Exceptionally mature for a sophomore effort, The Flat Earth has held up considerably well since its 1984 release. This staying power belongs to a fantastic ensemble of supporting players as much as to Thomas Dolby’s song writing and crisp production. “Dissidents” steps in cautiously and conjures images of blacklisted authors and ugly snow, gray from oppression. Here and elsewhere, Matthew Seligman’s bass is a welcome addition – throughout the album his work is lavish, growling, popping through octaves, funk-a-fied and twinkling with harmonics. The title track, “The Flat Earth,” is a wondrous R&B daydream of piano and Motown stabs of rhythm guitar. “Screen Kiss” has a similarly ethereal quality, and the lyrics are lush with imagery, if occasionally cryptic. “White City”’s drug reference and chugging groove are as murky as they are energizing, so new wavers might find themselves frowning a bit on the dancefloor.
Then there is “Mulu the Rain Forest,” a globally minded curiosity of foreboding and disorienting samples that certainly feels a long way off from The Golden Age of Wireless. Dolby gets points for shrugging off any obligation to formula, but this voodoo spell has an adverse effect on the rest of the album. What follows is certainly a graceful recovery – his rendition of 1967’s “I Scare Myself” is a balmy jazz club cocktail – faithfully nostalgic, right down to a bittersweet trombone solo from Peter Thomas. “Hyperactive” is, and always was, one part bizarre to two parts infectious. Guest vocalist Adele Bertei fuels the fire of what was already destined to be a memorable diversion, beyond the reach of Top 40. Thomas Dolby’s work on The Flat Earth harks back to a time when songs mattered more than videos, even as MTV was discovering its strength. Last time the songwriter blinded us with science; this time it’s musicianship.