Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of “The War of the Worlds” – Columbia Legacy (2 SACDs)

by | Jul 18, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of “The War of the Worlds” – The
words of H. G. Wells spoken by Richard Burton, with Justin Hayward,
David Essex, Phil Lynott – Orch. cond. by Jeff Wayne – Double-disc
multichannel 5.1 SACDs – Columbia Legacy C2H 94434, 45:08 & 49:34
**** (Also avail. in 7-disc Collectors’ Edition)*:

Obviously tied in with the launch of Steven Spielberg’s War of the
Worlds (though never mentioning it, and a couple weeks late), 
this is a hi-res surround with-all-the-trimmings reissue of the unique
l978 musical/audio drama/rock opera by Jeff Wayne based on the famous
sci-fi novel by the British writer H. G. Wells. The original was a
double LP set with 12-inch-square art illustrations. These are
reproduced in the sizeable booklet bound with the two CDs, plus a
number of other illustrations – such as details of the Martian tripods
– not provided originally. The original made quite a splash on both
sides of the Atlantic.  It won various awards, including being
voted the Best Recording in Sci-Fi and Fantasy in l980 by a panel of
judges which included Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Alfred
Hitchcock! The work is primarily a symphonic rock suite, with the
voice-over narration by Richard Burton speaking what are mainly lines
from Well’s novel. There are several songs, sung by Justin Hayward of
the Moody Blues, Chris Thompson and others. Their lyrics and all the
spoken lines are printed in the booklet like an opera libretto. There
are also sound effects, including one that sounds like the laser fire
in Star Wars.

The music is the sort of thing fans of the Moody Blues and ELO would
enjoy. There are some good electric guitar solos and even interesting
use of such now-dated electronic instruments as the Mellotron (also
popularized by the Moody Blues). A frequent repeated theme used as a
transition between sections is a dropping electronic tone which could
be a theremin but is probably just a simple tone generator. Vocoder
voices are sometimes used as instruments. Some of the tunes are catchy
enough to stay with you for some time – aided by the fact they are
repeated many times.

The remixing of the original tapes after almost 27 years was said by
composer/producer Jeff Wayne to be the highlight of his career.He began
with 77 multitrack analog tapes, which turned out to suffer from the
sort of aging oxide that required special baking, then transferring to
hard disc in the digital domain, before any creative mixing could be
done. He rebuilt the original production sound by sound and track by
track in a digital equivalent of the original analog 48-track
production. This alone took over three months. 

His next step was to assemble the four separate CDs of remixes,
rarities and outtakes which are offered in the definitive 6-CD + 1 DVD
Collector’s Edition of War of the Worlds, which also includes a “Making
of” documentary video plus a 76 page 12-inch hardback book with many
illustrations.  The DVD also includes a sneak peak at an animated
version of War of the Worlds on which Wayne is currently working. In
this premium package the two 5.1 SACDs/CDs are the first two discs, the
third is devoted to the best club remixes of the album made since its
initial release, and discs 4 to 6 are unreleased tracks and outtakes
from the original recording sessions plus the unabridged Richard Burton
performance from which only 40% was used in the original album. His
narration is much briefer on the original LPs and something else is
added to both the stereo and surround remixes: a  brief Epilogue
in which a NASA mission to Mars triggers a new 21st century War of the
Worlds.  It doesn’t work; falling into that fault of so many
feature films in which the final scene ruins the whole thing, It should
have concluded earlier.

(While I haven’t been privy to the DVD or the book, I was sent the four
additional CDs in advance CD-R form.  Frankly , one would have to
be more of a WOTW freak than the Trekkies at their conventions to
appreciate these endless outtakes and other flotsum and jetsam. The
voice of the director over the intercom diplomatically suggesting
Burton pronounce a word differently, and so forth. There are even
versions of his narration in Spanish, French, Portuguese etc.!)

Wayne reported that the end result of the 5.1 remix was in his opinion
nothing short of spectacular: “The listener IS in the recording with a
Martian invasion in Victorian England happening all around you.” He’s
right. This is a super-sounding surround sound demo from start to
finish. Electric guitars emanate from all five speakers and sometimes
seemingly overhead. An occasional electronic effect sounds like an
electric buzzer with a pitch. There is a very strong low bass beat much
of the time in the LFE channel – I had to turn down the level on
mine.  I’m not used to that since most music hi-res surround
doesn’t employ the LFE channel. I also had to turn down the surround
channels by 2 dB because they were overwhelming the front channels (and
my speakers are identical front and back). The mix is created with the
music often at a high level under Burton’s voice and one is forced to
play back at rock-concert levels in order to hear the narration
clearly.  [This is the Double SACD album we are awarding to five
AUDIOPHILE AUDITION readers in our drawing this month; see the home
page for details!]

– John Sunier

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