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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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Sub Pop
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Jeff Wayne
Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds

Rating: 5/10 ?

July 15, 2005
H.G. Wells was said to be fearful of the rise of German militarism when he wrote War Of The Worlds in 1898. As it turned out, he was right to be afraid. Actually, he was right about a lot of things, and the Martian invasion he described in such graphic detail was a harbinger of things to come in Europe. In his writings, Wells foresaw the development of increasingly efficient killing machines, like tanks and planes with the ability to drop bombs. Wells' fevered imagination even conceived of weapons as wholly destructive as nuclear missiles before the turn of the century. In hindsight, the heat ray the Martians leveled most of London with in War Of The Worlds doesn't seem so far-fetched.

Just think what unimaginable horrors would be unleashed upon mankind if something like that fell into the wrong hands. The only comparable thing I can think of is Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds. Your worst prog-rock nightmare come true, this re-release of Wayne's 1978 symphonic retelling of Wells' sci-fi classic is everything the punk movement of the time despised and then some.

The grandiose strings and overly dramatic movements of Disc 1's "The Eve Of Destruction" and "Horsell Common And The Heat Ray" have no subtlety; they awkwardly bump up against disco rhythms that kill the serious mood Wayne tried to set. Furthermore, there's enough wah-wah pedal guitar to choke Curtis Mayfield. Tacky synthesizers shoot toy-weapon laser beams and later make that sound that sweaty bodies make when they rub against a vinyl car seat, overwhelming hopeful acoustic guitar textures. Far louder and more up front in the mix than they should be, those synth sounds are repeated over and over again in the third act of Disc 1, "The Artilleryman And The Fighting Machine", until you're actually rooting for the Martians to finish the job.

What's more, Richard Burton's dull narration is so subdued and lacking in nuance that it makes you beg for the somewhat hammy reading of Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott on "The Spirit Of Man", from Disc 2, referred to here as "The Earth Under The Martians". Lynott plays the misguided curate - an impassioned minister who is convinced the Martians are demons from hell and that crosses and holy water will cause them to burn up and die. Here, laid out for all to see, is Wells' distrust of organized religion - stemming from the Church's insistence that disasters, both natural and mankind, were caused by the sinfulness of the people whose lives were wrecked - and its superstitions, which he felt were useless in the face of real-life problems. Paired with the luminous Julie Covington, Lynott sounds like a reject from a community theatre production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Though their interplay is heavy with pretense, it gives the bloated prog-rock opera its most human moments, with Covington as the curate's wife begging him not to confront the bloodthirsty Martians.

Sounding as dated as your dad's Yes albums, Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds is a combination of classical influences and 70s fantasy rock that never seem quite right together - yet you have to admire Wayne's chutzpah and the orchestral sweep and galloping rhythmic pace he sets throughout gives proper pace to a story that attacks you with Wells' intense comic book imagery. There's also a sense that, on Disc 1, Wayne was trying too hard to bring the drama of Wells' work alive. On Disc 2, Wayne's arrangements are more tasteful and futuristic. Mingling sci-fi sounds on "The Red Weed (Part 1)" with a melody that's not encumbered by overblown instrumentation, Wayne begins to draw you in to the story and gets you to feel the characters' dreadful sense of hopelessness. Growing increasingly quiet, Wayne's score lays out string linen on a bed of soft piano that feels like solace. When Burton's character emerges from hiding to see the Martians lying dead from ingesting earth-born bacteria, you feel like Wayne's been reborn into an artist that's not so awed by the immensity of sound that layers of orchestration can create. And he's better for it.

More than a quarter century removed from its original release, it's hard to believe what a massive seller Jeff Wayne's Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds was; it's almost in the same league as Dark Side Of The Moon. Seeing the perfect opportunity to piggyback on the publicity of the Spielberg blockbuster of Wells' story and milk this cash-cow dry, Columbia/Legacy issued two versions of Wayne's work - one a two-disc set of Wayne's work, the other a six-disc extravaganza, complete with Burton's unabridged reading of War Of The Worlds and a documentary that relates what Wayne went through to bring his vision to life. It's an ambitious undertaking, but so was Heaven's Gate.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad



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