Retrospectacle: The Best Of Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby

Capitol/EMI, 1994

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


There are two reasons to make a greatest hits record. Reason number one is to compile the best of an artist’s recorded catalogue into a quick, easily accessible overview of his or her or their career. This provides the interested consumer with a Cliffs Notes-style survey of an artist’s music that will presumably spur said consumer to purchase other albums. This is good. The second reason is to make a quick buck. This is bad.

Thankfully, Retrospectacle falls under the first definition.

Thomas Dolby, like a lot of the synth-pop icons of the mid-‘80s, is remembered primarily for one song – the omnipresent played-to-death “She Blinded Me With Science.” While it may, objectively viewed, be a good song, it serves only as necrohippoflagellation. It and Wang Chung’s “Everybody Wang Chung Tonight” need about ten years of enforced silence to be listenable again. That said, there are fifteen other tracks on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Retrospectacle, and a lot of them are damned fine songs.

Dolby only recorded six albums in his career, and two of them are soundtracks and not represented here. Retrospectacle reflects the entire Dolby oeuvre, from the early Euro pop of “Europa And The Pirate Twins” and “Urges” to his more eclectic work like “Pulp Culture” and “Close But No Cigar.” It illustrates Dolby as an artist ahead of his time, someone who was willing to play with various ideas and musical styles for the sake of playing with them. He also liked playing with unexpected musical flourishes – trombone on “Hyperactive” (which is infectious to the point of needing to be quarantined by the CDC), Hungarian arias on “Budapest By Blimp,” Eddie Van Halen on “Close But No Cigar.”

 If there is a single quality that exemplifies Dolby’s music, it’s that he kept moving on to the next thing that interested him. This resulted in songs that didn’t work so well – I can’t say I’m a fan of “Screen Kiss” or “Cruel” – and songs that are flat-out freakin’ amazing. In the latter category, we have “I Love You Goodbye,” a mix of Dolby’s keyboard pop and Cajun music. (Yes, that is what I said – Michael Doucet from Beausoliel played fiddle on the track). “I Love You Goodbye” is one of the rare combinations of incisive lyrics and brilliant musicianship that makes me swoon. Metaphorically speaking, that is.

If you have any liking for keyboard pop, musical experimentation, or just plain eclectic weirdness, wander out and get yourself a copy of Retrospectacle. You won’t be disappointed.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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