Album review: Thomas Dolby - The Golden Age of Wireless (Venice in Peril/EMI, 1982)
New Wave/ Synth pop
This is, simply put, the best damn synth pop album ever. Yeah, seriously. Thomas Dolby has always been an underrated talent, besides that one overplayed song about SCIENCE! that everyone and their unborn child has heard 500 times already....its a good song, but his real skill as a songwriter and sound designer has always been sadly neglected IMO, and his influence is further reaching than many people realise. He has become something of a figurehead in technology also, giving regular talks at the TED conferences and designing the synth engine behind every mobile phone ringtone ever. He released a few albums and worked as a producer up until the early 90s before dropping out of the music business for a while, before resurfacing in the last few years with a live album ("The Sole Inhabitant", 2006) that most certainly proves he still has it, and a brand new studio album in 2011.
During the early 80s he released this, the first album of his signature moody and cinematic music, characteristics not normally found in a lot of synth pop of the time which was largely one dimensional and overly saccharine. Along with other crucial artists of the time such as Peter Gabriel, John Foxx and others, Dolby showed just what could really be done with synthesizers in a more pop setting, creating many brilliant sounds and textures as a backdrop for his emotive singing. There are also plenty of live guitars, bass and piano to reassure any rockist fools who run for the hills at the first sign of a synth and miss out on a whole other spectrum of sounds. There is such a variety of sounds and moods on display on this album, from the soaring opener "Flying North" through to a fun attempt at synth ska on "The Wreck of the Fairchild", more of a bouncy pop feel on "Radio Silence" and "Europa", the enormous sounding "Windpower" and the simply gorgeous "Airwaves". "She Blinded Me With Science" is included on some later editions, thankfully the latest and very well done remaster restores the original, "proper" tracklist without that song as part of the main album, instead moving it to a bonus track where it works better. Like I said, its good, but detracts too much from the other tracks on the album, any of which could destroy "Science" with their hands tied.
Very few other albums I've heard, especially in this field, are as consistently excellent as this. The only thing missing is the full length, 7 minute extended version of "One of Our Submarines", which is a strong contender for the single greatest synth track ever made, but it works just as well as its own separate thing. The aforementioned 2009 re-issue also includes the fantastic "Live Wireless" concert film from 1983, something I had never seen before. It features most of this album's tracks and a whole bunch of others performed brilliantly by TD and his backing band alongside some quirky visuals and props and makes this version of the album absolutely worthwhile. Essential for any fan of powerful, inventive synth music.