The Big Issue album review: Damon Albarn — ‘Dr Dee’, May 2012

My first piece for The Big Issue, a review of Damon Albarn’s solo album Dr Dee, printed in issue #406 (early May) of the magazine.

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Damon Albarn – Dr Dee

Understandably peddled as a Damon Albarn solo album, Dr Dee is actually a soundtrack to the opera created by the former Blur frontman (with theatre director Rufus Norris) for last year’s Manchester International Festival. That may disappoint those after an elixir to Albarn’s recent proclamation that Blur’s Olympics reunion won’t include a new album. Indeed, trying to define this through the prism of Albarn’s past projects (including Gorillaz) is next to useless. Dr Dee finds the Londoner immersed in the curious tale of 16th-century polymath John Dee. It’s a dense narrative featuring a wealth of Elizabethan instrumentation, from shawm and dulcian to recorder and lute. Nevertheless, the arrangements are sparse enough to avoid parody, and among the best moments are when Albarn snatches the lead from his tenors, countertenors and sopranos to sing the lilt of ‘Apple Carts’ and the gospel-inflected ‘The Marvelous Dream’. It adds up to a haunting meditation on Englishness, which is strangely appropriate for an alumnus of Britpop. MATT SHEA

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