Damon Albarn – Dr Dee
Damon Albarn's Dr Dee began life as an opera, debuting at the Manchester International Festival last year. As an album, the lack of visual material does hinder enjoyment and understanding: the work was conceived to tell the life story of Elizabethan occultist John Dee, but Albarn's abstract, impressionist lyrics fail to tell anything resembling a coherent story about the man or his interests.
What Albarn does achieve is a sometimes charming, sometimes vomitously twee evocation of late-period Elizabethan culture: the rising organ and brass melodies of The Golden Dawn, and the flutes and layered choral performances throughout paint a vivid picture of the times, but often err too close to Blackadder territory. The songs which feature Albarn front and centre are subtle, understated folk ballads (O Spirit, Animate Us; The Marvelous Dream). Some are forgettable; on others, enjoyment is marred only by a failure to map them to the historical facts and myths about Dee's life. An ambitious, flawed project, let down by its scope and vision rather than its execution.