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

THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

Jeff Wayne

 

Crossover Prog

3.96 | 179 ratings

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Frankingsteins
5 stars 'No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space.'

H. G. Wells' classic novel continues to be revised and updated for modern audiences, from Orson Welles' unintentionally devastating radio performance in 1938 to the latest Spielberg film, but Jeff Wayne's 1978 rock opera remains the most interesting, unexpected and perhaps loyal adaptation in the public consciousness.

Now re-released on double CD, and available in several different, increasingly dubious forms since its release, 'The War of the Worlds' came at a time between the psychedelia, progressive rock and glam of the previous decade and the subsequent rise of disco. Producer, keyboard player and backing vocalist Jeff Wayne somehow combined all these disparate elements and created an eternal best-seller, aided somewhat by the presence of vocalists from the likes of Justin Hayward, David Essex and Richard Burton as the narrator.

'No one could have dreamed we were being scrutinised, as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.'

The War of the Worlds is split across two discs, respectively titled, as was the case with the two parts of Wells' novel, 'The Coming of the Martians' and 'The Earth Under the Martians.' Staying even truer to the source text, there is no attempt to update Wells' Victorian notions for discoing seventies audiences; the story is set in nineteenth century London, the characters and events are related as they appear in the novel, and the sound effects are rendered expertly cheesy and unconvincing. Okay, maybe this is more to do with seventies production values.

'Few men even considered the possibility of life on other planets, and yet, across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded the Earth with envious eyes.'

The War of the Worlds is a brilliantly-devised alternative to a simple radio dramatisation which, while clearly not to everyone's taste, engulfs the listener and creates a real sense of danger and impending doom from the ominous opening.

'And slowly and surely, they drew their plans against us.'

THE COMING OF THE MARTIANS

1. The Eve of the War (9.06) 2. Horsell Common and the Heat Ray (11.36) 3. The Artilleryman and the Fight (10.36) 4. Forever Autumn (7.43) 5. Thunder Child (6.10)

The first disc is composed of five lengthy sections, taking their titles from chapters through the first half of Wells' novel. 'The Eve of the War' and 'Forever Autumn' are the most well-known songs from Wayne's album, released (albeit trimmed down for radio play) as bestselling singles and both featuring vocals from Justin Hayward of Moody Blues.

As with most concept albums, recognisable riffs and melodies, most notably the famous opening orchestration, reappears throughout and forms the basis of the rest of the music. Those unused to such conceptual works may find this irritating and repetitive, but Wayne thankfully manages to keep things interesting by introducing catchy, memorable, uplifting or scary pieces of music with each track.

Richard Burton's narration spans the tracks here, reciting Wells at relevant points but never falling into 'audio book' mode. There is little acting from the rest of the cast in comparison to the more eventful second disc, but David Essex's artilleryman appears and Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann's Earth Band (apparently) puts in a fantastic performance detailing the events of 'Thunder Child.'

This first disc doesn't descend too far into rock opera territory, acting more as a continuous and ever-changing piece of music that relaxes and exhilarates the listener. Track lengths approaching and exceeding ten minutes won't be everyone's cup of tea, and at times the music does tend to drag on, but the heavily edited re-release on a single CD in 2000 demonstrated that this is necessary for the experience.

THE EARTH UNDER THE MARTIANS

6. The Red Weed (5.55) 7. The Spirit of Man (11.41) 8. The Red Weed [Part 2] (6.51) 9. Brave New World (12.13) 10. Dead London (8.37) 11. Epilogue [Part 1] (2.42) 12. Epilogue [Part 2] (2.02)

I'm less fond of the second disc and tend to listen to it less, perhaps because the tracks are more operatic and storyline-based than the driving melodies, riffs and beats of the more spacious first disc. Julie Covington and Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott put in great performances on this side as a crazy preacher and his caring, ultimately doomed wife, while the musical style that pervaded the first disc continues to evolve, but less impressively.

'Brave New World' is the only track I would single out across the album as lasting for too long, but this is all made up for with the first rousing 'Epilogue,' fading in to great relief after the story seems to have abruptly ended, and the new addition of a second, contemporary epilogue ('Part 2') that provides an extra dimension of fear to Wells' original happy, but somewhat unhopeful finale.

The War of the Worlds falls somewhere between full-blown opera and studio album, disco and prog rock, faithful adaptation and heinous blasphemy. Prog fans love it, while 'The Eve of the War' even seems to be a favourite of Alan Partridge. In adapting a novel to the musical medium, Wayne had to devise the general sound and its evolution and progression through the album from scratch; the popularity and acclaim of this record proves that he excelled.

The acting isn't first rate, but it's certainly passable; don't expect this to rival any of Lloyd-Webber's musicals in that category. Riichard Burton's narrator / journalist sounds oddly out of place when interacting with other characters, while others seem intent on screeching their way through repetitive numbers.

The double-CD has been re-released, meaning it's still widely available wherever CDs are sold, but avoid the single CD 'highlights' release; this omits Burton's narration and cuts down the songs, thereby spoiling the whole experience. After all, without the grandeur that is the storyline concept, many will see this as just a bunch of blokes with synthesisers and guitars pretending they're Pink Floyd.

Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds remains my favourite adaptation of this classic story, and one that benefits greatly from shelving this classic for a while before experiencing it again.

Frankingsteins | 5/5 |

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