Review: Albarn takes new direction with Dr Dee

SIAN WATSON Associated Press Published:

Damon Albarn, "Dr Dee" (Virgin)

Eclectic is Damon Albarn's middle name. From Brit pop with Blur to the Chinese opera "Monkey: Journey to the West" and the Gorillaz in between, his musical journey has gone in pretty much every direction.

His latest offering is different again; Albarn refers to the album as "strange pastoral folk." ''Dr Dee" is from an opera which premiered last year during the Manchester International Festival in the United Kingdom. It tells the story of John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I's medical and scientific advisor, whose career ended in sexual scandal and disgrace. Albarn created the stage production of "Dr Dee" alongside theater director Rufus Norris.

The album opens with an instrumental track called "The Golden Dawn," which employs birds singing and the chiming of a clock, with an organ being ominously introduced midway through.

"Apple Carts" sees the welcome introduction of Albarn's vocals and is strangely beautiful, his dulcet tones paired with a flute and lyrics that reference nature. This melts into "O Spirit, Animate Us," where Albarn's lyricism turns almost biblical -- "Oh father, animate us," he asks, before the song is pierced, rather uncomfortably and unexpectedly, with operatic female vocals.

Without the visual accompaniment of the stage production, it's hard to grapple with the material. Perhaps aided by visuals, the tracks would have more purpose and impact. As it stands now, it's an odd but interesting album that's hard to truly enjoy.

CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "The Marvelous Dream" allows Albarn's soulful voice to show and evokes memories of Blur in their more tender moments.