Thomas Dolby - A Map Of The Floating City (Redeye) ****1/2
Thomas Dolby made his name with a great 80s hit, "She Blinded Me with Science." As wacky as that song was, it proved to be a memorable hit. But there was always more to Thomas Dolby than the above mentioned hit, just listen to the albums like "The Flat Earth" so you can truly feel the essence of this artist. He never quite repeated the success of "Blinded...." but managed to make great creative music, and was never really phased by cheap commercialism.
"A Map Of The Floating City" is an album unlike any other Thomas Dolby album. Some may say it's his best one, other may be disappointed by the lack of 80s keyboard sound. Yet, it's an undisputed Thomas Dolby album, and it's a difficult one to put down.
There was no new studio recordings from Thomas Dolby since 1992. During that time Thomas Dolby spent time living in the United States, and this album truly reflect the experience. It also paints Dolby as a very sensitive artist who is able to draw and alter his art from his immediate surroundings.
The album is split into three part: Urbanoia, Amerikana, and Oceanea. The overall sound can be described as very American, with lyrically reflective topics attached to each part. The songs vary in moods, but come together very cohesively into one great piece. Plenty of great tracks here, and it's hard to pick favorites as they tend to rotate pending on the mood. But "Road To Reno" is spectacular! The track sports that great Dylan/Young-style storytelling vibe, with an easy going rhythm. "The Toad Lickers" charms with its Cajun flavor, and "17 Hills" is a soft rock/country-ballad with a great contribution from Mark Knopfler. Many of the tracks give that impression that you're stuck somewhere in the empty hotel lounge, in the most obscure part of an American little town.
Apart from Knopfler, Dolby is assisted by Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap, Natalie McMaster, Bruce Wooley, and several other stars. All of whom make their presence known, and enrich the songs with their talents. But, it's the core of the material that clearly stands out here.
When looking on the front cover of the album, you get an impression of Dolby as a pilot who was missing for decades in the Bermuda Triangle, but was finally rescued, and now comes to terms with this new reality in the form of these songs. Incredibly simple and powerful record with strong reflective overtones.