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Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby

I apologize to any of you who might have been on pins and needles waiting for the second installment of Gen-X-cavation, which was supposed to appear weekly, but is already behind schedule. My only excuse is that the newness of the new year has me discombobulated in the extreme, which may explain the inordinate number of illnesses with which I have found myself afflicted in its first two weeks. I’m not above admitting it’s all in my mind.

Speaking of the cerebral, let’s get down to business and take a whiff of our second reanimated genius of 2008, the painfully underappreciated Thomas Dolby. There are two kinds of people in America – those who think of Dolby as the “She Blinded Me with Science” guy and those who are aware of the rest of his career (people who have never heard of him are figments of your imagination). I’m not sure how high his profile might be, or ever was, in Europe, though I bet I could find out with some careful Google research. Not that it matters – whether the EU knows it or not, Dolby is its de facto pop-poet laureate.

“She Blinded Me” is misread as just a novelty dance tune, when in fact it’s part of a complex disco philosophy tying together anthropology, technology, communication, and European identity with a synthesized beat. Over the course of his four (yes, four!) studio albums, Dolby gets funky on tunes about the Iron Curtain (“Europa and the Pirate Twins,” “Dissidents”), Los Angeles (“Screen Kiss,” “Airhead,” “Silk Pyjamas”), relationship bullshit (“My Brain is Like a Sieve,” “Close but No Cigar”) and, perhaps most crucially, ADD (“Hyperactive”). He’s a music nerd of the highest order, leading to seemingly self-defeating behaviors like altering and re-releasing old recordings (I personally own two versions of THE GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS – how you like me now???) and failing to record any new albums since 1992. But considering how few people have actually heard any of his totally excellent music in the first place, maybe it’s best he gives everyone time to catch up.

Being a Thomas Dolby aficionado is like having gone to a really small college – you will only very infrequently meet a fellow alum, but when you do, you already know a lot about that person. It can be somewhat alienating, leaving you wondering, how can it be that someone so “fresh” can be so obscure? A guy who sings a romantic lyric like, “Oh darling…I’m sinking like a bug in a peach” or pulls off an 8-minute long song about Budapest – that guy should not be the dirty little secret of synth-pop. He did touch the mainstream for one brief moment, playing at the Grammys with Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and fellow Brit Howard Jones in what was no doubt meant to be a full-on synthesizer assault. Alas, Herbie went back to jazz, while Stevie and Howard are no doubt off somewhere tinkling and warbling, so Dolby was kind of left hanging out there, doing soundtracks for art films and computer animation. I wish he’d record some more instant classics like “Flying North” or “Pulp Culture,” but I suspect that he is now no longer human…just some data shooting to and fro on Al Gore’s Information Superhighway.