By Jordan Mooney
I have, for many years, felt reasonably relatable to Damon Albarn. I can say this with a fair amount of confidence and no real hesitation on the matter. The man is intelligent, resourceful, and has very quickly changed from his wild Britpop days with Blur – becoming an increasingly profound thinker, speaker and musician. His thoughts on matters are clear and well complimented by his musical outputs with a genuinely excellent back catalogue leading behind on a rather tightly held leash that is nonetheless slowly lengthened to add to – he never stops, and despite a sporadic schedule continues to devote his life to things nobody would quite expect.
There is no denying Damon Albarn is different. We can all agree with that happily. He goes against pop culture, Television, and chooses far more valid representations of entertainment – the only thing to hold him back is a record label, the reasoning behind the relatively simplistic but admirable album that is ‘Plastic Beach’.
This project does not have the woes of a falling record company dragging it back and is in many ways the most ambitious project Mr. Albarn could ever take on.
Now in his mid forties, Mr. Albarn is becoming a true British Eccentric figure, perhaps even reminiscent of the strange Elizabethan character he is striving to portray. He is no longer in his relative youth, now sporting an admittedly very well suited beard – he is becoming the sort of figure we always expected him to. He is developing a reputation for being a somewhat cynical but forward moving figure with a trick up every sleeve, turn up and pocket.
He is becoming linked with his red and black jerseys, his apples, his bike riding, and his dedication for being friends with other men in their forties with similar itchy facial hair. He pops up with a project then moves onto something else he believes to be better – the media is repeatedly dumbfounded by this man. He continuously confuses them. This project, for obvious reasons, is doing nothing else.
Damon’s last project to truly confuse, enthral yet entertain was ‘The Fall’, a Gorillaz release created near entirely upon the electronic device, the iPad – this album was a meditation upon touring, an uncontrolled and unadulterated thought upon a British ‘bloke’ in the United States – it notices the culture, the vast scope of the country, and most of all, it seems to have changed his notions on the United Kingdom.
Damon was never the happiest fellow about the state of modern day Britain – but it seems Dr.Dee is following a very strange passage that has passed in America. He has not accepted modern life in the United Kingdom. He has accepted Doctor Dee’s universe.
This project is as much about Dee’s Britain. Dee’s country. The Britain that has long gone.
Mr. Albarn is rapidly becoming even more of a renaissance man – and a patriotic one too. He has never hidden his ideas about modern culture – Blur’s album ‘Modern Life Is Rubbish’ with the proud British achievement of Steam Locomotive ‘Mallard’ is a clear example here, as is his musical project about Modern London life, ‘The Good, the Bad & The Queen’ – but he is growing rapidly mature with the concept of old Britain. His song for the Opera, ‘Apple Cart’, is oozing with the ideals. Perhaps most intriguing is this is not to be an Opera in the typical sense of the word.
This is going to be an English opera.
Medieval Church music. Acoustic guitars – he is drawing in a very unusual sense of sources in an opera nobody will have ever seen. He is not trying to portray Dr. Dee as the greatest figure – he wishes to portray him as one of the strangest of History’s thinkers. He is portraying a bitter, melancholic, eccentric individual. The mental clash between religion, the supernatural, and science, both of which Dee held dearly – he has researched every detail of 16th century spiritualism and science.
Having read everything he could find about the state of religion in Elizabethan England, He has found himself with an encyclopaedia of knowledge. He has researched a culture that, while somewhat ignorant and not quite self aware, was the true finding of a British empire and the first proud culture Britain really had.
Through this meditation, this research and this project Mr. Albarn has changed rapidly. He is changing into a modern renaissance man – he is changing into a spiritualist. He is becoming more profound. He is bringing back a Britain that any true Brit should have affection for. All this from a man who left college in his first year!
Perhaps most enduring about Albarn is his dedication. Perhaps most endearing about this opera is not that it shall tell the story of John Dee – but a story of Albarn. Perhaps most endearing is this opera is turning Albarn into a true British character – an unusual fellow we should all relate with. He was never any less – but he certainly is no longer whom he was in his Britpop days. He is, similarly, a different individual to his work with Murdoc Niccals. And the more he discovers about Mr. Dee, the more attached he seems to becoming. The more it is changing one of the greatest frontmen of all time into something we could all, realistically, expect – a British character, a true eccentric figure who one can see in a similar manner to Dee himself.
Who knows, someday we may see him in a ruff…!
If you have any interest in culture, the arts, or simply the Britain long since passed, Doctor Dee is perfect for you – and with Mr. Albarn at the helm, the result is going to be inspiring.
The official (and regularly updated) blog for the project can be found on Tumblr, right here: