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The MUSIC with Everything
on 30 October 2013
If The X Factor and Britain (or insert your own country here) Has Very Little Talent has the thumbs down set on your Tivo box then Ayreon's The Theory of Everything will come as a timely oasis in the desert that is modern music.
Progressive music got a bad reputation with those who could only play three chords on a guitar and didn't have the musical ability, imagination or attention span to explore any further. So welcome back my friends to the show that never really ended, welcome to THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, Arjen's attempt to progress music a little further in 2013.
For those of you who are still to become Ayeonauts (where have you been!!!), the band Ayreon is really a 6 foot 7 inch tall geeky guy from the Netherlands called Arjen Anthony Lucassen with the help of a couple of regular contributors and assorted special guest singers and musicians adding a solo here and there to a greater or lesser extent.
In nearly all of the reviews I have seen so far a lot has been made of the all star guest players. While this is certainly the talking point of the album, what must not be forgotten here is that 90% of what you hear is played by Arjen himself - the guitars, bass, most of the keyboards. If you focus on that, it's then you start realising how significant a talent he has. Quite extraordinary. Nevermind Actual Fantasy, this guy as ACTUAL TALENT, and an over abundance of it.
I'll not review the content of the music in detail as that has been done many times elsewhere. Instead I will sketch a picture of how this album makes me feel.
When I feel jaded and world weary, when something's bothering me, I will look through my music collection for inspiration and 50% of the time I will find I have an Ayreon album in my hand. I will lay down with my Audeze phones on and listen, REALLY LISTEN. Almost daily for the past few weeks I have found The Theory of Everything entering my ears and firing my imagination. Arjen's music is a eclectic combination of many things I like in music, he could almost be composing this just for me. His music has imagination, a scale and depth I have rarely heard elswhere. Arjen tells stories with his music so you wonder what is going to happen next both narratively and sonically.
I appreciate his choice of instruments, many of which have a noticable texture to them, i.e. old analogue synths with sci-fi like square waves which tickle my ears. Then there is his gravelly Hammond organ which invoke feelings of grandure. There is a lot of violin, cello and low flutes on this album, again adding texture to the sound, giving it another dimension. On this album Arjen uses his trademark deep tone crunching industrial rhythm guitar backgrounds on some tracks. This adds another texture layer to the music all of which make listening with headphones an aural and physical experience. Try it and see what I mean, give your ears a workout.
If you have never heard of Arjen Lucassen or his music before and you like rock music with feeling and a spacious epic sense of wonder you really must listen to this. Melodic, rhythmic, sometimes metal, sometimes folk, other times intense, other times sublime.
Of course "Theory" is not perfect. Some of the transitions between tracks sound a tiny bit forced. I remember reading somewhere that sigues or transitions between two pieces of music stick in the memory at a deeper level than the music itself - this might leave a jarring feeling with those not accustomed to the sudden, angular changes of tempo or melody common with progressive music. Keith Emmerson's solo is a little embarrassing - Arjen asked him for something along the lines of the solo from Lucky Man, Keith must have taken him too literally as he delivered about 30 notes which are an uncomfortably close pastiche of that and a solo from Pictures at an Exhibition. All the vocalists do a fantastic job, however the two female singers are a little too similar and without the lyrics in hand it's possible to get the mother and the girl characters confused. Also the singer portraying the father has a higher voice than the son, which goes against the grain a little.
I would sum up the music of Ayreon as an aural and emotional journey - a comfort blanket for the imagination. Spacey, epic, profound, full of musical wonder, curiosity and experimentation (some of which crash and burn but many take you to places you really wish you could stay). There are a hundred wonderful riffs, hooks and musical passages throughout the hour and twenty minutes of The Theory of Everything, some make you smile, some make you say "wow" to yourself.
I hope with this tremendous double album Arjen will finally breakthrough into a wider and general appreciation of his music beyond the usual prog and metal scene. Why is music in our culture dominated by barely post-pubescent girls or boy bands - the sonic equivalent of painting-by-numbers or the Mona Lisa done on Etch-a-Sketch? Let's hear it for tall Dutch guys for a change who can actually write and play their own stuff. :)
The Theory of Everything deserves to be up there with "The Wall" or "Echoes". It is a significant event in the history of progressive music.