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Jeff Wayne - The War Of The Worlds - The New Generation CD (album) cover


Jeff Wayne

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4 stars Serendipitously, 2012 saw the release of two re-recorded albums inspired by Victorian literature: Rick Wakeman's Journey to the Centre of the Earth, and Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds - The New Generation. (Right, that's it for me for titles of more than 30 characters. As of now they're "Wakeman's Journey" and "Wayne's War.")

Both albums are essentially faithful reproductions of the originals. Both insert a little additional material. Both are the bases of concert tours. Whereas Wakeman's Journey makes no concession to the under-35s in the audience, however, Wayne's War adds details which, I assume it was hoped, would make today's younger listeners feel at home.

As with Wakeman's Journey, Wayne's War was always going to be a hard sell for me. As with Journey, I stayed awake in bed with a transistor radio to listen to my local rock radio station's midnight broadcast of the original album. When I received the album as a Christmas gift, I spent a good portion of my school holidays, and subsequent holidays for years to come, with my headphones on, poring over the details of the gatefold cover and its bound-in booklet as the music pounded.

So when I heard that Jeff Wayne was re-recording the album ahead of a new stadium tour, replete with tripods, "holograms," and singers trying to act, I was prepared to hate it.

Turns out I was wrong.

The re-recorded version is essentially the same as the original, except for a few details - and those, I'm not purist enough to balk at. Yes, the sound gets a polish with the addition of contemporary dancey beats, swooshes, and synth patches. Yes, the narration is longer. Yes, the cast is new, young, and pretty. It doesn't matter. They're just the icing. The cake remains intact. There are plenty of moments when I could swear I'm listening to the original, cleaned up.

It took me a few moments to get used to Liam Neeson as the narrator simply because I'm so used to hearing those lines spoken by his predecessor, Richard Burton. Once I settled in, though, I found Liam Neeson's performance as exciting and as satisfying as Burton's.

Likewise, the other vocalists - Gary Barlow, Ricky Wilson, Maverick Sabre - approach so closely the performances of their respective predecessors that it makes little difference. I think I might even enjoy the performance of Joss Stone (as Beth, the parson's wife) in her soul-inflected idiom a little more than I did Julie Covington in the original.

On the instrumental side, I'm glad to see so many of the original musicians returning - Chris Spedding, Herbie Flowers, Ken Freeman, George Fenton, Ray Cooper, Jo Partridge. Age has not wearied them.

The first time I played this album, my eight-year-old called from his bath, "What is that? It sounds great!" After a second listen he asked me to add it to his playlist. (Welcome to the 21st century, folks. Eight-year-olds have playlists.) He goes about the house singing the instrumental motifs. When a few of his schoolmates dropped by this afternoon, he put the album on and told them it was his favourite music. They listened without complaint. The new generation does indeed get this music.

Well done, Jeff Wayne. Although I thought I'd never hear myself say this, when your show tours, I'll buy tickets for the family so I can enjoy my son's enjoyment of your work - and not a little of my own. Long may you run.

Report this review (#905957)
Posted Monday, February 4, 2013 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars "Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds - The New Generation" (WOTWTNG), came as an unexpected pleasure for me as I have been a mega fan of the original since I bought it on vinyl in my teens, one of my first vinyl purchases in 1978. It is a huge leap in time from the jawbone to the satellite, and this album with the New Generation of artists and remastering comes 34 years later. I really went out of my way to see the live show a couple of years ago and bought the 3D program and the DVD so that I could remember it, and I read the comic and devoured the novel and watched every movie and TV version available. I guess I felt that this had genuine nostalgia value as I lived and breathed every song lyric and musical note for over 30 years.

As soon as I saw the album cover of this new Jeff Wayne project I could not help but be excited and to be honest quite a degree of scepticism crept in. I wondered how on earth anyone could replace the likes of the incomparable Justin Hayward, or Julie Covington, or for that matter Phil Lynott and David Essex. Undoubtedly Richard Burton is irreplaceable, his golden tones make the original such a piece of art. However I had to indulge and what I received from this new reimagining was a delightfully compelling and new experience.

I reasoned that WOTWTNG would never replace the original but rather would enhance the experience and reinvigorate what has been engrained in my conscious for so many years. As Liam Neeson's voice sounded out over the airwaves, "No one would have believed" I was surprised at how well his voice translated the HGWells classic. When the ominous 3 chord strings hammered forth, I was hooked immediately; perhaps transfixed because it was noticeably different, not a cheap rip off or a money grabber but this had genuine passion and was played in the right spirit. There is a deep bass synth pulsating and some swishing effects that are markedly unique to this recording. As the martians arise from their craft with "their clumsy bodies" that "heaved and pulsated, glistening like wet leather" it was a new interpretation both in musical textures and Neeson's acting skills. He is no Burton but he is a man of earnestness, with a sense of urgency, not as dead pan or Shakespearean as Burton but with golden tones of his own. The martians begin to plough their way across Horsell Common in their tripod war machines,and the music becomes very dark and majestic; triumphant in the war cry of "Ulla!" the same war cry heard on the original version.

The songs on WOTWTNG are of course all delivered by new artists, Gary Barlow sings the Thoughts of the Journalist; nowhere near Justin Hayward but sufficient and the chorus backs him up beautifully, a solid start to the album. Ricky Wilson is the spoken words and vocals of the rather articulate The Artilleryman, but here I really missed David Essex, and I was surprised at this as I never really considered him to be that great an artist (listen to 'Hold Me Close' and you will understand). Maverick Sabre is the spoken words and vocals of Parson Nathaniel, and he cannot replace Phil Lynott but again is effective enough; in fact I really like his interpretation but the demonic voice that comes and goes I can do without. Joss Stone is the spoken words and vocals of Beth, and I enjoyed her sweet performance here; she really sounds flustered and so passionate as she sings lines like "there must be something worth living for? even something worth dying for" and "people loved you and trusted you, came to you for help". I have seen many Beths in the stage shows and they all have their own moments, as Joss does here and fulfils the role admirably. Alex Clare is the The Voice of Humanity, singing 'Thunder Child' which is a surprisingly difficult song to sing; really it has to be heard by Chris Thompson.

The music is actually improved given a more up to date treatment and in places is darker and more forced, certainly the added sections are incredible and surprising to those who know the original. There are familiar sections of music and they are often extended into new motifs and repeated segments, emphasising the drama. The Black Smoke Band consists of the amazing work of Chris Spedding's guitars, the brilliant Herbie Flowers on bass guitar, visionary Jeff Wayne, and Paul Hart who deliver The Red Weed atmospherics as well as keyboards, guitars, including The Heat Ray, mandolin, santur, zither, and tar. The drums are well handled by Gordy Marshall, and the percussion and backing vocals are from Ray Cooper. Spedding, Flowers and Wayne are all reprising their musical talents from the original version and it is great to have them onboard. The quasi-disco beat sections are gone which is a good thing in this day and age as it would sound too dated. Yet the spirit of the production is still present despite the omission of disco rhythms. The music itself with Chris Spedding's stirring lead guitar and full orchestration is as ingenious as the original. In places the music is virtually identical such as on the first section of 'Horsell Common and The Heat Ray', but hearing Spedding's extended lead break in this section is a sheer delight. Jeff Wayne's arrangements are nothing short of mind bending, with powerful violin sweeps and science fiction effects used to maximum effect, including some new moments wth aliens muttering and also the infamous unscrewing of the cylinder, searing heat rays, cylinders falling on a house, and the martian death howls.

The special effects on WOTWTNG are new and improved with disturbing alien voices, swooshing meteors, massive explosions, screams, and the unforgettable war cry of the martians as they victoriously unleash their fury upon the helpless humans, "Ulla! Ulla!" There are some nice new moments such as where the Journalist jumps in the water and the sound is muffled as though we are underwater, and the extended conversation between the Journalist and the Parson,and indeed the Artillery Man has a lot more to say about his master plan and how he feels about us being "breeded like cattle." The script is virtually the same otherwise but it has been revamped for a new generation of listeners. I would hope that this version would not replace the original but already the stage show has been performed with this new batch of artists and the new extended sections. This new album should be looked at as an added extra rather than a replacement as it does not hold the firepower of the original, but having said that it is still excellent music and thoroughly enjoyable.

As I mentioned in my review for the original, the lyrics of the songs are compelling and always essential as a driving force of the story. The words to 'Spirit of Man' are inspiring; "there must be something worth living for, even something worth dying for, and if one man can stand tall there must be hope for us all". The way the Parson spars off Beth's optimism with his own laudable pessimism is stunning. The album seems to get darker and darker as we near the end where the birds are about to tear at the hoods of the martians. The red weed is captured sonically with very doomy musicianship. As it crawls across the land turning everything red we are able to picture its slow domination of our lush planet with those meandering synthesizers as they ooze variations of the theme. The piece segues into 'The Spirit of Man' but all hope seems lost as the story continues and the martians inject the blood of humans into their own veins. Eventually the narrator meets another character that would try and coerce him in to a foolhardy plan. The meeting with the Artillery Man is quite inspiring at first as the madman dreams of a new empire constructed underground so that the martians can no longer "clap eyes on us." He dreams of a world with hospitals, schools and cricket grounds built right under the martians noses, "right under their feet". He imagines capturing one of their fighting machines and then "wallop! Our turn to fight, woosh with our heat ray! Beating them at their own game. Man on top again!" Of course it is a forlorn idea and there is no way it can be done. As the narrator muses on this and walks off into the empty streets we hear the bone chilling cry of the martian but it sounds elongated and painful; "Uuu-llaa-aaaaaa!" the narrator resolves to give himself over to the martians as he can no longer live without his beloved Carrie and knowing the earth belonged to the martians. But, the martians are doomed, as H G Well's story always boasts, destroyed by the tiniest microscopic life on the planet that we have all become immune to; bacteria.

The twist to the story that was so unique to the original version of "The War of the Worlds" is on this new version as well and has some added dimensions that you can discover for yourselves. I like how the album includes little anecdotes and musical figures that jump put as they are completely different; for example the paper boy yelling out about the "Men From Mars!" is a brand new section, and 'Brave New World' is very different indeed with layered musicianship and a ton of extra effects worth hearing, though is really studio trickery to be honest. These extra details kept me enthralled more than I had anticipated. It is not just a rehash but in some places an improvement. It is in the actual songs however where the album offers no genuine improvement as the originals are far superior, apart from the wonderful 'Spirit of Man' that is very moving and powerful, and I found this to be the case in the live stage shows as well.

The original is a masterpiece album without a doubt, whereas this new version feels like an after thought at times. It is still worth going on the journey but it simply does not measure up to the original. Hearing it again as a reimagined version is a bizarre experience for me, but it is nevertheless excellent music and a compelling story despite the moments that left me pondering. I am pleased that Jeff Wayne continues to create in such an innovative manner; he is a modern day genious when it comes to creating music that fires the imagination.

Report this review (#906499)
Posted Tuesday, February 5, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Jeff Wayne's musical version of 'The War of the Worlds' is a timeless classic, which tells the story of H.G. Wells' popular 1987 science fiction novel, following various characters such as a journalist, a soldier, a parson, and others, as the Earth is invaded by Martians. Originally released in 1978, 'The New Generation' is a 2012 re-recording, which brings us a whole new cast, added compositions and better production.

I may be in the minority here, but I prefer this version to the original.

Some of the music here I'd been familiar with since childhood, thanks to my parents, though it wasn't until I played guitar for a string of 2016 amateur theatre performances that I had to really give the album the attention it deserves, and with that, I came to enjoy what the updated version had to offer.

I've seen complaints over how "lifeless" the vocalists all sound, or how the programmed drums sound robotic, but none of this really matters to me. I like the vocal work. I love Maverick Sabre's eccentric performance as Parson Nathaniel, and Ricky Wilson's energetic offering as the Artilleryman. Sure, there's a few goofy parts in there. Such as when the character Beth sounds excited informing Nathaniel that "they're not devils, they're Martians", but I find this just adds to the quirky charm of the album. Admittedly, Liam Neeson as the Journalist is a bit laughable at times too, but then, I'm not one to talk ill of Liam Neeson! He'll look for me, he will find me, and he will kill me!!!

The music is exciting and the story is compelling and easy to follow. There's a vast smorgasbord of various instruments, sounds and effects, a combination of singing and spoken dialogue, with a crisp and clear production that gives the whole album a lush and vibrant sound. Honestly, I'm a sucker for polished studio albums, and the 1978 original, as good as it is, just sounds too dated and primitive for my liking.

'The Spirit of Man', 'Brave New World', 'The Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine', 'Horsall Common and the Heat Ray', 'Forever Autumn'... it's impossible to really pick out any highlights, as the entire record flows effortlessly and is a joy to listen to. Jeff Wayne did a great job of not only writing this incredible concept album, but revisiting it and improving upon it so many years later.

Fans of the original may hold that version close and dear to their hearts, but if you've never heard 'War of the Worlds' yet, then I'd definitely recommend diving in with the new generation.


Report this review (#1769436)
Posted Monday, August 7, 2017 | Review Permalink

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