Based on the life and struggle of 16th Century philosopher Dr Dee, Damen Albarn has created a haunting afro-pastoral folk opera on his debut solo release - a new genre to add to his already extensive repertoire. Produced and written by the former Blur frontman, Albarn has been inspired by the enigmatic life of Dr Dee and his exile to Manchester in the 1580’s.
The album immediately sets a darker tone, a deliverance of an uncomfortable tale, accompanied by an obscure mixture of influences and instruments; opening with bird song, which merges into dramatic orchestral droning. It is apparent that the album has been produced with a lot of time and effort; creating an eerie and unsettling atmosphere. It sends shivers down your spine, which is definitely the case in the track ‘A Prayer’, which feels like the Doctor’s cry for help.
The album uses organ tones juxtaposed with folk string, which suits the era well, unlike the modern sounds of Albarn’s previous work and may not be every fans cup of tea - it's certainly a long way from ‘Parklife’. It is hard to imagine any of the tracks standing alone as singles, however the more upbeat ‘Apple Carts’ could be an exception.
The albums sense of making the listener uncomfortable is most evident in ‘Watching The Fire That Waltzed Away’. The lyrics and composition give the idea of a hypnotic roundabout and this feels like a climatic part of the album, as the remaining tracks become more subdue and we return to the melodic folk.
'Dr Dee' is a brave attempt at something new from Albarn, using his knowledge of music well and not in a pretentious way - creating a dramatic opera based on the famous scholar who experimented with science and magic is no easy feat. The last track finishes as the album began, with bird song, the end of a life perhaps, a full circle.