Friday, June 27, 2008

Thomas Dolby, the Sole Inhabitant

"In the late 1970's, synthesizers were not shiny and sleek. They were salvaged from dumpsters outside university music departments, and soldered together from mail-order kits. When the startling new sounds they produced were sprung upon audiences, they upset punks and rock purists alike. Previously the exclusive province of superstars, academics, and seasoned studio pros, electronic music was now seized upon by a generation of young rebels. And leading the charge was Thomas Dolby."

-Kurt B. Reighley in the liner notes for The Sole Inhabitant

Although the name Thomas Dolby might not ring any bells, the name of his uber-mega-gigantasaurous hit She Blinded Me With Science probably does. Unfortunately, that's about all the majority of listeners remember about Dolby. During the late 70's and early 80's, he was one of the leading innovators of synth-pop, and performed as a supporting session musician and song writer for many acts (check out below for some surprises) as well as forming his own bands.

It was in 1983 that Dolby was to release the fateful track (She Blinded Me With Science) that would bring him fame while concurrently damning him with the one-hit-wonder status which he would forever try to sneak out from under. After this point, he would produce several albums of his own that failed to attract the same amount of attention, but also become in demand as a collaborator for big name acts such as Herbie Hancock, Howard Jones, Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, and Dusty Springfield. He dabbled in the music industry for the rest of the 80's and 90's, mostly under the radar.

It would have seemed that Dolby's name would be forever branded as am 80's phenomenon, until 2006, when he decided to throw his hat back in the ring and launched a solo tour under the name of The Sole Inhabitant tour. The tour proved surprisingly successful, leading to the release of a live album sharing the tour's name which up to earlier this month had only been available in the UK.

Listening to tracks originally written over twenty years ago is like stepping into a time machine. Modern day listeners will be able to tell that these songs were not written recently, and the electronic elements present here will seem dated (and rightly so), but by no means do these facts relegate this album to the bargain bin. These songs represent the roots of synth-pop and all its glory and its influences on the modern day, but at the same time Dolby has integrated musical developments between then and now into their performance as well. Many would argue that synth-anything music feels cold and inhuman, but I'd challenge them to listen to these songs. Let's put it this way: without the synth-pop pioneers like Dolby, would we have modern day releases like The Postal Service?

It's rumored that Dolby is working on an album of new material (possibly including Your Karma Hit My Dogma which is below). In the meantime, check out this live album recorded in Chicago in 2006 showcasing his artistic vision. The package also included a DVD filmed in Boston in September of the same year with the same setlist as well as a very interesting interview where Dolby talks about the development of music and the associated technology.

Check out two tracks from the album below. The first, Leipzip Is Calling, is the opening track in the show. The other, The Flat Earth, incorporates parts of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" Speech.

Visit his website, his label Invisible Hands Music, and become his friend on MySpace.


a song he appeared on:
Foreigner - Waiting For A Girl Like You : Totally 80's (Disc 2)

a song he co-wrote:
Whodini - Magic's Wand : The Kings Of Electro (Disc 1 Playgroup)

an album he appeared on
Def Leppard - Photograph : Pyromania

and a new one (possibly for an upcoming album?):
Thomas Dolby and the Jazz Mafia Horns - Your Karma Hit My Dogma : Live At SXSW


legbamel said...

Thomas Dolby was a pioneer who never received the credit he deserved.. Thanks for the excellent post.

Sean said...

My pleasure Leg!