• Cream of The Crate: CD's #18- Thomas Dolby: Hyperactive

      0 Not allowed! Not allowed!
      "The best damned synth-pop record ever, period."[Musician Magazine]

      CD Cover

      This is number eighteen in the series of albums I'm featuring as part of an on-going retrospective of CD's in my personal collection. The series is called, "Cream of The Crate (CD's)", and they represent CD albums that I believe are of significant musical value, either because of their rarity, because they represent the best of a style or styles of music or because their is something unique about the group or the music.

      As I will discuss in a little more detail,
      Thomas Dolby released a total of 5 Albums between 1982 and 2011.

      Hyperactive by Thomas Dolby was released on the Disky label in 1999 (CC 854392) and is a single CD. It has 14 tracks, no fold-out leaf let alone booklet and, is a compilation album. I really don't have an issue with compilation albums, often they are the best way of replacing old, worn (or lost) vinyl albums without the expense of having to buy multiple albums, and sometimes, it means that you can get material on a compilation that might force you to take multiple albums if you just wanted specific tracks - your own 'best' of an artist!

      Thomas Dolby has been on the music scene since 1981, and actually has 5 original albums and 3 EP's to his name, not including compilations. His first four albums were released over a ten year period (1982 - 1992):
      1982 - The Golden Age of Wireless
      1984 - The Flat Earth
      1988 - Aliens Ate My Buick
      1992 - Astronauts & Heretics

      It would be another 19 years until the release of album #5 - "A Map of the Floating City" (2011).
      Dolby is in fact quoted as saying that it just happened, he never meant to be away from the scene that long, it just happened.

      He actually released 23 singles (including re-releases in the same period, which included the single "
      Howard the Duck", in fact he was responsible for the songs on that 1986 cult movie!

      Sometimes I can be very pure and insist on vinyl, sometimes I don't mind if the album is vinyl or CD, for me it is horses for courses and in this case, I have a good vinyl album by
      Dolby - The Golden Age of Wireless (1982), and it actually has four of my favourite Dolby compositions on it. So I really nearly left the retro-review of Thomas Dolby until I move back to vinyl, sometime in the first quarter of 2014. However, the CD Hyperactive has been very cleverly assembled and really has all of Dolby's best known and or, best loved tracks on it!

      Rear of CD

      Dolby only recorded 5 studio albums between 1981 and 2011, it can't by any stretch of the imagination be called a prolific output. In my mind his best work was 1982 and 1983 - which coincidentally, covers the period of all the tracks on this album.

      Thomas Dolby was born Thomas Morgan Robertson on 14 October 1958 and is an English musician and producer. He took the name (or rather, was given it by his friends) in the early 1970's when he used to play around with recording equipment, and those friends nick named him Dolby, because of the rise of the 'Dolby' name associated with the (then) new noise reduction process developed by Dolby laboratories. Because Tom Robinson was beginning to chart about this time, Dolby cheerfully accepted the name to avoid confusion.

      Mind you
      Dolby laboratories unsuccessfully tried legally to get him to stop using the name - and in an ironical twist, Dolby inventor Ray Dolby had a son, he called Thomas.

      By the mid 1970's synthesisers were becoming available and
      Dolby began to experiment and where as most individuals and groups that jumped into that early electronic world, were more 'experimental', Dolby latched into the 'commercial' application. In my mind there are many more clever electronic/synth players of that period (particularly from Germany) but it is very hard not to accept that Dolby had talent, was a decent composer, a very good producer, and as a result, I found his music at the time very interesting and entertaining.

      Now in retrospect, I appreciate what he was doing, and while the listening audience was obviously not as tuned in as others and appreciated him,
      Thomas Dolby needs to be recognised for his ground breaking work - he took risks whilst other dithered!.

      Dolby only ever had one #1 anywhere in the world, and that was She Blinded Me With Science, in Canada in 1982. In fact in terms of charts this was his most popular track charting in the top 10 in five different charts over the UK, Canada, the US and New Zealand. In terms of albums, The Golden Age Of Wireless was his most popular reaching #13 of album sales in the US in 1982. A follow-up album, Flat Earth reached #14 in the UK in 1984.

      So, let's look at the track listing!

      Track Listing
      1. Dissidents
      2. Hyperactive
      3. She Blinded Me With Science
      4. White City
      5. Radio Silence
      6. Airwaves
      7. Windpower
      8. One Of Our Submarines
      9. Weightless
      10. Screen Kiss
      11. Mulu The Rain Forest
      12. Flat Earth
      13. Dissidents (The Search For Truth)
      14. Get Out Of My Mix/Dolby's Cube

      In all honesty I enjoy almost every track on this CD! Yet I will look at my four most favoured, starting with track # 2 -
      Hyperactive. There are a few reasons I like this track the most obvious is that it is hyperactive by name and nature. The whole track 'jumps' and tells the tale of a hyperactive child. It is amazing that it never reached #1 as it was ahead of its time in its musical style/composition and in fact, legend has it that Dolby actually wrote it for Michael Jackson, but on getting the message from from Michael that it didn't fit with his new album, Dolby decided to record it himself.

      The composition is quite excellent and
      Dolby did all the programing and playing, although additional vocals were provided by Louise Ulfstedt. Later a re-mix saw this track become a red hot favourite in European clubs. With thirteen verses including chorus', it's a bit long to list in its entirety - so here is an example of the lyrics.

      But tonight I'm on the edge
      Let us chuck me in the fridge
      Cause I'm burning up
      Yow! I'm burning up
      With the vision in my brain
      And the music in my veins
      And the dirty rhythm in my blood

      They are messing with my heart
      And they're messing with my heart
      And they're messing with my heart
      Won't stop messing with my
      Oh, ripping me apart!

      Hyperactive, when I'm small
      Hyperactive, now I'm grown
      Hyperactive, and the night is young
      And in a minute I'll blow!


      Track #3 - She Blinded Me With Science was originally featured on The Golden Age of Wireless and is a quirky number which although a little less uptempo than Hyperactive. It IS still a great party/dance track.The track features two other artists. The first is then XTC guitarist Andy Partride, who plays guitar on the track, and, the second is British Scientists and television presenter, Magnus Pyke, who is responsible for the voice over shouts of "Science", as well as the rather crazy manic scientist ramblings of, "Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto! You're beautiful!"

      Blinded Me With Science

      I chose Radio Silence - track # 5, as the third track to feature. In telecommunications, radio silence is a status in which all fixed or mobile radio stations in an area are asked to stop transmitting for safety or security reasons. However, when we listen a little more carefully we realise that Dolby is paying appropriate homage to the bastion of "free" music, the real alternative to the establishment music of the BBC, Radio Caroline - which was dominant on the airwaves off the coast of Britain between 1964 and 1976.

      The track features vocals by Akiko Yano who also collaborated with talented ’80s groups like Yellow Magic Orchestra and Japan, featuring David Sylvian. It's
      classic Dolby–retro science meets futuristic allure with a touch of steampunk. Enjoy this playful piece!

      Makes the final adjustments
      In her rear-view mirror
      She's nervous and tense
      But she's thinking it over
      With logic and sense
      She'll overcome her phobia...
      Oh to paint her eyes so red and her lips so blue
      Carve her legend on the bow - Caroline four-five-two
      When they come to call for her I will be there too...
      Observe Radio Silence observe
      Radio Silence observe Radio Silence
      Maintain Radio Silence thoughout

      Radio Silence

      I looked to something completely different to share with you in the final track. Track # 11 is Mulu The Rain Forrest. Certainly anything but a dance track, it stands out on the album because of that fact as well as for its great arrangement.

      Although I searched and could not find any evidence, it is quite probably that Dolby was referring to the Gunung Mulu National Park near Miri, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses caves and karst formations in a mountainous equatorial rainforest setting.

      The track kicks off with the insect sounds of the jungle and a deep chorus of "Mulu"! A repeating keyboard riff on echo, the introduction of pipes, and then Dolby comes in with:

      If I'm not sleeping
      It's because I'm frightened
      Of what I might find
      Behind the curtain
      There is a signal
      There is a warning
      I will not heed them
      Until I hear the morning dew
      That trickles down my window
      Mulu - the people of the rain forest
      Believe in dreamtime
      Real time inverted
      Along a faultline
      Below the surface
      There is a sequence
      There is a reason
      For all the nightmares
      All this mayhem
      Mulu - the changes

      The track then breaks into a semi-symphonic/electronic middle eight, before the pipes and a nice piece of bass playing cuts the tempo, and brings us back into the theme of Mulu!
      Talk to me, Mulu!
      Speak to me, Mulu!
      Walk with me, Mulu!
      Reach for me, Mulu!


      The changes came before they knew
      The seasons changed an hour too soon
      The waters came before he knew
      The prisoner of the rain forest

      It is a peaceful but entertaining track and there is much to appreciate in it.


      Thomas Dolby 2011

      When The Flat Earth was released in March 1984, no-one in the UK quite knew what to make of Dolby. He delighted and perplexed his audience with a record that refused to fit into any pigeonhole whatsoever. it seemed that he was destined to be a much-loved cult artist, without hitting pop's jackpot.

      His subsequent work continued down the same vain, it seemed as though he had a message, it certainly seemed as though he had talent and for a while, it seemed as though he would break through - big!

      The fact that he didn't break through big does not lessen the importance of his work. There was an absolute explosion of electro-pop throughout the 1980's and most of it did little service to really advancing music - in fact in some ways we continue to suffer from that period of electro-pop, even today.

      He certainly deserves to be recognized as one of the decade's major risk-takers. The new wave/synth-pop artist wasn't afraid to experiment and while his experiments didn't always work, many of them did.

      Dolby still plays and tours today and I for one would go to a performance should he hit the shores of Oz, but that is highly unlikely.

      Certainly he will remain a cut above the rest and while his music probably resides in very few collections, for those who seek to have a good all round collection covering the range of styles throughout what I call the Top 40 decades of pop/rock type music (the 1950's, '60s, '70s & '80's), then Thomas Dolby needs to be in your collection. I do recommend "The Golden Age of Radio" as his best album, but this album, "Hyperactive", is indeed a great album if you seek a full range of Dolby styles.

      Just be aware, that the CD "Hyperactive" was recently re-released, and for whatever bloody reason, it has a different track listing. The 'new' version has: Hyperactive! -- She Blinded Me With Science -- I Scare Myself -- Key To Her Ferrari -- The Flat Earth -- Mulu The Rain Forest -- Europa and the Pirate Twins -- The Ability To Swing -- Radio Silence -- Cloud Burst At Shingle Street -- Windpower -- Screen Kiss -- White city -- Airhead -- Hot sauce -- May the Cube Be With You.

      This latest version is significantly different to the 1999 release. If you want the 1999 release it can be found for as little as $6.00! By all that's holy in the recording business, that's not much more than a Big Mac & Coke!!!!

      As an aside, I was asked the other day why I bothered with all "this" when you can download everything legally. Well certainly much music is certainly available and even in formats better than mp3's. But there is so very, very much music not available because it is not considered financially viable to sell this way.

      I never 'got rid of' my vinyl albums (thank goodness) and while I dumped bags of cassettes (a most unsatisfactory media), I will keep all my CD's, even though I do buy on-line at times. Sometimes there is a pleasure in physically handling your 'music' - and it certainly displays better than a row of mp3 players or the like.

      Also, what "Cream of the Crate" does in it's own small way, is to keep alive the memories of much music that often didn't get airplay, or if it did once, doesn't now.

      Let's do everything we can to keep the 'race music memory' alive!

      VIDEOS - There is a good selection of Dolby videos on Youtube. I have included two tracks from the album reviewed that I did not feature the music in, and his two best known tracks.


      One of Our Submarines

      Blinded Me With Science


      Previous Cream of the Crate Albums

      If you are interested in checking out the first fifty vinyl albums reviewed, just click HERE

      Cream of The Crate CD Reviews

      #1 - The Fugs: The Fugs First Album

      #2 - Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings

      #3 - Bob Dylan: Biograph

      #4 - Robin Trower: Essential

      #5 - Sixties Down Under: Various Artists

      #6 - The Big Ol' Box Of New Orleans: Various Artists

      #7 - Hugh Masekela: African Breeze

      #8- The Last Poets: The Legend

      #9 - Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Down By The River Side

      #10 - Sixties Down Under (Volume 2): Various Artists


      #11 - The Beatles: On Air Live at the BBC Volume 2

      #12 - The Rolling Stones: Singles Collection The London Years

      #13 - Girl Groups Of The '60s: Various Artists

      #14 - The Byrds: There Is A Season

      #15 - Sixties Down Under (Volume 3): Various Artists

      #16 - The London Howling Wolf Sessions

      #17 - The Who: Thirty Years of Maximum R&B