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New and noteworthy

MUSIC | Four albums of audio drama


New and noteworthy
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G. Herbert Rodwell: Jack Sheppard—A Victorian Melodrama 

Simon Butteriss, Charli Baptie, Peter Benedict, Stephen Higgins

“If my career were truly exhibited,” says the imprisoned title character to John Gay as the plot nears its conclusion, “it must be [as] one long struggle against destiny.” And so this new condensation of a Victorian melodrama based on a novel based on a real-life 16th-century anti-hero and thief presents it. The seven songs embedded throughout were all the rage during the Victorian era, a segment of which this production, with its vintage piano and the time-traveling acting and singing of its five-member cast, evokes most entertainingly.


Neil Hamburger Presents Seasonal Depression Suite

Various artists

The setting is a Comfort Inn at Christmas, the ­depression the one often said to afflict the more alienated members of our atomized society. The characters, as given musical voice by the likes of Neil Finn, Annabella Lwin, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and Gregg “Neil Hamburger” Turkington, include a desk clerk, a security guard, motel guests, and, in “Coming Apart at the Seams,” their linen. To laugh or to cry, that is the question. The “alternative pop-rock” melodies are no joke. Neither is the Gideon Bible that goes unread in “If This Long Season.”


Mr. Joe Jackson Presents Max Champion in What a Racket! 

Joe Jackson

Following in a grand artistic tradition, Joe Jackson couches zingers aimed at the present (check out “Health & Safety”) in a fictionalized version of the past—specifically, the final years of the English music hall. Patrons could be hard to please in those days, so the singers had to have vim, the songs had to pack wit, and each word had to count. A little Shakespearean-level bawdiness didn’t hurt either. Jackson has mastered the formula and maybe, just maybe, come up with the album of the year.


John Malkovich in The Music Critic 

John Malkovich, Aleksey Igudesman, Hyung-Ki Joo

The concept: John Malkovich recites hilariously savage eviscerations of great composers by eloquent but ­clueless critics while a violin-piano duo illustrates said cluelessness. Then things get tricky. Malkovich’s acting comes in for barbs. A critic pans a Rachmaninoff disc only to praise it when re-encountering it misattributed to Joyce Hatto. Then he offers outlandish suggestions for improving the “Alla turca” movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11. They turn out to be genius.


the Kinks

the Kinks Handout

Encore

The Journey: Part 2 (BMG), the second of the Kinks’ ­hand-picked, nearly two-hour 60th-anniversary compilations, goes light on the hits, emphasizing instead Ray Davies’ more dramatic side. Two cuts from Arthur, two from Muswell Hillbillies, six from Preservation: Act 1 and Act 2, the previously unreleased live triptych New Victoria Suite, the Percy-soundtrack highlight “God’s Children”—novices might think that Davies made his bones writing with stage and screen in mind.

Actually, going theatrical more or less cost the Kinks their audience. Not only did form (hooks) give way to content (character sketches, satire), but the uniquely British nature of a lot of that content also limited its appeal. The first time or two through The Journey: Part 2, you’ll be reminded of how disorienting this shift in the priorities of a once prodigiously hit-making act can be. Keep listening, however, and you’ll notice—first the parameters, then the details—of a bigger and a still largely relevant picture. —A.O.


Arsenio Orteza

Arsenio is a music reviewer for WORLD Magazine and one of its original contributors from 1986. Arsenio resides in China.

@ArsenioOrteza

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