Arjen Anthony Lucassen of Ayreon fame going solo, no holds barred. Intriguing idea, right? The newest outing by this multi-instrumentalist and musical mastermind is called “Lost In The New Real”. Which – if taken too literally – is kind of a misleading title, since there really isn’t that much new to it. The themes are the same as in (almost) all his other work, except he’s a bit more outspoken about his dystopian world view by tackling topics like population control, internet police and such. And although he tries his hand at a few musical styles that haven’t been featured much on the Ayreon, Ambeon, Star One or Guilt Machine albums, most of the songs are still your typical Arjen Lucassen fare. Which certainly isn’t a bad thing, because that generally means strong, well thought out material featuring an abundance of guitars, keys, computer noises, and Ed Warby‘s phenomenal drumming.
But something’s not quite right with this latest offering. A big part of the problem is the fact that Lucassen split his album up in two distinct parts. One 47 minute disc with ‘the story’ and another 43 minute disc with what you could call ‘outtakes’. Songs that are (loosely) based on his theme story (about a 21st century man – Mr. L – being awoken after endless years in cryostasis), but ultimately didn’t fit in according to Lucassen. Which makes you wonder what he based his decisions on, because a song like ‘Welcome To The Machine’ (with a thumping bassline reminiscent of the more powerful work on “The Human Equation”), albeit it a Pink Floyd cover, certainly wouldn’t have been out of place on disc one. Musically nor thematically. While ‘Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin’, a silly song about all music in the future having been done before, seems rather out of place in the main storyline.
Another bother are the lyrics. While Lucassen has never been the strongest of lyricists around, this time around he has produced some of the clumsiest lines of his career. “You’re not allowed to share coz they don’t think it’s / Really fair, so don’t you dare!” (E-Police), “There was nothing to do / No way out, no escape” (Yellowstone Memorial Day). They draw too much attention to them, and as such – away from the music. Luckily there are some really fine moments, too. Opener ‘The New Real’ brings together some of the finest elements of “Into the Electric Castle” and “The Human Equation”, arguably two of Lucassen’s strongest albums. ‘Parental Procreation Unit’ is a wonderfully dark song with ditto lyrics. And the title track ‘Lost in the New Real’ is an amazing trip with just the right amount of musical diversity.
The most surprising songs are actually on the second disc. ‘So Is There No God?’ has Arjen playing some genuine twang and ‘Veteran of the Psychich Wars’ (Blue Öyster Cult cover) seems closer to symphonic metal than anything the grand master has ever done before. Plus, Lucassen really shows off his vocal abilities in this one, and even more so in ‘Battle of Evermore’ (Led Zeppelin cover). I have to hand it to the 51 year old guy – he sounds more confident as a singer than ever before and he truly pulls it off quite well. Which is not to say for Rutger Hauer – the narrator. Sure, it’s cool having an icon like him do some speaking parts on your album. But the lines feel forced and ultimately would have been better left on the lyrics page (as is the case with the song explanations on the second disc) instead of being brought to life in the songs themselves.
So, what we are ultimately presented with is a selection of songs, some really strong, some rather weak, that seem to be put in a random order. With the second disc having been blessed with some of the best overall songs (some of them covers, but really strong ones at that) and the main disc being cursed with some of the weakest. If only Lucassen would have killed some of his darlings and presented us with a single disc, without narration, with the songs tied together by a shared thematic, kind of like “Actual Fantasy”. Not only would this album have made a lot more sense, but it would also have competed with the very best stuff Lucassen has ever made. Sadly, the way things are, that is not the case.
Written by Wouter de Boer