4.0 out of 5 stars
Worthy Update Of A Classic, 11 Jan 2013
My late Mom bought me Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War Of The Worlds for Christmas in 1979 when I was 14. Since then I have bought goodness knows how many versions on goodness knows how many formats and rarely a week passes when I don't listen to it.
I have to say when I first heard there was to be a re-make/re-model I was worried and disappointed and my immediate reaction was "it won't be as good" and after getting it for Christmas on both vinyl and CD from my wife then I pretty much stick to that statement; it's not as good, at least for me personally, as the original. However, I do think some reviews have been pretty harsh and it's certainly not a ONE STAR effort as some seem to believe.
My main concerns were Liam Neeson - more on him later - Gary Barlow, Joss Stone, Ricky Wilson and the bloke who does Phil Lynotts' part - being old I'd never heard of him - and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. In my humble opinion, only Liam Neeson lets the project down, but no, that's being too harsh; he doesn't let it down, he's just not Richard Burton. It's not his fault; he is a great actor with a great voice but doesn't really have the gravitas to fill RB's journalist shoes. There are a few people I think would have done a better job - I'd like the bloke who does the M&S adverts, you know the one who was in Pride and Prejudice to have had a shot at it. Really, that is the main disappointment for me and it's such a shame as it is probably the most pivotal role in the whole shebang.
My thoughts track by track:
Eve Of The War - still makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Strings sound just as stunning but I'm not as keen on the modern twist given to the backing. I still prefer the original "disco era" version. I'm no Take That fan (well, I am 47!) but I think Gary Barlow does a great job vocally. There are a lot of sound effects some of which I thought were pretty superfluous - especially those that whizz from speaker to speaker, but overall the track remains true to the original.
Horsell Common And The Heat Ray - Very close to the original although this tends to have some - not unpleasant - busy arpeggios in the background. I'm pleased the xylophone bit has managed to stay in - was always one of my favourite bits. The guitar sound and style is almost identical to the original as are those familiar blasts of feedback. Some slight change to the dialogue, but nothing that spoils the track. Sound effects, such as the bit following "two luminous disc like eyes.." are identical to the original. As are the effects used when the cylinders leave Mars. Even the unscrewing of the cylinder is identical, so although there are different things in the mix, there are some old friends in there which make everything feel better.
The Artilleryman And The Fighting Machine - Again, close to the original. Ricky Wilson does a good job here with his dialogue and it is nice not having to hear David Essex saying the word "metal", which has annoyed me for 34 years! More arpeggios sprinkled in for good measure. As with the previous track the sound effects are satisfyingly familiar and some of the new things work well; the newspaper boy finally make an appearance with his "Morning paper, men from Mars" chants which was actually due to appear on the original. And there's a great bit where the Journalist hides under the water. Thankfully, even the "Ullas" are the same.
Forever Autumn - For me one of the truly great love songs of the 70's. Justin Hayward's version was beautifully sung with equally beautiful instrumentation. Gary Barlow does an excellent job, he really does, and his voice - to me - has never sounded sweeter. The strings are there and the acoustic guitars are there as they should be but what spoils the whole thing for me is the sound of the flute. It's very harsh and thin - did they use a Casio VL-Tone?! The flute (or synth or mellotron) on the original was warm, soaring perfection, but really lets the track down here. However, a great song is still a great song and Gary Barlow must be congratulated here for his fine vocal performance.
Thunder Child - Sung by Alex Clare. Never heard of him - sorry Alex - but he is really excellent and has a similar voice to the great Chris Thompson who sang the song originally. It's nice to know that Chris sung backing vocals on the album. As with the original Alex's vocals along with the narrative and music really make you root for the Thunder Child, although you know it's gonna end in tears. One of my favourite tracks on the original and still a cracking track here. Well done to Alex for making it his own. A nice touch too is hearing, for the first time, the voices of the Martians.
The Red Weed (Part One) -The original was eerie and uncomfortable but at the same time essential listening and it has a similar feel on the New Generation. The only thing that lets it down for me are the random piano notes which in the original added to the atmosphere, but here are jarring and a little too loud on here.
The Spirit Of Man - Ooh, I was worried about this one. Who on earth could fill the shoes of Covington and Lynott? Joss Stone and the bloke I'd never heard of? Well, I have to admit they both did a bloody good job. Stone is amazing and Maverick sings with real gutso. A surprise and a pleasant one at that.
The Red Weed (Part Two) - The Red Weed with a beat - though sadly a drum machine - and the introduction of the Parson. After being disappointed of the flute on Forever Autumn it's nice that Jeff stuck to the same flutey/mellotron sound as the original on this. The track where the Martians sit down for a bite to eat!
The Artilleryman Returns - The reappearance of Ricky Wilson and again I was really impressed with him on this. The biggest let down for me in the original was David Essex. Wilson sounds genuinely mad and deranged!
Brave New World - "We're gonna build a whole new world for ourselves". Again, another feather in the cap for Wilson. Sung excellently and for me better than the Essex original.
Dead London - Misses off the extended sequence of random noise found at the beginning of the original, but that's OK; it's good that they get on with it. This is the first time for me where Neeson really gets into the part - in which the Journalist feels lost and desolate in an empty City. Still brings a lump to the throat when all goes quiet with it's dramatic pause.
They actually break this down to two parts on the Next Generation and rather than the instrumental version of Eve Of The War we get on the original, we have a vocal reprise from Gary Barlow, which is a nice touch.
Epilogue (Part One) - A track that always seemed strangely out of place on the original and my feelings haven't changed for the new version. Sounds very similar though; the Journalist saying we've won the battle but maybe not the war. Again there's a feeling of familiarity and I'm pleased to hear that the Clangers still do the backing vocals!
Epilogue (Part Two) - Almost identical to the original but with more spooky alien voices, which is a nice touch.
I know a lot of people were concerned and even horrified at the thought of an updated version of WoTW and I was one of them. Shamefully, I prejudged the album before even listening to it and have left a couple of comments I made on early reviews as a reminder to myself. The New Generation for me isn't better, but it's different and I'm sure the update will appeal to younger fans who will probably find the discothèque feel of the original a little dated. As fans of the album we should be grateful for Jeff Wayne for trying to get a "New Generation" of fans interested in one of the greatest albums ever recorded. It deserves a wider audience and a new set of fans and I'm sure this update will help.
There are many highs and a few lows - no one could have replaced Burton - but overall I think it's a worthwhile update and rather than just gathering dust on the shelf, I put in on fairly regularly - as much as the original at the moment. If you're not sure then listen to it on Spotify - I'm sure you won't be quite as horrified as you imagine.
Ultimately, the original will always be there so I would urge the undecided to take a chance. I feel it's worth it.