Classic Rock Review

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Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds, The New Generation (2012)

813xuKiKHsL__SL1183_From amazon.com

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.

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June 2, 2013 Posted by | Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds The New Generation | | Leave a comment

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

13_TWOTWCoverwebFrom amazon.com

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