Jeff Wayne - The War Of The Worlds (1990)

Jeff Wayne is not so much the performer as such; his role here is to bring together many highly talented musicians to perform his masterpiece. To be fair, he does contribute keyboards and backing vocals. While Wayne is indeed the main composer and producer, credit is due Garry Osbourne who writes virtually all the lyrics. “The War of the worlds” could perhaps be seen as a follow up to Lou Reizner’s excellent symphonic version of “Tommy”, with which it has more than passing similarities (although admittedly Reizner was not involved in the composition in that case).

The album is of course based on the HG Wells novel of the same name, with narration by the late Richard Burton. Burton’s distinguished voice is ideal for the music. While his interjections playing the part of a journalist tell the story perfectly, there is never any danger of this becoming a talking book. The music at times has an almost dance like beat as on the opening track ("The eve of the war”), but it is diverse with strong orchestration, and some first class instrumental work (especially from Chris Spedding on guitar). There are also moody, ambient phases (“Dead London”), and Rice/Lloyd-Webber like stage show pieces (“The spirit of man”).

The most familiar tracks will be the two that feature Justin Hayward (MOODY BLUES). While “Eve of the war” is largely an instrumental, it opens with a brief introductory narration from Burton, before the now so familiar orchestral theme crashes in. It is almost like the theme to a documentary or newsreel, where you just know what’s coming is not going to be good news. Hayward is the first singer to appear on the album as he reminds us, “The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one, but still they come”.

The tracks on the album are all lengthy, each side of the double LP only holding two or three songs. Side one is completed by “Horsell Common and the Heat Ray”. The sound effects can be a bit too literal in this section, with what appears to be a tin can being slowly unscrewed, then the lid dropping to the ground, to simulate the Martian heat ray being unveiled. It's all a bit too BBC sound effects department!

The track distinctions and names are largely irrelevant, as the album flows as a continuous and complete piece. There are many excellent performances throughout the album. Phil Lynott (THIN LIZZY) as the manic and delusional preacher, Julie Covington as his devoted wife, and David Essex as the naive young artillery man who is going to build a whole new world from scratch, underground. The distinctive voiced Chris Thompson (MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND) tells the tale of the “Thunder child” warship, on which all hope for the future is resting, with his customary excellence.

Above all these however comes Justin Hayward’s performance on “Forever autumn”. If you have only ever heard the single version of this song, the full-length version included here will be a pleasant surprise. The lush orchestration, instrumental breaks, and narration interludes by Burton all go towards making this an absolute epic of a track. Lyrically (other than the narration), it doesn’t really add anything to the story, apart from painting a picture of the emotional devastation felt by the "journalist" with both his personal, and indeed the world’s predicament. Musically however, it is the highlight of the album, and one of the best pieces of music Hayward has contributed to (and he has been involved in many fine pieces).

Of course, there is the happy ending to the story to conclude, with a final sting in the tail added by Wayne(!).

“War of the worlds” is a quite stunning album, full of strong melodies, inspired song-writing, and excellent performances. I would recommend going for the full double LP/CD version, rather than the budget label “highlights”. While the latter contains a good selection of extracts, it also has some extremely dodgy editing, and some unnecessary remixes.

Watch out also for the dub remix version of the whole album, which contains various dance remixes of the tracks, but detracts from, rather than enhances the original performances. Finally, avoid also Wayne’s follow up album “Spartacus”, which had a similar structure to “War of the worlds”, but is devoid of inspired song writing or performances. - Review by Easy Livin (Bob McBeath)

Track Listings

Disc 1:
1. The Eve of the War (9:06)
2. Horsell Common and the Heat Ray (11:36)
3. The Artilleryman and the Fighting Machine (10:36)
4. Forever Autumn (7:43)
5. Thunder Child (6:10)

Disc 2:
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) (NASA) (2:02)

Total Time: 95:12

- Jeff Wayne / synthesizer, keyboards, voices, director, conductor, executive producer, performer, orchestration
- David Essex / vocals, performer
- Justin Hayward / vocals, performer
- Chris Spedding / guitar
- Julie Covington / vocals, performer
- Herbie Flowers / guitar (bass)
- Billy Lawrie / vocals (background)
- Phil Lynott / vocals, performer
- Chris Thompson / vocals, performer
- Richard Burton / vocals, performer
- Ray Cooper / percussion
- George Fenton / zither, taragat, santur
- Ken Freeman / synthesizer, keyboards
- Barry Morgan / drums
- Gary Osborne / vocals (background)
- Jo Partridge / guitar, vocals, performer
- Paul Vigrass / vocals (background)
- Roy Jones / percussion
- Barry Da Souza / percussion
Releases information

CD Columbia 35290 (1990)
Re-Release on 7/5/2005 - CD Sony DPCD96000

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