Record Review: Thomas Dolby – The Golden Age Of Wireless DLX RM

EMI | UK | CD+DVD | 2009 | 50999 2 67915 2 4

EMI | UK | CD+DVD | 2009 | 50999 2 67915 2 4

Thomas Dolby: The Golden Age Of Wireless UK CD+DVD [2009]

CD [DLX RM]

  1. Flying North
  2. Commercial Breakup
  3. Weightless
  4. Europa + The Pirate Twins
  5. Windpower
  6. The Wreck Of The Fairchild
  7. Airwaves
  8. Radio Silence
  9. Cloudburst At Shingle Street
  10. One Of Our Submarines
  11. She Blinded me With Science
  12. Radio Silence [version]
  13. Urges
  14. Leipzig
  15. Urban Tribal [2009]
  16. Therapy/Growth
  17. Airwaves [demo]
  18. Sale Of The Century [demo]
  19. Pedestrian Walkway [demo]

DVD: Live Wireless [NTSC 0]

  1. Europa + The Pirate Twins
  2. Windpower
  3. One Of Our Submarines
  4. Radio Silence
  5. New Toy
  6. Urban Tribal
  7. Flying North
  8. Jungle Line
  9. Puppet Theatre
  10. Samson + Delilah
  11. She Blinded Me With Science
  12. Airwaves

As outlined over three years ago in this post, The ultimate version of Thomas Dolby’s first [and still best] album is finally in the Record Cell. I had passed on other DLX RMs while shopping in Charlotte last week, but this was too tempting a prize to slip by. After all, I already had the DLX RM of Dolby’s second album, so missing the better of the two made no sense at all! I had bought the 1st UK LP pressing of this with an intent of eventually remastering from vinyl to get the real song flow and segues on CD finally, but in 2009, this puppy hit the stores, and thereby saved me countless hours os remastering time. When dangled in front of me at a used price [that got trimmed by 50% since I had bought another, more costly used CD boxed set, then I just have to bite! Well, how was it?

First of all, the mastering by Peter Mew with Dolby assisting is superb. Full of much more clarity and definition but with still as much dynamic range as the 1984 mastering. The original running order is easy to adapt to since every copy I’ve ever had of this album [five, currently] is different save for the UK Venice In Peril LP and this disc. Even so, this version is a pleasure to finally have on the preferred format.

It starts crisply with “Flying North,” a dazzling slice of technopop that’s the first of four such tracks on the album. At the time, we thought of Dolby as strictly a technopop whiz kid with banks of synthesizers behind him in the studio, but in reality, the breadth of his range was apparent right away with the next track, “Commercial Breakup.” The latent jazz in his approach to music was right there for all to hear, particularly in his solo on the instrumental middle eight. No wonder he eventually got to produce his heroine Joni Mitchell in later years.

The main difference of this sequencing of the album occurred on what was originally “side two.” It began with the ska-inflected instrumental “The Wreck Of The Fairchild” and continued through a suite of three songs connected by segues and radio telecommunications. The sound effects at the end of “Fairchild” blend seamlessly into the classic ballad “Airwaves” which in turn segues into “Radio Silence.” It’s gratifying to finally hear the care that went into sequencing and programming like this.

The selection of bonus tracks was well-considered and generous, even though there are some things that were left out. Of course the “Science” single was here. In crisp 7″ versions. I would have liked to have seen more than just the B-side of the rare “Low Noise” single “Jungle Line” appear here, but since the latter was a Joni Mitchell cover, I understand the practicalitie$ and aesthetic reasons for skipping it. Truth be told, it’s still a killa tune from the dawn on his career, and as such, I will always associate it with the era that this disc represents. Even so, its B-side in question, “Urban Tribal,” appeared here in an adulterated mix with Dolby’s child Harper singing a backing harmony he ran out of studio time for in the original instance. It sounds like it was meant to be there, but that renders this mix as a separate entity in my opinion. So true Dolbyphiles still need that Low Noise 12″ at any rate.

thoomas dolby - urgesUK7AOther goodies were also familiar to me: the “Urges” b/w “Leipzig” single [see left], the B-side to “Europa + The Pirate Twins” [“Therapy/Growth”], the monophonic demo of “Airwaves” from “From Brussels With Love.” Intriguingly, there were two tracks included here which were previously unaired. “Sale Of The Century [demo]” and “Pedestrian Walkway [demo].” The former was the original song version that became “The Wreck Of the Fairchild.” It sported lyrics in this incarnation that were as prescient as Dolby indicates in his ca. 2009 liner notes.

fallout club - dreamsoldiersUK7AThe latter was a demo made for The Fallout Club, the Trevor Herion/Thomas Dolby project that issued a few 1981 singles prior to Dolby’s solo career gaining traction. The Fallout Club’s “Dream Soldiers” 7″ [see right] has the full recording of this tune. The demo here was a scant haiku of a song at around 90 seconds of varispeed voices and sound FX that didn’t make me eager to hear more. I should get the Fallout Club singles and do a REVO volume. The final version has to be more musical than this was. Trevor Herion seemed to have been a performed I should have been aware of back in the day, but it never happened for various reasons.

The “Live Wireless” DVD was something that I had only seen as one of the early MTV Saturday night concerts, when they actually showed musical performances. It was a high concept show with a framing device of Dolby showing the film of the gig in a theatre. The program was enlivened by many tracks that made me say “wha…???” back in the day. You get to see and hear Dolby performing his own “New Toy” as well as the then mysterious “Jungle Line,” Dolby’s “Puppet Theatre” [a.k.a. Whodini’s “Magic’s Wand”], and a Kevin Armstrong tune “Samson + Delilah” that comes from an unreleased album by Bush Telegraph. The latter had me scratching my head for 33 years… right up until typing these words, in fact.

thomas dolby 12x12UKCDAIcing on the cake was the excellent liner noted by Dolby that accompany the package, completing a best of breed DLX RM. What was not here? A few things. All 12″ mixes were AWOL. That’s “Flying North,” “Europa + The Pirate Twins,” “Windpower,” “One Of Our Submarines,” and “She Blinded Me With Science.” Dolby would probably point to his “12×12 Original Remixes” CD at this point, so I will too.  The Low Noise 12″ would have been nice, but one track from that got under the wire albeit with new vocals by Dolby’s kid. If you’ve an interest in this buy it now as 2009 was six years ago. I got lucky, but the official Dolby store is reporting low stock on this title. I’m seeing this sell for the mid twenties on Discogs though Amazon is still in the sweet spot. But…for…how…long?

– 30 –

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28 Responses to Record Review: Thomas Dolby – The Golden Age Of Wireless DLX RM

  1. Steve says:

    Hmmm…back in the day, I picked up the stellar five-track “Blinded by Science” Harvest EP, which contains “She Blinded Me with Science,” “One of Our Submarines,” “Windpower,” “Airwaves,” and “Flying North.” But I never bought this album. I may need to now! Thanks, PPM!

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Steve – Leiber Gott Im Himmel!! You really only bought the EP? It’s a great EP, but you missed the main event. Not only was “Europa” and “Radio Silence” left for the album, but the closing “Cloudburst At Shingle Street” was an epic finale. At the very least you need the Dolby Goes Ska techno-skank of “Wreck of the Fairchild!” Report back your findings.

      Like

  2. Jon Chaisson says:

    Heh…the 12 year old me thought this was the coolest album ever when it came out, even if I had the rejiggered US version for the longest time. I finally downloaded that ’09 version a year or so ago, and realized that the original UK tracking makes SO much more sense. Still one of my all-time favorite albums.

    Like

  3. Tim says:

    This was one of the first efforts of mine in my Re-Made & Re-Modeled series (my equivalent of your REVO/BSOG). I’ve always loved this album. Are the liner notes any good? I bought the digital version and it comes sans that.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I’m shocked that the DL didn’t come with a liner note booklet! Yes, Dolby’s a smart chap so his liner notes on his remasters are quite good. ~250 words per track. You may read them here.

      Like

      • Tim says:

        Thanks for the link. Um…I didn’t see the liner notes there.
        Here’s how my RMRM version worked out:
        1 Jungle Line – 7 minutes or thereabout mix that I made
        2 Therapy Growth
        3 Flying North (12”version)
        4 Weightless
        5 Leipzig
        6 Wind Power (12” Mix)
        7 Urban Tribal
        8 Commercial Breakup
        9 Urges
        10 Suite – Airwaves, Wreck of the Fairchild, One of Our Submarines
        11 Radio Silence
        12 Cloudburst on Shingle Street
        13 Europa Blinded Me With Science (this is my reconstruction of the live mix where it’s Europa/Dobly’s Cube/Science (!)

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Pardon me. I assume everyone spends hours of their day at Disgogs.com. Click on the “more images” link on the cover image and you’ll see scans of the whole enchilada.

          Like

          • Tim says:

            Thanks, I actually don’t go there often I just tell myself that I already have more than I need. I already have more than I need…

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  4. Echorich says:

    The Golden Age Of Wireless is a wondrous thing. Dolby proved his command of the studio without making an album of tortured sound and vision. If there was ever an excellent example of that second tier of electronic pop, it’s TGAOW. The DLX version gives some further insight into Dolby’s creative evolution through the release of his debut album. He is a true fan of music and his deft knob twiddling would soon benefit the likes of Prefab Sprout, rappers Whodini, the aforementioned Joni Mitchell and George Clinton. What a great 80’s CV!

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – This may have come out in 1982, making it an album of the “New Music” era, and it became a hit in 1983, but from the liner notes, it seemed like it had been recorded earlier than its release date while he shopped the masters to various labels. In that regard, I feel like this was one of the great albums of 1981 that slipped through the cracks and came out a bit too late for that first flush hand of techno pop that was soon to become the more mundane synthpop.

      The four technopop classics that anchor this album [“Flying North,” “Europa,” “Windpower,” and “Radio Silence”] would make a world-conquering 4-track EP of the gods as good as anything that made the year of 1981 as tremendous as it was. The rest of the album showcased TMDR’s mastery of more conventional styles and his songwriting that was actually very accomplished. He never made a full-on technopop album, but usually stretched his compositional wings on every album to present an eclectic picture to make an impression beyond the synths. But those four tracks paint a picture of brilliance at composition, arrangement and sound design. A major talent who could do it all.

      Like

      • Vlad says:

        > The four technopop classics that anchor this album [“Flying North,” “Europa,” “Windpower,” and “Radio Silence”] would make a world-conquering 4-track EP of the gods

        Oh yes! That’d be terrific – those tracks are pure gold. In my opinion they even make the whole LP stand as a whole, give it cohesion as there are a few transgressions from the technopop style which, I feel, dilute the impact of the record somewhat. It’s a pity TD had so little time for technopop – only “Puppet Theatre” spring to mind from the later records – as he had a knack for great, catchy and, at the same time, unconventional works in the genre.

        Like

        • postpunkmonk says:

          Vlad – The only other Dolby track in the same league as those four to me would be “Field Work” but only the London mix. The Long London Mix of that cut is just stupendous, but you also have to throw in Ryuichi Sakamoto at the time of his solo peak, in my opinion. Yes, it’s true that those four cuts keep the whole album afloat and give it its identity, which would be vastly different without them. Dolby’s talented and smart, but his penchant for eclecticism diminished him in my eyes. I got the feeling he reacted against the technopop pigeonholing, possibly to his detriment. I still enjoy his mature work, though it’s those four songs from GAOW that keep me in his orbit, even after all of these decades.

          Like

  5. SimonH says:

    I never tire of this album.
    Airwaves is a special one for me, something about the atmosphere always sends a shiver down my spine.
    What was the cd boxed set you mentioned buying??

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Simon H – Currently, I’m obsessed with “Urban Tribal.” There’s something in the writing that’s so classic with that one. I haven’t been able to shake it for days.

      Like

      • Tim says:

        Urban Tribal is my favorite Dolby song. The liner notes on the Discogs link were pretty interesting.
        I think that you are too kind to The Flat Earth and too harsh to Aliens Ate My Buick.
        TFE has probably four good tracks (leave off Dissidents, White City and Hyperactive) and AAMB has a couple good ones, notably My Brain Is Like A Sieve, The Ability to Swing and Budapest By Blimp. Marry the good tracks together and you have a pretty killer album.

        Hyperactive has taken on a life as having been inspired by a night at Micheal Jackson’s house. Here’s a link to “The Moth” where TDMR talks about how he got to know Michael Jackson and that night at the ranch http://themoth.org/posts/stories/never-never-land

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – maybe I’m too kind to TFE in that I have finally bothered to own a copy nearly 30 years later. I still don’t think too much of it. It’s still a big disappointment following GAOW. The title cut and “Dissidents” are the winners for me. I’m scared to hear “Buick!” I have heard “Sieve” live and can’t remember it. The version of “Budapest” on “Sole Inhabitant” is great, though I can’t imagine how the arrangement had been changed.

          Like

  6. SimonH says:

    Ah, re the box set, presume Laurie Anderson? Reading these entries in reverse order!

    Like

  7. Gavin says:

    I have always loved this album.I only ever had the UK cassette until this superb reissue came out-it was so good to see the Live Wireless DVD too,I had only an audio tape recorded through the air from the TV speaker!Urban Tribal is probably my favourite track,though I play Wreck of the Fairchild an awful lot too.TD certainly was inventive and innovative in those days,but for me it has been a case of diminishing returns-with the exception of ‘The Sole Inhabitant’ I have not liked any of his work post-‘Flat Earth’.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – My take on TD was somewhat more harsh than yours for years. I only liked “The Golden Age Of Wireless” for decades and thought “The Flat Earth” to be a huge comedown. I hated “Hyperactive!” The less said about “Aliens Ate My Buick” the better! It was not until I took a chance on “Astronauts + Heretics” at some point in 2002-3 that I softened my view on him. By the time of the 1992 album Dolby had stopped trying for another hit. I liked the songwriting and approach on A+H, and that seems to be what he has pursued going forward, to my appreciation. There seems to have been a line in the sand crossed some time in 1984 where the technopop genius who committed “Europa,” “Windpower,” “Flying North” and “Radio Silence” gave up swimming in that current and retreated to a less technological kind of pop. At least it beat his funk attempts all to hell! I’m fine with the guy who produced “Steve McQueen” by Prefab Sprout working in a similar vein. I enjoyed all of Dolby’s albums since 1992, and I especially loved “The Sole Inhabitant.” So much so that it became a release that I would give to my friends. It’s possibly his best album overall.

      Like

  8. nick says:

    a little off-topic here… I knew that Heaven 17 were doing one of this summers festivals as B.E.F and Mr Dolby was in there but didn’t expect what i have just seen on good old YT…..sound quality ain’t brilliant though……………… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtJwLNUiz2M

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Nick:

      This happened about a week or two ago, and last week I was looking for any data on how it all came down. The moribund Dolby forum was of no help. Hard data on how it all went down is still thin on the ground… shocking! B.E.F. with Peter Hook, Thomas Dolby, Shingai Shoniwa, Robin Scott, and Eddi Reader??!! Enquiring minds want to know!

      Like

  9. nick says:

    oh dear….found another one with more footage. It says…
    M / Robin Scott – Pop Muzik
    Thomas Dolby – She Blinded Me With Science
    Peter Hook of Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart Again / The Passenger
    Glenn Gregory of Heaven 17 – Boys Keep Swinging / Temptation / Perfect Day

    Like

    • Tim says:

      Oh Hookey, those vox on Love Will Tear Us Apart……I think that the Hague has prepared a warrant for crimes against music for that one.

      Like

      • postpunkmonk says:

        Tim – Gaah! Totally unconvinced about Peter Hook’s abilities apart from New Order. His JD pantomime show came through town recently. I sure wasn’t there. But then again, I don’t really appreciate Joy Division, in spite of their Peter Saville covers. Still unconvinced there though the OMD album with the strongest JD influence is my favorite. Maybe I need to give Joy Division another try. The last time I bothered was when a friend who worked for Rhino in the noughts sent me a promo of the “Heart + Soul” boxed set, and I felt it was far too much Joy Division to own. I listened to it once, and decided to sell it off.

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        • Tim says:

          The Joy Division bug never gave me any pleasures, known or otherwise. Love Will Tear Us Apart is a good single, nothing else ever really grabbed me.

          (Prepares a defensive position behind a tipped over couch and easy chair)

          New Order doesn’t grab me much either. Technique is quite good from end to end but the rest of it, well, a great singles band who are generally otherwise unable to make good albums. The Other Two, meh, couple good singles, again. Revenge had Slave.

          Now…..Senor Sumner’s extracurricular activities…..The first two Electronic albums and the first Monaco shame everything else that he has worked on prior. There is alchemy to be had by this gent but ultimately it is not in the company of Hook and the Other Two.

          Like

          • Tim says:

            DOH! Just realized the Monaco was a Hook tangent and not Sumner.
            Hangs head in shame.
            Does reinforce my theory that they make better albums apart then together.

            On a six degrees of separation thing, the first Gemma Hayes album is quite good. While Hook is not on it the guitars have his inspiration all over them.

            Like

        • Echorich says:

          Peter Hook has his moments live…some quite brilliant, others a bit on the concerning side. I don’t hold much stock in New Order without Hooky, but there are some interesting sounds coming out on their new album – not the first single though which is dire.
          I think Joy Division requires a sort of “all in” attitude, they aren’t for the casual listener – but neither are a lot of bands that came from that corner of Post Punk, like The Comsat Angels, The Sound or The Chameleons.
          Back to Hooky, I really enjoyed both Revenge and Monaco. Yes, they were certainly not dynamic in a New Order sort of way, but they were very pleasing and an alternative to what was on offer at the beginning and middle of the 90’s.

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