Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Ayreon - "The Theory of Everything"

Ayreon - The Theory of Everything
2013, Inside Out

Disc One:
1. Prologue: The Blackboard
2. The Theory of Everything, Part I
3. Patterns
4. The Prodigy's World
5. The Teacher's Discovery
6. Love and Envy
7. Progressive Waves
8. The Gift
9. The Eleventh Dimension
10. Inertia
11. The Theory of Everything, Part II
12. The Consultation
13. Diagnosis
14. The Argument I
15. The Rival's Dilemma
16. Surface Tension
17. A Reason to Live
18. Potential
19. Quantum Chaos
20. Dark Medicine
21. Alive!
22. The Prediction

Disc Two:
1. Fluctuations
2. Transformation
3. Collision
4. Side Effects
5. Frequency Modulation
6. Magnetism
7. Quid Pro Quo
8. String Theory
9. Fortune?
10. Mirror Of Dreams
11. The Lighthouse
12. The Argument 2
13. The Parting
14. The Visitation
15. The Breakthrough
16. The Note
17. The Uncertainty Principle
18. Dark Energy
19. The Theory of Everything, Part III
20. The Blackboard (Reprise)

Yay! New Ayreon! I wasn't sure after 01 that Arjen would want to make another one, but here it is. In my opinion new Ayreon is always good Ayreon. The Theory of Everything is no different. This album is a little bit different than the previous outings. Instead of twenty or so longer tracks this one has forty-two tracks. Actually, scratch that, the album is only four songs. Four twenty minute songs that are broken up into forty-two tracks. Also, there's not a lot of repeating here - very few choruses. As a result it's a little bit harder to digest than most Ayreon stuff but far more rewarding I think. There is so much musical wonderfulness going on here. You'll here some Arjen sonic staples that will remind you of past albums ("Mirror of Dreams" seems like a callback to "Valley of the Queens," for example) but for the most part this album is very unique. Lot's of progressive meat to sink your teeth into. Lovely musicianship, lovely melodies. It's meant to be listened to in one or two sittings at most. Seriously, there might be forty-two tracks but you need to listen to the album as if there were only four. I could go on and on about how good the vocalists are or how good the instrumentation is (notably featuring some of the biggest names in prog rock like Rick Wakeman and Kieth Emerson), but if you're a fan you already know that. If you're not, The Theory of Everything is a great starting point. Get that smoking jacket out friend, you're in for a great ride!

For those who have already listened to the album I'd like to discuss something for a moment. (That was your spoiler warning, folks.) In the "making of" video Arjen says that the lighthouse on the cover represents science lighting the out of the darkness and into enlightenment. I find this odd particularly because is seems science does absolutely jack squat for anybody in the story. Quite the opposite in fact. The Father and The Prodigy are destroyed by their obsession with finishing their formula. The Mother and The Girl's lives are similarly turned upside-down. I would argue that the lighthouse is more a Siren than Beacon, beckoning the characters to crash on the shoals of their obsessions. Moths to the proverbial flame, if you will. It can also be a symbol of isolation. The Prodigy holes himself up there alone to finish his work. These aren't really new themes. In the previous albums the Forever race pursued science so hard they lost their emotions and connection with each other. Now I'm all for an artist interpreting his own work but his comments seem peculiar given the stories he's actually written. I wouldn't say his stories were anti-science, not at all. But I do think they tend to warn of the dangers of obsession. Of letting science destroy what makes life worth living.

Finally, The Father in this album is a lot like the father in The Human Equation. I wonder what Arjen's real father was like?

Useless Fact: The number of tracks on this album is a direct reference to Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy in which the meaning of life, the universe, and everything was 42.

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