I was very much in two minds about this project. I’m a huge fan of the original and it forms a real bridge back to my youth. A very unique album and something I felt no attempt to duplicate or “reinvent”, “reimagine” or whatever buzzword they’re using this month, should be made. It’s perfect as it is, I said, leave it alone. But then I began thinking about it another way. Would it not be great, not only for a whole new generation (pun intended) of fans to gain access to Jeff Wayne’s music, and perhaps even begin to appreciate the novel, but for the project to open up and speak to me in new ways, ways I had perhaps never considered? Seems this was Wayne’s intent when he decided to tackle this.
The idea being to dig deeper into the characters, and of course take advantage of all the major advances there have been in sound recording and multimedia since 1978. I mean, on the basis of what was available back then, Wayne did an amazing job, and that album is one that has stood the test of time for nigh-on thirty-five years now. But maybe it is time to update it, to make it the very best it can possibly be. A “War of the Worlds” for the twenty-first century? There’s something very true to the spirit of science-fiction in that, and somehow I think ol’ HG would even have approved.
But the important thing would be to ensure the core spirit of the original work was not lost in the banks of sound processing, multi-layered instrumentation and the whirlwind of excitement at the idea of the project coming to life. Or indeed, coming back to life. I didn’t want to hear a totally new version, throwing out the old one and updating the story in a “Battlestar Galactica” way. A female journalist? Oh please no! Thankfully, from what I hear and read, the general cast has been kept relatively the same, though of course they’re all new faces with regard to the original. Some of this is probably due to performers not being available or wishing to reprise their roles, but it must be sadly noted that of the four main voices on the original album, two of them are no longer with us.
I personally was surprised at the casting in the original of the late Phil Lynott in the role of the manic Parson Nathaniel, but he made the role his (short as it was) and now I find it hard to imagine anyone else taking the part, and his duet with Julie Covington on “The spirit of Man” has gone down as one of the album’s legendary highlights. As for the narrator/journalist, well who could ever compare to the late great Richard Burton, icon of film and one of the most recognised voices in his day?
Many questions then, and not a little trepidation from me certainly. But are those fears justified or ill-founded? In the end, how did the thing turn out? Well, stick around to find out.
This article was first posted on March 28, 2013