Sunday, 21 June 2009

Thomas Dolby 'Hyperactive'

Chart Peak: 17


In fact, the version on Now 2 is the shorter edit in this video (uploaded from a Betamax tape!) but the quality there isn't as good.

Until fairly recently my knowledge of Thomas Dolby consisted mainly of his (now rather dated) production work for Prefab Sprout and some vague memory of seeing the video for 'Airhead'. Somewhere down the line I heard 'She Blinded Me With Science' but of course that wasn't a Top 40 hit in this country: if it had been a success at the time I might have realised why people kept comparing me to Magnus Pike. In fact, 'Hyperactive!' [the exclamation mark appears only on the label of Now 2, but it seems to be part of the official song title] was his only Top 20 success.

Unlike 'The Politics of Dancing', there's no question of this record being intended or taken entirely seriously. Indeed, it seems to dance playfully on the border of being a novelty record, with its (presumably knowingly) stereotypical psychiatrist characters and jokey lyrics like "They kicked me out of school cause the teacher knew I had the funk", to say nothing of Dolby's playing up to his mad-professor image. And yet, there is room to take a darker view too; there are hints of menace in references to "the breather on the phone" and the warning that "You'd best stay at the back/When I'm having-an-attack!"

Despite his reputation as a synth pioneer, the most striking instrumental elements on this record are actually from more conventional equipment: the bass guitar and trombone, and to a lesser extent the flute solo. Possibly for this reason there's a nervous energy about the performance that I find easier to appreciate than in purely electronic tracks. As I said, this flirts with novelty and is therefore right on the fringes of the irritating. I can't guarantee I'd like it all the time, but at the moment I'm rather enjoying it.

Available on: The Singular Thomas Dolby

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