The Michigan Daily/New Student Edition-Arts-Thursday, September 9, 1993- Page 9
Thomas Dolby survives the excesses of the '80's New Wave
by Scott Sterling
The ThompsonTwins, Kajagoogoo,
0 CultureClub, HowardJones, AdamAnt,
Duran Duran, OMD - oh dear Lord,
how the list goes on. For those of us that
remember the MTV-powered "British
Invasion" of the early 1980s, these are
names that dredge up a plethora of
memories, emotions and often embar-
rassment. Gravity-defying gel-crusted
haircuts, over-priced Euro-trash fash-
ions, boys in poorly-applied make-up
- you get the picture.
But in the midst of all this preten-
tious bubblegum kiddie fluff, Thomas
Dolby stands alone as a patron saint of
sorts. From his ground-breaking debut-
"The Golden Age of Wireless," Dolby,
while a part of that whole scene, dared
to be different. Namely, by creating
some great electronic music with soul,
humor and eclectic "mad professor"
genius. The hushed precision of "The
FlatEarth" and the Hollyweird-inspired
Euro-funk of "Aliens Ate My Buick"
(which was followed by a frankly god-
like tour) further cemented his talents,
while simultaneously distancing him
from his much lesser-talented contem-
poraries. But after 1989, he literally
disappeared. Even his most faithful fol-
lowers began to waver; maybe he too
had gone the way of Capeziojazz shoes
and "Square Pegs."
Lo and behold, in the year of 1993,
Dolby has returned with "Astronauts
and Heretics," a quirky collection fea-
turing appearances by Eddie Van Halen
and the Grateful Dead, a sequel to the
early hit "Europa and The Pirate Twins,"
allon abrandnew label, Giant Records.
Yo Thomas, what took you so long?
"That'swhat everybody seems to be
asking," Dolby said via telephone from
his label's L.A. offices. "A lot of my
heroes when I was growing up, would
really space out what they did. And that
was okay, because they were perennial
influences, and you didn'tneedthat sort
of constant battery of 'product' all the
Butwhen pressed, there are acouple
of very serious reasons why it was four
years between "Aliens ..." and "Astro-
"I changed labels, and that was quite
a big deal," Dolby related.
"ThewholeEMI(his oldlabel) thing
is a bit messy. They were doing a lot of
reshuffling, and I didn't want to end up
in somebody's 'in' tray. So when all of
'She Blinded Me With Science,' the new British Music Invasion and Michael Jackson
this started to happen, I just sort of pried
Unfortunately, he was midway
through recording "Astronauts ..." at
the time, and being without a label
proved to be quite a burden.
"I didn't want to lose impetus cre-
atively, so I kept going, and funded it
myself, which was kind of tough," he
Giant Records, headed by Irving
Azoff (praised by Dolby as "one of
rock's royalty") liked "Astronauts And
Heretics" enough to release it as it was.
"This record is alot more intimate, a
lot more me, than in the past. I've often
sung from the perspective of that 'mad
professor' character I created. That char-
acter sang 'She Blinded Me With Sci-
ence,' 'Hyperactive,' songs like that. lent about not being a part of that whole
There was a very conscious effort with scene.
'Astronauts ...' not to make that stage "Inevitably, I got lumped in with a
of removal." . few other people when I first broke
The very fact that Dolby's new al- through, when people were talking about
But in the midst of all this pretentious bubblegum
kiddie fluff, Thomas Dolby stands alone as a
patron saint of sorts. From his ground-breaking
debut 'The Golden Age of Wireless,' Dolby, while
a part of that whole scene, dared to be different.
has always been to do something time-
less, outside of thattopical sort of thing."
But the question remains, just how
did he make it through that dubious era
that viciously destroyed so many pouty-
faced haircut bands?
"One of the components of longev-
ity is the ability to reinvent yourself.
Although I've got musically very little
in common with U2, I find myself ad-
miring what they've done," Dolby en-
thused. "They were able to strip back
down to being a four-piece band, and
then reclothe themselves in a whole
newthing with 'Achtung Baby.'They've
never been afraid to take a chance.
Many bands reach a certain level of
success, and are afraid to make a move,
afraid that it'll all be taken away from
them: Once you stop progressing, you
Dolby did indulge in a bit of early-
'80s reminiscing while recording "As-
tronauts and Heretics." He recruited
(Siouxsie and the) Banshees Budgie
andJon Klein toplayon "Neon Sisters,"
and "Eastern Bloc" features a promi-
nent sample of Bow Wow Wow's "I
"That was a very special time for
me," recalled Dolby. "Those were just
ways to transport myself back when I
was recording those particular songs,
which are for me, quite nostalgic."
Nostalgic indeed. I too remember
those days, buying Cure imports and
rushing home from middle school to
catch syndicated "new wave" video
show "MV3." I can remember the day
Dolby himself performed "Europa and
the Pirate Twins" live in the MV3 stu-
bum was released notas anovelty (espe-
cially in the wake of the current nostal-
gic revival of early-'80s fashion acts
such asDuran Duran andCyndiLauper)
is quite a coup; Dolby is very ambiva-
that 'British Invasion,"'Dolby related.
"When I was a teen, I was listening to
Van Morrisson, Joni Mitchell and the
Band. I've always aspired to be viewed
in that light, not as an image. My ethic
"That was actually a historic night
for me," Dolby remembered. "I'd just
got off a plane from the-U.K., for the
first time since 'She Blinded Me With
Science' hit the American charts. I had
mono, and was on the verge of death. I
was rushed to MV3 to mime '... Sci-
ence,' and they played the U.S. mix of
the song, which I'd only heard once
before. So I was up there missing the
words, and all the kids down front were
getting them right," he laughed.
But Dolby's wild night didn't stop
there. It got much more interesting.
"The record company had my whole
night planned, but I told them I'd prom-
ised to call a friend, just to get out of it,"
Dolby continued. "Thumbing through
my address book, the only L.A. number
I had was Michael Jackson's (who he'd
met through a mutual production com-
pany). I called him out of the blue, and
he said come on over, and I ended up
spending the evening athis house, which
was a very odd experience."
So what's it like hanging out with
the King of Pop himself?
"It was completely bizarre. He sat in
this bug medieval throne, surrounded
by art treasures with no real theme to
them. There was like aboutadozen little
kids running around upstairs in their
pajamas, and at one point a door swung
open, andmy '... Science' 12-inch came
blasting out at aboutahundred decibels.
I said to Michael, 'What's the deal with
FILE PHOTO them?' and he said, 'They just can't
believe you're the guy on MTV."'
Thomas Dolby back in the days when songs like "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "Don't You Want Me" dominated the American airwaves.
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