating: ***1/2
Best songs: The Flat Earth, Dissidents, Hyperactive, Mulu the Rain Forest
Worst songs: ehn

 

The H.M.S. Griffin, a Star Constellation-class heavy cruiser, was cruising through warpspace on a routine patrol mission when, on the bridge, a small red light on the science console winked on. Lt. Zarrg, the Griffin's Rigellian science officer, pressed a few controls on the console and stated, "Captain, I'm detecting an increase in quality."

"Quality, Mr. Zarrg?" inquired Lee Strikefist, the Griffin's fearless commanding officer.

"Yes, sir," replied Zarrg. "Sensors indicate that Thomas Dolby has dispensed with the repetative synthpop stylings that polluted parts of his last release, The Golden Age of Wireless. He's embraced the atmospheric textures that were present on some of that album's best tracks, specifically 'Flying North' and 'Airwaves'. Though his second album, entitled The Flat Earth, only has seven tracks, every one of them is quality material."

"That's good to hear, Lieutenant. But what about 'She Blinded Me With Science'? Surely there's nothing on there as catchy as that!"

"Maybe not, but the title track, featuring vaguely worldbeat-style vocals, and the funky opener 'Dissidents' give it a run for the money," Zarrg said, hastily following it up with another "Sir."

Commander Faith Gibson, the Griffin's first officer and close friend of Captain Strikefist, swiveled in her chair away from her console and chimed in, "it sounds like Mr. Dolby is growing artistically, Captain. It's a shame he only produced three more albums after this one."

"That's true, Number One, but it's his prerogative if he wants to concentrate on developing software instead of making records. Besides, he's certainly higher-quality than other nonproductive artists like Tom Scholz. Mr. Zarrg, dispatch a probe to monitor Mr. Dolby, and then continue on our patrol course," said Strikefist. "As for now, I think it's quitting time. C'mon, let's go down to the lounge and get pissed!"

"This should prove about as dangerous to our health as that wizard's cap we found in the Yorke system," Gibson sighed, as the three moved towards the gravlift to meet their fermented destiny.


Astronauts & Heretics - 1992

Rating: ***
Best songs: I Love You Goodbye, Close But No Cigar, Silk Pajamas, Eastern Bloc
Worst songs: Neon Sisters, Cruel

 

This one takes a few listens to sink in. Or should that be, "this one takes a few listens in which to sink"? Anyway, the D-man has gone even farther away from that silly quirkiness of "She Blinded Me With Scientists" here, and has even enlisted the help of guitarists Eddie Van Halen, Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia (EVH on "Eastern Bloc" and "Close but No Cigar", and the Deadsters on the closing "Beauty of a Dream"), as well as a couple cajun musicians (on the awesome opener "I Love You Goodbye" and "Silk Pyjamas"). In other words, so much for synth-pop.

But hey, I'm not one to complain about a change of style, especially when the songs are still good. I won't lie to you -- "Cruel" is kinda dull, as is "Neon Sisters", but I'll stand up for the rest, pretty much. You've got your silly groover "Silk Pyjamas", epic balladry "I Love You Goodbye" and "I Live in a Suitcase", and a sequel that's kinda better than the original ("Eastern Block" v. "Europa and the Pirate Twins", to be precise). So why not try this out? After all, you can surely find it in a used bin somewhere.


The Gate to the Mind's Eye - 1994

Rating: ****1/2
Best songs: Quantum Mechanic, Moonbase, Nuvogue, Armageddon
Worst songs: N.E.O.

 

I realize that I'm probably alone in calling this album the best of Dolby's career, but this is a personal review website and, gosh darn it, it's not like I'm not Mr. Objectivity anyway. So yeah, this one tickles my fancy more than any of the others. Thomas has finally totally embraced the ambient bits that have creeped up on previous albums, resulting in several neat ambient synth tracks. "Armageddon" is the coolest of the lot, and is nicely uplifting, but there's also the epic "The Ascent of Man, parts I-VI" and some other ones that I won't mention just because I don't want to.

But pop music fans, don't worry! There's still sung tracks on here: "Armageddon" and "Quantum Mechanic" are simplistic techno-pop tunes, but man, they're so friggin' catchy in spite of that! "Nuvogue" is an absolutely hilarious big band number, and "Valley of the Mind's Eye" is a gorgeous ballad. The only crappy track on here, in fact, is the repetative "N.E.O.", featuring irritating spoken dialogue and Thomas Dolby rapping (well, that's what it's credit as, but it doesn't really sound like rapping to me). Nevertheless, the eight good songs on here more than make up for it, and heck, I think I'll give it a really high grade!


This is the end of the page. Return home now.