Released: 2013, Ear Music
Normally we don’t review too many reissues of CD’s here on Metal-Rules.com unless they are something special and even then it is more of a public service announcement. Savatage is one of my Top 10 favourite bands of all time. Savatage is one of the very few bands where I succumb to the ‘collectors mentality’ and buying everything in their catalogue. I have probably spent more money (my wife would say ‘wasted more money’) on Savatage releases than any other band, such as buying expensive, import versions of rare and obscure compilations from Asia ‘just because’ it has a different cover art, a different title and one rare acoustic bonus track. Gotta have it! So when Savatage announced they were reissuing one of their best albums, STREETS: A ROCK OPERA, I had to have it. In this case, even if I wasn’t a die-hard Savatage fan I would still recommend and review this reissue because it contains of a number of extra interesting and valuable bonus features not found on the regular edition. I’m probably going to over analyze this reissue and overrate this release but sometimes it is fun to indulge and nourish your inner Metal fanboy. I haven’t even started the review proper and this piece is still longer than most reviews you find in most Metal magazines and blogs. In the epic spirit of everything Savatage does…enjoy this review… The curtain rises and the orchestra plays…
There are five components that make this reissue worth getting; the cover art/presentation, the booklet, the bonus tracks, the narration and the bonus DVD containing nine videos and several audio bonus tracks. I’ll describe each part in turn.
The Art: STREETS: A ROCK OPERA has new cover art which I find superior. The original cover is included in the booklet. The original was just a band shot, the new version has the iconic ‘Charvel Jackson bleeding guitar with the roses entwined’ image that they have used on many other occasions. Like Dream Theaters ‘burning heart’ or Eddie for Iron Maiden, the guitar image has been inextricably linked with the band as their logo/mascot. The art was done by Gary Smith who is responsible for six other Savatage albums, and now the albums imagery is more consistent with what many fans consider to be the classic era of 1987 to 1995 (HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING to DEAD WINTER DEAD) or more specifically the Jon Oliva/Paul O’Neil era.
The booklet: The booklet is a 24-page full colour presentation. After looking at my cassette for years this is marvelous to look at. There are all the liner notes, several photos all the lyrics and a long introductory essay by Jon Oliva. The essay is very insightful about how they collected many of the background sounds you hear on the album. There is also a long section detailing each video on the bonus DVD and his thoughts on each one. The whole layout and design is very nice.
The bonus tracks: There are seven bonus tracks, six on the DVD (as audio cuts) and one on the CD. All six cuts on the DVD are rare songs, but all of them have been released as bonus tracks or on international pressings. The bands catalogue has been reissued a couple of times, once in 1997 and again in 2002 and these tracks are floating around. They are a few live tracks, acoustic tracks, piano versions etc. The one truly new, unreleased track is called ‘Larry’s Elbows. It was originally intended for the STREETS album and it is tacked on the end of the album. The song is rocking song and could have easily fit on the album and part of it was later used on ‘Follow Me’ on EDGE OF THORNS. There is, in one sense, another bonus track. The album uses the original ‘orchestral version’ of ‘Jesus Saves’ which is much mellower and has lots of backup singers and so on. It was quite different to hear the alternate version after hearing the second ‘Metal’ version that originally made the album so many times, however despite the first version being mellower, it actually fits better. Jon explains in the liner notes how at the time he had insisted on the ‘Metal ‘version being on the album but in hindsight, realizes that the producer Paul O’Neil had the better version picked out originally and that it works better in the context of the rest of the album. This alternate version has been released previously as well so it is not ‘unreleased’ in the purest sense of the term.
The Narration: STREETS was originally intended to be a double album with full narration. The story was adapted from a Broadway musical called ‘Gutter Ballet’ that was written by Paul O’Neil and the band has recorded many sound effects and Jon Oliva had done all the narration in between the tracks but for whatever reasons, time and money, the album was only released as the single version. The original run time is 68 minutes (which was still huge back in 1991) and now with narration the progressive rock opera now runs 77 minutes and whole album clocks in at 81 minutes. On the original version there was one segment of narration kept. It is heard on the introduction to the song called ‘Jesus Saves’ with Oliva playing the role of a homeless guy telling the story of DT Jesus to a stranger on the mean streets of NYC. The rest of the new 2013 narrated version continues on in the same fashion and between each song the bum is telling the whole story. Although the story is fairly self-explanatory, some of the narration, especially for ‘Heal My Soul’ and ‘Somewhere In Time’ explain more of the story, expands the plotline, and leaves a bit less to the listeners’ own interpretation. I feel the narration really brings the story alive and it is glad to hear the original version as it was originally intended, however there are still several songs that were intended for the original release that lie unfinished in the demo form somewhere in the city beneath the surface where the dungeons are calling.
The bonus DVD: What more can I say? The DVD has every video Savatage ever shot, all nine of them. It also has the aforementioned six bonus audio tracks. It is great to finally have all these videos in one place, some of which I had never seen before or if I had it seen them, it was almost two decades ago when they first aired and when MTV or Much Music still showed music videos instead of Simpson’s re-runs and game-shows.
STREETS: A ROCK OPERA really was a monumental, groundbreaking album. It was one of the first albums to be recorded on 96 digital tracks and it fully realized the vision that the band had started to develop by blending the orchestral and metal sounds that they started to experiment with on the previous album GUTTER BALLET. A perfect rating may seem high but they are one of my favourite bands and this album is widely regarded as one of their best, a pioneering effort. According to Martin Popoff’s global, internet poll (which was the source for his book, ‘The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums Of All Time) STREETS: A ROCK OPERA was the #2 rock opera coming second only to OPERATION MINDCRIME. He also lists Savaatge in the Top 25 most influential bands of all time. I think awarding top marks for a reissue is fully justified, especially with all the wonderful new features of the new double disc version. One of the best rock operas has now been made even better. Absolutely essential.