Monday 17 July 2023

Arjen Lucassen's Supersonic Revolution - Golden Age of Music (2023)

Country: The Netherlands
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 19 May 2023
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It's impossible to listen to this without noticing the nostalgia that infuses it. Arjen Lucassen, if you don't recognise the name, is a Dutch multi-instrumentalist who was born in 1960 and is best known for his long running progressive metal project Ayreon, a revolving door through which many of the greatest names in the genre have wandered. This is his first album as Supersonic Revolution and it looks very specifically back to the seventies, both in the sense of the musical styles of the time and how he personally interacted with it as a teenager.

SR Prelude sets that tone with an instrumental minute and a half that reminds of Deep Purple, Yes and ELP. The Glamattack emphasises Purple but clearly adds Rainbow to the mix and further songs trawl in more influences as needed. Odyssey is lighter and spacier and while it doesn't sound like a Hawkwind song, they can't be ignored. They Took Us by Storm is heavier, placing us in Black Sabbath territory. Fight of the Century often feels like a musical number and, with Jesus Christ Superstar in the lyrics of an earlier song, it's easy to see that approach here.

Almost everything is the seventies, by design, including a very notable seventies organ sound that mostly reminds of Jon Lord's work in Purple but occasionally Ken Hensley's time in Uriah Heep, as on The Rise of the Starman. However, there are glimpses of the eighties that followed, not least in the guitar flourishes of Timo Somers, which sound much more like Yngwie Malmsteen than Ritchie Blackmore. It's there in the voice of Jaycee Cuijpers too, who's halfway between Ronnie James Dio and Graham Bonnet, emphasising one over the other as needed.

The lyrics focus on the seventies too, most obviously in Golden Age of Music, which namechecks an impressive list of names, or at least hints at them. I'm a decade younger than Lucassen but I found rock and metal through the Friday Rock Show on which Tommy introduced me to all of it at once, so I was hearing the Purple Mark II classics at the same time that they got back together for Perfect Strangers, Rainbow from both eras at the same time as Dio and Alcatrazz, the British Invasion and the NWOBHM at exactly the same time. Steely Dan and Venom were both just rock bands to me.

But Lucassen was a decade earlier, so he had less of that to absorb at once, whenever he found the genre, and could focus more on just the new stuff the seventies brought, which started with glam and prog rock and moved on from there. Golden Age of Music explicitly references Radio Caroline and Farrah Fawcett, along with songs or albums by Rainbow, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Jesus Christ Superstar, Alice Cooper and Thin Lizzy. Those are easy references to catch (though I didn't get the "shorts by JCB" line), but other songs are more opaque, maybe because they're hybrids. I thought The Rise of the Starman would be about David Bowie, but it seems more Marc Bolan.

The most telling lyrics arrive in the closer, Came to Mock, Stayed to Rock, in which Lucassen speaks to gatekeeping. He's a rocker, the narrator of this song, who doesn't want anyone to change that, but the ubiquitous they drag him to an Abba show and an opera, both of which he thoroughly digs, against his expectations. However, it ends with suggestions that there's pressure on him to think of those as guilty pleasures and that it's his turn. Can he drag you to one of his shows or are you a little too closed minded for that experience, you Abba and opera fans? He might play this, with its sassy funky intro.

I liked this album from the outset because I love that seventies organ sound and I especially love it when it shows up with twenty-first century production technology. Everything's worth listening to, even if you like Abba and opera, but there are clear standouts. Golden Age of Music is the obvious one, because it's the most effective earworm I've heard in months. I woke up this morning to "This is Radio Caroline. Evening all. Hope you're doing fine" playing inside my skull. I'd call out the other golden song, Golden Boy, too. It's more subtle but it nails its groove, feeling oddly like a Yes track played by Purple. I can't not mention They Took Us by Storm too, which is Sabbath heavy but with a quintessential Purple organ intro, even if it's more Perfect Strangers than Machine Head.

What matters on an album this tailored to nostalgia though is connecting with listeners who share that mindset. I'm just a little too young for that but it worked anyway. If you were born in 1960 and grew up listening to rock music, I'd be interested in how close this comes to taking you back there.

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