Thursday, 11 October 2012

Great Albums 37: The Golden Age of Wireless (Thomas Dolby, 1982)

It's another eighties album.  For a man best known for the borderline novelty hits 'Hyperactive!' and 'She Blinded me with Science' (with ace specky boffin, Dr Magnus Pike), this is a downbeat, lyrcally dense collection of songs (as, to be fair, was the next LP from Dolby, 'The Flat Earth', which I could just as easily have included).  Not that you'd know that from the music, which at times is as 80s synthtastic as anything from ABC.   It doesn't even start that well.  'Flying North' has some decent lyrics (Down with the landing gear/Up goes the useless prayer) but the backing track has a painfully intrusive pre-programmed drum and flaring synths, while the second track 'Commercial Breakup' is the weakest on the album.  It's only with the third track, which starts with (presumably lectronic) choir and big, slow chord changes, that everything comes right.  A soft vocal, trailing piano lines and an excellent bassline high in the mix, and we're off an running.  The chorus pushes things up an octave or two very effectively, then drops back into the soft stuff again.  It's effective stuff as is the next track up 'Europa and the Pirate Twins', whose faster sound and narrative lyric provides a nice buffer between 'Weightless' and the beautiful 'Windpower'.

Incidentally, I just realised that all of this is only true of the cd version I'm currently listening to.  The vinyl original would be the 1983 re-issue from Venice in Peril Records, which missed out the frankly rubbish 'The Wreck of The Fairchild', resequences several tracks and includes the by-then hit single, 'She Blinded me with Science'.  Looking at the track listing for that album, with the stand-out tracks 'Radio Silence', 'Airwaves' and 'Weioghtless' on side one and the equally good 'One of our Submarines is missing' and, especially, 'Clouburst at Shingle Street' split over two sides, I think I prefered that sequence to this.  That's one of the drawbacks of cds - of excessive storage devices in geenral, actually.  The original LP ended with the apparent positivity of 'Shingle Street' ('Come out of your shell/and look at the sea') mutating unexpectedly into something else entirely ('now there's only you') whereas the cd trails off in live tracks and b-sides, filling space that doesn't need filled.

Dolby with Bowie doing 'heroes' at Live Aid (it's nothing to do with this album but makes me so happy)