Album Review: Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an album review. It’s time to change that, by taking a look at a science fiction concept album adapting one of the first alien invasion novels – H. G. Welles’ War of the World.

The album and stage show, unlike most adaptations of Welles’ book, doesn’t shift the time of the Martian invasion to something contemporaneous to the work’s production. Instead, it sticks with the setting of the original work, having the Martians invade in the late 1890s, as per the original book. The narrative hews fairly closely to the original work, with a few adjustments.

In the original book, Welles had two viewpoint characters – the Journalist and his brother-in-law. The brother-in-law was caught up in the flight from the country in the wake of the landing of the Martians. The brother-in-law in particular ended up seeing the “route of civilization”, along with the last stand of the torpedo ram Thunder Child. While the Journalist ended up trapped in England, becoming the primary viewpoint character for life under the martians.  The story also had two main female characters – the Journalist’s wife, and a woman who the brother-in-law helps flee the country. The two male and female characters are combined into one male character and one female character – the Journalist and his fiancee, respectively.

Consequently, the narrative shifts slightly – after the landing of the Martians and the rise of the Tripods, the narrator flees south to London to meet his fiancee, and just misses her as she gets on the last boat out – there he witnesses the escape and the last stand of the Thunderchild from the shore, before making his way aimlessly through Britain under the Martians – running into the Pastor and his wife (an addition for this version to add a counterpoint to the Pastor).

Musically, this album runs into the problem that while it is something of a prog-rock opera, it still has points where it gets really goddamn disco. Additionally, some of the melodies for some of the more dramatic and grim moments are shockingly upbeat – particularly opening track – “Eve of the War”.

That said, I did enjoy the album, and the album does convey the story incredibly well. The ending also fits in nicely with the conclusion of Welles original work, in which the Journalist suspects that the Martians will come again.