Dr Dee might not be the place in Damon Albarn’s canon you want to call home, but what it does provide is one hell of a moody detour. Albarn caters to no one but himself, and with Dr Dee, he proves it. Combining pieces from his collaborative opera under the same title, Albarn blends those compositions with dark, personal folk songs, primarily composed of vocals and a classical guitar. The “take it or leave it” approach will no doubt alienate some, but those with patience will enjoy getting tangled in this sonically dense outing.
Dr Dee is a somber affair. From the opening cathedral organ on the appropriately titled instrumental “Cathedral”, it is clear that nothing here will appear on the latest Now That’s What I Call Music! or be included on any of this season’s graduation party mixes. The organs carry over from this song to the next, providing a muted drone effect on the folk-y “Apple Carts”, where Albarn sounds like a grown-up choir boy singing in a haunted fashion to an abandoned, cobweb-covered church. This one-two punch sets the tone for the entire album.
While Dr Dee ultimately works best as a uniform whole, there are some gorgeous single tracks in the midst. The dreamlike standout “Edward Kelly” begins with an androgynous singer belting away before being drowned out by a cavernous swarm of xylophones and cello. The reflective “Tree of Life” is carried only by a mournful chorus fit for a funeral hymn. Album closer “The Marvelous Dream” leaves on a high note, even featuring hand claps. As a creative spark to a proper solo LP, this would make an excellent launch point, with Albarn singing prophetically about “hurricanes spitting tornadoes/growl over London today.”
There aren’t any tornados here. Dr Dee is more of a musical fog made for sipping tea while blankly gazing onto a desolate street. This release further establishes Albarn as a musician whose boundless talents can roam where they please, but one can’t help but wonder what they could manifest into if he is forcibly tethered in a studio with some electric guitars and, god forbid, Graham Coxon.
Essential Tracks: “The Marvelous Dream”, “Edward Kelly”, and “Apple Carts”