Lucassen; Arjen Anthony: Lost In The New Real
Arjen Anthony Lucassen is a man of many musical colours, with his various projects illustrating his alter-egos to the full. Ayreon is a lush landscape of grand proportions, weaving intricate soundscapes to equally broad lyrical themes. Star One is bolder, brasher, a heavier beast altogether, where Arjen flexes those musical muscles. And then came Guilt Machine, which moved into a more introspective, calmly aggressive place entirely, pleasing some, confusing others. However for his latest, sprawling opus, Arjen has delivered on something he has hinted at for many a year - a fully fledged solo album! If you thought Arjen Lucassen had created eclectic music before, hold on to your futuristic hat, as you've seen nothing yet!
Without carrying the expectation that one of his previously established projects unavoidably brings, Lost In The New Real goes back to Arjen's musical roots, using bands such as The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin as a base. Don't worry though, if it is the Prog side of Arjen you crave, then that is here too, but then so is Metal, Folk, Industrial and even Pop! Amazingly these disparate ideas and approaches are, across two discs and twenty tracks, brought together to make a completely coherent and cohesive album, although an intricate and involving thematic concept goes a long way to linking the ever changing styles.
Well known for utilising a huge cast of star names to bring his musical visions into reality, Arjen has instead for Lost In The New Real, kept things simple by handling all of the lead vocals himself. He does employ a cast of musicians to add some colour to the mix, but they show up in the shape of percussionists, a cellist, a violinist and some backing singers. Beyond that, musically, this is all Arjen Anthony Lucassen. I say musically, because even when Arjen is going it alone, he can't quite resist adding a little "star-factor" to the mix, this time arriving in the shape of renowned actor Rutger Hauer. The Blade Runner actor introduces the ten songs on disc one, giving a hint to the lyrical content of each track as he plays Voight-Kampff (a direct reference to Blade-Runner), who is the psychological advisor to the central character Mr. L. The mysterious L is a twenty-first century man, who was cryo-preserved and then awoken far into the future, where Voight-Kampff attempts to ease him into his "New Real". The choice of Hauer to narrate on the album is inspired, with his authoritative tones adding a threatening air to proceedings. Although in truth his snippets of narration are used more to link together songs that tackle "future issues" such as censorship, religion, population control and euthanasia (topics that are as relevant today as they are ever likely to be in years to come), as they are to "tell a story".
Musically things are constantly on the move, with each song picking up on a completely different set of influences from its predecessor, although in many ways it could be said that much contained on Lost In The New Real is more straight forward than say Ayreon or Star One. After Hauer introduces the general concept and characters, "The New Real" crawls into view with synthesized beeps and wonderfully arranged vocals breaking through a threatening snail-paced riff and breathy flute. It is a dark opening and one turned on its head by song number two, "Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin", which lives up to its own name by being a glorious slice of uplifting Proggy-Pop that asks the question "why make anymore music, when it has all been done before". A point made all the more ironic by the intentionally familiar sounds that make up this song! It is the catchiest track on the whole double set, so much so you'll be singing it for days after.
Already you are left wondering why, on the whole, Arjen has shied away from lead vocals before, with his easy-going style proving versatile and instantly likeable. He may not have a huge range, but his voice drips with character and at no point do you miss those big name singers that previous projects have relied upon. "Parental Procreation Permit" heads back into melodic, if threatening Prog territory, before the strangely Folky "When I'm A Hundred Sixty Four" takes The Beatles lyrical theme of "When I'm 64" to the extremes. Layers of vocals and lively acoustic strumming gives "E-Police" an ELO feel, while "Don't Switch Me Off", which deals with Blade Runner like themes of man against automaton, veers into an easy going, yet unsettling Porcupine Tree like dream. From there the lively guitars and wonderfully joyous vocals of "Dr. Slumber's Eternity Home" will have you swaying in approval, while "Where Pigs Fly", which contains some of the cleverest lyrics on the album, adds a Medieval theme and a Brian May like solo to another oddly unsettling, yet seductive theme. That leaves the ever evolving title track to close disc one out in epic style, with Arjen's vocals starring alongside the Klaus Meine like backing courtesy of Wilmer Waarbroek. It really is a stunning, involving journey and one that repeat listens only reinforce as a song of ambitious scope, that fully lives up to expectations.
In many ways it feels like the end of this album, as the narration and story arc conclude as disc one closes. However with a further five stunning new tracks on disc two, there's plenty more to discover, with the Porcupine Tree meets Riverside like "Our Imperfect Race" and the latter day Floydian "So Is There No God" being highlights. The lyrical theme from disc one continues, as it does through five cleverly chosen cover versions, "Welcome To The Machine" (Pink Floyd), "Veteran Of The Psychic Wars" (Blue Oyster Cult), "Battle Of Evermore" (Led Zeppelin), "Some Other Time" (Alan Parsons Project) and "I'm The Slime" (Frank Zappa). All five covers are treated respectfully, but as you would expect, they are all Arjenified, with "Welcome..." and "Veteran..." proving to benefit particularly from their reinterpretations.
There's no doubt that with every release Arjen Anthony Lucassen keeps setting his own bar higher and higher and while some of Lost In The New Real isn't going to satisfy ardent Ayreon followers, there can be no denying that this double album contains some of the strongest material that Arjen has ever produced.
If that fact alone isn't enough to convince you that you really need to have Lost In The New Real in your collection, then I don't know what will!
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
1. Our Imperfect Race
2. Welcome To The Machine
3. So Is There No God
4. Veteran Of The Psychic Wars
5. The Social Recluse
6. Battle Of Evermore
7. The Space Hotel
8. Some Other Time
9. You Have Entered The Reality Zone
10. I'm The Slime
Added: May 31st 2012
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: The Arjen Lucassen Official WebSite
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|Lucassen; Arjen Anthony: Lost In The New Real
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-05-10 07:19:03
Lost in the New Real is Arjen Lucassen's solo album consisting of two CDs. Unlike Ayreon and Star One, the album features vocals only by Arjen Lucassen this time around. The only other voice on the CD is that of Rutger Hauer, the legendary Dutch actor who provides the narration (this is, as expected, another concept album). Rutger has a great voice indeed; it's deep and full of charisma.
On the first couple of listens, the songs will bring to mind Ayreon's The Dream Sequencer crossed with Lucassen's recent project Guilt Machine perhaps. The psychedelic soundscapes of the former and the smooth transitions of the latter are reworked in a decidedly more pop-flavoured format, resulting in shorter and more compact tunes. Of the 20 songs, only three break the six-minute mark and just one song clocks in at over 10 minutes. As some song titles like "Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin" suggest, Arjen Lucassen pays tribute to his earliest inspirations; there is a good deal of Beatles, Zeppelin, Queen, Black Oyster Cult, and Pink Floyd to be found here. However, I can still find connections between the poppier material and Guilt Machine, which was a project Lucassen put together for that specific sound in mind.
Those of us who have always been impressed by Lucassen's great selection of vocalists on Ayreon albums might feel some of these songs here could have been much better with different vocalists. Then again, this is the very reason why Arjen Lucassen has released this as a solo record, and his singing is what it is. I was personally delighted to hear some of the great vocal melodies that permeated the previous Ayreon stuff. If anyone ever wondered why singers like James Labrie, Mikael Akerfeldt or Jonas Renkse sound so different on the Ayreon stuff than their real bands, the answer lies within this album. Arjen Lucassen is not just a guitar player or keyboardist; he is the total package. Besides recording and producing his own material, he is also an excellent songwriter right down to the timeless vocal melodies that make albums like The Human Equation the masterpieces they are. On the album's most progressive-sounding tune "Lost in the New Real," I can actually hear similar vocalizations and melodies.
Also, this is not to say the vocals are too monochromatic or one-dimensional due to Arjen not being a great singer. While his range is limited and his delivery far from being as diverse as that of a vocal deity, his clever mixing strategy and production style employs a plethora of vocal techniques: he uses plenty of vocal filters, processed vocal bits, and 'computerized' elements to diversify the album in that sense. This works particularly well in the songs' constantly shifting moods and ubiquitous rhythms. What may seem uneventful in places actually reveals how the seemingly simple arrangements boast powerful guitar themes hammered into shape with layers of shifting synths and strings until the pieces climax with towering crescendos. This is why Ayreon became the musical force it is and this is why this album is a success.
I think the first CD is slightly better because it has more unity to it and the songs seem more developed. On the second disc, there are five cover tracks scattered throughout. "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" (Blue Oyster Cult) and "Battle of Evermore" (Led Zeppelin) are the standouts, and the Alan Parson Project piece "Some Other Time" signifies how much Lucassen owes his musical vision to this great band. The only song I don't enjoy as much is the Zappa cover "I'm the Slime," but that's perhaps because I have yet to hear any band cover Zappa in a satisfactory manner.
I enjoy everything Arjen Lucassen has released in one way or another, but to me, his final masterpiece remains The Human Equation. While this solo album does not come anywhere near it, I don't think it was meant to. Lucassen has said this is an album he did for himself, and we need to accept it as it is.
|Lucassen; Arjen Anthony: Lost In The New Real
Posted by Mark Johnson, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-04-25 22:29:49
"When last we left Anthony Arjen Lucassen, (nice coincidence how this space rocker shares name similarities with one of Hollywood's greatest sci-fi storytellers), we were the "Victims of the Modern Age". Visual music demands visual description. "Yes, "It's Alive, She's Alive, We're Alive".
So where to next captain...
"Lost in the New Real" was the answer echoed from Northern Europe. And so it goes without saying that Arjen Lucassen has finally released his long awaited solo album. Lucassen needs no introduction, but the fact that he inspired Rutger Hauer, star of "Blade Runner", (Lucassen's favorite sci – fi film), should give you an indication of what is ahead. Not only did Rutger narrate the album's song introductions, he even chose to play Dr. Voight-Kampff, yeh, the one made famous in Blade Runner, to assist in the testing of an individual to determine if they are a replicant, and help guide "Mr. L" through the "New Real", he has been brought to, out of cryogenic sleep.
And so the story begins with excellent keys, synths, charged guitars and great vocals. Arjen has played all types of characters in his Ayreon and other album release stories. He's often chosen some of the best vocalists in the world to bring forth his emotional and movie soundtrack level songs and storylines. But on his first solo album, he chose to take on the vocals himself…for most tracks, with assistance from Wilmer Waarbroek, on others.
This could very well be the 2012 "Album of the Year" already. Nothing…I mean…nothing is missing. When a Maestro decides to release his first solo you know it's gonna be big.
Hauer opens "The New Real" with narration, "Of course Mr. L…I will help you adjust to all things changed, keep you up to date…now tell me the last thing you remember…" The rhythm and melody of "Guilt Machine" overwhelms the soundscape…grabbing my attention immediately. But this track later takes on a lighter sound as the storyline develops further. "What awaits me out here in a foreign place?" Imagine waking to another world a generation or two into the future. Yeh…we're going there…and we're taking flutes along. Prepare for power drums, guitar, and synths. A nice 6 and a half minute welcome back. Let's go…
"Our Imperfect Race" brings back familiar sounds from "The Electric Caste"…similar but different. More of that Gilmouresque/Floyd guitar mixed well with Blade Runner synths and key themes. The acoustic guitar is wonderful. (Lucassen has always wanted to do a quiet album). Enjoy the tranquility while you can. It's about to get turbulent.
"Welcome to the Machine" – Yes…"welcome my son, welcome to the machine". This is not your father's Detroit, "Rust Belt" vehicle stamping plant. There is no union to protect you here Junior. No…this is a Caterpillar articulated hauler drill plant for space bound mining operations. Heavy machinery my boy. Things may look familiar, but walk this way...as the old power source gets shut down…and like Dorothy, you walk into the new 3D, full Technicolor vision of a massive new reality. Yes, those massive drill press drums and articulating steel guitars will rock your head about like a paint can shaker and leave your brain bouncing within your skull. Yeh, an amazing piece of ear candy. Arjen you did the Floyd proud!
"Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin", is another one of the best tracks on this first CD. After a great intro from Hauer, with some cool ELO, "Face the Music" backmasting highlights, Lucassen lets loose on the many bands that record cover albums or albums that sound like legendary performances. Yeh, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin, "same old song, different sound", "and the "Song Remains the Same". "Sounds so right….feels so wrong".
"Parental Procreation Permit" is another power track full of Arjen's warnings of the future. Imagine "The System", controls who can re-populate the Earth. Power Rush-like "Signals" album level keys, surrounded by atomic drums, and blazing electric guitar. When the boarders lock, you can feel it as well as hear the crushing emptiness. Try this one at night driving down the freeway…keep your eyes on the road, and your hands on the wheel…no drumming allowed while driving…Junior! ;^)
"So Is There No God?" is my least favorite track on the album, though the violin, acoustic guitar, keys and drums are excellent.
"Come on face the music", urges Hauer, on the narration for the Beatles inspired "When I'm A Hundred Sixty-Four". Lucassen has fun with this one adding his own brand of comedy to the lyrics. Mc Cartney might even like to hear the follow up to his classic.
On "Veteran of the Psychic Wars", Lucassen unveils his inner Roger Waters while singing this Blue Oyster Cult classic. Close your eyes and you can almost imagine a scene from Star Wars, where clones are being assembled to load up the star cruisers for the "Clone Wars". Those guitars are much more powerful than the ones I remember from BOC. The keys support well. And the drums…BOC never had this much power. Thanks for covering this classic that did need some revisions and dusting off from the shelves.
"E-Police", is a nice Lucassen update on the Cheap Trick classic theme from "Dream Police". The melody is similar. Yes, the Internet is here and it becomes more and more intrusive every year. Great intro by Hauer!
"Battle of Evermore" is a Dulcimer eargasm... literally…Elvya Dulcimer sings vocals and plays hammered Dulcimer throughout this Zeppelin classic and favorite, covered by many bands over the years, but not this well. The acoustic guitar is not too bad either. ;^) This one takes you right down to the roots under the tree with Frodo as the Ring Wraiths ride by. (Watch out for the bugs…Junior). ;^)
"The Social Recluse", is a great commentary on today's massive Internet and social media presence that some might even say amounts to addiction. Great keys, bass, lead guitar…and of course drums. Ed Warby, one of Arjen's favorites, and Rob Snijders, do a fantastic…no scratch that…epic…job on drums throughout this double CD set.
"Don't Switch Me Off", again has a great intro by Hauer, and so relevant when you bring up the subject of "Blade Runner". You knew Hauer and Lucassen had to do this one. The question was how good was it going to be? Well, they exceeded expectations by a mile. You even get some of that Mary Shelly feeling of "It's Alive", when Arjen sings "is she alive or just a dream.
"The Space Hotel", comes out at a perfect time with the recent news that a bunch of billionaires will soon be launching mining expeditions on asteroids. Other billionaires are preparing "vacation" travel beyond the Earth's gravity as well. Yes, we may be watching the vision of space hotels coming faster than any of us would have expected. Imagine, instead of seeing Mickey for the umpteenth time you could take your kids to a hotel to see the planets? The astronauts' dream for world peace. Take everyone on the globe into space, to see the magic of the "Blue Planet", and maybe they would stop fighting and bickering over whether or not we're all connected. But imagine the parties in artificial gravity! Yes, Lucassen explores it all. The feeling, "so unreal…a cosmic fantasy!" You know he wants to go. But would he ever come back? Excellent music brings the story to life so well.
Another great, spooky intro from Haure opens "Dr. Slumber's Eternity Home". Similar theme to Pink Floyd's "The Fletcher Memorial Home", only this place is open for more than the geriatric heads of state from the 1980s. This place also is full of some cool guitars, banjo, and keys…but like "Hotel California" there are no check outs…;^)
With so much Pink Floyd flying around here, (more on that later), you just knew there had to be some accompanying Alan Parsons. Well Lucassen does a wonderful job covering "Some Other Time", from "I Robot", so well. Bigger and bolder drums than I remember from the original…and that's a good thing.
"Yellowstone Memorial Day" jumped off the track list when I first received the downloaded promo. With a name like this, it was one of the first tracks I just had to hear, despite normally wanting to hear each track in the order the artist tracked it, for my first listen. Well, I was not disappointed. Enough power drums to bring the warning for this massive event which many scientists are predicting may be upon us this year…or soon. The battle between man and nature continues indefinitely. But "Big Mama", "our only Mama", would be a definite "game changer".
Imagine all you've learned reversed. Yeh, the "New Real" is a much different place, and "Where Pigs Fly", yeh, that Pink Floyd reference is back…is Arjen at his hilarious best. The music is great, but it's the lyrics that will have you laughing, or at least looking at a different perspective on the world. I won't spoil a thing. Ever wanted a peek into the mind of Lucassen…well…this is your chance.
"You Have Entered the Reality Zone", is an introduction to the "New Real", Lucassen has been experiencing throughout the concept of the album…guided on by Dr. Voight-Kampff, and his psychic…or make that psychotic direction. Great flute guitars…and oh yes…those drums.
"I'm the Slime", is Lucassen's cover of Frank Zappa's classic, only instead of TV, Lucassen focusses on our new love, the Internet. He opens with some dark vocals, eerily reminiscent of some of Steve Hackett's vocals on "Dark Town". Great cover of a classic.
Few people in the independent music world know how to put together and epic closer like Lucassen. As so it goes with "Lost in the Real World", an over 10 minute music need quencher…if he hasn't already satisfied every musical desire you could ever want in the other 19 tracks. Full of excellent violin soft parts mixed well with spacey keys, and hard edge guitar and drum parts, to leave you on the note he began. When some people decide to do a solo album it usually is not a double CD. However, with someone as prolific as Arjen Lucassen, you knew it would be a double. Nothing is missing on this double album. Only question left…same as the last one…where does he go from here?
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