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Sleep Station
After The War
Bardic Records/Eyeball Records
www.sleep-station.com


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.

-JD

Track Listing:

1. Introduction
2. After The War
3. Drums Of War
4. Caroline, London 1940
5. Waiting
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
16. Lullaby
17. Goodnight To The Moon


 

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