Phenomena – Phenomena (reissue)
Label: Explore Rights Management
Reviewed: March 2019
Reviewed by: JP
When I learned of the late 2018 reissue of the Phenomena Rock Opera trilogy I was very excited. This month I will review all three albums in the series. Please feel free to read all the reviews in the series. Fair warning, much of the material will be duplicated in these reviews in the introductory sections.
I actually bought the first two cassettes in the concept album series back when they came out and I never was really able to fully comprehend the series because the tapes didn’t really have any information in terms of liner notes or lyrics. I never did buy Part III, but I always felt that this project was something special that I needed to one day appreciate to it’s fullest. Now, I finally get to immerse myself in this amazing project.
The Phenomena project was an 80’s Rock Opera, really one of, if not the first Hard Rock/Heavy Metal of it’s kind. Overtime these types of epic series became far more common, (Rhapsody, Genius, Once And Future King, Avantasia etc) but at the time this was quite a unique and ambitious undertaking.
The PHENOMENA project follows nicely the 70’s traditional of works like JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (1970), Jeff Wayne’s WAR OF THE WORLD’S (1978) and maybe into something like Styx’s PARADISE THEATER. One could make a strong argument that the PHENOMENA trilogy is the biggest attempt of something on that scale up to that point in time. The project is the creation of The Galley Brothers from England, known primarily for their work with Trapeze and Whitesnake. The project spanned a decade and included a couple dozen artists as guests, members of bands such as Asia, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Magnum, Queen, Thin Lizzy, Trapeze, Whitesnake, Wishbone Ash, Budgie and more. The project had moderate success around the world, but did not make much of a mark in North America but did very well in South America.
Explore Rights Management Ltd. has reissued each album with deluxe packaging, liner notes, artwork, lyrics, a huge essay, a family tree, memorabilia and song-by-song commentary by the creators. Originally released in deluxe gatefold vinyl the original contained specific, customized artwork for each song. In this reissue, it is all lovingly reproduced and the original artist, Ian Lowe, comments on each and every piece he did for the project. They did a superb job.
PHEMONENA was originally released in 1984 on Bronze Records and had artists like Glenn Hughes, Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, Ted McKenna at the core and lots of people dropping in and out for various guest spots. Part I of the story tells us a tale of a scientist and his daughter Lucy, age 9, who develop a huge computer able to meld mind and machine via telepathy. Through a series of unfortunate circumstances Lucy is eventually put into a coma and her young mind is wandering free in the ‘fantastical, multi-dimensional world’ machine where she encounters various ‘phenomena’, each one being played out in a song. So each song is an adventure and loosely connected to the whole. This is quite clever because then the authors are not chained to a specific narrative and plot-points they have to adhere to.
Musically, the nine song, 38 minute Part I is a heady blend of elegant, English rock royalty, which is not surprising given the talent afforded the project and a modern mix of the new 80’s synth driven sounds, which at the time were very cutting edge. It encompasses a range of melodic Hard rock with some progressive elements scattered across up-tempo rockers and, ballads and epic soundscapes.
Bold and innovative for the time, PHENOMENA is a real treat for fans of Progressive Hard Rock.