If you're anything like me, the sight of the word 'musical' will make you vomit. But trust me on this one! This is some really, really good stuff.
I don't remember where I first heard this album. I know that the first song I heard was Horsell Common & the Heat Ray and I remember thinking it was an absolute banger (still do, in fact!) I don't know much about this album, sparing obvious stuff (like it being based on the novel of the same name.) As far as I can tell, Jeff Wayne was not an industry legend at the time (I could be wrong.) Like Danny Elfman, he would write many famous show themes and movie scores. Yet unlike Danny Elfman, who became famous from his work in Oingo Boingo, Jeff Wayne did not have any albums to his name... prior to War of the Worlds, anyway.
I'm surprised that Jeff Wayne managed to come out with something that sounds so epic without figurative tons of industry clout. There is some great talent crammed into this musical. Richard Burton, a famous Shakespearean and film actor, played the role of the narrator. Personally, I find his narration to be largely unnecessary in a lot of songs, but it's hard not to get hyped by his awesome baritone voice. Burton also really nails some of the important story beats, like the immensely cathartic climax of Dead London.
Also on board is Phil Lynott, the frontman of Thin Lizzy. He plays the role of the deranged Parson Nathaniel. I couldn't think of a more perfect actor for the role. You'd never think that the frontman of an awesome, gritty, Irish hard-rock band would fit so snugly into this progressive-rock-concept-album-musical, yet Lynott absolutely kills it (at least until the red weed gets him.)
I can't speak so highly of all of the talent on display, sadly. Nothing against the actor himself, but I really, really, really do not like the voice of the artilleryman. I mean, he's fine for his spoken-role portion of The Artilleryman & the Fighting Machine, but his performance in the 12-minute SLOG that is Brave New World is, for lack of a better term, fucking cringe.
Sparing Brave New World, there isn't really a single song on this album I absolutely detest. I find Red Weed, Pt. 2 to be a little too goofy for my own tastes, and Epilogue, Pt. 2 is pointless... but the album is well-beyond over at that point. It's not meant to be a feature-length chapter, it's just a little easter egg at the end. And props to Jeff Wayne for getting his dad to voice the mission control officer (yes, really.)
I'd say the less obvious yet potentially more damaging fault of this album is that it can be very repetitive and forgettable at points. I just listened to this album and still can't remember how Thunderchild goes. And I like The Spirit of Man, but that song did not need to be 11 minutes.
In my opinion, the first half of this album is considerably better than the second. I suppose we can move into good things about this album now; Eve of the War is FUCKING SICK. The haunting melody ends up becoming a leitmotif that appears in a few other songs, most notably The Artilleryman & the Fighting Machine and Dead London. The clash of synthesized instruments and the booming orchestra will leave you absolutely speechless. This album isn't just about being flashy; it is incredibly clever with its use of instruments. In Horsell Common & the Heat Ray, electronic instruments slowly ease their way into the song. An almost inaudible bass line begins the song, and worms its way into your ear with each passing second. Then, a banjo represents the frazzled response of the simple country-folk stumbling upon the alien spacecraft. Finally, the synthesized instruments make their presence heard clearly and painfully, symbolizing the deadly Martian heat ray. It's an absolute masterpiece of a song that honestly earns its 11-minute length (which is not something you'll hear me praise often.)
Some of the atmosphere on this album is also incredible. The horrifying view of the corrupting red weed, causing that amazing explosion of synthesized sound. Oh, and we can't dare forget the wailing of the Martians. UUUUUUUULLLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
This is far from my favorite album. I think it's got some major issues, especially in the second half, but if you're willing to look past that (or just check out after the first part) then you've got an absolute gem on your hands. Give it a listen!