Another guest reviewer to add his two penneth, Mr Gary Morley has taken the writer’s seat for this album, let’s see what he thinks…
The initial brief was to listen to the one “typical “track on sound cloud…
I accepted the mission.
The track starts with the creaking of ice and an insistent double drum kick beat, then a glacial slab of guitar…
Voices then appear from out of the mix…
Is this an audiobook? Or a play?
Neither, it would seem that this is a cross between ‘War of the Worlds’ and Public Service Broadcast style infotainment, but without the charm of the latter or the tunes of the former. The dialogue is overblown, overacted and overpowers the musical accompaniment.
Talking of which, they are going for power and majesty, and although the guitar growls ominously, the sub metal drums and the unintentional humour of the accents and hammy acting detract from what should be an intense, gripping story. The guitar carries on, regardless of any notion of progression. Is this a metaphor for the ill-fated expedition?
Even the narrative declaration of “set the sails, full steam ahead “is more “Carry on Sailor” than “True Grit”. Sorry to say that this left me cold, and not in an involved in the narrative way. I’m sure that the whole thing is more cohesive and immersive, but this failed to take me on any sort of journey apart from the one that detoured around the repeat play button…
I Felt bad being so negative when I discovered that the creator is only 19 and I’m sure that the whole thing is better than the sample, but worried that this track was chosen as representative of the whole work. So Mr Editor in chief, Martin Hutchinson sent me a file containing the whole album. I sat down, burned it to disc, placed disc in the big Hi Fi, adjusted headphones and pressed play…
This is not an audiobook; it’s not a concept album either. As far as I can tell, it’s more of a stage show soundtrack, complete with dialogue and incidental music.
The subject is one that should hook the listener and take them to the depths of the Antarctic, but it sounds as if “Pirates of the Caribbean” played a big part in shaping the vocal performances as the South Atlantic whalers sound like pirates, overacting pirates too.
The crewman that “narrates” the story confused me with his opening salutation of “Boss…”, as I’m not sure that is exactly how a crew member would address a superior officer. As the story unfolds, it seems that the crew are trapped inside the bass bins of an Iron Maiden tribute band as they rehearse.
I know people argue about what is “Prog” and what isn’t, but this is not what I call Progressive. It’s a shame as the story is one that would benefit from a more versatile musical palette. The voice acting compounds the misery as the stilted speech and cheesy dialogue take away from the tragedy it describes.
The voices are not distinct, and I ended up unsure as to who was narrating, if it was even a narration or diary readings. The balance between the music and the speech is not wide enough. So the dramatic tension is lost under power chords and intrusive drumming. Shackleton’s plight, along with his crew is sympathetically portrayed but not the bleak cold beauty of their surroundings.
The best mental picture I painted as I listened was Blackadder and his companions trapped in the trenches whilst being bombarded by enemy artillery… Bombarded is how I felt. Every crewman starts his speech with a querulous “Boss this” and “Boss that”, You’d think that a little variation could have been injected.
That’s the problem I have with this work, it’s all one pace and one dimensional. By the time Shackleton decides to try to travel to South Georgia by boat, I have been pummelled into a state of benign indifference. The constant fury of the open chording and the drumming did give me a feeling of how much the sailors were suffering, intentional or otherwise.
The narration is harrowing in its content, but I was unmoved by the acting and accents. Sadly, once you start looking for them, the issues become more glaring. At the height of the drama, the sailor declares something or other and in the course of his speech, his accent crosses the Atlantic and back again. If this was a normal concept album that would be cause of raised eyebrows, but to my ears, this is not such a beast and this emphasises the distance between intention and execution that I detect.
The climax of the album, the survivor’s desperate journey is portrayed with more guitars riffing and a sound effect that I think is supposed to be the skies, but the tension is ruined by the cheesy dialogue:-
Sailor #1 “how long have we been marching for?”
Sailor #2 “About 22 hours “
Sailor ~1 “can we take a break for a little bit”
Sailor #2 (sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger) “Yes, but only for a little while”
They sound as if the hardship was a minor inconvenience rather than the appalling march to survive. The narrator tells of how they slept in shifts, as if they all slept at once, they’d probably never wake.
The improbable continues with a discourse about a whistle that may or may not have been heard. I’m not surprised they couldn’t hear it – those bloody guitars drown everything out! The musical ebb and flow that I was expecting to enhance the story is sadly lacking
The final speech about Shackleton finding relief descends into cliché as he asks whether the war is over and the rescuer tells him that the world’s gone mad but he can borrow a ship…
The final episode when he returns to collect his crew stranded on Elephant Island should be emotional and uplifting, but the sailor insisting on addressing him as boss makes it sound like they’d merely missed the works bus.
The end piece talks about Shackleton’s legacy, his life after the rescue and sad death at an early age. All very inspirational but ultimately sterile as I failed to connect with the story, there is no feeling of closure here as the narrative seems to just peter out and the guitars continue for a few minutes then they too admit defeat and call it a day.
According to the website, the architect of all this is only 19, and in that respect then this is quite an achievement. However, although I could not have approached such a project and achieve anything like this, the end product is caught between worlds.
It doesn’t work (to me) as a piece of music as it lacks variety of both pace and invention. Equally, due to the cheesy dialogue and voice acting, it doesn’t work as a dramatic piece either.
It may be that I’m the wrong person to review this as I’m not that familiar with audio books or musical theatre which is what this seems to be a synthesis of. I’ll stick to reading books and listening to music, as this attempt to combine the two fell on deaf ears and blinkered eyes.
Released August 8th 2015
About the author – Gary Morley
2 thoughts on “Guest review – Karl Schmaltz – The Shackleton Experience – by Gary Morley”
There is a very interesting and quite brilliant interpretation of this story by Eureka (aka Frank Bossert) called Shackleton’s Voyage and released in 2009. Another dramatic performance piece which is thoroughly enjoyable.
Clearly, the so-called reviewer Gary Morley was overly-harsh with his Shackleton Experience review. By his own admission, “I’m the wrong person to review this as I’m not that familiar with audio books or musical theatre.”
The thrill of a lifetime for Morley is listening to old Crisco-lung Plant at Knebworth and watching Prince and the Waterboys. He’s far too old to review anything created this century. Next time assign a review of a new issue of a remastered Led Zeppelin CD.