Music often evokes a certain time and place. The effect can come from sentimental personal reasons or the album itself. In the case of Thomas Dolby’s The Golden Age of Wireless, it was clearly the subject matter Dolby drew on. While most new wave acts were warning us of future invasions of privacy and personal liberty, Dolby’s musical inspiration was wrapped in the splendor and mystery of WWII intrigue with a dash of steampunk.
The album cover and concept alone was worth the cost of the LP. Dolby’s unique blend of nostalgic and futurism gave The Golden Age of Wireless a kind of substance that often eluded far more established artists. It was so intriguing that Musician magazine called it “The best damned synth-pop record ever”.
Such accolades were rare for someone who seemed to have come out of nowhere, but Dolby had established a career of working with artist like Foreigner and The Thompson Twins before saving the money from the proceeds of that work to make The Golden Age of Wireless.
The album is known mostly for “She Blinded Me with Science” a runaway hit that placed Dolby on the charts in America (#5) and his native England. Other songs would draw on cinematic principles, seen in clever music videos, to create soundscapes of pre digital technology from some alternate reality. “Windpower” a college radio favorite, featured the sounds of transmission signals like an old AM radio or beacon in the night. Another popular hit, “One of Our Submarines” blended nautical sounds with metallic synthesizers for one of the year’s most haunting singles.
There was atmosphere to spare as nearly all the songs conjured images of some kind of pre-atomic technology in the context of synth pop. Upbeat songs like “Europa and the Pirate Twins” would display an underlining appreciation for funk. The syncopation found in The Golden Age of Wireless might have been tempered by nerd boy science, but it was still funky. Later in the decade, Thomas Dolby would work with funk pioneer George Clinton.
The ground work was set as The Golden Age of Wireless would become a critically acclaimed global hit. Oddly, the album had multiple covers and reshuffled song orders for different markets. In fact there were no less than 4 (possibly 5) variations of the album. The most definitive one being released in 2009 with 19 tracks, including alternate takes, demos and un-released songs.
An EP titled Blinded by Science was released shortly after the LP. It featured extended versions of the 5 singles, including the two US hits that were released from The Golden Age of Wireless. Dolby’s career would continue on a critically acclaimed trajectory, even as his influence on the pop charts wavered. He was always more at home in the studio anyway, from there he would do some of his most impressive work with Pre Fab Sprout, Joni Mitchell and many others.