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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Jeff Wayne

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds

Review by Gary Hill

This album is a rock opera based on the classic H. G. Wells book War of the Worlds. It is a very theatric work, somewhat more musical theater than rock album. However, the music here is quite good and very progressive rock oriented. A sign of the times in which it was recorded, disco influences appear at various points in the album. Today they serve somewhat as a nostalgic indication of the time from which the album originated.

Featured performers joining Jeff Wayne on this album include Richard Burton, Julie Covington, David Essex, Justin Hayward (Moody Blues), Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy), Jo Partridge, and Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann`s Earth Band).

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.


 

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
The Eve of the War
The beginning of this track is a narration by Richard Burton setting up the background for the story. Dramatic, orchestrated tones take us out of the narration. One of the main themes of the album makes its first appearance here. The piece encompasses prog leanings, drama, disco and alien based tones to set a nice overview for the work and many of the varied segments here make appearances throughout the album, binding the work together. More narration, describing the missiles making their way to Earth from Mars, acts as a break to the music. As the narrated tale continues, more of the projectiles come from Mars, although "the chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one". Justin Hayward`s vocals lend a Moody Blues oriented feel to the piece, and as the narration continues, we find that the first cylinder has landed.

Horsell Common and the Heat Ray
A bass guitar drives the opening segments of this piece as we hear the sounds of the cylinder unscrewing. Narration describes the crowd and happenings as the lid falls and the Martian emerges. A very entertaining section of music gives its own description of this otherworldly scene. Narration then describes the first use of the heat ray, and the music increases in intensity while slight disco tones again make an appearance. The narration continues the story, as the song persists in its evolution, while bringing its own themes back. As the piece ends, soldiers have gathered in close to the area, and a second cylinder has arrived.
The Artillery-Man and the Fighting Machine
Musical themes begun in the last track continue here, with more `70`s type influences. The piece is essentially a conversation between the narrator (a journalist) and artillery-man. We find that the Martians have built a fighting machine and fought their way through the gathered resistance. As the music continues throughout the cut, more disco influences make their appearance, but the feel is still quite prog. The tripod fighting machines work their way across the British countryside bringing destruction with them. As the heat ray strikes the nearby town, we first hear the Martians` howl, which is followed by a nice keyboard flourish.
Forever Autumn
A narration sets the tone for the first real song on the album. This is a beautiful Moody Blues styled ballad sung by Justin Hayward. Forever Autumn is a love song nestled amongst the larger story unfolding. The song does include more narration of the story, but it cannot take away from the beauty of the piece. As the narration continues, London is devastated by the Martians.
Thunder Child
This song (complete with narration sections) tells of the battle fought by the war ship Thunder Child against the Martians. As a symbol of Earth`s last hope against the invaders, the ship is sunk as more cylinders make their descent to Earth. Musically, this is a pop song with progish influences, and is ended by the Martian howl and other side effects.
Disc 2
The Red Weed (Part 1)
A weird tone pervades the piece as the landscape begins to resemble Mars due to the growth of red Martian weed. Pretty, but melancholy, tones begin to emerge from the strangeness of the piece, but an otherworldly texture still dominates. This track is very prog in nature, seeming even to be a bit reminiscent of some of Rick Wakeman`s more ambitious works.

The Spirit of Man
This number, in many ways, is more theater than song, but does contain vocal sections (Phil Lynott and Julie Covington) which are quite strong. In fact, much of these vocal sections, and the music surrounding them, are powerful and uplifting against the bleak situation surrounding them. However, even these sung vocal segments are in the form of dialogue, adding to the theatrical texture of the composition.
The Red Weed (Part 2)
This cut reprises the weirdness of the first version of The Red Weed. Again more theatric in nature, the piece continues to advance the story. Central musical themes to the work, first seen in the initial track, also re-emerge here.
Brave New World
Essentially a madman`s dream of rebuilding the Earth, this is a dramatic piece. The majority of the song is a monologue (some spoken, some sung) set to symphonic prog music.
Dead London
Sounds of desolation begin this track, and echoes of themes from the opening segment of the album appear here. The mood of this piece is very effective, and again the central theme makes a solid appearance. Amongst the devastation, and weirdness, the Martians meet their end before our narrator`s eyes. Victorious tones signify the resurgence of man.
Epilogue
This piece starts with spoken word and sound effects. It is an augmentation to the original story, and shows the beginnings of a new invasion.
 
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