Arjen Lucassen never sleeps. How else do you explain such prolific output? Ayreon, Star One, Guilt Machine, along with several other projects past and present. And now, Supersonic Revolution. When German music magazine Eclipsed asked him to provide a song for a covers album, he quickly offered up ZZ Top’s I Heard It on the X. Having enjoyed the experience so thoroughly, he asked the other musicians he had worked with to form a band and write songs in a ’70s vein without actually sounding like the seventies. With the lyrics intended as a celebration of the time, the result is Golden Age of Music, the album Deep Purple never got around to making after Made In Japan.
This time around, Lucassen is the bass player, which strikes me as unusual for the multi-instrumentalist control freak. Helping him out are long-time keyboards player Joost van den Broek, Timo Somers on guitar, drummer Koen Herfst, and vocalist Jaycee Cuijpers. As with all things Arjen, no matter who performs alongside him, it always sounds like no one but Arjen Lucassen.
Van den Broek opens the proceedings with a keyboard fanfare that pulls out all the stops. Possessed by the ghost of Jon Lord, van den Broek announces the album’s intent with the mighty Hammond, synthesiser bombast and electronic choirs of the all too short SR Prelude, which slides right into The Glamattack. You instantly know you are in for a rollicking good time. Even though Lucassen’s musical contributions are limited to bass, his signature style is so recognisable that the other musicians are almost irrelevant. There is almost nothing glam about the tune musically; still, everything rocks so hard, and the organ and guitar duels will leave your tongue hanging out of your mouth. Cuijpers captures the zeitgeist of the times as he sings:
Platform heels and you’re good to go
Outfits of silver that outshine the sun
The glamattack is on.”
High energy rules the day, and the title track is proof. Hammonds steamroll everything in their path as guitars riff away until solo time. It almost feels odd to hear the same voice two songs (two verses?) in a row on a Lucassen-helmed album. Once in a while a musical reference to the ’70s crops up but, as previously mentioned, such allusions are typically lyrical. While the presence of Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore is felt throughout the album, Golden Age of Music (the song and the album) are indisputedly Arjen Lucassen. For example, you might expect the following track, Rise of the Starman, to have a Bowie feel, but such is not the case. Fabulous guitar leads soar through the intro, leaving the organ to provide support. Cuijpers sings as if his children’s lives depend on it, but any nods to Bowie are smothered by the 21st Century approach to metal.
Burn It Down is about the casino fire relayed in Smoke on the Water, only told from the point of view of the “stupid with a flare gun”, who in this telling is a spurned lover. Relentless rock, but by now all the songs are beginning to bleed into one another. That’s one reason Odyssey comes not a moment too soon, slowing down the proceedings to concentrate on a Child In Time groove. The slower tempo is a welcome reprieve and gives the listener an opportunity to make sense of the individual musicians’ contributions. For the first two minutes, anyway. Then it’s off to the races again, but not in the usual riff-tastic wall of sound manner. This time there is enough space for everyone to be heard and appreciated for what they are doing. Certainly one of the better tracks thus far.
Another great song follows in the guise of They Took Us By Storm. With the vocals front and centre, the guitar attacks and the swirling organ largely stay out of the way until it’s time for the obligatory solo, making for a more enjoyable listening experience. Finally, the songs are beginning to appear through the onslaught of thunder that preceded. It’s this breathing room that really shows off their power, and the songs just keep getting better. Much more attention is being paid to the melodic development and instrumental interplay of Golden Boy. Herfst’s drums on this track in particular are noteworthy, moving between metallic bashing and a range of more subtle percussive possibilities.
Holy Holy Ground slows the tempo once more, trading the monstrous Hammond for an electric piano. This slow-burning tune is the kind of bluesy metal shuffle that Deep Purple did so well, with organ and guitar trading off cool and incendiary leads respectively. Guitar and synth double the opening riff of Fight of the Century like a one-two punch. This is the closest the album gets to traditional prog as the song chugs through several time changes. The synths here add much needed tonal color, cutting through the mass of vocal tracks. The final original track, Came to Mock, Stayed to Rock, starts off with acoustic guitars underpinning a father’s admonition to his son before the band explodes in this tale about expanding one’s musical horizons:
You’ve no idea what you’ve been missing
Your mind is closed, it’s so sad
Your rock and roll, it drives me mad.”
While it uses all the typical Lucassen tropes, it is possibly the best song on the album, having the sense to up the ante with dynamics and conviction.
The four remaining songs are all seventies cover tunes of varying success. Beginning with T Rex’s Children of the Revolution, the band encases the original in a suit of metal. Bolan’s charm was always his simplicity. Here it is given the Arjen everything-all-the-time excess approach. The greatness of the song practically has to fight its way out to be heard over the multiple layers of,,, well, EVERYTHING! The aforementioned I Heard It on the X follows, working surprisingly well as it lends itself to Lucassen’s style. So much so that the uninitiated might think it was an original tune. Not so Earth Wind and Fire’s Fantasy. It starts promisingly enough, but within seconds the guitars and organ bludgeon the funk out of the song and turn it into just another track that could have appeared on any Arjen Lucassen-related album. The lightness and playfulness of the original is completely gone. In its place is a block of cement with a great vocal the only reminder of what once was. The album ends with a slightly more successful rendition of Roger Glover’s Love Is All. The swagger of the original is intact (even if the acoustic guitar and violin are not) and the song has much more room to breathe.
Had Golden Age of Music been only the original tunes, it would have been a stronger album. You know exactly what you are going to get with any disc that has Arjen Lucassen at its core, writing, performing and control-freaking his way from beginning to end. That, in my humble opinion, is a good thing. While the ZZ Top cover was a fun romp back to an earlier time, the same could not be said of the remaining cover tunes. It’s one thing to put your stamp on someone else’s song (which is what should be done if you’re going to cover another artist’s work), but it’s totally another thing altogether (or a jazz version) to completely obliterate the spirit of the original. Nice try, poor execution. Mr. Lucassen and company may have had fun creating the covers, but I dare any listener familiar with the originals to say the same. Sometimes, in lieu of a sledgehammer, a fine dental pick will do.
01. SR Prelude (1:32)
02. The Glamattack (5:15)
03. Golden Age of Music (5:12)
04. The Rise of the Starman (4:49)
05. Burn It Down (4:52)
06. Odyssey (6:46)
07. They Took Us By Storm (5:05)
08. Golden Boy (5:49)
09. Holy Holy Ground (5:46)
10. Fight of the Century (3:55)
11. Came to Mock, Stayed to Rock (6:07)
12. Children of the Revolution (3:05)
13. I Heard It on the X (2:55)
14. Fantasy (4:09)
15. Love Is All (3:08)
Total Time – 68:25
Arjen Lucassen – Bass
Joost van den Broek – Keyboards
Timo Somers – Guitar
Koen Herfst – Drums
Jaycee Cuijpers – Vocals
Record Label: Mascot Label Group
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Date of Release: 19th May 2023