Arjen Anthony Lucassen – Lost in the New Real


I will freely admit that I’m an unrepentant fanboy of Arjen Anthony Lucassen. His Ayreon project was what got me into post-70s prog, and I still consider The Human Equation to be one of the finest albums of the 21st century thus far. Unsurprisingly, then, I bought this album almost as soon as it came out, and popped it into my cd player for several repeated listens as soon as it arrived.

Unfortunately, my conclusion after about 20 listens is that this is one of Mr. Lucassen’s comparatively weaker efforts. Now, that “comparatively” is very important. This is by no means a bad album; in fact, I think there are a lot of artists who would kill for some of the material on this album. Where the album suffers (and I use that term very loosely) is in its consistency. Unlike some of the Ayreon albums that don’t have a single bad track on them, there are definitely weak points here. Ultimately, it’s those weak links that prevent the album from being the masterpiece that Into The Electric Castle or The Human Equation were, because when Lost in the New Real is good its as good as anything on either of those albums. Overall then, while I have to stress that this album is far from bad or even mediocre, in my opinion it’s not up to snuff with some other entries from Mr. Lucassen.

“The New Real” begins with a pulsing bassline under a spoken word section by the album’s narrator, legendary actor Rutger Hauer. When the song proper begins, it’s in a decidedly Ayreon-esque vein, if perhaps a bit spacier, and all of the vocals are delivered by Mr. Lucassen himself rather than by the ensemble cast featured on Ayreon albums. The real life Mr. L has historically been very hard on himself regarding his vocals, and while it’s true that he may not be an Akerfeldt or a Gildenlöw, I’ve always very much liked his voice and he’s more than emotive enough to make up for any technical deficiencies. Musically, the song presents a very familiar (for Lucassen fans, anyway) mix of metal, psychedelic and folk music, with of course plenty of great melodies throughout. No fan of Lucassen should find much lacking in this excellent first track, and fans of the Ayreon project should find plenty of common ground.

Lost in the New Real

“Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin,” on the other hand, while still having the signature “Lucassen sound” is in a decidedly different vein than most of what has appeared on his former projects. With obvious lyrical nods to great musical acts of the past combined with commentary on lack of originality in music and all wrapped up in vibrant, bombastic crossover pop music, “Pink Beatles?” is a stellar track despite being much shorter and less complex than many other pieces in Mr. Lucassen’s repertoire.

“Parental Procreation Permit” is another track that sounds it easily could have come off of “01011001.” Wilmer Waarbroek, who I will confess I’d not heard of before listening to this album, provides some epic backing vocals that help give the chorus some kick, and a much heavier instrumentation (even including a single growled line) gives the track a metal feel which is conspicuously (given the metal nature of the most of the rest of Lucassen’s discography) absent on the album as a whole. Unfortunately, while many of the individual parts of the track are quite enjoyable, when they’re all put together it can sound a bit disjointed and at worst even a bit forced. It’s certainly not a bad track, but I don’t think it quite stands up to the first two.

“When I’m a Hundred Sixty-Four” is another short track, coming in at only about two and a half minutes, and while length is certainly no indicator of quality I have to say that this track in particular just comes off feeling a bit light. Compared to the nuanced first track or even the jam packed second, the minimal folky instrumentation and decidedly twee lyrics just seem a bit underwhelming.

Fortunately, “E-Police” kicks the album back into high gear. With a driving guitar line and excellently combined lead and backup vocals, “E-Police” is packed with great melodic lines and a great chorus that proves Mr. Lucassen can write great pop just as easily as he can craft mammoth prog epics. Its upbeat tempo also provides a great contrast to the next track, “Don’t Turn Me Off,” which trades in enthusiastic riffing for hypnotic, pulsing synthesizers and drums. An appropriately languid vocal delivery from Lucassen only adds to the atmosphere, but the synths are really the star of the show here. Providing remarkably full sounding background music and wonderfully understated melodies that complement the vocals perfectly, “Don’t Turn Me Off” is a song that shows texturing can be just as important as composition, and fortunately the track has only positive demonstrations of that principle. Along with “E-Police,” “Don’t Switch Me Off” is definitely a highlight in the middle of the album.

“Dr. Slumber’s Eternity Home” again falls more on the pop side of the spectrum than it does prog or metal, but like “Pink Beatles?” it’s a sterling example of why that is far from a bad thing. With stellar melodies and excellent support from the various string players on the album, the best word to describe the song is simply “fun.” Lucassen turns in a great guitar solo on which he sounds like he’s having the time of his life, and the whole song is just so infused with energy that it’s almost impossible not to smile while listening to it.

“Yellowstone Memorial Day” settles for a decidedly darker tone, with the same kind of pseudo-industrial sound that appeared on the beginning of “Age of Shadows” from the last Ayreon album. Apocalyptic lyrics add to the grim feeling, as do chugging, distorted guitars and some more operatic backing vocals. It’s definitely one of the more Ayreon-esque tracks as well, though I really can’t say how much of that similarity is lyrical and how much is musical. Regardless, it’s a great, heavy intense track that provides all the apocalyptic angst a listener could ever want.

Sadly, “Where Pigs Fly” follows it up with what I would consider to be the weakest part of the album. The song features a passable orchestral backtrack, but I’m really not a huge fan of the lyrics. Meant to express the fact that there are multiple universes in which events could have gone differently (which is certainly a cool idea) it’s really just a list of things which are the opposite of the way they are in the real world. Some of them are alright, but there’s also lines like “Rocky had no sequels, Arnold never came back, E.T. dialed the wrong number, and Dolly had no rack.” In my opinion, that’s a far cry from some the truly excellent lyrics Lucassen has written, and it drags the whole track down.

Luckily, there isn’t too bad of an aftertaste because the first disc’s closing track is not only the best song on the album but in my opinion one of the best songs Lucassen has ever written. Sounding fairly similar to the two “Extinction” tracks from 01011001, “Lost In the New Real” has everything you could possibly want or expect from the brilliant mind of Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Gorgeous string parts juxtapose against metal guitar lines, soaring operatic vocals take the track to stunning heights and the melodic lines feel unbelievably epic. The first six minutes are especially amazing, but the latter half of the track is very good as well, with a much more relaxed and folky feel and a very effective reprise of some of the themes from “Don’t Switch Me Off.” Overall, this title track is a killer closer for the album proper as well as an amazing progressive track in its own right.

I won’t talk about the 2nd disc in as much detail because it definitely feels more like a collection of bonus tracks than it does the second disc of a double album, but there are certainly some great moments to be had there as well, especially in the originals. “Our Imperfect Race” is another very Ayreon-esque track, with great guitar work and synth lines and some very cool vocal moments with Arjen overlaid over himself. “So Is There No God” is a bit of a departure for Lucassen, with a very vintage feel and almost a bit of country twang in some o the instrumentation. “The Social Recluse,” too, presnets an interesting and new sound for Lucassen, with punchy guitars that are almost reminiscent of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” and some acoustic picking that sounds very different than anything Lucassen’s done before. There’s something that sounds a bit strange in the harmonic composition of the track, but it works very well, and it’s a highlight of the second disc. “The Space Hotel” has, rather unsurprisingly, a very sci-fi feel to it, and musically it probably could have fit in very well on the Ayreon album The Universal Migrator. “You Have Entered The Reality Zone” again has a very classic rock sound, though it’s unmistakably Lucassen, with a great combination of distorted electric guitars and synths and whimsical acoustics.

The covers, however, also present some pleasant surprises. “Welcome To The Machine” is practically a deconstruction of the classic Floyd track, and it’s exactly what a cover should be: decidedly different from the original and indelibly stamped with the mark of the covering artist. It even seems to make use of the same riff (or at least a very similar riff) as “Parental Procreation Permit,” which is very cool and gives the track a much heavier, harder feel than the original. I’m not very familiar with Blue Oyster Cult’s original “Veteran of the Psychic Wars,” but Lucassen’s cover sounds very cool, and if I didn’t know better I could certainly believe that it was an original track. The cover of “Battle of Evermore,” heretical though it might be to say, I actually prefer to the original, with a much heavier groove and excellent female vocals. I’ve never heard the original Alan Parsons version of “Some Other Time,” either, but I definitely enjoy Lucassen’s version, and again, his stamp is so heavy upon it that I could certainly believe it an original if I didn’t know better, which isn’t something that can be said of too many covers. “I’m The Slime” closes off the second disc, and it’s presented with all the bombast and quirkiness that Frank Zappa could possibly ask for in a tribute, and Lucassen turns in an amazing guitar solo as well.

Overall then, the two discs of “Lost In The New Real” truly are a testament to Lucassen’s skill as a composer and performer, even if it falls short of being his most consistent album. There are, in my opinion, a few missteps (which is a few missteps more than on most of the albums of his various projects) but when this solo album is good, its easily as good as anything he’s done before. If you’re the kind of fan who’s as obsessed with Arjen Lucassen’s music as I am, then this is a necessary buy, but for your average prog-fan-at-large, “good, but not essential” sounds just about right.


CD 1:
1. The New Real (6:24)
2. Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin (3:36)
3. Parental Procreation Permit (5:03)
4. When I’m a Hundred Sixty-Four (2:30)
5. E-Police (4:07)
6. Don’t Switch Me Off (4:06)
7. Dr Slumber’s Eternity Home (3:51)
8. Yellowstone Memorial Day (3:31)
9. Where Pigs Fly (3:47)
10. Lost in the New Real (10:19)

Time 47:14

CD 2:
1. Our Imperfect Race (6:27)
2. Welcome to the Machine [Pink Floyd] (4:45)
3. So Is There No God? (4:41)
4. Veteran of the Psychic Wars [Blue Oyster Cult] (4:34)
5. The Social Recluse (3:55)
6. Battle of Evermore [Led Zeppelin] (5:28)
7. The Space Hotel (3:49)
8. Some Other Time [Alan Parsons Project] (3:27)
9. You Have Entered the Reality Zone (3:24)
10. I’m the Slime [Frank Zappa] (2:53)


* Arjen Lucassen – vocals, all instruments (excepted those of featured musicians)
* Rutger Hauer – narrations


* Wilmer Waarbroek – backing vocals
* Ed Warby – drums
* Rob Snijders – drums
* Ben Mathot – violin
* Maaike Peterse – cello
* Jeroen Goossens – flute
* Elvya Dulcimer – dulcimer


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