Damon Albarn doesn’t really give anyone a chance to miss him. When he’s not reuniting his legendary Britpop band Blur, he’s touring with Gorillaz’s cartoon miscreants or recording Congolese music for a charity album. Thus it’s not surprising that Albarn is already onto his second opera, though Dr Dee differs greatly from 2008’s Monkey: Journey To The West. This is a soundtrack that blends Afro-pop with choral arrangements and sweeping orchestral strings to create a netherworld of ethereal pastoral sounds with a broad operatic air to the entire affair.
Telling the story of Dr John Dee, 18th Century polymath and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, Albarn has pulled out all the stops, frantic shrieks joining pitch-perfect sopranos on Watching The Fire That Waltzed Away, moody gothic harpsichords on Oh Spirit Animate Us and chanting choirs on Tree Of Beauty. The ambience conjured is dark and powerfully enigmatic, though it may not map out the journey of Dr Dee in a way that makes it inherently operatic without the context of seeing it on the stage.
The only inconsistency is in the form of Albarn’s voice itself. He cameos along the way, appearing in the middle of The Golden Dawn and sounding like a gentle Cockney grocer on Apple Carts. The songs themselves are beautifully constructed, proof once more that neither age nor time is dimming Albarn’s creativity, but they are merely songs that belong on a different record. Perhaps Albarn should consider a turn to folk music for his next project. Chances are he already has and it’ll be another stroke of bizarre genius.
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