My editor pushed this CD into my hands a comparatively short
while ago (I'm a slow writer) and told me it was my number one
priority for review. Well, I had two others in the works, and
my thoughts, collected as a cloud of whirling debris, have an
undefined expiration date when it comes to writing a record
review. If I wait too long, the message is scattered to the
nether regions of the overwrought and voluminous encyclopedia
of pointless crap that is my brain. So, I went to work finishing
up with what I had and
I read the press release and was hit with a twinge of apprehension.
Dave (my editor) was really up on this album and wanted a favorable
review, so I naturally wanted to like it too. But there was
a problem: it was a concept album about WWII. I flashed back
to my college days when I was in a serious Pink Floyd
kick and was immensely enjoying the genius of their great, four-album
stretch of the '70s and early '80s, and then tripped over the
dull and flat berm of The Final Cut. The Final Cut
was Roger Waters' cathartic, final exorcism of consequential
music from the great pink dinosaur. It was deeply heart-felt
and presumably therapeutic for him to create a monument of some
sort for those who gave their lives in WWII, including Waters'
own father. (As was hinted in The Wall, this loss was
the primary factor driving his pessimistic view of the world
and life itself.) Unfortunately, despite that noble premise,
it bored the shit out of me. Seriously.
Ugh. Dave had already listened to it. Hell, he had already
bought it for himself. And so it seemed there was no way this
CD would suck enough to dismiss it outright. I wasn't sure if
that was a good or bad sign, but I was rapidly approaching its
spot in the carousel.
And then it was finished.
My first impression was not bad. It had several catchy tunes
that allowed it to stand on its own even without being propped
up by all of the pretense that typically surrounds the lofty
concept album. The style varies from song to song, with much
of it sounding like a mish mash of brit pop, Pink Floyd, maybe
a little James Taylor and um, the Eagles? No,
you won't say to yourself: "This sounds like "The
Hotel California"", but there are several pieces of
the guitar tracks that clearly sound like they could have come
from the Eagles' playbook or from some of the other groups from
the Superband era. I've listened to the album many times since
then, and it continues to grow on me, particularly after I pored
over the lyrics enough to determine the intent of each song,
and evaluate the contiguity of the album as a whole. To be a
truly effective concept album, a theme should be carried all
the way through, but also provide some sort of character or
situational development such that the album tells a story as
a whole that expands beyond the situations detailed in the individual
songs. In a nutshell, After The War is a series of love
letters, ostensibly from a single soldier to his wife, the daughter
he'll never know, and the son he'll never see again. In all,
it's a solid effort with a handful of good songs. It has moments
where it drags, but manages to be engaging most of the time.
It isn't without some arguably serious flaws however, and most
of them are focused in the mechanics of the concept format.
After listening to and reading the songs several times, I was
able to determine that only most of the songs originate from
a singular narrator, and not all of them are male. This presents
a slight problem when the voice, and in particular, the accompanying
gender, doesn't change when appropriate. A story is being told
here, but the narration of that story is a little too understated
in its presentation to make a whole lot of sense. As an example,
one of the tracks seems to depict someone being murdered, but
all you hear is the killing. There's no context to what you
hear, and nothing to connect one track to another. Is it during
the war, after the war? Was the main character killed, or did
he kill someone else? What the hell is going on?
In the strictest sense of the word, a "concept" is
just a general idea conveyed by a loose collection of related
occurrences, and on that definition alone, I suppose this album
adheres to that requirement. It is, however, muddled by the
apparent attempts to construct a singular story from these occurrences
in which the cryptic segues do not create any real cohesion
between the songs which seriously disrupts its continuity. It
seems to me that Sleep Station couldn't decide between
going for concept as abstraction, or concept as narrative and
tried to have it both ways. As a result, the album is conspicuously
lacking in the synergy one expects from either of such endeavors.
To derive the most enjoyment from this album, I have simply
had to discard any attempts to find a whole, and merely enjoy
the pieces individually.
2. After The War
3. Drums Of War
4. Caroline, London 1940
6. Come Back Again
7. My Darling
8. Burden To You
9. All that Remains
10. Silver in the Sun
11. A Final Prayer 1
12. A Final Prayer 2
13. A Soldier's Dream
14. N 49° - W 40°
15. With You Now
17. Goodnight To The Moon
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