Damon Albarn | Dr Dee

By RYAN FOLEY  |  May 8, 2012
2.5 2.5 Stars


"I think my greatest achievement is to keep ensuring that I am beginning again," conceded director Rufus Norris, one half of the creative partnership behind Dr Dee, an opera delving into the life of 16th-century alchemist and astrologer John Dee. Norris's partner has made a career out of beginning again. Forever self-conscious, ex-Blur frontman Damon Albarn has crafted another album that refuses to be categorized as either "Brit" or "pop." According to Albarn, Dee "walked the fine line between the dark arts and acceptable practice"; Albarn's score here is a similar tightrope act. Tracks feature Renaissance- period instruments not found at the neighborhood music shop (shawm, duclian), as well as countertenor vocals that make your toes curl. Bleating crumhorn and swirling harmonium leave "Watching the Fire That Waltzed Away" feeling like a stroll through a medieval fair after ingesting acid. More conventional cuts include the Scott Walker-inspired baroque pop of "The Dancing King" and "Apple Carts," which demonstrate that Albarn hasn't lost his knack for balladry. During interviews, Albarn comes across as privileged and bullish, but it's merely his untamed confidence bubbling forth. Dr Dee's well-defined boundaries mean it lacks the sense of adventure found in previous efforts, but Albarn deserves kudos for such artistic fearlessness.

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