Release Date: Oct 25, 2011
Record label: Lost Toy People
For a brief moment there, I entertained the ludicrous notion that inveterate pop maverick Thomas Dolby had done the dishonourable thing and made a ‘normal’ album. The opening track of his first full-length release in almost 20 years, an ode to writer’s block entitled ‘Nothing New Under The Sun’, prepares the listener for an exercise in mature popcraft along the lines of Dolby’s erstwhile collaborators Prefab Sprout, whose albums he produced from 1985 to 1990. Much as I like this song - and that band - I was relieved to have this impression blown to smithereens by the remaining ten tracks, starting with the undulating bass, lubricious brass and Bollywood orchestrations of ‘Spice Train’.
It’s been two decades since Thomas Dolby last graced us with an album. Truthfully, it’s been hard to claim that we’ve missed him. His hits “She Blinded Me With Science” and “Hyperactive” have hardly faded from our consciousness since they first emerged in the 1980s. His two best albums, 1982’s The Golden Age of Wireless and 1984’s The Flat Earth, have continue to resonate and attract their share of new fans in the years since Dolby opted for the green pastures of Silicon Valley where he created the ringtone synthesizer and forever changed telecommunications.
“Hey, any fool can write a hit,” Thomas Dolby half-jokes on A Map of the Floating City, his first album in almost two decades. Maybe so, but that’s no reason to dismiss this one. Let this be an inspiration to future one-hit wonders. Dolby, best known to Americans for his 1982 single “She Blinded Me With Science”, could have fallen to the same fate as many of his peers – eking out a career, decade after decade, to increasingly smaller audiences at casinos and state fairs, succumbing to painkillers or reality TV or self-tanner.
Largely absent from the music scene since 1992's Astronauts & Heretics, '80s synth pop pioneer Thomas Dolby appears to be making up for lost time with his fifth effort, A Map of the Floating City, a rather ambitious concept album released in conjunction with a same-name video game based on a dystopian vision of the 1940s. Continuing his maverick reputation, this multimedia approach isn't the only novel method Dolby has used to stage his comeback, as aside from recording its 11 tracks in a converted lifeboat at his North Sea beach house, the album has also already been leaked to fan club members over three EPs self-described as a "three-part travelogue across three imaginary continents," Urbanoia, Amerikana, and Oceanea. It's a shame, then, that the music seems so antiquated when compared to its revolutionary release strategy.