Overall Album Score: 9.5 out of 10
Question: After you've just folded a successful rock band and have nothing better to do besides bungee jump off fjords, what do you do? Why you write a musical of course! The people I'm talking about are none other than my favorite Swedish male singers who can single-handedly (or perhaps double-handedly) make King Kong voluntarily get off the Empire State building, dye his head blonde, and adopt a Swedish accent. ("It's the King Kong song, won't you sing along?") Yep. I'm talking about Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus from ABBA.
Unlike what's implied, lyricist Tim Rice had been wanting to do this musical for heaven knows how long. He was hoping to do it with Andrew Lloyd Webber (who did Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita with him), but Sir Andrew was too busy playing with the pussies (in Cats). So, I assume that prompted Tim Rice to start up with the alcohol and mope in his mansion until that fateful day in 1983 when it was announced in the headlines: "ABBA breaks up. Jah it's true! Dey told me so!" and, to celebrate, Tim Rice played Dancing Queen on the turntable. It was then he was struck with a stunning realization: these guys are Swedish. But then he was stuck with another: these guys are good... why don't I ask them if they want to write the music to Chess? Well, fate stepped in and Benny declared that he would rather create the Jesus Christ Superstar of the 80's chess world than to jump off fjords in the homeland. And so... Tim Rice finally saw his creation take the world by storm, and people flock to Broadway from afar to watch it.
Well... if you're one of the elite few who have actually heard of this play, you probably know I'm lying. This was a Broadway flop. Mildly successful at West End ... but when it was brought to the states, it took the dunk ... Swedish style. Such a thing was unexpected considering the personnel involved! Say what you want, but Tim Rice is simply superb lyricist ... Benny and Bjorn can hook you to death (and they do it on Chess) ... they managed to land a popular cast including Elaine Page, Murray Head, and Barbara Dickson. This is pretty good 80's rock music, which was very popular in the 80's so I've heard. There was even a hit song on here! ("One Night in Bangkok!") But why did it flop? Well, as I understand it, there were three reasons. One-the direction sucked. Two-the critics hated it. Three-it's a boring play. Four-it's dated. It's about the Cold War, but it was released on Broadway just after the Cold War ended. (Oh so there are four reasons ... so sue me!) This was actually a concept album in 1984 before it was staged at West End in 1986 and then Broadway in 1988. ...But the pure and simple fact that this play is boring should put the stamp and sticker on it. Now, I did actually see this play performed, and I bloooody hated it! It was booooreeeng! It was a professional theater doing it, too! It was soooooo tedious. A couple years later, I was dipping around with Napster... (ah... those were the days) ... and I remembered that boring play I saw. So, on a hunch, I downloaded a few songs from it and I realized that, wow, this music is GOOD! So I purchased this two-disc soundtrack. (Who says I'm a music thief? I shelled out nearly 40 bucks for this!!!) And I became an addict. And I'm still an addict. (Come to think of it, I wasn't really aware of ABBA at this time!) And I then became an addict of ABBA.
Although, I do think the future will look up for Chess. It seems that whenever casual Broadway fans start discussing their favorite plays, this one always turns up. So the theater community is definitely aware of it. And, sooner or later, the 80's will become ancient history and perhaps the theater treatment will give it the Grease treatment ... that is turn it into some sort of nostalgia. Albeit dark nostalgia. Even today, Chess has been getting a cult following, and I truly think that it will see its day back on Broadway again. (Tim Rice has changed the story since, which is definitely positive thinking ... although I also heard that he took the Cold War out, which I'd rather he not do! My generation barely even remembers the Cold War. I remember when the USSR fell, but I was a youngin.)
This is a nice dark play for you fans of Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera and the music is likewise ... dark, atmospheric, passionate, and catchy as heck!
Geez ... considering I hated it when I saw it performed on that ghetto stage, I don't even fully recall what this play is about. But I do know it has to do with a chess player doing tournaments, his adviser who he's in love with, his wife who's also in love with him. And then there was something to do with the adviser being reunited with her abusive father. Anyway... it's pretty depressing and stuff. But the music's good. And that's all that matters on here. :)
Oh, and I love this album! Have I mentioned that yet? It's still one of my favorites! It's a very effective blend of 80's rock and classical music (mostly Tchaikovsky).
Overall Album Score: 9.5 out of 10 (This is definitely one of the best concept albums and/or showtunes soundtracks ever! It's even 80's rock stuff for all you Gen-exer's to enjoy. I'd definitely recommend that you at least consider purchasing this album, especially if you want to see what 80's rock married with classical music would sound like. Chess is a VERY good album, and I don't miss that $40 I spent on it. BTW, I am a poor college student!)
Average Song Score: 9.1 (There is not one weak spot in the whole album as far as the songs go!)
Album Tilt: 9.5 (This score is slightly marred by the lengthiness of it all and a few weak moments. But that's pretty insignificant! Chess is awesome!)
Artist Tilt: 10 (This was a very ambitious project for any artist to tackle ... and as far as this concept album goes, it was a huge artistic success!)
And the album kicks off with this excellent song. (Hey! This is a concept album! No overture here, baby!) It's an Italian-sounding song that expresses all the political unrest in Europe. It's a good Italian-sounding song, too. It makes me want to eat spaghetti it's so good. And then it turns into this absolutely impeccable 80's rock song. It'll make you want to start wearing tight pants and/or leg warmers again. Seven minutes long and it's all suuuper!
The Russian and Molokov 7/10
Well... this song is a little boring. But it definitely gets better as the song gets started. It's definitely more toned down than that awesome introduction, but it does picks up. This song is about this American chess dude wanting to win the chess tournament against the Soviet Russian dude, and he then reflects on why exactly he's doing all this. (Fer sure.) At six and a half minutes, it's still pretty good. Just not great, like...
Opening Ceremony 9.5/10
This intro is like no other! It's super catchy 80's rock song where the chess referee introduces himself and tells the two opponents that they had better not do anything naughty like get naked and/or cheat. (This part gets a strong 10.) Not to say that the rest of this song isn't great, either! The second part is still very rock-ish, catchy, well-written and everything. It definitely shows Benny's and Bjorn's love for Tchaikovsky (did I mention that they idolized Tchaikovsky?). This part is basically about the political unrest at the time. Then there's another part of this song that sounds more militaristic about marketers wanting to capitalize on the tournament. And then it revives the beginning part of this song ... which is a GOOD thing!! Then, finally, we get the militaristic song again, except the drums are taken out and it is performed in a simple chorus.
Quartet (A Model of Decorum and Tranquility) 8/10
More Tchaikovsky influence. This is an enjoyable, simple little ditty where a bunch of people are singing about the 'situation.' It's a neat song.
The American and Florence/Nobody's Side 10/10
Heeeeeeeee! This is my second favorite track on this album! The All Music Guide says it threatens to turn into an ABBA song ... It's still muy excellente, though! This is the kind of tune that is apt to stick in your head for a LONG time! Very good 80's pop ... Benny and Bjorn and their use of synthesizers here are, well, perfect! This song, that really explodes at times, is about how the female adviser shouldn't follow around this Chess player (I believe). Well... I don't care what the song is about. I just like to listen to it.
I also like this very smart instrumental. It starts out slow and pleasant but increasingly grows more dynamic. It's the song played during the chess tournament. There's not really anything left to explain here, other than that the orchestration is perfect (or bloody close to it). Bloody good classical/rock music. Sit back and enjoy!
Mountain Duet 9.5/10
Another song that has a quiet build-up and then explodes into something terribly memorable. The ABBA boys ROCK, MAN! This is more romantic interludes between the leading man and the leading lady. Very nice. ;)
Florence Quits 10/10
Florence Quits ... D'oh! A quiet build-up and BOOOOOOM! This song is one of the album's most memorable numbers! Although... this song is really just more romantic interludes. (A bit too short though, sadly enough. And then it turns into another very hook-filled classical music-inspired song. It's good ... but it's resurrected better later on in the album.
Embassy Lament 8/10
This one is clearly Tchaikovsky-inspired. And it's pretty darn gooood! This song gives us the current political situation and opinions. This is a very short song, so...
Hey! I can play this one on the piano, I can! (I am very proud of that, I am!) This is an excellent "anthem" where the main character sings about his homeland and his duty to the chess world and his love or something like that. It's pretty rollicking, but short.
Bangkok/One Night in Bangkok 9.5/10
Why they didn't split this track into two different tracks, I'll never know. The first part of this song is a pretty nice, eastern-sounding orchestration piece and then it turns into that popular One Night in Bangkok song. It's too much of a dance type song for my special tastes, but it's not bad. Good singing, nice beat, hooks, yep. Go Benny and Bjorn! Ayiyiyiyiy! In all honesty, however, I don't remember this song's place in the play.
Heaven Help My Heart 8.5/10
This is one of the plays two semi-popular sentimental songs. And it's good. I mean... this is the ABBA boys we're talking about! They can do it! This is where some chick (I believe it's the guy's wife and not the adviser) who wants heaven to help her heart 'cause she's in love and stuff.
*Don Ignacio ducks out of sight because there's an argument* This song is exactly what it says. It's an argument. Not really a song. It's just people singing an argument. But it's pretty effective! There is the adviser complaining that their personal lives are on the telly (I forget why that was a problem) but the guy says he shouldn't let that bother her. Okay. Next song.
I Know Him So Well 10/10
For the album's second sentimental song (this one reached the #1 on the UK charts), this one is an absolute bullseye! At one point, this was in my top 10 favorite songs (a bit embarrassing to mention that because I'm the IRON MAN) ... but I admit it. I think this song is tops-this is about as good as sentimental love songs get ... Michael Bolton was jealous, I'm sure-and I still think it is the best in the whole album. (Then again, I don't look for love songs purposefully, so there are probably better ones out there than this.) Anyway, youse sentimental types ought to hear this one if ya haven't already.
The Deal (No Deal) 9/10
You know... I lost all track of this plot. There was some sort of "deal" and I forgot all about it. Eh... it doesn't matter at all. This is a good 80's hard rock song, so I don't care! It takes maybe too long to start up, but then we get that impeccable explosion that we saw already from Florence Quits.
Pity the Child 10/10
This is also one of the albums very strong songs. The melody is really excellent here as opposed to just solid orchestration. (Not that the orchestration isn't totally excellent, either!) It starts out pleasant and slowly turns into a very dynamic, emotional song about a poor child who was shat on all his life. It probably won't bring you to tears, but it will flare your spirits and engage your mind. The singing here is truly great! (Better than Michael Bolton, even!!)
They REALLY need to split some of these tracks up. The first part of this song is an excellent piece of atmospheric choral work (think church choirs without all the old ladies' screeching vocals. The next part of the song is that same catchy tune we heard at the beginning of The American and Florence, which I always like. And then we get the instrumental from Chess again, which I'm always up to re-listening to, but toward the end of the song this time, they get some vocals and its turned into more of a rock song. Good track... they should have split it in half, though.
Epilogue: You and I/The Story of Chess 9/10
This is a good closer to the album. Instead of something depressing, like the album and the play had been, it turns into something more hopeful and happy. It's still quite dark and atmospheric, though. But the hooks are there and the orchestration is very nice! Then the song turns into a VERY Tchaicovsky tune. And then it goes back into that song it started with. This is a 10-minute track, too, and all pretty good!
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