The project seems like home territory for Albarn, whose time in Blur was full of character songs, sleepy pastoral interludes, and wry commentaries on England. “I can still be quite wry when I need to,” he points out not long before offering the great understatement that there may be “a bit of humor” in Dr Dee. There’s modernity as well. The song “Marvelous Dream” comes right after the coronation of Elizabeth I, for which Dee ordained the date; Albarn says he wrote it while watching the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on television. In what sense, I ask him, is Dr Dee about the present? This gets one of his more careful answers: “I imagine people in open spaces,” he says, “sort of meditating on something that is beyond the press of a Google search.”
The story’s mystical and spiritual dimensions are no joke for Albarn. “It’s not enough just to read about him,” he says of Dee and his own two-year preparation for writing the opera. “A lot of what he was into was so esoteric that you’ve got to understand a bit of Kabbalah, hermetica, old-school Catholicism, Sufism. I certainly know more than I used to, but I’m not yet able to open portals to different realities.”
I suggest that at his current rate of production, perhaps that’ll come a few albums down the line?
“Okay then,” he says. “I’m working on it.”