An Uneasy Relationship Pt.1

OK. PM gets busy some times, and has to have little back-up pieces ready for when there just isn’t time to pen vignettes of unassailable majesty and insight every day. This is one such back-up piece, not too polished but honest enough. Don’t worry, normal service will be resumed very soon, we just need to wait for those March release dates to hurry up. The new Bill Callahan and Will Oldham records turned up, and there’s a whole load of Dan Deacon to get excited about. Fret not kid.

An Uneasy Relationship

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the Worlds

We’ve all got them tucked away on the shelf. The records we would never dream of listening to when anyone else was around, but equally would never throw away. When others scoff about them, you feel a slight maternal twinge. Equally, when someone enthuses about it you can’t help but pity them for valorising such guff. A complex relationship forms whereby you literally love some moments, and others make you want to frag yourself with shards of vinyl.

Mine is Jeff Wayne‘s musical version of H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds. I remember being a young boy, not more than 8, attending a firework display and laser show that used Wells’ most ripping of yarns as its basis, and Wayne’s prog-pop-shit-funk simultaneous hug and slap of its base material as a soundtrack. To say I was enchanted would be an understatement. I couldn’t get enough of the Wakeman-esque keyboards, the Martian chanting, that simple string refrain that heralded the destruction of upper Surrey. I loved it. Now, I don’t want to focus on the obvious. It’s dated terribly as a recording, the spoken word sections, save for Richard Burton, are embarrassingly bad, and we all know how cheesy Forever Autumn is. There’s something a little more complex happening here.

Some years passed after I attended that firework display, and Wayne’s album became something I remembered from childhood fondly rather than something I needed to get me through my adolescence (many others did that, too numerous and obvious to mention here). So, if it’s not too perverse to attribute it to an 8-year-old, I’d had a flirtation with Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds and gotten over it successfully. After arriving at university, a friend of mine re-introduced me to the album – and subsequently caused frustration immeasurable at what it meant to me. Listening to it in bed one night, drunk, I found myself a little nervous. The light menace of the Martian bassline as they squelched across farmlands, the blind fury of their “ULLA!” cry… never mind nervous. I was terrified.

I hated myself for being terrified by this terribly nerdy music. Think about it. Posho musicians, posho actors, posho pseudo-intellectual musical constructs that don’t hold up to their influences, cheap-sounding synths… ugh. By this point in my life I’d begun writing the odd review and article and I had delusions of my own intelligence when it came to music, so I began to detest the whole album. Even today I stand by this reaction – it’s an album with much to quibble over. The staple of the rock musician thinking they ‘get’ Wagner, the leitmotif, is aired excessively. In truth, the themes are tremendously simplistic and receive very little in the way of transformations and reiterations that might change the audience’s perception of them. This is a record that is by no means as clever as it thinks it is.

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More soon.

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