I have a theory that Jeff Wayne has other-worldly testicles. He does not possess the old-lady-purse made out of chicken skin variety of most men, but a large chrome pair of knockers that hypnotise the beholder into subservience. I have a feeling his sperm count is measured in tonnage. I actually believe Jeff Wayne is attached to his nuts and not the other way around.
Why is my opening salvo regarding the Spunk Barracks of another man? Easy. It is the only way to explain how Jeff Wayne, at the time a jingle composer, managed to rope together some stupidly good talent for this album. On paper, a musical version of the War of the Worlds is more batshit than The Shape of Water directed by lemmings. None of it could have conceivably sounded alright. I can only imagine the pitch in 1975 going something like this:
“So Mr Wayne, let me get this right, you want to take a novel with no public interest and turn it into a musical with that guy who was in Cleopatra and the dude from the Moody Blues?”
“Don’t forget Phill Lynott’s moustache, it is very important to the whole album…”
“Right, Phill Lynott’s moustache. Mr Wayne, I have to politely tell you that there is a stronger chance of women getting the right to vote.”
“Hang on a tick…”
“Mr Wayne, please get off the board room table, you are making a fool of yours… wow those are some impressive chin-smackers…”
“What about now?”
“I am at your bidding… I will have Bob here find you studio space…”
Bob (Denis de Young in Comedy Glasses and Moustache Combo):
“Mr Wayne, will you be needing synthesizers for this album of yours? I see that a Mr De Young, who I am told is very handsome and talented, already has a studio kitted out with about eight…”
“Oh Heaven’s! I won’t need eight…”
Those of you familiar with the leit-motifs of Wagner will not take long to realise that Wayne leaps on his crunchy riff’s faster than twitter taking umbrage to existence. I am certain he spent months in a Native American sweat lodge with nothing but “Roget’s Guide to Pants-Shitting Power Chords” and enough mescaline to kill God.
This is an album which has to be listened to in its entirety. The hauntingly delivered opening lines by Richard “My Voice is More English than Tweed and Sunburn” Burton are followed by that leaping indomitable opening. The strings! The Harpsichord! The chances of anything coming from Mars! “The Eve of War” is arguably one of the greatest musical openers in History were it not for a certain “Science Fiction Double Feature.”
The album is lengthy. My first introduction to it was on double disk and the vinyl is nothing less than four disks. Each track is anything from four to twelve minutes. However, they do not drag or bore (the closest is the slow-building “Red Weed Part 1”) and each has a particular unique stride that differentiates it from the last. Despite the gloominess that seems to be pervasive throughout there is a strangely camp tone. Somewhere in all that musical layering is a unicorn shitting glitter in a cravat.
There is an incredible amount of production which has gone into this album – layers upon layers wait for you to dissect them on repeat listening’s. Wayne is a master of effects – crackles of cables and Theremin whoops reverberate throughout each track. The man knows how to build dread, especially when armed with a bass and a production studio filled with everything that whistles and beeps.
As incredible as the purely instrumental pieces are (The Artillery Man and The Heat Ray has a synth and guitar literally duelling) this album shines most brightly when Wayne’s vocalists are given their due. Justin Hayward does most of the heavy lifting as “The Voice of Man” (basically the protagonists singing voice) and is as soulful and ethereal as you would expect the frontman of the Moody Blues to be. Julie Covington also lends a much-needed swathe of femininity. Her role as the parson’s wife is actually a beautifully realised character despite the limited time she gets to shine. If this album has one drawback it is the absence of female voices. Covington’s character is played straight, ably pining for hope with an incredible lyrical strength which her pleading voice conveys. Her career on stage clearly equipped her to do a lot with a little and it is incredible.
However, despite it being Jeff Wayne’s rodeo, Phil Lynott steals the show as he strains his way as Pastor Nathaniel in “The Spirit of Man”. He deserves his credential as an unsung hero of music. He shouts his lines with the fervour of a three year old who has discovered fireworks and the orifice’s in which they fit. He chews every single line. No exceptions. It is because of this performance that I believe Phil Lynott was actually a wolf who learned to walk upright and dress well.
This has to be an album which is in everyone’s collection. I know I am writing from a place of extreme nostalgia (the first time I heard this at a family friend’s house at the age of four I stole the CD), but you will have to forgive me. I doubt there are many records out there which heave with such ambition. It is – and I apologize for this – a true tour de force. It is an album which deserves your appreciation. It should not have worked. Nothing that you are listening to should have worked. The fact is it ended up working so damn well.