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Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds – 30th Anniversary Edition

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds – 30th Anniversary Edition (Sony)

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the Worlds

Hot on the heels of the 2005 Special Edition, the 2006 remixes and the 2007 highlights packages comes this 2009 30th Anniversary  edition of Jeff Wayne’s long-cherished opus, this time as a USB memory stick with myriad extras. First things first: the USB, apparently supposed to resemble a Martian craft, looks like a grey crap and has the leaden lug of a corporate paperweight. Plug it in and it lights up with barely-registering green lights. So far, so unimpressive. The content itself is going to need to be pretty exceptional to warrant this hoo-ha and weighty box with magnetic flap, so what do we get exactly? The original album, obviously, the best of the many remixes, a game entitled ‘The Last Artilleryman’, ringtones, wallpapers, an e-book documenting the story of the recording, a video greeting from Jeff Wayne himself, and the chance to enter a remix competition. Wow! Sounds exciting, doesn’t it, my fellow TWOTW geeks?

Second things second: the USB is useless. For the extortionate sum of £30 you can marvel at a game that rips off ‘Tanks’ for the BBC Computer and will take you five minutes to decide it’s as dull as a sink, a shockingly poor music video where a Victorian woman walks around a park, a smug and blink-quick chat with Jeff Wayne (“we used to have vinyl… now we have memory sticks.”), a collection of already-available remixes, a book you can read online (here: just saved you 30 quid) in which Herbie Flowers says things like “I was STRAIGHT out of the room, mate”, and an album you already own. It looks as if you’d be better off with the alternative package which features, alongside a DVD of the reportedly stunning live show, a copy of the original H.G. Wells novel.

Before turning into the prog rock version of the Which Guide, it’s probably advisable to praise the album itself which, although patchy and dented by visions of forty-year-old men crying because their only son prefers Transformers, has weathered well. Compositionally, it will never escape comparison to Wagnerian leitmotifs, which is unfair on Wagnerian leitmotifs. Wayne’s are painfully simple, though effective enough, and the voice-acting remains truly diabolical with the exception of Richard Burton. As a whole, the work creates terror superbly well – show me a man of a certain age who doesn’t feel a chill when an unexpected “ULLA!” rips across the Surrey of their mind. It’s an undeniably atmospheric work, cheesy as it is, and the playing, production and execution are all excellent.

The main thing that goes unnoticed, however, is the shocking way in which Wayne has appropriated the Wells material, and almost billed it as his own. If one thinks of The War Of The Worlds today, the Wells original must come into third place for most people, behind Wayne’s and Spielberg’s interpretations. This is understandable, but would be more acceptable had Wayne and his father ‘n’ wife team of story consultants not hacked the book to pieces quite so much. The narrator’s tenure with the priest in the pit below the Martian construction site is swift, unlike the book’s fortnight of psychological, religious and violent horror, and the narrator is swiftly absolved of any guilt when we hear Burton intone “there was nothing I could do to stop it”. Furthermore, what the hell is that NASA conclusion? Don’t they remember when the world was blown to shit last time? What are they doing poking around on Mars anyway?

All this is by-the-by. The only way to enjoy Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of War Of The Worlds to its optimum potential is to listen to it without ever having read the H.G. Wells original. Outside of these circumstances, it’s a confusing, sporadic joy that has been marketed too much, with this latest slew of commemorative releases being the most heinous offenders. It’s very, very difficult to make a fair assessment being so familiar with the record’s charms and embarrassments, but its sufficient to conclude that, despite what’s been said above, the version to go for is the live DVD edition that comes with a copy of the novel. It may taint your enjoyment of Wayne’s work, but at least you’ll understand why he got some of it wrong. And you can always throw the DVD away. To anyone who already has a copy of the album, don’t bother with the USB, it will offer you precious little extra to what you already love.

This came out on Monday, and isn’t the best. Nice packaging and all, but come on. You can find out a wealth of info regardging the live show, Jeff Wayne and not the novel by going here. To read the novel, go here. I mean, any book that has a line so immediately attractive and unintentionally hilarious as “The planet Mars, I scarcely need remind the reader, revolves about the sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles…” has got to be worth a read. Cop this review here, too, at The Quietus.


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An Uneasy Relationship Pt.2

An Uneasy Relationship Pt.2

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the Worlds

Furthermore, having now read the H.G. Wells source, it’s possible to see how very little of the original sentiments are present in the musical version. The novel is so much harsher, bleaker and colder. The narrator suffers an interminable spell of weeks alone and with a priest, eats nothing but moss and ends up bloodied. The narrator in Wayne’s version smacks the priest on the head, absolves himself quickly of any blame and pushes on within the hour. Similarly, only the themes of civilisation’s descent into vaguely ordered anarchy make an appearance in a terribly simplistic fashion. The complex notions of this premise are much more detailed in Wells’ vision, as are themes of familial discontent and the nature of loneliness on a personal and interplanetary level.

The ending of the Jeff Wayne version is just awful, complete bollocks of such intense magnitude, shite with the most indelible smears. Really. If you haven’t heard it, don’t rush out, but allow me to describe it. The war has been won by the humans (more by accident than endeavour), and we are now hearing an earth-led space mission to take photographs of the Martian surface. Everything seems to be going well, the crackly radio voices are atmospheric and tell us that we’re being fed back some striking pictures. Alas, as is always the cliché, things go wrong and we begin to hear the familiar Martian octave-leap drones that earlier meant your barn was going to be set alight. We lose transmission, the Martians are back, we’ll probably die.

What’s ridiculous about this scenario is that there appears to be no recollection of what happened at the turn of the previous century. Surely someone must’ve consulted a history book (or how about LIVING FUCKING MEMORY?!) and thought “well, I should imagine that, seeing as we got shat on quite badly last time, we might want to avoid Mars for at least a few thousand years, yeah?”. Come on.

But still, I want to listen to it quite often, and usually in one epic sitting. Might I be clouded by my childhood impression? Everything I’ve learnt about music tells me I should discard this hellishly misjudged record as an insult to Wells’ original, but there’s a desire there on my part, and I’m very confused by it. Should I just accept that I love it and buy the computer game version? Or should I stick to my critical guns and purge myself of it safe in the knowledge that I’ve done the right thing, intellectually? I imagine I’ll wrestle with this problem for some time, possibly until I finally give up and listen to it six times a day in slippers, gradually believing it to be a true story and move into the attic, frightened to confront the inevitable coming of extra-terrestrials. If any priests come near me I’ll shit them up.

So I don’t know what to do about it. I think, logically, I should put it away until I can’t stand life without it any more, then the rush of pleasure might be enough to kill me. Then I won’t have to worry about it again.

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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.


More soon.

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