Thomas Dolby has always been a hard fellow to put into a genre. A pioneer of the 80’s Synth movement, Dolby has in the past flirted with everthing from New Wave to Hard Rock to Funk. After leaving the music business in the early 1990’s to focus on building a successful Silicon Valley tech company, Dolby is back with A Map of the Floating City, released October 25, and it picks up the genre bending right where Dolby left off.
Fans of Dolby’s work have been anxiously anticipating this album for a year now and Dolby has kept them on a slow drip, releasing two EP, Amerikana and Oceanea, with half the album and creating a fully fleshed out social networking game called Floating City featuring the locales and lore from his entire catalog.
Fortunately for Dolby’s eager mob of fans, who call themselves Flat Earthers (or Floating Citizens for those newly lured in by the game) the album should have been worth the wait.
Always a strong lyricist, Dolby turns in some of the best lyrics of his career here, from the spare beauty of “Love is a Loaded Pistol” to Dolby’s homage to his native England, “Oceanea”, there’s plenty of interesting symbolism to sink your teeth into here.
If you’re looking for Dolby’s signature genre roulette, you need look no farther than his hat tip to American Roots music. The often hilarious “Toad Lickers” promises a mix of “Bluegrass and Techno” and delivers on the promise with an odd but functional blending of dobro and mouth harp with Electronica. “17 Hills” features some subtle steel guitar work that matches the sad lyrics perfectly.
We spoke to Thomas Dolby back in June about this surprise turn toward Americana music and here’s what he had to say:
“Amerikana was kind of my fond farewell to the USA where I lived for 20 years before I moved back here to England because I wanted to get back to my homeland and I wanted my kids to experience spending time in England. But as I looked back, I had this fondness for roots American culture and Bluegrass and Folk music. And so Amerikana is my take on that sung poorly by an English guy. But I’m a traveler by the campfire like so many in America.”
Dolby albums have always featured an odd assemblage of guest stars eager to lend their talents to his work. In the past, that list has included George Clinton and Eddie Van Halen. For A Map of the Floating City, Dolby enlists Regina Spektor for vocal help on “Evil Twin Brother.” Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler adds his signature guitar work to “17 Hills”, and Imogen Heap joins in the fun for “Toad Lickers.” But it’s the relatively less known Eddi Reader who steals the show, lending her voice to the album’s best track, “Oceanea.” Her vocals are beautiful and perfectly matched to both Dolby’s own and to the instruments.
No individual song on A Map of the Floating City quite reaches the level of greatness of a “Screen Kiss” or “Flat Earth”, although “Oceanea” comes close. Top to bottom this is one of Thomas Dolby’s strongest efforts. There is no filler on A Map of the Floating City. Freed from the need to please a record label, Dolby has recorded the album he wanted to record.
We’re sure glad he was kind enough to share it with all of us.