Tag Archives: Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby – A Map of the Floating City (CD review)

Thomas Dolby – A Map of the Floating City (Lost Toy People) CD review

He’s been away for 20 years, but he’s got a good excuse — he invented the technology to play ringtones on your phone.

Thomas Dolby, the man behind such hits as “She Blinded Me With Science,” left the music business in the early 90’s after his album Astronauts & Heretics was mismanaged by his then-record label.  He instead concentrated on technology, eventually helping perfect the synthesizer that allows you to play ringtones on your cellphone.  Although that bit of information might be surprising, it certainly isn’t that much of a stretch for a performer who seemed to always be several steps ahead of everyone else, especially during the early days of MTV.

Despite his techno-wizardry past, his new album, A Map of the Floating City, is surprisingly organic; eschewing the typical computer-aided trickery for a more straight-ahead approach.  But, don’t worry; the album still has plenty of twists and turns to keep his diehard fans happy.

The new album is divided into three separate parts: Urbanoia, Amerikana, and Oceanea, which were all snuck out earlier in the year to members of his web community, The Flat Earth Society.  Urbanoia opens the record and deals with Dolby’s time in the city, which he admits did not agree with him.  “Nothing New Under the Sun” features a Hammond organ and right off, you can tell that the singer hasn’t lost any of his wit as he muses “Hey, any fool can write a hit.”  The danceable “Spice Train,” with its faux-horn line, is the most electronic of the album’s tracks.  Because he used so much cutting-edge instrumentation in his early years, it’s easy to forget that underneath the synths of hits like “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” and “Hyperactive,” Dolby showed an incredible knack for telling great stories.  That trend continues with the eerie “Evil Twin Brother,” where the singer tells of wandering the streets of New York at 3am, meeting a waitress (played by Regina Spektor), and getting into trouble, while keyboards pulse accompanied by a ghostly vocal.  That gives way to the bossa nova infused “Jealous Thing Called Love,” which features a Burt Bacharach-style arrangement.

Part two of the record, Amerikana, is the singer’s tribute to his time spent in the States.  “Road to Reno,” with its acoustic strumming, plays out like a scene from Bonnie & Clyde, complete with the robbery and gunfire, while the next track, the hilarious “Toad Lickers,” contains a saloon-style piano solo and accordion (do yourself a favor and watch the youtube video that Dolby put together for that track).  “17 Hills,” a poignant song about perspective, features fine guitar work from Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.

The final section, Oceanea, speaks of Dolby’s return to his comfortable roots in England.  It opens with a song of the same name, which is pure tranquility – soft, inviting keyboards, light guitar work, and a guest vocal from Eddi Reader, who sings in a matronly tone.  “Simone,” features a cocktail beat, African percussion, and Theremin solo.  The closing track, “To The Lifeboats” starts out with a gentle guitar before morphing into chaos in the middle, then finally resolving again in beauty.

Don’t be put off by how conceptual this might seem.  Despite wildly varying styles, A Map of the Floating City is held together by an abundance of melody, a wry sense of humor, and, great story telling.  Dolby may have taken 20 years off from the music business, but you’d never know it.  Welcome back, Thomas.   –Tony Peters

#116 – Thomas Dolby – A Map of the Floating City

Thomas Dolby, the man behind such enduring hits as “She Blinded Me With Science,” and “Hyperactive,” is readying his first new studio album in 20 years, A Map of the Floating City, an eclectic mix of styles recorded at Dolby’s own home studio, and featuring several guests, including Mark Knopfler and Regina Spektor.  Icon Fetch talks to the video pioneer about doing most of the work himself this time around.  He also tells a great story about playing with David Bowie at the monumental Live Aid concert in 1985. Hear the Icon Fetch interview with Thomas Dolby by clicking below.

We talked with Dolby back in March of 2011 about the release of the EP Oceanea.  He also tells us the story behind “She Blinded Me With Science.”  Listen to that interview by clicking below.

#79 – Thomas Dolby – Ocenea

Thomas Dolby - Ocenea

Our RETROactive Eighties week concludes with Thomas Dolby, best known for “She Blinded Me With Science,” an early New Wave hit on MTV.  But, a quick listen to any of his studio albums reveals a much deeper melodic sense than that quirky synth hit.  Dolby took a great deal of time off from the music business to concentrate on developing new technology (he actually created the synthesizer that plays ringtones in most cellphones!).  Now, he’s back with a brand new EP called Ocenea, a preview of a full-length album called A Map of the Floating City, due in the summer.  Dolby talks with Icon Fetch about why he’s concentrating more on organic sounds these days, his unique studio built out of an old life boat, and the early days of MTV.