[…continued from last post]
The first Dr. Robert solo album was produced by the artist and licensed to a number of labels for worldwide release in 1994. “Realms Of Gold” was a portrait of an artist coming to grips with being a proper songwriter. Dr. Robert has cited the works of Fred Neil [“Everybody’s Talking”] as one of the influences he was investigating in this period.
It’s funny. I’m not usually all about singer/songwriters. I’ll admit that I prefer process and iconoclasm to traditional songwriting technique. If Midge Ure or Jim Kerr came up to me touting the merits of Fred Neil, I’d probably want to leave the room. I associate those guys with electronic Rock music from another universe entirely and would consider any attempts at “classic” songcraft by them embarrassing.
But The Blow Monkeys were already a far more mainstream musical proposal from the start. They were steeped in Soul and T-Rex string-laden Glam. I never expected Post-Punk angularity from their corners. So if Dr. Robert wants to exercise that particular songwriting muscle, I’ll let him get away with that. My only criteria was that he did it successfully. And “Realms of Gold” met a standard that said that he certainly did.
I have the US edition that lost the nearly 10 minute final track “A Moment Of Madness” and swapped in the B-side of “Lucifer’s Friend” from the “Coming Of Grace” single. I need to source one of the UK/JAPAN copies for that missing track one day. Both Mick Talbot and Paul Weller guested on the album and the drums were largely down to Alan White, who would join Oasis after the sessions.
Dr. Robert didn’t wait for moss to grow. The next year saw his “Bethesda, Part 1” album issued at first in Japan only. Dr. Robert would issue it in 1999 in a UK pressing on his own Artbus label, but either of these versions of the CD [the cover art differs, but not the songs] are still in my want list. It’s completely unheard to my ears a quarter century later.
1997 brought the “Other Folk” roots check album where Dr. Robert covered the likes of Tim Hardin, Bob Dylan, personal heroes Marc Bolan and Ed Kuepper, as well as, yes…Fred Neil. Interestingly enough, longtime Blow Monkeys auxiliary Brian Bethell was here again as well as actual Blow Monkey Mick Anker on electric and acoustic bass. Marking the first time in seven years that he played with Dr. Robert.
While I had gotten “Realms Of Gold” on release [it was pretty easy, in America] the last two albums evaded my Record Cell for some years. The next album I encountered in real time was 1999’s “Flatlands,” which was released on Dr. Robert’s own Fencat label which released much of his output in the next few years. I actually found this CD when vacationing in Spain in 1999 and had no idea it even existed, so I spent a fortnight in Andalucía being stunned by the power and intimacy of the decidedly low-fi recording. I felt that by this time, Dr. Robert’s apprenticeship had ended and he was now writing material that showed his songwriting to have blossomed in maturity and clarity. The obscure and tortured metaphors of “Limping For A Generation” were long gone by this time.
It was some time around 2004 when I finally made moves on getting the solo albums that I had missed in “Other Folk” and 2001’s “Bird’s Gotta Fly.” I recall my wife getting these for me as gifts and she always thought that it looked like Prince on the cover of “Bird’s Gotta Fly.” I can’t fault her perception! This album vied with “Realms Of Gold” for having the largest sound among his solo albums with a possibly bigger supporting cast than any Blow Monkeys album! We can only gaze in wonder at an album that has a cornet credit in its booklet.
Two years later and a collection of rare and unreleased material surfaced on the 5000records label in the UK. Nine non-LP B-sides from his earlier career along with seven unreleased tracks made this one a Monastic target.
Following what looked like a temporary stopgap measure, Dr. Robert had the longest period of radio silence in his career before emerging in 2007 with a new album with Soul legend P.P. Arnold co-billed with him on “Five In the Afternoon.” I’d love to be able to say something about this one, but distribution on the always sketchy Curb Records meant that this one was very difficult to buy. I recall seeing this CD on Amazon [if you could find it] going for $50 and more almost immediately upon release! And that was when I’d still deign to purchase on that platform! It was reissued in 2017 for RSD UK on LP only, but with a DL card included which featured two bonus tracks [“Twenty Pence Road” and “Satellite (Youth Remix)”] added to the DL! Even that’s hard to track down. Especially domestically, as the LP shipping kills me. It’s on iTunes, but I’d rather not. And iTunes is missing the bonus tracks. Grrrrr.
So Dr. Robert issued seven albums in the 17 years after The Blow Monkeys split. That’s a reasonable pace of work, especially placed next to his peers in this day and age where a stately five years between projects seems the norm. The Doctor’s productive work ethic paid me more dividends than I would have expected, though the solo material was of a largely different stripe to The Blow Monkeys canon. It’s less affected, with the camp theatricality that was present in The Blow Monkeys work completely absent. But that band were not completely forgotten in this period as the market demands product, as we will see in the next chapter.
Next: …The Camden Years
I picked up Realms of Gold when I was in Japan. It was on the Pony Canyon label and has a very nice CD package with an extensive booklet (with a fair amount of text in Japanese). I see the album is on Spotify will all tracks on my version including “A Moment Of Madness” but the running order is completely different. Spotify has an extra track “Ode to Bacchus” which I wasn’t aware of until now. You don’t do streaming?
Fragile Gods – As far as I can see, “Ode To Bacchus” is on all copies of “Realms Of Gold.” Even the JPN one. Good on you for getting that copy as it was the first one licensed and released. The JPN/UK/US versions all have mostly the same tracks and running order. The US one ends with the last three songs changed due to no “A Moment Of Madness.” I am absolutely a bad fit with streaming for the following reasons:
• Control of what I can and can’t listen to is 100% in the hands of the labels and their licensing department
• I pay money and have nothing to show for it
• The streaming royalty situation is appalling
• I am a reluctant smartphone user. I never wanted a cell phone of any kind. Never saw the need in it. I carried an iPod Touch instead that was like a smartphone when I’m in wi-fi [90% of the time] that cost $200 and not a cent more. I only got an iPhone [used refurb for $65] when I was going to the UK in 2020 [that didn’t happen]. I buy my service without a contract from my provider and use scant amounts of data. Little enough so that my service comes to $12.50/month. An amount that is justified to me. I would not have a smartphone if it were going to cost me $50-100/month plus hundreds of dollars for a phone! It’s just not worth it to me. There is no way I would be streaming all of my music. It would really make my data use skyrocket.
• My listening is very CD-centric. Even my new [used] 2018 car still has a CD player in it!
• Finally, I prefer the curation and enjoyment of a collection of music over a vast choice of music I would have to think to listen to.
For the record, here’s my copy of the Realms of Gold track listing: https://i.imgur.com/NpEmvGv.png
You seem quite adamant on sticking with CDs so I won’t try to persuade you. I will mention that what I like most about Spotify is the recommendation engine. If you train it on your likes and dislikes, it does a very good job suggesting other things you might like that you haven’t heard before. For example, the reason why I landed here is because it recommended Gina X Performance. I liked the song, typed the band name into Google and the rest is history.
Fragile Gods – Your story reminds me of the year that my wife gave me a Pandora premium account back in 2006. We’d read about the Music Genome Project behind Pandora and found it fascinating, so she reasoned it would be a good birthday gift. So I built my station based on a single criterion: Gina X Performance. That was all I gave the engine, and it steered me to several artists I had not heard of before but enjoyed, like Kas Product who were stylistically related to GXP. But in that year I was tethered to the computer to listen while doing other creative work [which was the only time I’m near the computer] was very limiting. And I did not renew the account for another year. I knew that streaming did not fit my lifestyle.
I am both pro-streaming and pro-CD buying, so it’s a wonder I don’t have blisters from all that fence-saddling! Music that is important to me I buy a “permanent” (well, likely to outlive me at least) copy of (also useful for enjoying offline as though that ever happens!). But I appreciate the whimsy of being able to hear almost literally any song I can think of (including those outside my usual genres) on demand, plus the ability to check out recommendations quickly.
Case in point: I bought Realms of Gold back when it came out and enjoyed it, but have no idea where my copy is now. So boom, I can listen to it right now. For whatever reason, I never got any other Dr. Robert solo albums, so now I can check them out (including one the Monk missed: 2005’s Flutes & Bones). Irritatingly, Apple Music mostly lists his albums sometimes under “Dr Robert” (proper UK usage, no period) but Keep On Digging for the Gold is under “Dr. Robert” (US usage), so you have to search both terms to see the full picture. But I count 10 solo albums, plus a few EP s, singles, and appearances elsewhere between 1994 and 2019.