New Release (Virgin)
You can’t say that Damon Albarn has gone off the deep end, because he’s seldom been far from there all along. But even by his standards, this album is a conceptual stretch: A genuine opera (no rock involved) based on the life of 16th century alchemist John Dee. The musical forms he chooses are all appropriate to the tale: Church music of the period, courtly dances, madrigals and mystical folk-tinged pop; some of it falls under the goth umbrella if it falls anywhere. Fortunately, Albarn always brings his melodic gifts to his experimental projects, and the handful of tracks he sings — notably “Saturn” and “The Marvelous Dream” — have a touch of Roy Harper or Nick Drake, and raise hopes that Albarn will do his Brit-folk album someday. What Dr. Dee lacks — and that all good operas need — is a dramatic centerpiece; “Watching the Fire That Waltzed Away” gives a glimpse of mad release but it’s over too soon and the mood turns stately again. Seems that Albarn wanted to avoid doing anything cheap or vulgar; but despite its overall quality, his opera could have used a little more of that.
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