CD Review of The Sole Inhabitant by Thomas Dolby

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The Sole Inhabitant
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Released: 2006
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2006 was a fine year for Thomas Dolby fans, and since all three of them are regular readers of this site, let’s give a big shout-out to them individually, starting with…

Okay, since the anger seething from Mr. Dolby’s fanbase is already palpable, I should stop right there and clarify: that opening line was only a joke. Certainly, his fans number decidedly more than three; Hell, I know for a fact that he has at least four fans just amongst the Bullz-Eye contributors’ roster. Still, you can’t deny that a man-on-the-street poll would find that most folks only know him for “She Blinded Me with Science,” and, unfortunately, I’d have to believe that 95 percent of those who recognize his name would be shocked to hear that he has recorded or released anything of note since.

He has, of course…though, admittedly, not recently.

Dolby’s last proper studio album was 1992’s Astronauts and Heretics, a record which was, if not the best of his career, certainly ranking among his greatest accomplishments. Alas, quality has never been a guarantee of commercial success, and despite scoring a top 10 Modern Rock hit with “Eastern Bloc,” the album faded quickly, and Dolby opted to perform a vanishing act himself. Choosing to surround himself with technology, Dolby bailed out of the music industry, founded Beatnik Inc., as well as Retro Ringtones LLC, and has since helped to create countless digital polyphonic ring tones. In 2006, however, Dolby – a bit miffed at being thought of by the general public as little more than a one-hit wonder from the ‘80s – decided to take a shot at rewriting history. Going on tour for the first time in over two decades and using what most would describe as a “VH-1 Storytellers” format, Dolby performed a selection of songs from throughout his career, interspersing them with anecdotes about his life and times while readily pointing out that he actually started his career in the late ‘70s, thank you very much.

The Sole Inhabitant is a document of that tour, and it sounds fantastic – but before you get too excited, be forewarned: none of the aforementioned anecdotes appear here. Not a sausage. They do, at least, appear on the DVD version of the performance, which can be found at CD Baby…but for those looking for the full concert experience on CD, unfortunately, this ain’t it. That having been said, however, let’s get back to the part about it sounding fantastic. Dolby’s clearly been inspired by his quest to prove his importance, and it shows in his performance. While this won’t replace your copy of Retrospectacle (his best-of collection), it certainly serves as a further reminder of the greatness of “One of Our Submarines,” “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” and “Hyperactive.” Oh, sure, “She Blinded Me with Science” is here too, but only because Dolby wouldn’t have gotten out of the concert hall alive if he hadn’t played it; however, it’s probably the least of the performances, due to the predominance of vocal samples over proper keyboard sounds.

Is The Sole Inhabitant dispensable? Ultimately, yes. But, for the most part, it finds Dolby in solid form and proving that, musically speaking, he’s still got something to say. Now, then, Thomas: how about a new studio album?

~Will Harris