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"If you strip away the myth from the man..."

Class D

Main Category: Art Rock
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of an A. L. Webber fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective A. L. Webber fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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Sorry for the low rating, all ye reverend fans of 'Memory', but Sir Andrew isn't really much of a rock musician; he almost got into rock music by chance, and his relations with that genre are something like 'been there, tried that too'. He really doesn't belong on this site at all, but it's hard to imagine a rock review site without a review of Jesus Christ Superstar - one of the biggest cultural events of the twentieth century, no doubt about that.

JC is Andrew's masterpiece, of course, although one must also recognize that it's not really much of a-rock-and-roll product, despite the electric guitars and all. After all, electric sound is essential for rock, but not bloody necessary; it's the chord changes and rhythms and vocal melodies that count, and even if I don't have any documentary proof to uphold the statement, it must be said that this opera deals much more with classical values rather than modern ones. Some of the son... errr... arias can be called rock music, being based on rather traditional 'riffs' ('Damned For All Time', eh? Could have been a great hit for the punk generation), but most certainly cannot. Andrew actually takes classical motives and dresses them up as 'rock' statements, bringing a whole new dimension to classical music which, unfortunately, was never really improved upon or even followed seriously. So if you go praising Queen for being the revolutionary band to marry rock and opera, take a few steps back: Sir Webber was there earlier, and he managed to do it much better, too.

Anyway, 'nuff of that. Since I'm not a musician, I won't go too far in my discussion of the matter; any further ideas would be greatly appreciated. But at least I suppose that it's obvious that JC is hugely different from what is generally counted as rock operas - like the Who's Tommy or Quadrophenia, or the Kinks' Preservation, etc., etc. Not to mention that it's hardly possible to define 'rock' music as such, and anyway I'm not gonna fuss over the terminology; I just want to draw a rather distinct line between the masterpiece of Mr Webber and the creations of his less educated, but equally brilliant colleagues among the 'traditional' rock musicians.

Of course, JC and that little mini-opera about Joseph that Sir Andrew wrote a wee bit before are about the only groundbreaking pieces Webber ever created. His later creations, while still marked with his undoubtable talent, are firmly grounded in tradition: Cats are a clear Broadway musical, while Phantom Of The Opera is purely classical, etc. (I won't even mention that stupid Evita - one of the worst creative ideas the guy ever had). This is indeed a pity, because a guy as talented as Mr Webber could really have pulled classical music out of stagnation, at least, such a situation would not be unimaginable. Unfortunately, he preferred to choose a role in high society - lured so much not by the temptation of the Big Dollar but rather by the temptation of the Aristocratic Lifestyle. Jesus Christ alone, of course, would have been enough to earn him his lordship (although I doubt Jesus Christ would ever suffice in that respect), but lordship brings power and relaxation, and in Andy's case, he's become so relaxed over the years that there's really nothing left to expect. Blah.

So bear in mind that Andrew Lloyd Webber is no rock star - never wanted to be one, and never was one. Neither, of course, was he a leader of the hippie movement - the cretinic movie of JC, shot by Norman Jewison, completely ridiculizes the idea of the opera and even profanates it, I'd say. Andrew was and will always be just a stiff high society cat. Still, if you're not one of those guys who think 'vintage' rock music is the only cool thing since T-shirts and Wrigley's Spearmint, you might enjoy at least some of his creations. As for me, I adore JC with a blazing reverence and don't completely disrespect Cats, either (although Broadway musicals are certainly far from my favourite cup of tea). That's why I actually have these albums, and since it's well understood that they do not fit into any other category of music that I possess, I've decided to bump them on here. Never mind. Widen your tastes, everybody.

As a self-critical postscriptum, I'd also say that this here page is one of the few on the site, where my ratings system which everybody loves to criticize so much really doesn't work. Because of course I love JC so much that it doesn't objectively deserve anything less than a very high 13, maybe even higher, and yet I wouldn't want to give a rating of THREE to Andrew. I'm so confused... I do have a consolation, though: since Andrew is not really a rock musician, he might as well get a THREE or even FOUR on another scale - the 'classical' or 'XXth century' one, whichever you choose. So take these ratings below with a grain of salt and make any necessary corrections in your mind if you wish. Remember: numbers are numbers, and while they do help you to get oriented and make a suitable hierarchy of your own, they have no soul.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Rock opera? Hardly. But whatever it is, it's a dang classic.

Best song: how should I know? It's an opera!

Track listing: 1) Overture; 2) Heaven On Their Minds; 3) What's The Buzz/Strange Thing Mystifying; 4) Everything's Alright; 5) This Jesus Must Die; 6) Hosanna; 7) Simon Zealotes/Poor Jerusalem; 8) Pilate's Dream; 9) The Temple; 10) Everything's Alright (Reprise); 11) I Don't Know How To Love Him; 12) Damned For All Time/Blood Money; 13) The Last Supper; 14) Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say); 15) The Arrest; 16) Peter's Denial; 17) Pilate And Christ; 18) King Herod's Song; 19) Judas' Death; 20) Trial Before Pilate (including The Thirty-Nine Lashes); 21) Superstar; 22) Crucifixion; 23) John Nineteen Forty-One.

The universally known 'rock opera', which really isn't a rock opera, but still is an opera, but we already discussed that in the intro. Or - should we say - the only reason for Sir Andrew's existence? On a certain level, yes, since for all Andrew's worth never again did he manage to pull out of his head a product more brilliant and full of genius. While it is quite trendy and 'cool' to bash JC for... for I don't really know what, I must state with all vehemency: this is a masterwork, and one of the biggest musical statements of the year 1970 at least.

What I won't discuss here in details is the philosophical and theological aspects of Tim Rice's lyrics. This belongs to another story, whose authorship is not mine; at least, not on this site. Suffice it to say that there aren't actually too many of those aspects: I'm surprised at some people actually accusing the authors of blasphemy since the lyrics follow the Gospels' story very exactly, often bringing in exact quotations and very moderately expanding on the well-known subjects. I can only mention three overall moments that deviate significantly from the standard conception: a) a 'humanization' of Mary Magdalene, with 'I Don't Know How To Love Him' definitely having a sexual area around it; b) a further humanization of Jesus, displaying real human fear and even - for a few moments - cowardice in 'I Only Want To Say'; c) 'Superstar', of course - an intentional comparison of Jesus and further deities with the 'superstardom' of today. That said, the first two aspects are definitely hinted at in the Gospels themselves, want it or not; as for the third one, well, I don't suppose there's any denigration of Jesus of any kind; all the comparisons should obviously be taken tongue-in-cheek (especially since it's the dead Judas that pronounces them). In general, the lyrics are all very well written and Tim Rice certainly has an excellent balance between the 'quotations' and the self-penned stanzas.

And, of course, the melodies are great. Stuffed on these two discs are loads upon loads of catchy, emotional and diverse melodies - such a swarm of these that you can only encounter something like that on a vintage Beatles' record. As every opera should, it begins with the overture that 'pre-recycles' every melody of the last part of the work, which is already enough to draw you in completely; as a sidenote, I'd like to compliment the band that recorded the performance (mostly players that I don't know at all, although I seem to recall that Henry McCulloch, credited for much of the guitars, later joined Wings for a short while. Oh wait, that was Henry McCullough, damn those Celtic orthographies), and the orchestra, of course - superb playing and production.

And no filler. 'Superstar' was chosen as a single, but I'll tell you one thing: EVERY one of these tracks, except maybe for some shorter links and reprises, could have easily been a hit single, because every one of these tunes is either based on some marvelous musical idea or supercatchy hook. Just look at the first side and you'll see. 'Heaven On Their Minds': Judas is worried over the current status of Jesus and the tension between him, the Jews and the Romans, and he expresses his doubts in a magnificent pop rocker with cool riffs and complex, yet completely memorable vocal melodies. 'What's The Buzz': silly apostles worrying about their future while Jesus is telling them not to worry for nothing, with a bassline that makes you go wow and a hilarious climax as the repetitive 'what's the buzz tell me what's happening' lines get faster and 'buzzier'. 'Everything's Alright': a superb tender love chant by Mary Magdalene, unfortunately a wee bit marred by the overlong ending, but hey, that could be edited for the single. 'This Jesus Must Die': this gripping, exciting 'account' of the priests' meeting to plot the arrest of Jesus has one of the catchiest melodies ever written. Bah.

Ranging from the really rusty rocking riffing of 'Damned For All Time' and the instrumental 'Thirty-Nine Lashes' to the sweet soft silvery sugary singing on 'I Don't Know How To Love Him', these melodies are all top-notch. The climaxing points bring you to tears (especially Jesus' powerful aria in 'Gethsemane' and the closing symphonic 'John 19:45'); the sound effects are eerie and deeply disturbing ('Crucifixion'); the most complex song structures are still easily accessible ('Trial Before Pilate'); and some of the better melodies keep repeating themselves throughout the whole record. And if I actually bring myself to listing all the other highlights (such as the apostles' chanting in 'The Last Supper', Pilate's sneering vocals in 'Pilate and Christ', Gillan's passionate and heartbreaking singing on 'Poor Jerusalem', etc., etc., etc.), this review will have to be strewn over a couple dozen screens, so I think I'll limit myself with the ones already mentioned. Any flaws, for Chrissake? No flaws. Well, an opera with such a high subject matter should have to be a musical masterwork as well.

The vocalists choice is equally strong, with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple starring as Jesus and Yvonne Elliman (who later joined Eric Clapton's band for a while) as Mary Magdalene; most of the others I don't really know, but they usually do a good job.

In all, I simply can't see how certain people can dislike this record. Just one of these things that can't really be imagined. You'd have to be a complete boor to be able to dislike at least a few of these tunes. This may not be a 'rock opera' as we know it and are used to it - but I still hope JC will forever stay in the annals of 'rock', whatever it really is. In huge gold letters.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Well, it's not the original performance, but it's actually better in some ways.

Best song: see above...

Track listing: 1) Overture; 2) Heaven On Their Minds; 3) What's The Buzz; 4) Strange Thing Mystifying; 5) Then We Are Decided; 6) Everything's Alright; 7) This Jesus Must Die; 8) Hosanna; 9) Simon Zealotes; 10) Poor Jerusalem; 11) Pilate's Dream; 12) The Temple; 13) I Don't Know How To Love Him; 14) Damned For All Time/Blood Money; 15) The Last Supper; 16) Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say); 17) The Arrest; 18) Peter's Denial; 19) Pilate And Christ; 20) King Herod's Song; 21) Could We Start Again Please; 22) Judas' Death; 23) Trial Before Pilate; 24) Superstar; 25) The Crucifixion; 26) John Nineteen Forty-One.

Norman Jewison took Sir Andrew's opera in 1973 and transformed it into one of the most ugliest, stupidest and - naturally - dated films of its time. I've had the misfortune of seeing it and moreover, I even have the misfortune of owning it on video, so I'll refrain from obscenities in the main section; if you actually wanna hear them, please read the brief review of the movie below, in the video section.

The most important thing about the movie, then, is that Jewison actually re-recorded the entire performance for the movie, with new studio musicians and an entirely new cast of singers. Out of the original cast, only Yvonne Elliman (Mary Magdalene) and - I believe - Barry Dennen (Pilate) have survived. And amazing as it may seem, in many ways the re-recorded version beats the original; I give both the same rating because, well, it's essentially the same piece of work and I don't give or take away stars just because one performance is weaker than the other, but when it comes to listening, I always prefer the movie soundtrack version. Better still, it's perfectly possible to combine the two: thus, I can't object to the fact that Ian Gillan is in the end a more expressive and powerful singer than Ted Neeley in the movie, but, on the other hand, I far prefer Carl Anderson's wild roar to Murray Head's strained screaming (Judas), so the ultimate solution for me was always to put about half of the original performance and half of the movie soundtrack on to a tape and enjoy the best possible version of the opera. On the other hand, I've also come to the conclusion that it's mainly a matter of habit: those who first heard the original performance prefer the original performance and those who first heard the soundtrack (me included) prefer the soundtrack. So it's all rather relative. However, true Webberphiles should definitely check out both versions.

The objective advantage of the movie soundtrack version is that the music is far more elaborate. The arrangements are slightly more complex and the main sections of the songs are often extended, except for a few moments that have been left out, only for better: thus, the lengthy coda to 'Everything's Alright' has been eliminated, and I welcome the decision because in my humble opinion it was only taking space on the original recording. That said, nothing has been changed or profanated - all the melodies are left completely intact, and 'purist lovers' of the original performance will hardly be offended.

Another interesting note is that the movie soundtrack actually includes a couple extra compositions that weren't featured in the original version; I have no idea if they were written by Andrew and Tim specially for the movie (for instance, in order for completists to have a real motive to go and buy this new release), or if they were older "outtakes", undug... er, well, specially for the movie, but they're real good. 'Then We Are Decided' is a cute short 'prequel' to 'This Jesus Must Die' - Annas and Caiaphas deciding on Jesus' fate and what to do about him, arranged as a catchy piano ditty (BTW, I far prefer Caiaphas from the movie soundtrack as well - what a miraculous bass); and 'Could We Start Again Please?' is a strange 'outbranching' tune which Mary and Peter sing already after Christ's arrest, apparently in doubt if the things that happened were indeed foreplanned or were just a fatal mistake. Also quite nice.

Plus, sometimes there are pleasant little things like extra verses and stuff - for instance, 'Trial Before Pilate' is augmented by a whole new verse which only magnifies the tension; likewise, 'Hosanna' is augmented by one verse that also works out fine. Et cetera, et cetera - I could go on picking out these small details for hours, but I think I won't. Anyway, I just prefer to think of the movie soundtrack as the "finished version" of the product, a more elaborate and well-produced conclusion to the "rough start" of the original version. I've grown so used to it, in fact, that I seriously miss the lack of extra songs and extra 'augments' in the original performance.

This doesn't mean that the new version is free from flaws, of course. Thus, Joshua Mostel (King Herod) is a complete jerk, over-emoting like mad and making too obvious a fool of himself, when in fact 'King Herod's Song' should feature a very restrained type of singing, personified by Mike D'Abo on the original version. And, like I said, Ted Neeley can hardly hope to outperform Ian Gillan, although he's definitely worthy, and gives out a fine screaming job on 'Gethsemane'. A few musical passages are definitely inferior, and a few new musical ideas are definitely unnecessary, like the dirge-like slowing down of the apostles' chant in 'Last Supper', etc. But in any case, these are all minor complaints, and most of them stem from the fact that it's, after all, a soundtrack, so it's only natural that the performance is somewhat more theatralized than on the original. This consequently means that the singing is less stifled and generally more expressive - a good example would be to compare Barry Dennen's 'economic' approach on the original 'Trial Before Pilate' to the aggressive, disturbed approach on the soundtrack version. Which is more powerful? I vote for the latter. Well, after all, this is subjective; I did say, after all, that the best way to solve all problems is to make your own personal version of the opera from two performances.

On the other hand, I'm not at all saddened by the fact that MCA's 2-CD edition of the soundtrack omits all the original photos from the earlier LP edition; the photos come from the movie and are outrageous. They could have left the lyrics, though, and some more details about the cast and recording. Murky penny-saving American recording bosses. Bah.



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

An entertaining Broadway musical made... well, made by the author of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Best song: MEMORY

Track listing: 1) Overture; 2) Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats; 3) The Naming Of Cats; 4) The Invitation To The Jellicle Ball; 5) The Old Gumbie Cat; 6) The Rum Tum Tugger; 7) Grizabella; 8) Bustopher Jones; 9) Mungojerrie And Rumpletaezer; 10) Old Deuteronomy; 11) The Jellicle Ball; 12) Grizabella The Glamour Cat; 13) Memory; 14) The Moments Of Happiness; 15) Gus The Theatre Cat; 16) Growltiger's Last Stand (+The Ballad Of Billy McCaw); 17) Skimbleshanks; 18) Macavity; 19) Mr Mistoffelees; 20) Memory (Reprise); 21) The Journey To The Heavyside Layer; 22) The Ad-Dressing Of Cats.

I won't be foolin' you: I really don't know what this album is doing in my collection. I mean, it's nice and well-written and all that, but what the hell - it's a Broadway musical, pure and simple. Don't let Sir Andrew's name fool you: this thing has nothing to do with rock music. Although, to be frank, I presume you already know that. In any case, it's at least better than Phantom Of The Opera, and as long as you don't despise Broadway music, I suppose it's a fine record in its own rights. In fact, it's one of the best Broadway musicals I've ever heard... granted, that ain't saying too much, but best is best. Well, since I do have the record, and since it does feature music by Sir Andrew, I suppose I could as well review it - this will help the site expand its boundaries and plant a solid foot or two in the controversial world of Broadway music! Wonder if that's a good thing...

Brief presentation of the concept ensues. Cats is a musical based on T. S. Elliot's 'cat cycle' of poetry. Most of the lyrics, as you should have guessed, come courtesy of T. S. Elliot, but there are a few significant additions - read on. So the whole musical, true to the poetic legacy of the Wise One, consists mainly of introducing various cats - the Old Gumbie Cat, the Rum Tum Tugger, Old Deuteronomy, and lots of others. Plain fun.

Whoever would want to argue that by 1982, Sir Andrew's talent was all but washed-up will have to face the obvious - judging by Broadway standards, there are lots of cool melodies on here. Thus, everybody probably knows the 'Memory' theme from the album - it is one of the most ear-clinging melodies since 'Yesterday', and although time has actually worsened everybody's attitude towards the tune due to constant overplay (heck, it's even been used in weather forecasts, for Jesus' sake!), there's no denying the emotional power of the tune. This, by the way, is one of Sir Andrew's most important contributions to the album, although I don't remember who wrote the lyrics.

Most of the other themes are, well, interesting. I seriously don't know how to describe Broadway music, just as I don't know how to describe operas; I'm not an expert in these matters, anyway. I do have to admit that for an album of double length, there are too many moments that drag. Some of the cats' descriptions are terrifically overlong - 'Gus The Theater Cat', for instance, is cute for the first few minutes, but when you find out that every verse in the tune is repeated twice, it makes me regret the lack of musical censure. Some other arias are slowed down, bogged down and trodden down so that you just wonder when they're gonna stop (the never-ending snail-paced 'Old Deuteronomy'); some lack memorable moments (two versions of 'Grizabella'), some feature horrible singing ('The Rum Tum Tugger' - whew, I'd like to throttle that guy!) and catastrophically banal backing vocals ('Mungojerrie And Rumpleteaser'). Moreover, some of the tracks are badly produced ('The Naming Of Cats' which goes by unnoticed since you can't hear even a single name unless you push the volume up to max). The closing 'Addressing Of Cats' is a very poor choice for closing the record as well.

But other parts of it are actually enjoyable. The main theme ('Jellicle Songs For Jellicle Cats' and further on) is hilarious and energizing - you gotta admire the twisted complexity of the main vocal melody with all these untrivial time signature changes. 'The Old Gumbie Cat' is a heartpleasing nostalgic ditty with nice vocals and a general warm atmosphere. Same goes for 'The Ballad Of Billy McCaw'. The circus atmosphere is brilliantly reprised in 'Mr Mistoffelees'; and 'Macavity' (a song about a criminal cat) does have the spooky atmosphere that is required for such a song. Furthermore, some of the tracks I've complained about above still have nice melodies - 'Mungojerrie And Rumpleteaser', for instance. Generally, even if you don't have anything nice to say about these melodies, you can't deny that so many of them really draw you in - there's enough diversity and unpredictable elements here to hold your attention throughout, except all of those overlong numbers where you will be tempted to doze off for a minute.

Overall, I wouldn't want anybody to dismiss Cats from the very beginning as a ridiculous, over-bombastic product. After all, its tremendous success all over the world has to have an explanation, and it can't all be nestled exclusively in Andrew Lloyd Webber's name and persona. Cats represent its epoch pretty well - the last gasp of brilliance from the traditional Broadway scene. They're fresh, innovative, and rarely formulaic, even despite all the individual weak tracks. It does sound like a Broadway musical, but it doesn't sound like a typical Broadway musical - the lack of sappy orchestrated passages alone is worth a serious merit. And like I said, while Cats aren't worthy to brush the dust off the boots of JC, they're still way better and more listenable than most of the other musicals produced by A. L. Webber (Evita, anyone? 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina'? Ooohh...).



Year Of Release: 1973

I already mentioned earlier that I would sternly distinguish between the soundtrack to this movie and the movie itself. The latter is pure hogwash. It's a hippie film, by gum - filmed in 1973 at that. Apparently, Norman Jewison's idea was to present Jesus as some kind of hippie guru and compare his crucifixion with the decline and fall of hippie idealism. That is why the film is filled to the brim with chronological oddities like high priests on scaffolds, Roman soldiers with American army machine guns, and apostles all looking like clones of Crosby, Stills & Nash. King Herod is surrounded by very modernistic-looking girls, and the crowds surrounding Jesus are real experts in disco dancing. Finally, the whole crew and cast arrive on the scene in a bus to the sounds of 'Overture' and leave it in the end with Jesus still hanging on a cross to the sounds of 'John 19: 41'. How cool is that? I disregard the fact that Judas is black (maybe I forget about PC, but no PC will ever mask the fact that the actual Judas was not African, not to mention Afro-American), moreover, Carl Anderson is such a great singer, but it's all too much for me to see him running away from tanks rolling in the distance - sic. The only consolation is that most of the main characters play their parts pretty well, particularly Christ himself (Ted Neeley), and the old heroes brought over from the original performance - Yvonne Elliman (Magdalene) and Barry Dennen (Pilate); the latter looks particularly awesome in his purple mantle. But 'consolation' is the right word here: on the general level, the movie is an absolute disaster.

For some reason, though, Jewison did film everything on location in Israel - which surprises me, because I'd have expected it to be filmed on location in Woodstock or on the Altamont Speedway at best. The film is absolutely crazy and even not funny at that. A perfect example of the music actually outliving the visual row it was attached to. Well, no surprise: Can member Holger Czukay did say once that the best kind of movie soundtrack is the soundtrack which is written before the movie itself and to which the movie is later attached, not vice versa. Which is exactly the essence of this particular case, heh heh heh.


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