Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Thomas Dolby - The Flat Earth

This month marks the thirtieth anniversary of The Flat Earth, the second studio album from Thomas Dolby. It spent eighteen weeks on the US Billboard Album chart, peaking at number 35. It also went to number 14 in the UK.

Side one begins with “Dissidents”. As the third single, it reached number 90 in the UK and number 17 on the US Billboard Dance chart. The rebellious track has, at its foundation, a repeated bass groove that is built upon by a variety of synth effects. I like how it then all shifts tempo as it moves into the chorus, as the writer within the song realizes how his own life has changed.

The opening for “The Flat Earth” has a cosmic vibe to it musically, as if one were moving through the solar system to discover a blue orb teeming with life. The focus lyrically starts with one person and how he chooses to see himself and the world around him.

"Screen Kiss" tells the tale of a Hollywood starlet who should have it all but instead contemplates ending it all. The use of the weather reports at the end reminds me a bit of Dolby's earlier song "Airwaves".

Side two starts with “White City”, which features spoken word vocals by Robyn Hitchcock. This up-tempo track tells of Keith, a guy who finds himself caught up in the big money world of cocaine.

“Mulu the Rain Forest” includes some amazing synth effects, like insect sounds and thunderous cracks, to make you feel like are in an actual rainforest.

“I Scare Myself”, the second single, went to number 46 in the UK. It has a lovely guitar and piano blend to it, in a smooth jazz way. The singer must wrestle with his fears over a relationship, but in the end he conquers them.

The closing track “Hyperactive!” was also the first single. It hit number 62 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 41 in New Zealand, number 17 in the UK and number 16 in Canada. Dolby initially wrote the song for Michael Jackson but ended up recording it himself when Jackson never gave him feedback on the demo tape. The song can be heard in 2002’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City video game. I have always liked the energy of this song; back in 1984 it was one we danced to at a number of parties and at the clubs. The horns are very powerful and the bass groove is incredibly funky. I think it ends the record on a really high note.

Most of The Flat Earth was unknown to me back in 1984, except for "Hyperactive!" which also played a lot on MTV. I was certainly into Thomas Dolby during these years but, for whatever reason, I had not picked up this album. Jump ahead ten years to 1994, when I was well into building my CD library and I picked up the newly released Retrospectacle: the Best of Thomas Dolby. It was through this collection that I first heard over half of this album.

For his 1982 album The Golden Age of Wireless, click here.

For his 1983 EP Blinded By Science, click here.

For 1986’s Howard the Duck soundtrack, click here.

For his 2010 Oceanea EP, click here.

1 comment:

HERC said...

As I usually do, I pulled up this album while reading your review and though it has been awhile since I listened to it all the the way through, I was soon humming and singing along.

Really like this album but it holds a dubious honor in my collection: it is the only vinyl album I have ever stepped on and cracked AND it is one of three CDs that I've stepped on and broken. Both incidents were freak accidents; couldn't reenact them if I tried. Needless to say, I handle this one with kid gloves nowadays.