x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Damon Albarn's Dr Dee is a compelling listen

Albarn's latest project sees him turn to opera and pastoral, Elizabethan folk sounds.

Damon Albarn Dr Dee (Parlophone)

From being at the forefront of Britpop in the 1990s to recording with Congolese musicians for a recent Oxfam project, Damon Albarn has changed musical styles not just with greater regularity, but also greater success, than any other living artist. This project sees him turning to opera, with Elizabethan England as the focus, and pastoral folk sounds making up the composition. The titular character, John Dee, was a 16th-century jack-of-all-trades who straddled the worlds of science and magic. Early on, the Albarn-voiced Apple Carts is a reminder of the artist's knack for not just English melancholy, but also arresting melodies. Things get trickier elsewhere, however, such as on The Moon Exalted, where his voice struggles against those of the classical opera singers and more complex arrangements. The songs that work best are the ones that keep these competing elements apart, such as Edward Kelley, on which Christopher Robson plays Dee's nemesis, singing over brooding strings. There's an impressive emotional range on offer, in what often feels like a murky and impenetrable work. Nevertheless, Dr Dee's sheer ambition makes it a compelling listen, if not a wholly enjoyable one.

* Oliver Good