What is real? Nothing is real, according to John Lennon, but one things existence that cannot be disputed is 'Lost In The New Real', the latest album from Arjen Anthony Lucassen, the musical mastermind behind both the series of 'Ayreon' rock operas, and the 'Star One' albums.
Unlike those projects, which featured a cast of guest vocalists and musicians, this double CD is a true solo work, with all vocals (excellently sung it must be said. He should sing more...), and the majority of instruments being handled by Lucassen himself. There is one notable non musical guest on the album, that well known actor... I think I'll tell you later actually.
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Disc one of 'Lost In The New Real' is a concept piece, telling the of a man from today, Mr L, who after his death from an incurable illness, is put in suspended animation until such time as a cure for his fatal disease can be found. In the distant future a cure is found, and the now healed Mr L is revived from death, and finds himself in a world much changed from the one he knew before.
The story focuses on how technology, science, society and even music have changed since our time, plus how the lines between real life and virtual reality have been blurred. Helping to guide Mr L through this new world is his appointed psychologist whose menacing tones explain this new reality to him, and also provide between-song-narration, driving the story along.
Some serious subjects are tackled here; euthanasia, religion, censorship, the nature of reality, and what it means to be human. These heavy subjects could make for an album of a very dour Roger Waters-ish nature, but thankfully Lucassen has a good ear for a tune, and so couches the subject matter with some fine melodies, covering everything from Beatle-esque pop to Metal.
Disc two features a mix of originals, and cover versions, which loosely suit the theme of the concept, but without quite fitting in with the narrative, hence their placing on the second disc.
The first voice heard on the album is that of fellow countryman, and movie star, Rutger Hauer (see, I said I'd tell you...), as psychologist Voight-Kampff, Bladerunner fans. Hauer wrote his own lines, and they pop up throughout the album, and are delivered with a great mixture of humour, menace and a hint of sorrow.
Musically this first disc is a great blend of styles and moods, tailored to suit the subject matter tackled. The opening number 'The New Real' is a slow burning melodic Prog song, using an atmospheric blend of rock guitars and moody keyboards to provide a fitting backdrop to the thoughtful lyrics detailing Mr L's musings on his death and subsequent re-awakening.
"I remember dying, shifting into black. I remember dreaming of a second chance."
The next song up 'Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin' talks about how every note has been played, and every song has been sung, and that in the new real the only music is rehash of everything ever played before. The music appropriately enough is very retro sounding with a distinct English Psychedelia vibe going on.
In a totally different style 'When I'm A Hundred Sixty-Four' is virtual folk-rock, despite it's Pepper-Punning title. I reckon this could have fitted easily onto a middle period Fairport Convention album, featuring as it does a lovely melody and some great SwarbricK style fiddling.
It sounds like Lucassen had a fun time making this music, as the songs on this album have a playful air about them, and this writer could not help but smile knowingly at the various references that pop up throughout the songs. For a great example of the humour contained within these tracks just check out the parallel reality of 'Where Pigs Fly', wherein Elvis is a Vegan, Reagan won five Oscars, and Arnie didn't come back, amongst other witty concepts.
One would expect a piece of this this scope to end on a Big Statement, and it certainly does. 'Lost In The New Real' is a sweeping three part work, that utilises the full musical palate at Lucassen's disposal. It sums up Mr L's thoughts and emotions on being reborn as a man out of time, and the music has a grandeur and majesty suitably befitting for such a serious subject.
This first disc is well worth the price of admission on its own, but remember this is a double album, so there is much more!
CD two, as previously mentioned features music that did not quite fit in with the main work, but still shares common themes. It's an intriguing mix of originals, plus cover versions of songs from Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult, Alan Parsons and Frank Zappa.
My personal favourites are a rollicking interpretation of 'The Battle of Evermore' (loving the Bonzo-ish Big Beat, and that bonkers guitar solo...), and a rocking run through 'Veteran Of The Psychic Wars'. Lucassen's own songs stand held high in such exalted company, being both intelligent and tuneful. This is a fine collection of tunes, and is an excellent companion to the opera.
If you like your rock to have intelligence, a sense of humour and some fab tunes, then you'll love Arjen Anthony Lucassen's 'Lost In The New Real'. I do!
1] The New Real
2] Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin
3] Parental Procreation Permit
4] When I'm A Hundred Sixty-Four
6] Don't Switch Me Off
7] Dr Slumber's Eternity Home
8] Yellowstone Memorial Day
9] Where Pigs Fly
10] Lost In The New Real
* Bonus feature CD Rom section: 'Behind The New Real'
1] Our Imperfect Race
2] Welcome To The Machine (Pink Floyd cover)
3] So Is There No God?
4] Veteran Of The Psychic Wars (Blue Oyster Cult Cover)
5] The Social Recluse
6] Battle Of Evermore (Led Zeppelin Cover)
7] The Space Hotel
8] Some Other Time (Alan Parsons Project Cover)
9] You Have Entered The Reality Zone
10] I'm The Slime (Frank Zappa Cover)
* Bonus feature CD Rom section: 'The Artwork'