Monday, January 28, 2013

Savatage - Streets: A Rock Opera (1991)

Savatage formed in 1978 (under a different name), by Criss and Jon Olivia in Florida, USA. In 1983 they changed the name to Savatage and became one of the forerunners of US progressive metal. In the beginning, their sound was more pure, unadultered speed metal with rip-roaring guitars and screaming vocals. As they grew older, their music matured and this album, from around the midpoint of their career, has a polished vibe, whilst still rocking pretty damned hard. Later albums included the addition of orchaestra. They eventually dropped into a hiatus in 2002.

 The cover for this album is pretty bland - the band posing in some sort of ornate mansion, looking all tough and serious, not daring to even show the slightest hint of a smile. Black clothing certainly seems to be the fashion - all jeans and shirts unbuttoned to varying distances down the chest. Long haired pretty boys (some with perms), or at least, they think they are. But hey, this was the early 90s and glam was just giving way to grunge.

"Streets" is a concept album, and follows the career of D.T. Jesus - a burned out rockstar who falls off the rails, and then endeavours to pull his life together. The story is explained in detail at the beginning of the CD booklet.
"I used to come down here and look at all the characters, never thought I'd be one of them..."

Like all good musicals, it begins with an introductory song "Streets" begins with a children's choir and certainly sets the mood of the dark and grimy streets, where lights flicker and promise hope and salvation and opportunity.

"Jesus Saves" introduces us to D.T Jesus - starting with a vocal intro and breaking into a story about his fall from grace. It is a strong rock number.

As the drugs take hold of D.T's life and his world starts to crumble inside, we fall into "Tonight He Grins Again". A slower number, dripping with melancholy and longing.

"Strange Reality" sees him tumble further and further on the downward spiral. D.T. becomes aware of his plight. It is a fevered song, edged with desperation.
"Am I losing my way? This strange insanity. An illusion away. Is this reality?"
Having had this revelation, D.T sends out a call for help in the beautiful and pleading "A Little Too Far" with its gentle piano and desperate lyrics.

After that mellow moment, we rock into "You're Alive" and D.T.s triumphant return, with the help of his previous manager, Tex. But his triumph is short lived, as a dark shadow - Sammy - returns from his past and confronts him. In a tumultouos, fast and vicious fight, Manager Tex intervenes and there is a battle between "Sammy and Tex".
 "Seemed things were going right, till Sammy pulled a knife..."
Tex is slain, and seeing the rage in D.T.'s eyes, Sammy  flees  into the night.

Bereft, alone, D.T. roams the streets a haze of melancholic morbidity, finally finding his way to the doors of "St Patrick's" cathedral. Here he falls into desperate, pleading prayers.

But God does not listen, or at least, he makes no response. Lost, confused; his mind filled with dark desperate thoughts and seeking escape, D.T. pleads "Can you Hear Me Now?"

But all around him are the bitter and dark streets of New York. "New York City Don't Mean Nothing" is another song of despair and loss. It starts with raw, tortured vocals, filled with pain at this great city, where you are noone and nothing. The rhythm starts, fueding it with rage.

Everywhere he goes, he sees, haunted and broken people - a "Ghost in the Ruin". Anger, despair, deperation feed the song into a turmoil.

Perhaps it would be better "If I Go Away", D.T. ponders. If I give up on this life, just fade away. More desperation, but now fueling melancholy and sorrow, the desire only to be taken away from this life.

In the frenizied "Agony and Ectasy", D.T. prepared to give up on his despair, and his new life and reteat back into the comforting shell of drugs and the oblivion they bring. But it all changes as he comes upon a derelict man, dying in the gutter. So wretched is he, that noone dare approach him, except D.T., who holds his hand and comforts him as he dies.  Or at least this is how the narrative is explained in the beginning of the CD, however, it is not so clear from the lyrics. The song "Heal My Soul" is a beautiful piano/vocals piece haunting and strong contrast to the preceeding track.

A sense of triumph continues in "Somewhere in Time" and finally concludes in "Believe", a song of hope and faith as D.T. watches the spectral figure of a small child steps from the corpse of the dead man and up into the stars. This is the spirit of the man as he was once, until he threw his life away on lost dreams and now he seeks only forgiveness. He turns to D.T. smiles, and fades into a gentle flash of light. Up above, in the summer sky, a star burns brighter.

Finally, unexpectedly, D.T. feels at peace with himself, and returns home. The slower, more positive atmosphere in the final songs reflects this.

Ultimately, a fine concept album - although the lyrics do not fit the story at the front particularly closely. It's a good storyline for a rock opera though, albeit slightly preachy. The mix of fast-paced, angry songs and slower, mellower numbers enhances the mood and aids the narrative.

I rate this album 8/10.

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