1. I Love You Goodbye
3. Silk Pyjamas
4. I Live In A Suitcase
5. Eastern Bloc (sequel To Europa And The Pirate Twins)
6. Close But No Cigar
7. That's Why People Fall In Love
8. Neon Sisters
9. Beauty Of A Dream
If there were any justice in the world, O.J. Simpson would be a bitch for some steroid-pumped skinhead in Cellblock D and Thomas Dolby's stunning album Astronauts & Heretics would go platinum.
In top form as a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer, Dolby, with guest appearances by such luminaries as his next-door neighbor Eddie Van Halen and Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia (since deceased) and Bob Weir (still alive), created a jazz-inflected work of art which demands multiple listens. Astronauts & Heretics isn't one of those albums that you keep for just one song or like except for one lame track…it's a unit that gently percolates its way into the nooks and crannies of your brain as the music flows smoothly from start to finish.
The album's lone euphoric number is "Eastern Bloc," a celebration of Communism's defeat; the remainder of the songs, except for "Silk Pyjamas," in which an eccentric friend lost in a foreign city provokes worry, range from mid-tempo to slow and are tinged by either melancholy or love—and sometimes both. The edgy "Neon Sisters" is positively dissonant at points, appropriate for a song discussing a friend's death that resulted from sharing a dirty needle. "I Live In A Suitcase" drips with world-weariness, while separation from a loved one, love gone wrong, and (at last) love gone right concern the remainder of the tracks.
If I have to think of a negative, the only one that comes to mind is that Astronauts & Heretics is a touch overproduced. But the sound is so clean, which matches the emotional tone of the songs, and all the instruments are so easily discernible, I don't think that anyone but a lo-fi enthusiast would quibble. I actually enjoy hearing a clear bass tone brought forward in the mix. It's nice for a change.
In summary, Astronauts & Heretics is Thomas Dolby's best release yet and one of my favorite discs of all time. It's perfect for late-night drives, contemplative moods, or spending quiet evenings either alone or with good friends. And to think—I got it for free in a college radio station's giveaway box.
Review by Jonathan Arnett
Review date: 07/1999