Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Mad Scientist With A Synthesizer?

I first witnessed the eccentric genius of Thomas Dolby when I saw the promo clip to his hit 'She Blinded Me With Science' back in lat '82. It was a appropriate precursor to what would pan out to be a career full of eccentricity, but equally innovation.

Dolby (born Thomas Robertson) came to a career in music via his initial obsession with computers and electronics. The professional name of Dolby was a nickname in reference to the patented British developed noise reduction technology for sound speakers. After honing is performance skills as a musician via busking in Paris and working as a sound technician for several London bands including the Members, Dolby then worked for a short time with Lene Lovich (penning her 1981 hit 'New Toy') and followed up with studio work for Foreigner, Joan Armatrading and Def Leppard. He also joined forces with another eccentric figure in the early 80s music scene, one Malcolm McLaren, on his conceptual 'Duck Rock' album.

Dolby then released his debut album 'The Golden Age Of Wireless' in 1982 and followed this up with 'Flat Earth' in 1984 (which yielded the hit 'Hyperactive'). His creative output remained at an almost frenzied level for the remainder of the 80s as producer, performer and composer. In 1988 he released the bizarrely titled (well not so bizarre for Dolby) 'Aliens Ate My Buick', featuring cover art-work reminiscent of a promo poster for a B-grade horror film of the 50s. The album sold poorly and realised only one minor hit in 'Airhead' (Oz #63, U.K. #53). I originally bought 'Airhead' on vinyl 45, then stumbled across the CD 'Aliens Ate My Buick' in a second hand shop. It was filed in the soundtracks section of the shop, presumably the cover art having something to do with its mistaken identity.

Dolby released another album flop with 1992's 'Astronauts & Heretics' then turned his attention back to his interest in high-tech innovation, founding the computer software firm of Headspace. Headspace has developed several 'virtual reality' educational products for young musicians and has even branched out to providing add-on technology for mobile phones. If you like 'Airhead' I can highly recommend Dolby's greatest hits collection 'Retrospectacle'.

The promo clip for 'Airhead' was suitably cutting edge. Check it out here:

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