Dr. Dee, the new album by Damon Alburn, marks another bold yet successful endeavor in the musician’s eclectic career. Dr. Dee is technically a soundtrack to the opera of the same name based on John Dee, a head of medicine and science in the court of Elizabeth I. However something about the album being credited to Damon Alburn exclusively seems to warrant it be examined more as an album. The music seems to suggest that as well.
Many of the songs fit into three categories, folk, vocal solos with early music-esque acompiament, and neo-classical settings for a range of instruments. Often there are moments of absolute beauty, such as the Alburn folk exercise “Apple Carts”. The way he sings, “Alleluia love does reign” is gorgeous and sets a great tone for the songs he sings on. Yes, there is a particular tone for his songs, as there is for each of the signers on this record as they are playing characters. On “The Moon Exalted” there is a pure and peaceful female voice accompanied by stings recalling early music type motion (wandering to some degree) while the harmony it implies has folk / pop undertones. At random times this breaks into dissonance for a second and then returns to the original tonal center.
That tension and release informs a lot of the album. This is hinted at early on with the first track “The Golden Dawn”. It begins with a series of organ chords building up to a triumphant sound, yet sounding as if it is trudging to get there. After it finally does it goes into the afore mentioned peaceful “Apple Carts”. This sets up another common event on the album, sudden, yet not forced changes. This is showcased clearly on “Watching the Fire that Waltzed Away” into “Cathedrals”. On “Waltzed” the wonderful yet odd sounds that the album has produced come together, with the stings causing an agitation and a choir that is ever persistently chanting underneath. All this with a signer very much so in the style of early music that also is intentionally singing like he is going insane. And as this all climaxes “Cathedrals” starts in all its soft, pastoral, Damon Alburn sung glory. Absolutely jarring but so much fun.
So yes, this album is not without its flaws. A deep overdone singer emerges at times throwing off the mood on tracks like “A Man of England” which also showcases some of the weakest composition moments. Also “Waltzed” not as epic a climax as hopped, but that all does not matter. The album is fun, it is odd, and it is legitimately well written and interesting. More often then not when a pop artist sets out to do a classical piece it fails (cough, Exogenesis Symphony, cough). However, Dr. Dee truly succeeds as a whole album of classical-esque work. A-
Dr. Dee was released 5/7/12 on Parlophone.