Jeff Wayne’s “new” War of the Worlds
Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of the Worlds was probably the most important piece of music of my childhood – I listened to it over and over again, mesmerized by awesome performances, Richard Burton’s gorgeous narration, the sheer drama of H G Wells’ story. I still do, and still am: the DVD version of the stage show, with the “virtual Burton” floating head, gets regular replays here at Mindjammer Central.
So, I guess any attempt at a new version of Jeff Wayne’s classic would always have an awesomely hard act to follow. Just listening to exactly that new version, now, I’m feeling like I’m listening to “Disco Classics” – like the dance version of Carmina Burana, the electronic 4/4 version of the Ode to Joy, or Mozart’s Requiem on the kazoo. OK, maybe not that bad: it’s still a cracking piece of music which even this hi-NRG version can’t irrevocably tarnish, but it’s certainly lost some lustre here, that life and vitality which made the original shine with such a blinding light. It’s become a little bland. I feel very much like when I heard the Matt Smith Doctor Who theme tune – it’s “okay”, I suppose, if you absolutely have to do another version, but nowhere near as good as the original.
Gary Barlow isn’t bad, especially on Forever Autumn. He has a cracking voice, and it’s great to hear him sing a classic song – though was the double-tracking really necessary? Ricky Wilson – well, he’s following David Essex, and succeeding. Nuff said. Maverick Saber – oh dear. No Phil Lynott, there. Where’s the spittle, fire, and brimstone of Nathaniel? Still, some good ULLAs in the Spirit of Man scene, and of course Joss Stone, probably next to Barlow the best performance in the entire gig – though the role really should have gone to Kate Bush for sheer vocal fragility. And Alex Clare? A bit dry and passionless on Thunderchild, sounding a bit like an understudy.
And Liam Neeson – bless him, he’s trying hard, and he’s a cracking actor, but FFS – trying to take on Richard Burton’s narration head on? The truth is, he sounds like Bono in that floor-wiping sing-off with B B King, When Love Comes to Town. On his own turf, Neeson sounds grand – but here, in the post-Burton context, he’s like a child shuffling round in his dad’s shoes. Lacking Burton’s resonance, gravitas, far too flimsy.
So, on balance, I guess I don’t see the point. I guess it’ll sell like hell – and perhaps that’s reason enough, if it brings this fantastic work to a new generation. However – would it be too much to suggest that Jeff Wayne write a new musical for a different story rather than rehash a 40 year old work? There must be tons out there – The Time Machine, 20000 Leagues, Brave New World.
There. That’s my curmudgeonly harrumph for the week. In my day, etc, etc, etc.
Oh, and bah humbug.