Review : Damon Albarn - Dr Dee
PitchforkThere was a very specific moment in Damon Albarn's career when he decided to think of England for a living. The year was 1992, and Blur were touring the U.S. in support of their underperforming debut, Leisure, a relatively tepid guitar-pop record of vague lyrics and the occasional explosive hook. Missing his homeland and repulsed by the self-serious, omnipresent grunge sound, he returned to England two months later with the intention of making music that was proudly, flagrantly British. It proved to be a good look for the band: with the release of their next two albums, the solid Modern Life is Rubbish in 1993 and the sparkling Parklife in 1994, Blur transformed their image from late-era Madchester tag-alongs to pop's most incisive inquisitors of the British way of life. This was in great part thanks to Albarn's character-driven lyrics: Rubbish's no-name 20th-Century Boy and 20th-Century Girl and Parklife's Tracy Jacks (a sad sack civil servant who cracks one Tuesday morning and bulldozes his own house) warned of what could happen without the promise of tomorrows, the thrill of spontaneity, and a belief in a rather optimistic strain of anarchy it was not off base to call magic.
Two decades later, Albarn is exploring the idea of Britshness through a character and a form that's decidedly less modern. A departure from his most recent work with Gorillaz and the afro-inspired Rocket Juice & the Moon, Dr Dee is the stately, melancholy soundtrack to the opera Albarn wrote for theater director Rufus Norris. Dr Dee had a brief preliminary run in Manchester last year and will run again during the Cultural Olympiad this summer, but in the meantime Albarn-- never one for a second of downtime-- holed up with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded the tracks for what's being nominally presented as a solo album....full text
GuardianAny casual fans wondering what that Gorillaz singer Damon Albarn has been up to since the graphic outfit split last year will probably not find this album the most germane of listens. When you stick the Dr Dee CD into your computer, iTunes laughably categorises it as indie rock. It really isn't.
First staged at Manchester's international festival last year, Dr Dee is an operatic work that revisits John Dee, a renaissance man of the Elizabethan era. His expertise in mathematics and astronomy earned him the ear of Elizabeth I, but his thirst for occult knowledge led to his downfall. A more evolved version of the opera is due this summer, as part of the Cultural Olympiad.
This is also Albarn's first solo album proper (not counting the demo collection, Democrazy, from 2003), and Dr Dee finds the occasional Blur singer at his most heterogeneous: refracting folk and early church music through the African influences he has been steeped in since 2002's Mali Music. The album opens with running water, Devonian birdsong and an organ-heavy track called "The Golden Dawn", a reference to the magickal society probably best known to rock fans as the playground of Aleister Crowley.
A series of these ancient-modern polyphonic stylings alternate with more overtly operatic tracks. Of these, "Temptation Comes in the Afternoon" requires perhaps the biggest leap of faith from Albarn's core audience – too big, some will wail, scrabbling for their Parklife CD. But fans whose tastes have been emboldened by Albarn's forays away from the mainstream – such as his recent Afrobeat album with Rocket Juice & the Moon – will find much to engage them here.
The biggest draw comes in the folk-leaning songs. Beginning with "Apple Carts" and concluding with "The Dancing King" there is an Albarn solo album of sorts here, hidden among the stern runes. Erupting from the 16th century into the 21st, "The Marvelous Dream" is a polemic that opens with the fly-past in honour of Kate'n'Wills, before considering "alcohol, the holiday and the drug and bass drum"....full text
Thequietus"Tell me, Master Kelley, what shall become of me? Shall the name of Doctor Dee live on in everlasting glory, or in perfidious infamy?"
"In my scrying, sire, I see many things; a far flung age, where Good Queen Bess sits still upon the throne of England - yet 'tis not our own fair queen at all, and she rules, it seems, in name only. For the land is be-devilled, sire, by a foul pestilence; an upstart minister of two faces, of which one be called Clegge, the lesser of the two; and the other a wretch named Cameron, who hath assumed a power most heinous, and doth trample roughly o'er Britannia's greatest treasures..."...full text
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