Jeff Wayne - Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War Of The Worlds: The New Generation
No-one would have believed, not in the early years of the twenty-first century, that human affairs were still being watched from the sinister world of record company headquarters. No-one could have dreamed we were being scrutinised, as someone with a microscope studies the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. Few would even consider the possibility that plans were being drawn up - not for invasion, but to persuade us to re-purchase records we already own! Oh, the horror! Oh, the humanity!
Looking back, the 1970s were a strange, alien place. Back before the interweb, sexting and ADHD people could release concept albums and people had the attention spans to get on board and buy them in their millions. In 1978 Jeff Wayne, a man with a proven track record in advertising jingles, released a musical retelling of HG Wells' 1898 novel The War Of The Worlds. 15 million copies were sold. For those who survived the experience, Richard Burton would forever be the benchmark for how all global invasions should be voiced.
2012 sees Wayne tackle the project for a second time. Conceptually the challenge must have been to find the right balance. Do you go for complete reinvention and risk alienating the fans of the original? Or do you slavishly stick to plan A and face accusations of cloning something commercially successful for limited artistic merit? Whilst not straying too far from the 1978 template this version can be affectionately described as a contemporaneous update of the original. In neither re-invents the wheel nor bastardizes the original. Aside from a few additional Eurodisco flourishes the album retains the bulk of the melodic hooks that were its main selling point back in the day.
A new complement of guest artists are present - and it feels churlish to embark on straight comparisons of the old versus new versions. That said, referring to them as “The New Generation” evokes a Power Rangers-style re-boot which can’t have been the intention. In War of the Worlds Deathmatch it’s Liam Neeson v Richard Burton, Gary Barlow v Justin Haywood, Ricky Wilson v David Essex and Joss Stone v Julie Covington. Of all the guests, perhaps Liam Neeson had the most difficult shoes to fill. Comparisons aside, his performance feels like a narration rather than a performance and is less engaging for it. To his credit, Gary Barlow’s efforts are unobtrusive whilst Ricky Wilson makes a good account of himself as The Artilleryman - useful, given that he’s taking his performance onto the stage when the album is performed live alongside a holographic Liam Neeson.
So there you go. The chances of a new version of this album being released were perhaps slightly less than a million to one (as the saying goes) - but here it comes nonetheless.