Magnet - p.53
"FLOATING CITY showcases Dolby's estimable strengths: synth-pop pioneer, jazz-pop swinger, roots crooner, ambient-pop balladeer, epic pop/rock dream-weaver, with supporting brilliance from Mark Knopfler, Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap and Bruce Woolley."
Q (Magazine) - p.1263 stars out of 5
-- "[H]e's turned his back on electro flourishes in favour of a melodic approach. It works."
Mojo (Publisher) - p.1034 stars out of 5
- "[T]his album moves from clipped, urban and funky to country rock and lilting bossa nova....A punchy, lyrical and moving set."
Record Collector (magazine) - p.923 stars out of 5
-- "[T]he atmospheres are eccentric, bleakly witty and knowingly cheesy...This album has depth and ambition aplenty."
Uncut (magazine) - p.833 stars out of 5
-- "[T]he fragile jailbreak ballad '17 Hills' recaptures the misty-eyed romance of Dolby's best 1980s work."
Personnel: Mary L. Rowell, Cornelius Dufallo (violin); Ralph Farris (viola); Dorothy Lawson (cello); Joe Cohen (saxophone); Rich Armstrong (trumpet); Adam Theis (trombone).
Audio Mixers: Mike Shipley; Thomas Dolby; Bill Bottrell.
Recording information: Bad Robot (2009-2011); British Grove (2009-2011); Gemini Ipswich UK (2009-2011); Glenwood Place (2009-2011); Real World (2009-2011); The Nutmeg of Consolation (2009-2011); The Way (2009-2011); Unit X (2009-2011).
Photographer: Nick Sinclair.
Largely absent from the music scene since 1992's Astronauts & Heretics, '80s synth pop pioneer Thomas Dolby appears to be making up for lost time with his fifth effort, A Map of the Floating City, a rather ambitious concept album released in conjunction with a same-name video game based on a dystopian vision of the 1940s. Continuing his maverick reputation, this multimedia approach isn't the only novel method Dolby has used to stage his comeback, as aside from recording its 11 tracks in a converted lifeboat at his North Sea beach house, the album has also already been leaked to fan club members over three EPs self-described as a "three-part travelogue across three imaginary continents," Urbanoia, Amerikana, and Oceanea. It's a shame, then, that the music seems so antiquated when compared to its revolutionary release strategy. Indeed, it's hard to believe that an artist synonymous with pushing forward the boundaries of electronica would serve up something as limp and tinny as "Spice Train," whose synthetic brass stabs and retro arcade sound effects suggest Dolby was perhaps spending a little too much time on his other labor of love. Elsewhere, Regina Spektor is wasted in her role as an East European waitress on the muted proggy techno-pop of "Evil Twin Brother," "Nothing New Under the Sun" sounds like a Prefab Sprout B-side, and "To the Lifeboats" is a messy fusion of lounge pop and reverb-laden art rock that suggests Dolby could have done with someone to rein in his slightly self-indulgent tendencies. Surprisingly, it's the more stripped-back middle section that manages to claw back some respectability. "Road to Reno" is a jaunty country-folk-pop tale of two jailbreak lovers that best showcases his humorous way with words; the bossa nova beats, bittersweet melodies, and gentle sax riffs of "A Jealous Thing Called Love" recall Bryan Ferry at his most swooning; while the plucked banjos, breezy folk violins, and convincing Midwest accents on "The Toad Lickers" help produce an irresistibly catchy slice of "yee-haw" bluegrass. After such a lengthy time away, it's admirable that Dolby has returned with such a bold and difficult-to-pigeonhole record, but with its disappointingly flat production, A Map of the Floating City fails to make the most of its abundance of ideas. ~ Jon O'Brien