Here it is, folks – the concept album we mentioned briefly during our very last Les Fradkin review; a review for “Together,” a track from this thematically stunning album. And if you’re an Ark of Music regular, you’ve probably heard more cuts from this aspiring rock opera, like “System Crash,” “Magic Attic,” and “Everything Is Wrong.” But today? Today, we’re taking a look at the entire album – a strangely prophetic work originally recorded in 2003; an album that, according to Fradkin, “Tells the story of a nation in absolute cultural, social and political decline. Yet, by the end, it offers a ray of hope.” Are you ready to dive into one heck of a theme-pervading musical work written and performed by the master of grand and epically dense rock? Prepare yourselves.
Wait. Who does what?
Les Fradkin does it all, including vocals (with an assist from Loretta Fradkin), the 12-String Bass, Piano, 6 & 12 String Guitars, Organ, Guitar Synthesizer, Mellotron, and Roland V-Drums.
Now, back to the music.
I feel we’ve adequately covered a few songs from Reality: The Rock Opera, so I really want to focus on tracks we haven’t previously encountered. And the first track is one such treasure – “Overture”; it comes in with a crash and big, space-filling orchestration. While it plays, we’re introduced to themes/songs discovered later in the album; a true overture mapping out the various musical moments to come.
Track #2, “Reality,” kicks off with big California-rock-based harmonies. And then the airy Mellotron chorus begins, granting an angelic foundation to each verse. “Reality” is a big, BIG sound – the layers, immense. The energy, high. And that melodic guitar riff over these massive waves of a thousand bundled voices? Golden.
“You Can’t Change Me” begins with the sounds of nature and deeply clamoring bells before an almost “Smoke on the Water” chord structure – familiar, recurring bars performed with thick organs, guitars, and strings. This is a quick one, but it really delivers the anger, the dripping cynicism.
Track #5, “25 Women, So Little Time,” kicks off with harmonizing electric guitar notes before settling into a strong rock beat. This is a slightly comedic track – still a bit tragic, but perhaps a reprieve from the album’s more pessimistic moments.
Track #6, “Reality Idol,” features a more playful melody with strings flying high above. This is a concise, solid little number describing the economy of attention – the somehow financially rewarding social sharing of life’s mundanity.
Track #8, “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow,” begins with layered staccato strings, and then, the pounding timpani. It starts big, settles into a stroll, but maintains those angular, string-led pulses backed with subtle Mellotron. And the bridge performs a GREAT musical sharp left turn with reduced music, accompanying falsettos, and more desperate vocals. A lot of grand, effective musical ideas here.
“Obsolete” starts with soft horns and a grand synth-string orchestra complete with rumbling timpani. And when the verse arrives, it’s also soft, and over a floating synth-string chord. This is a mournful tune describing all the things once valued, and now abandoned. It’s grand, sad, epic, and sparkling.There’s a fantastic melodic guitar passage, rich organs, a hollowing heart, and soon, nothing left to love.
Although this isn’t the last track on the album (that distinction belongs to the previously reviewed “Together”), the second-last track, “The Rebirth of Hope,” is an equally powerful song leading us, in spacious, orchestral fashion, towards the end of this incredible conceptual work. With all the classical fixings, timpani, floating Mellotron chorus, and perfectly played melodic guitar, “The Rebirth of Hope” is indeed a hope-filled instrumental; something that, through all the muck, mayhem, and spiraling social cacophony, effectively reminds the human spirit that persistence is the most effective antidote.
But is it good?
Well, sure, if you want to undersell it, “good” is certainly a fine descriptor. But, it’s certainly not accurate. So, is it “good?” Oh, no – it’s GREAT. This is, in my opinion, Les Fradkin’s finest work. If you’re looking for a modern rock opera that takes you through places and spaces not even scratched in mechanical, contemporary music; if you’re bored with music that sounds like the tin, sterile machinery of the assembly line from which it came? I IMPLORE you to look for music that will take you on a journey; music that will lift you, crush you, and carry you home.
I IMPLORE you (again) to listen to Les Fradkin’s Reality: The Rock Opera. And then, I want you to realize how accurately the album predicted our homogeny, and begin your own rebellion with this eerily attuned, very human music as your personal, inspirational soundtrack. Reco–freaking–mmended!
BELOW: Listen to Les Fradkin and check him out on Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Twitter (“X”), and Facebook. Please support Les Fradkin by visiting his website and playing, downloading, and/or purchasing his music. And, as always, thank you for supporting real music.
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