Classic Rock Review

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Jeff Wayne War Of The Worlds – 30th Anniversary Edition (1978/2009)


Review A double album *rock musical* version of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi classic, “The War Of The Worlds”? Many people would laugh at such an idea.

But in 1978, musician/songwriter/producer Jeff Wayne actually did it, and created one of rock’s most supreme concept albums. Although the album has always been much more popular in Britain and other parts of Europe (even having a multi-year UK album-chart run rivaling Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon”), it nonetheless has a strong cult following here in North America, myself proudly included. I first became aware of the “War Of The Worlds” album sometime in the late 80’s, when I discovered that Justin Hayward, the lead singer for The Moody Blues (one of my all-time favorite bands) was singing on it.

Curious, I picked up a vinyl copy of the album at a used record store, dropped the needle on Side One, and I was instantly hooked. I’d never heard anything like it before. The way the Martian-invasion narrative is brilliantly sustained from beginning to end, and, of course, Jeff Wayne’s incredible music score that matches it. And, completing the “War Of The Worlds” package, there’s the elaborate artwork that accompanies & illustrates the album—simply marvelous to look at. No question about it, “The War Of The Worlds” is quite an acheivement. Nearly three decades later after it’s initial release, the album still sounds just as fresh & exciting now as it did back then.

Besides the legendary, commanding voice of Richard Burton as the album’s narrator, Jeff Wayne’s stunning music rocks (“Horsell Common & The Heat Ray”), rouses (“Brave New World”), has incredible beauty (“Forever Autumn”), and, at turns, is effectively eerie (“The Red Weed”). The musicianship that Wayne has ensembled for the album is first-rate, from great singers like Justin Hayward, David Essex, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott & Julie Covington, to incredible musicians like Jo Partridge, Herbie Flowers, Chris Spedding, and Jeff Wayne himself.

The album has amazing moods, atmospherics & sound effects, and the surprise twist at the album’s end still gives me goosebumps to this day! There’s no doubt in my mind that H.G. Wells himself would’ve been very happy indeed with this powerful musical treatment of his story. Although Jeff Wayne’s “War Of The Worlds” has never been staged, I was very fortunately blessed to see a Laserium presentation of the album at the London Planetarium back in July of 1990. They presented the *whole* double album, complete with lasers, slides, & pyrotechnics.

There was even an intermission after Side Two! It was a truly spellbinding show, and a great tribute to the album’s timeless appeal. The point of mentioning it is that Jeff Wayne’s “War Of The Worlds” succeeds not only as a rock album, but as a storytelling album that lends itself quite well to visual presentation. I can easily see a touring “rock concert” presentation of “War Of The Worlds” someday, complete with rock band & orchestra, singers, slides, lasers & pyrotechnics. Maybe Jeff Wayne could try to hook up with someone in the theater world and mount such a production? One can dream….

In the meantime, buy the CD, and discover for yourself what all the fuss is about. Jeff Wayne’s “War Of The Worlds” is truly a rock musical masterwork.

Review I hesitated before spending over a hundred bucks on the collector’s edition of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. There’s a two-disc version of the CD that’s a whole lot less; surely I could put the “collectors” money into something else?

But as they say, you never regret your luxuries.

I should state up front that this music has special meaning for me. In 1979, when I met my husband, he had a tape of this album in the car — back in the days when we all took the time to tape our vinyl albums! — so I strongly associate it with our first days together, driving around Clearwater Florida and getting to know one another. I think I’d love the album anyway, as I’m a sucker for melodic versions of spoken-word stories, such as Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

If you’re new to the music, and are trying to get a sense of its value from Amazon’s little 30-second previews, I’ll simply summarize by saying that the album is very true to the original novel. One friend of mine disliked the WotW movies (all of them) because he feels the story needs to be told in Victorian England; if you feel as he does, you’ll be well pleased by this version.

But you’d get that with the $20 version, which Amazon also sells. Is it worth it for the extra stuff?

Yes and No. The Yes-reasons strongly over-power the Noes, so I’m still quite happy I sprung for the expensive version.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. I’ve no real interest in the “club mix” CD (in fact I haven’t even listened to it yet); to me, this album is about melodies and story-telling, not dancing. The two CDs of out-takes and variations (such as some of the narration from a German version) are interesting, but they’re inherently “listen once” items. There’s nothing wrong with these, but nothing compelling either.

On the other hand… I really enjoyed the Making-Of DVD. It could have been a sappy, self-congratulatory indulgence on the part of Jeff Wayne, but the video escapes that trap. He (and others) explain how the album came about; the business and people negotiations; and particularly the artistic and creative efforts. I’m not a musician, but I really enjoyed Jeff Wayne’s demonstrations of constructing the musical themes for the heat ray and so on.

Plus, the printed material is simply beautiful. Some of it was in the original vinyl album (I still do own it!), but the photos, script, and other stuff is really enjoyable. I haven’t had the chance to read it all the way through, but I’m trying to spread out the pleasure.

If you’re unsure which version to get… go ahead and get this one. I don’t think you’ll regret it

June 2, 2013 Posted by | Jeff Wayne War of the Worlds - 30th Anniversary Edition | | Leave a comment