No-one would have believed……
It may not be immediately apparent, but I’m a bit of a science fiction fan. (I know, right?). I first read HG Wells’ War of the Worlds when I was 10 or 11, very early in my first flowering of literary exploration. I’ve since collected most of Wells’ fiction, but ‘War’ was my first, and it’s still the one I hold most dear.
Imagine, then, to discover that someone had recorded a musical version. Imagine, also, that the musical version recorded was amongst the most ambitious, powerful, and downright epic albums ever recorded. By anyone. Ever.
Well, don’t imagine. Because if you’re older than childbirth, chances are you’ve absorbed at least part of this album into your subconscious simply through cultural osmosis. Try it: type “The chances of anything coming from Mars…” onto your Facebook page and see how many people respond. Yeah. See? Told you.
Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is a towering achievement: in its arrangements; in the sheer star power he gathered under his banner; as a literary adaptation. It is, I would argue, the greatest concept album ever recorded. The intermingling of Wells’ words and Wayne’s arrangements is perfectly balanced, each component enhancing the other so that moments of danger are even more so, otherworldly creepiness is explicitly creepier, madness and despair and tragedy all clarified and amplified. The voice performances are, without exception, superb. The songs, timeless. (I’ll prove it: Bum bum BUMMMMMMM… and you know exactly what you just heard inside your head.) The scope is by turns grandiose and personal. It is a perfect soundtrack album to a Hollywood blockbuster that doesn’t need to be made.
I first bought this album when I was 12 years old. In the intervening 35 years I’ve owned copies in 4 different media, and I will undoubtedly continue to accumulate versions until I die. I have spent many evenings sunk into it, sitting in isolation, with the lights off, my eyes closed, letting the sheer scale and grandeur of it all wash over me. It is a brilliant musical album, a brilliant adaptation, and one of the most successfully realised and superb science fiction texts ever committed to any medium. It is, in every way, a classic.
Farewell, Thunder Child……