Origin and Intentions (Jeff Wayne’s The War of the Worlds: The PlayStation Game)

jeff-wayne-the-war-of-the-worlds-playstation-front-coverI suppose I was about five or six years old. My grandparents had a record player. I’m sure they had lots of records, too, but only one of them ever interested me: Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, 1978’s fantastic and unlikely adaptation of a foundational science fiction novel I’d never read. (My grandparents really weren’t the sci-fi type; recollections remain divided as to the record’s ultimate origins, and from which side of the family it really passed into my hands.) I don’t remember the first time I listened to it, only that it soon became the focus of every visit. Perhaps I’d encountered science fiction before, but nothing so immediate, so haunting. I’d certainly never heard of progressive rock, or concept albums, or audio drama, but here I was confronted with all three. Morbid phantasms crossed my mind’s eye – the slavering Martian creatures, the eerily vivid sound design, the colourful cast encountered by Richard Burton’s wandering Journalist narrator. With the remarkable album artwork as a catalyst, I saw them all, my imagination filling the gaps with memories of my own home, my own street. Even at the time, I felt that this album was somehow infiltrating my mind, that it was changing me – I can actually recall visualising the sound spiralling off the player and into my brain, naff as that is. While it’s difficult to assess the degree to which my lifelong interests in the alien and the baroque were determined by those days, I suspect I was essentially right.

But lots of people have heard the album, and stories of being kept awake by Jeff Wayne’s spooky soundscapes are a dime a dozen. No, I’m here to talk about the obscure 1999 PlayStation game that nobody cares about.
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Look at Life Through the Half-Closed Eye (Timewatch)

timewatch01We’re still floundering; still not quite there. Timewatch, a three-track EP, was released in 1991 – one year on from the false start of Fanfare for the Comic Muse, but still two years short of the inspired reinvention of Liberation. Musically and lyrically, Timewatch is more or less indistinguishable from the preceding album’s jangly, REM-influenced shoegaze –  you could substitute pretty much any Fanfare track for any Timewatch song, or vice versa, and no-one would be any the wiser. It’s tempting to look at it as a single from Fanfare, but the truth is sort of the opposite – its two lead songs are entirely new, with an extended Fanfare track actually forming its B-side.
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I’ll Take You Upstream, Up to My Origin (Fanfare for the Comic Muse)

fanfare_lp_front-1In 1989, Neil Hannon cast aside the name of October and declared his band… The Cherry Orchard. The band, already the revolving door of members we love so well, recorded five demos in Active Studio before it occurred to anyone that the title of this particular Anton Chekhov play did not make for a very catchy name. And so it was that, after much soul-searching, Hannon turned to his father and announced that his band was now called… The Passion. At this point, the Reverend Brian Hannon of the Church of Ireland informed his son that this new name was a bit offensive, and so Neil started digging about his bookshelves looking for another one. He found one book by some lad named Dante Alighieri. It was called The Divine Comedy. That will do, thought Neil.
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It Doesn’t Arrive Overnight (October 1st)

cd_frontBefore The Divine Comedy, there was October. Neil Hannon’s original band, formed with three friends in Enniskillen, only ever produced two releases: the four-track EP October 1st in 1987, and the album Exposition in 1989. Since Exposition remains elusive, October 1st is our sole insight into this formative era.
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Not to Fools Like Me (The Divine Comedy)

neil-zig-zag Disclosure: Neil Hannon is probably my favourite singer, song-writer, and (as The Divine Comedy) band. The distinction between “my favourite” and “the best” is obviously pretty important here. Broadly speaking, he fits my innate inclination towards esoteric, obscure, and overlooked things, things that don’t already have the appreciation they deserve… but why Hannon specifically? I dare say one reason is that his music is the very essence of Father Ted, his quaintly comedic soundtrack burning itself into my brain at a time when it had barely started recording memories. Some mothers think that playing classical music for their babies will make them more intelligent. The soundtrack to my infancy involved a Lovely Horse.
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Can You Have White Darkness? (Punchline)

Punchline, Robert Shearman, BBV, Sylvester McCoy, Doctor Who, Jeremy LeadbetterIt’s rare enough that Robert Shearman is mentioned without some close variation of a particular phrase. In magazines and on entertainment websites, it’s “the man who brought the Daleks back to Doctor Who”. In conversation, it’s “the guy who wrote the one where Christopher Eccleston’s in the bunker with the Dalek”. I’m not saying that “Dalek” isn’t a great episode – just that it’s the tip of an iceberg a bit more splendid and surreal than you might imagine.
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At the Centre of It All, Your Eyes (Blackstar)

blackstar scarecrowsThe concerns of Blackstar are numerous and often inscrutable, with Bowie’s death dominating the discourse surrounding its interpretation to a frankly suffocating degree. The day after the album’s release, the media was awash with a myriad conflicting reactions, from delight to bafflement, fascination to dismissiveness. The day after that, analysing Blackstar on its own merits became effectively impossible – its status as epitaph consumed it. Now, reading Blackstar as an album about death is as tedious as it is accurate. Nobody will ever interpret “Sue, the X-ray’s fine” as anything but a reference to Bowie’s brief cancer remission. He died on a Monday, so “Where the fuck did Monday go?” is now just a spooky coincidence, a Trivial Pursuit answer. The list goes on. Yes, it’s about death. However, in the outpouring of collective grief, certain key components of that reading were overlooked.
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