08 March 2009
Thomas Dolby was always the odd man out. Odd in the sense of unusual or not fitting in, but also odd in the sense of not making a pair. Singular. Like the so-called New Romantic groups of the period, his vision of the future was inflected by a sense of the past. But where Visage, Ultravox, and Spandau Ballet espoused a moody grandeur that evoked what Bowie called the "European canon," Dolby was decidedly the English eccentric, pottering about in his shed, stringing up an aerial for his homemade crystal set. More Heath Robinson than Richard Wagner.
Dolby put the mad scientist persona to good use in "She Blinded Me With Science," an international hit in 1982, going to Number Five on the Billboard Hot 100, and soon becoming an MTV favourite. But the antic goings on of Dr Magnus Pyke and his nubile assistant, Miss Sakamoto, could not entirely obscure the hint of anxiety concerning the rise of a world given over to machines and their operators. The Golden Age Of Wireless, Dolby's debut album from the year previous, mixed slick, up-beat synthpop with deeply nostalgic tales of childhood lost, songs about fuel gauges, garden gates, and fading radio signals. It was a distinctly personal album in an era of masks and mask wearing, a quietly introspective album in an era of glitter and gold. And it was brilliant, from start to finish. Even when they repackaged it to include "She Blinded Me With Science," the novelty hit couldn't diminish the impact of these carefully crafted, emotionally precise musical miniatures.
Dolby toured The Golden Age of Wireless in 1983, and made what was then an audacious decision to release a live video tape rather than a live album. Entitled Live Wireless, this overlooked curio features Dolby as a projectionist working in an aging movie palace, projecting the performance film we are watching. All very postmodern for its time, and the soundtrack, ripped here, stands up particularly well, with several selections from both the debut album, two otherwise unrecorded tracks ("Puppet Theatre," and "Samson and Delilah"), and a guest appearance from Lene Lovich on "New Toy." Singular. And perfect.
-- Crash The Driver