Jeff Wayne’s original 1978 concept album/rock musical treatment of the H.G. Wells sci-fi classic, “The War Of The Worlds”, remains one of my all-time favorite albums. It’s in my personal Top Five, in fact. It’s masterful blend of storytelling, top-notch voice-acting (spearheaded by the one-and-only Richard Burton as the narrator) and singing (led by The Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward), and, of course, its marvelous musical hybrid of progressive rock, orchestral flourishes and disco beats (it was 1978, after all), not to mention its impressive array of sound effects, all-around handsome production, and the gorgeous artwork in the album’s packaging itself, all adds up to a bonafied classic rock concept album.
Although, let’s be honest: “War Of The Worlds” is primarily a smash-hit album in the UK and other parts of Europe, whereas in North America it’s pretty much a word-of-mouth cult album, though Mr. Wayne’s Martian masterpiece has always *deserved* to be just as huge an album Stateside as it has been in Britain….
Anyways, I LOVE the 1978 original album. I got it on vinyl as well as CD. I was even lucky enough to see the 1990 London Laserium “WOTW” show during my monthlong stay in England. (Yes, long before Jeff Wayne mounted the live “WOTW” show in 2006 for you lucky British & European fans to see, there was the 1990 London Laserium show. That was fabulous!) I have not been able to see the current live “WOTW” tour, but I keep hoping and praying that Jeff Wayne will finally, at long last, bring the show Stateside. Jeff says he wants to, but it’s all about working things out with the concert promoters. Keep trying, Jeff!
In the meantime, there is the 1978 album to enjoy. But….in 2012, Jeff Wayne announced that he was actually *re-making* the original “WOTW” album with an all-new cast, with the new version to be called “War Of The Worlds: The New Generation”. Like many fans, I wasn’t sure that this was such a good idea. I mean, did Picasso ever take one of his paintings off the wall and say, “Hmmm, let me see if I can make this better”? Of course not. But Wayne said he wanted to bring the album up-to-date, expand on the original by adding extra bits of dialogue and music, and re-introduce the work to a whole new audience. Fair enough, Jeff. Good luck, I thought.
And here it is at last: “The War Of The Worlds: The New Generation.” My verdict: while the original “WOTW” album remains the definitive version of the work (how can it not?), this new version of the album is surprisingly great. This new “WOTW”, while it has a few flaws (and I’ll get to those in a minute), is just as thrilling for me to listen to, and I think it compliments the original album very well.
As for the new voice cast, while they don’t erase the memories of the original cast, I’m very pleased with them overall. Liam Neeson certainly had a lot to live up to in taking over the part of the Narrator/Journalist from Richard Burton, but he does so remarkably well. I’ve always admired Liam Neeson’s acting, as well as his masterful speaking voice (he’s also the voice of Aslan The Lion, of course!), so he was an inspired choice to succeed Burton. I won’t say Neeson’s narration is *better* than the outstanding job Burton did on the original….Neeson merely does it differently. But, like Burton before him, Neeson also has a very powerful voice, and I immensely enjoy listening to his performance here. Somewhere, Burton is smiling down on Neeson. Well done, Liam!
As for the new singers….Gary Barlow (from Take That) does a surprisingly good job taking over from Justin Hayward as The Sung Thoughts Of The Journalist. He sounds close enough to Hayward in tone, and does a fine job on “Forever Autumn”, as well as the “chances of anything coming from Mars” refrain. Ricky Wilson (from The Kaiser Chiefs) takes over from David Essex as The Artilleryman, and does an excellent job as well. He sings “Brave New World” spot-on, and he also holds his own against Neeson quite well in the spoken-word sections (I also enjoyed his extended dialogue scene with Neeson just before “Brave New World”). Alex Clare takes over from Chris Thompson as The Voice Of Humanity on “Thunder Child”, and his voice sounds very similar to Thompson’s and his great performance of this classic “WOTW” tune is easily on par with Thompson’s original.
However….it took me a while to get used to the new Beth and Parson Nathaniel on the song “The Spirit Of Man”. Joss Stone, while a brilliant, soulful, attractive singer, doesn’t *quite* nail the singing part of Beth, although her speaking bits work fine. Julie Covington’s Beth from the original album was perfect—she captured Beth’s gentle, loving, soothing, nurturing side, as she tries all she can to be the voice of reason for her Parson husband who has been driven mad by the Martian invasion. While there’s no questioning Joss Stone’s singing prowess, her R&B-flavored take on the singing part of Beth doesn’t quite work. In other words, I hear Joss Stone playing Joss Stone, not Beth. Still, I’ll live with her decent performance.
At least she *technically* sings real good. And the same can be said for Maverick Sabre as Parson Nathaniel. The late, great Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy was magnificent as the original Parson. He captured ALL of the Parson’s tortured madness on the original album. Maverick Sabre, while technically a good singer, just isn’t *crazy* enough as the Parson. There are little hints of madness in his performance, but only hints. Lynott, however, was totally off-the-rails, just as the Parson should be. Sabre plays it too straight. Still, like Joss Stone, he’s a good singer, so I’ll live with his performance here, which, like Stone’s, can also be described as decent.
And as for the music and presentation, Jeff Wayne uses many familiar elements and musical passages from the original album, but the new instrumental sections and arrangements work very well, as do the new batch of sound effects (probably the best one being when Neeson’s Journalist momentarily dives underwater—very clever!). I didn’t mind the dub touches here and there, and the skillful musicianship is still intact, not only from veteran players like bassist Herbie Flowers, guitarist Chris Spedding, and Jeff Wayne himself on synthesisers from the original album, but newcomers like drummer Gordy Marshall and guitarist Tom Woodstock, who fires off searing guitarwork as The Martian Heat Ray, just as tasty as Jo Partridge did on the original.
It’s hard for me to tell if *every single note* on “The New Generation” is brand-new, or if *some* recorded parts from the original album are re-used, but whether “The New Generation” is a mashing of the two albums, OR a complete note-for-note re-recording, it still sounds amazing to my ears all the same. And of course, what needs to be said of Jeff Wayne’s production work? Brilliant. And finally, the packaging is gorgeous: all new beautiful paintings that help illustrate the story just as wonderfully as the original paintings by Peter Goodfellow, etc., did for the original.
Any last criticisms? While I appreciate the extra dialogue & storytelling that’s been included on “The New Generation”, we probably didn’t need the bit that the Martians can go without sex. Gee, thanks for telling us that. And, in the new version of the closing “Epilogue”, the Martians are given the last line of dialogue….and it’s a bad line. It wasn’t needed, Jeff!
So….the new version of “Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of “The War Of The Worlds,” aka “The New Generation”, has it’s share of mistakes. It doesn’t top the original album, but, but, but….it is nonetheless an excellent companion album to the classic original, and it’s quite an amazing achievement all on it’s own. There’s no reason why “WOTW” fans can’t enjoy both albums, even if the 1978 original is still the best. But “The New Generation” is still quite a feast for the ears in its own right, and it’s a wonderful *alternate* way of enjoying Jeff Wayne’s sci-fi prog-rock masterpiece. I’m never going to stop loving the original “WOTW” album, which I will always listen to quite regularly, but this new version of “WOTW” is almost as great, and is a joy to listen to as well. I’m sure I’ll be playing it almost as often as the original.
Thank you, Jeff Wayne, you did it! Now, can you please bring the “WOTW” live show to North America? Pretty please? Thanks.