Sunday, May 27, 2012
Arjen Anthony Lucassen - Lost In The New Real
A major player in the progressive scene for years now, it should come as no surprise that I found Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Lost In The New Real to be a major event. Few can boast the creativity and open minded approach to song writing that Arjen takes with each one of his projects, whether it be Ayreon, Star One, Stream of Passion (for their debut), or Guilt Machine just to name a few. Following his return to Star One with 2010’s Victims of the Modern Age, and going even a bit further with the last Aryeon album 0101101 in 2008, one could sense it was time for a directional change. Another progressive metal album would surely have been eagerly accepted by his fans, but I believe it would have been a bit flat, considering how many times we have been down that road before. Fortunately Arjen seems to have felt the same, because what we have here is a metal album for only precious few moments at a time. Instead, as the awesome cover art and psychedelic album design suggests, this is a progressive rock album that pays direct homage (not just influenced by, I mean direct homage) to The Beatles. Many of the song structures found here sound as if they were taken from a forgotten Beatles warehouse somewhere and given a modern day production. Other moments draw inspiration from Pink Floyd and even Jethro Tull, but the overall effect is that of a Beatles album, and a fantastic one at that.
Normally Arjen is content to bring in various vocalists and allow them the spotlight while he hammers out his riffs and some backing vocals here and there, but not this time. This is the first of his albums that I can recall where Arjen has opted to be his own front man and handle the leads (a spot often reserved for Russell Allen and Damien Woodsen), and this is the perfect album to do so. Arjen’s vocals have a 60’s vibe to them (as displayed on Into the Electric Castle when he played The Hippie), with a softer tone that blends into harmonies perfectly, and Lost in the New Real displays this quality. There are some excellent backing vocals from Wilmer Waarbroek (a singer/songwriter), but nothing nearly as involved as what has been done on previous albums. The other notable contribution in the spoken department is the narration, handled by Dutch actor Rutger Hauer. I am generally not a fan of narrations or interludes on albums, as I feel they are often handled clumsily and detract rather than add to the overall product, however this is the exception. Rutger’s form of speech creates an absolutely perfect sense of detachment from reality, making it that much easier to slip into the story as it unfolds. Arjen also did the album a favor by creating each segment to be a part of its respective song, not an additional track, and also by making them worthwhile (not so long as to detract from the actual music, nor so short that it becomes a pointless waste of time).
The story of Lost in the New Real is that of a man who has opted for cryofreeze in order to survive a terminal illness, and his awakening in the future in a world that is now alien to him. By itself there is nothing new here with this story, but the success of this album is the way Arjen uses this concept as a starting point to delve into concepts that are much closer to reality than what we want to believe. Each song introduces a different aspect of this “New Real” that the man must face, and expertly inserts the moral ramifications that come with it. Perhaps better than any of Arjen’s works before it, with the exception of my personal favorite Universal Migrator Pt.1, The Dream Sequencer, Lost in the New Real presents a science fiction story that is easily identifiable and personable for the listener, and it is that strength that makes it one of his best works. Lurking within the whimsical and often tongue in cheek lyrics are moments and ideas that make you pause and reflect, and in my case fill me with trepidation at just how close we are to this reality.
I could spend pages discussing each song and the feelings they provoked, but doing so would eliminate a large part of the surprise factor and take away the joy of discovery. Instead I will try to go over the highlights of the album for me. Opener The New Real is perhaps the more traditional Ayreon track featured, with heavy use of effects to create tension and mystery. The use of flute gives it a Jethro Tull moment, though I also see some Pink Floyd influence in this one. Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin is Beatles through and through, with a bouncy melody that belies the sad message of the lyrics involving the state of music and where we are heading on our current path. Parental Procreation Permit is a dark and brooding tune, suitable for the subject matter involving this realities answer for over population. E-Police was the first single, and therefore the first track I heard from the album, and honestly at the time it did not leave much of an impression. Fortunately, with album in hand and given the proper amount of time, I now feel it is one of the best tracks. A straight forward rocker, the lyrics convey a musician’s perspective on how digital media is removing the human element from music and reducing it to just another commodity, and personally I find this to be completely true. “I remember the old ways, sharing files on the Net, reducing this world to a dull and selfish place” is a sharp and stingingly true critique on our generation, not just in regards to music but to all of our desires as a whole. Dr. Slumber’s Eternity Home once again uses the classic Beatles style to contradict a scenario where retirement homes are places that employ the Dr. Kevorkian method of assisted suicide for population control. Where Pig’s Fly is a funny take on the idea of alternate realities, drawing from various pop culture figures with laugh out loud results. Finally, the closing title track brings everything full circle with a finale that takes all of these ideas and brings them to a head with the final question being answered in surprising fashion. Don’t Switch Me Off and Yellowstone Memorial Day are both enjoyable tracks as well, but to my ears are less interesting than their peers.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen has created more music than almost any other artist in the genre that you can name, but with Lost in the New Real I believe he has created his most organic and personable album yet. He wears his influences proudly on his sleeve, and is at his finest lyrical form. If I were to hand anyone new to his work an album, this would undoubtedly be the one I reached for and I have no doubt they would be hooked. Sure to make the majority of top 10 lists this year, Lost in the New Real is a success on virtually every level.
Originally written for http://www.metalreviews.com/index.htm