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Jeff Wayne - Spartacus CD (album) cover


Jeff Wayne

Crossover Prog

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Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars Featuring Catherine Zeta Jones on vocals

For the follow up to "War of the Worlds", Jeff Wayne brought together once again many of the same ingredients. Talented performers, orchestration, and a strong storyline (in this case the story of Spartacus from the epic film of the same name) all indicated that this would be another fine album.

It is then, all the more surprising that this such a disappointing album. The main problem here is in the quality of the compositions. There is a real dearth of strong melodies, and the performances themselves can be best described as average. Perhaps it was the fact that unlike "War of the Worlds", the performers here, while highly competent, were not "stars". It's only speculation, but perhaps Wayne did not get the expert feedback from the performers this time which he enjoyed previously, and thus the quality control was compromised.

A quick examination of the list of performers reveals that the rock orientated musicians who dominated WOTW are largely missing, to be replaced by generally lesser known performers with dance music backgrounds. Ladysmith Black Mambazo play the part of the "crowd" giving the album a significant "world music" feel. Only Manfred Mann's Earth Band's Chris Thompson remains from the WOTW guest singers. If that's not concerning enough(!), the lead female role is sung (yes sung) and narrated by Catherine Zeta Jones! At the time, she was not nearly as well known as she is these days. To be fair, Jones is actually a pretty good singer in a stage show context, and the album does have the feel of a Lloyd-Webber/Rice musical, rather than a rock extravaganza. On the plus side, Fish (ex-Marillion) also appears, albeit briefly.

The tracks are lengthy but rather drawn out, with too little variety, and some sections become downright boring. The peculiar mixture of dance, world music, orchestration, story telling, stage show and a small amount of rock do not sit particularly well together resulting in a disjointed and unsatisfying mix.

The narration is shared by Anthony Hopkins and CZJ, and while the album tells the story well, it can become a bit tedious. It has to be said too, that while the film was undoubtedly a classic, the story has not transferred well to the audio only medium.

"Spartacus" may appeal to someone who enjoys all the diverse influences include in it. Unfortunately, for me those influences have not been put together in a coherent and enjoyable format, and when seen as a whole, the album fails to inspire. Indeed, inspiration appears to largely lacking from the project as a whole.

The lavish presentation of "War of the Worlds" is continued here, with a well presented booklet and box.

Report this review (#32884)
Posted Tuesday, October 5, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
1 stars I bought Spartacus unsighted on it's release, based on the premise that it must be half decent, at the very least, because its predecessor - War Of The Worlds - was so enjoyable. That premise turned out to entirely false: despite a lavish production and presentation, and a few stars in the cast, this was one of the most dire albums it has been my misfortune to own - and I've owned a few corkers.

While many performances are below par, its songs are the main problem: the tale is interesting but not even the talents of Anthony Hopkins (his narration is the only positive), Incantation, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Fish can make much of the very poor material. I can only think of one song on the entire 2CD set that has an even halfway decent tune, and, incidentally, that is adequately sung by Zeta-Jones who has a pretty enough voice.

Aside from Hopkins contribution, I really cannot think of anything positive to say about this, neither can I see anything in it that is remotely connected with Prog - it seems to have been conceived as a musical, but if so, was a very poor attempt rivalling 'Springtime For Hitler' but without its genius for banality and unintentional humour. I can only recommend Spartacus to completists, obsessive lovers of 3rd rate musicals and masochists - everyone else should avoid like the plague.

Report this review (#76400)
Posted Thursday, April 27, 2006 | Review Permalink
1 stars This work holds everything that makes me run away from this sort of album. Almost two hours of spoken "lyrics" for most of it, heavy and pompous orchestrations. What a combination!

And actually, this mayonnaise doesn't work very well even if :

1. You take a good old story about a slave that became a great warrior as the main source of inspiration

2. You get some famous artists for your line-up

3. You manage to appoint a great actor as the main narrator

But this release will completely fail because :

4. There aren't any catchy melodies

5. Wayne was absolutely not in-line musically any longer with the nineties production

6. This album is insipid from start to finish

That's it! Pretty simple isn't ?

The commercial response was extremely poor. But justified because this is a real bad release. To endure this for about two hours is a severe punishment, believe me. I had listened to this twice before this review and I'm really fighting hard to distinguish one single good reason to avoid the one star rating.

Why did Fish and the great Anthony Hopkins jump into this grotesque farce ? This is a mystery. Most of the tracks are based on the same sort of boring spoken vocals, lots of bass to sustain this, some electronic sounds and totally uninspired song writing like during the long (over fifteen minutes!) and boring "The Eagle And The Hawk". But would you believe that there will even be a "reprise" of almost nine minutes for this !

This album has nothing to do with cross-over prog. But it definitely belongs to the dull recitation genre, no problem. Lots of songs are exaggeratedly extended (most of them are longer than eight minutes) and the length of this work is another minus point. Half of it would have been enough, but it wouldn't have changed the global feeling, just shortened the painful treatment of the listener. Some folkish influences during "Going Home" to give us a break are just average.

Poor world music is featured as well ("We Carry On"). The worse number IMO is "Trust Me". An infect soul influenced track. But don't expect good tracks here. There aren't ANY.

My recommendation is to watch the movie and avoid this album by all means. I fully agree with Joolz when he said that this one is for masochists even if "Appian Way" is not too bad. Fully dramatic (Spartacus was crucified there, together with another six thousands rebels).

One star of course (but it's one too much). Even both "Epilogues" are tasteless !

Report this review (#158096)
Posted Tuesday, January 8, 2008 | Review Permalink

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