s far as themes for a debut album go, “Rock Opera” is a slightly unexpected one. In fact, I’d speculate that it’s usually so far down the list of choices that it requires turning the notepad over and scanning past the obscure doodles of clawed monsters to even get a glimpse at the idea. When the clawed monsters and Rock Opera concept are deftly combined however, you get something a little bit like Space Crackers. Can this bold move really scale the heights of Rocky Horror on Ice? Will it produce fondly remembered memorabilia as fine as Tommy: The Official Commemorative Pencil Case? Can Clawjob ever claim partial royalties for hundreds of elastoplast sales to self-harming teenagers, like the special emo edition of Cats? These stupid questions demand answers. And answers they shall receive.
An album with a coherent plot should command a listener’s close attention all the way through, as the narrative structure arguably holds as strong a claim to top billing as the actual music. Not too much to ask, perhaps. But last time you played a record, did you hang on every single word? Come to think of it, did you even read every word in that last sentence? Maybe if it had been funnier or interesting instead of merely providing exposition, you would have. Which is to say, Space Crackers needs to be funny. It needs to grab the attention, tie it up in an unfurnished room with a bag over its head and ransom it back to its family. Then it needs to be backed up by the kind of theatrical, pomp-rock which the project clearly demands.
Turns out, it pretty much manages all of that. Huzzah!
Admittedly, the fish-on-a-bike cover raised some concerns that any humour involved might be of the tiresome “Gosh, otters eh! How RANDOM!” animal whimsy variety. This would have been a bad thing. Whilst playful and slightly surreal, however, all the gags tend to make a bizarre kind of sense. Our protagonists (and tragic love-triangle), Julian, Madeleine and Greg, are involved in high-level research into the subatomic structure of crackers. So, basically, they soak up a whole lot of time and funding in order to study biscuits. In space. That’s pretty funny (though not at all funny once explained, of course). Yet the subtext suggests that their ultimate quest is to provide a sustainable food source for a dying world. That’s pretty serious (and just as serious once explained ... how annoying).
Seriousness dramatically intensifies as the love-sick Greg ends up alone with disinterested Madeleine and Julian is left on Earth to deal with an impending alien threat. Plainly it would be madness to spoil what happens, but suffice to say that the Dooks of Doom (for it is they) are a sufficiently terrifying enemy that their appearance demands a speed-thrash-death metal accompaniment and suitably “I’ve actually cut my own throat before trying to sing, that’s how metal I am” vocal growl. Moreover, it rapidly becomes debatable whether Madeleine or Julian is having to deal with the more dangerous, slobbering evil. Shock! Gasp! Further expressions of surprise and/or alarm!
Throughout, the “rock” half of the opera provides a dedicated supporting role. Whether adding menace to the aforementioned Dooks, joyful exaltation at qualifying for a Space Pass, or proggy warblings to express the light and shade of intergalactic battle—it rarely fails to enhance the tone and feel of each “scene” (though the occasional line does tend to go missing in the mix, making the linear lyrics quite handy). The vocal performances, so vital in establishing mood without the ability to get by on melodramatic hand-waving or snazzy costumes, are extremely strong. Quite easily, the performers could have sloppily merged together into a horrible, gelatinous space-blob—but they instead remain pleasingly distinct.
The only bad news (alas), regards longevity. Much like an actual theatrical production, it seems difficult to envisage many people sitting through this again and again unless they have freakish psychological problems or are unable to operate a CD player beyond the functions “go” and “repeat.” This is no reflection upon the quality of the album, though of course it must reflect somewhat upon the value for money. It’s definitely worth hearing once, but even if you eventually feel the need to dig it out again, it may not be for a significant length of time. However, be assured by the knowledge that this single listen will hold a mirror up to your fragile concept of morality and force you to engage with complex dilemmas involving unrequited love and saving the planet. It will encourage deep reflection upon man’s inhumanity to weird space beast, and cause minds to boggle as the word “salutatorian” is slipped seamlessly into sung dialogue. More importantly, it’s good enough to prevent me using the term Flash Boredom even once. And thank Christ for that.
Download songs from Space Crackers here.
Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2006-06-22