Les Fradkin – Reality – The Rock Opera

 Les Fradkin – Reality – The Rock Opera

Les Fradkin – Reality – The Rock Opera – Album Review

“Overture” – it seems as good a place to start as any, so why not jump right into this?  Y’all know the name by now, we’ve reviewed Les Fradkin’s music a hundred and fifty-six times this year, give or take a few.  He goes with a friendly instrumental to start out Reality – The Rock Opera…it’s inviting, non-offensive.  The one-man band is back in action, playing everything you hear on this song and indeed throughout the record, including a 12-string bass, piano, guitars, organ, mellotron, guitar synthesizer, and the ol’ V-drum kit in addition to his vocal duties.  Not too shabby when it comes right down to it…I usually feel that he’ll always get a bit rambunctious with his drums at some point along the way, which you’ll hear a little in “Overture” – but let’s acknowledge that the man’s obviously a skilled talent to be able to play as much as he does.  I’m not exactly sure what we’re doin’ here overall though if I’m being honest with ya – from what I’ve read, Reality – The Rock Opera was originally released back in 2003 twenty years ago.  It’s hard to say what updates might or might not have been made, or if Les is just putting it out for another spin.

As he introduces the vocals to kick off “Reality” with big harmonies, Les pretty much amps up the energy in all areas with the kind of stadium-sized vibe & stomping beat he likes to create so much.  When he’s at his most focused on the tone of his voice, you get great sound – but understand, this dude is moving at warp speed compared to the rest of the humans out there, and as a result of pushing himself forward so fast, you get the occasional verse that could potentially be sharper in that regard, like the second one in “Reality.”  To me, this sounds like the single…and I’m a bit surprised to find that this wasn’t one of the several cuts that came our way in advance when so many others did…but here we are, and that’s the case.  Great lead vocals, solid backup as well…”Reality” is a very lively track, and it’s one of the more optimistic and hopeful tracks you’re gonna find on this record as it continues forward, so enjoy the moment while you can!  There’s a very classic sound to “Reality” at work, but it’s endearing and accessible – heck, it’s even charming.  I’d definitely say this is one of the songs that’ll appeal to most folks listening, and also vouch for it being one of the most upbeat & complete cuts in the whole lineup.

“Magic Attic” is a tune I reviewed back in August this year on Fradkin’s Artist Kit Sampler.  It’s a memorable track for sure – I’ve actually had this song roaming the halls of my head pretty much since the moment I first heard it, which is always an indication that there’s something there.  As you regular readers know, I don’t go over the stuff I’ve written about in the past because I listen so much that my opinion practically never changes – I’d simply be telling Les all the things I’ve already said.  If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out my original thoughts on “Magic Attic,” you’re more than welcome to do so by clicking here.  Suffice it to say, it’s a well-written tune that’s got a whole lot of heart to it, but by far and away its biggest asset is how entirely memorable it is…you’ll probably be singing this one around the house for days on end like I have been.  A clever hook is a clever hook, I’d never deny the man that.

As the attitude of the record starts to contort to reflect the concepts driving Reality – A Rock Opera and how it highlights a lot of the details of a world gone mad, “You Can’t Change Me” directly takes on our need to look good at all costs.  From medical alterations, to superficial plastic surgeries, to self-esteem that is generally influenced too much by our outer appearance…what can I say…it’s probably because I’ve been confused several times for being ‘the missing link’ on this planet that I find myself siding with Les on this one.  The outer layer of this body I’ve been rockin’ with is a complete and total joke as far as I’m concerned, so you betcha, let’s go with the theory that beauty is on the inside yadda yadda.  “You Can’t Change Me” comes across a little blown out at times production-wise, but nothing so detrimental that you’d stop yourself from listening to it.  All-in-all, Fradkin’s got a fairly deadly groove goin’ on with this track that is enticing, and combined with the venomous lyricism, he gets his point across clearly.

So…hmm…”25 Women So Little Time” is an example of anti-writing…saying something by pointing out what you don’t like as opposed to shining a light on what you do instead.  It’s a technique employed by many out there, not just Les, and don’t get me wrong, it’s proven to be effective in a variety of ways.  That being said, make no mistake, it can sometimes come with some serious risk too.  Do I wanna hear a song about The Bachelor any more than I’d want to watch an episode?  No.  Absolutely, unequivocally, no.  Like, I get where Fradkin’s coming from in pointing out the lunacy of reality shows and the idea that love can be found within “12 short weeks” or on network television…and I ain’t denying that there’s a catchiness to “25 Women So Little Time” too…but does it interest me on a person level?  Hell no.  Even though I agree with what he’s saying on a fundamental level, the reality is, sometimes we choose the wrong way to communicate an idea or put it in a setting that doesn’t end up generate enough interest.  Like…I loathe The Bachelor and every show that resembles it…and it’s clear that Les ain’t got a whole lot of love for that kind of content either – so you see what I’m saying?  Why give it any oxygen at all?  Isn’t that just like fanning the flames?  “25 Women So Little Time” is really a case of ‘it is what it is’ – we’ve all seen it, we’ve all heard it, we’ve all been living through it & really can’t escape it – and now a song too?  Not saying the songwriting doesn’t work – it does; but it’s the basic script for any of those reality shows.

I’ve gotta push back a bit on “Reality Idol,” and believe me, I don’t really want to.  I’d rather just sit here and tell ya that once again, in considering the fundamental concept, I agree with the things that Les is pointing out under the microscope.  The real reality here though, is that if you’re gonna take on the talent shows & whatnot, then you better BRING IT.  I’d be the first to tell ya that those shows tend to be built on hollow commercialized crap – sure – but even though I don’t personally like that kind of music or the people that tend to go on those singing shows like American Idol or The Voice or whatever…I call things like I hear’em, and the best in those arenas can still REALLY sing.  So if you’re gonna point out the mechanics of their shortcomings, you gotta go in completely prepared, confident, and come out sounding bulletproof…and I’m not at all convinced that’s what we get from Fradkin in his performance of this particular track when its essentially needed most.  What burns me more is that he’s proven to be capable of locking down all the details when he’s not going a mile a minute with putting song after song out there…go ahead and look him up, you’ll find Fradkin’s an established professional.  So he knows he’s got more in the tank than what he’s giving us on “Reality Idol” and it just really feels like if he slowed things down, looked at the material objectively, he wouldn’t be letting things slip through the cracks.  He’s had an additional twenty years to go back over things and smooth them out if that was needed!  If you’ve been in the game as long as he has been, and you know that a performance should really echo what the concept & lyricism – the words – are trying to say…then egads man – you gotta supply that!  It is fairly pleasant to listen to – I’ll totally give him that, 100% – but he understands what I’m getting at here…making a song with this concept means it’s completely go-time when it comes time to record it.

“It’s Plastic” is very much how I view the valley of malls we’ve created here on Earth, so again, I’m hearing ya Les – the world’s gone to shit and we’ve lost the plot.  I’m gonna have “It’s Plastic” stuck in my head whether I like it or not, and I hate to say it but you’ll run into the same problem – it’s practically a jingle, and that’s how songs like this work.  It’s built on a bright & catchy vibe – which in terms of what I was just ranting about in the previous song, this is what we’re talking about when it comes to matching a concept with a sound – so he’s checked that box for a win this time around.  The unfortunate part of this scenario for myself personally, is that I’m about as far removed from this style of music as a person could ever be, so “It’s Plastic” ain’t for me on a sonic level, but I’m not saying it couldn’t be for you.

I feel like he’s really gotta watch the production and that red line on the ol’ studio boards when he’s going BIG like he tends to enjoy.  Once all those big drums come in and the cymbals are firing from every angle, he’s gotta stand back from the material & realize it’s got way different texture than the moments of pure clarity.  “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” is a perfect example of what I’m talking about…Fradkin goes from being completely in control, to gettin’ all kinds of wild with his instrumentation and forgetting to keep the audience in mind and/or how something might be received by someone else that’s not him.  I don’t tend to really care one way or the other personally – I listen to music being made by all kinds of means far and wide throughout the scene, some that is well-made, and lots that’s not…but if we’re talking about how the average everyday listener hears things, that’s another story.  They’re mighty quick to judge if they perceive things to be unnecessarily blown out, and there’s far too much music out there to stop them from clicking something else and changing the channel on ya.  And no one wants that!  So I’m not saying he’s wrong, I’m not saying he’s right, I’m simply being objective as I can be and advising some caution.  I think Les gets real caught up in the moment on “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” and is more than happy to let the music get larger than life, because I honestly think he’s in love with that type of texture & sound.  Again, ain’t nothing wrong with that – but if you live by the sword, you’ll die by it too my friend…that same textural element of Fradkin’s music might very well be what he loves most, and if that’s the case, right on – make more!  Just be aware that it’s not exactly everyone’s jam, and that clarity is king more often than not.  Case in-point, it’s actually the most dialed-back moments of “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” that are real likely to be the most well-received in the court of public opinion.

“Everything Is Wrong” was reviewed previously back in August this year – find out my original thoughts on it by clicking here.  He’s added in some cool details into this track production-wise, and like so much of what Les creates, it’s memorable for one reason or another.  I find myself agreeing with so many of the things he’s saying through the music he’s making, even if I don’t always love the sound or even the words he’s choosing necessarily.  “Everything Is Wrong” is a solid example of that…I don’t mind the style he’s rockin’ with on this track, and I think he’s added in an impressive amount of audible dynamics into this song that help it stand out – but above all that, the points he’s making are socially conscious and aware of what’s going on.  I know it’s turned into a dirty word, but it’s WOKE…and he should be proud of that.  It’s awful that this planet has twisted that word into somehow being a bad thing when it just ain’t.

THE MACHINES TOOK OUR JOBS!  How do we know?  Because Les said it’s true on “Obsolete” – and also because I’ve let A.I. write this entire review for you to read whilst I put my feet up here at the office.  Alright…there might be a bit more to “Obsolete” than the machines taking over, but that concept does play a role, and of course we’re seeing how that is affecting the planet right here in our modern times.  Fradkin’s going for a more in-depth concept to fuel the bulk of this tune more-so than making it as catchy and accessible as the majority of his material, and I’m cool with that trade.  “Obsolete” is a thought-provoking track for the most part.  I don’t really believe in things becoming “Obsolete” on a personal level, but I’d acknowledge that maybe I haven’t lived enough life to fully understand how it can happen yet.  Like, dinosaurs are “Obsolete” to me – and to be fair to them, it was no fault of their own as far as I understand it…but the reality is, they were unable to adapt or make the changes necessary to survive.  My favorite movie has and always will be Adaptation, because to me, that’s what life is really all about.  When someone gives you a book about flowers to make a movie from, you make a movie about making a movie about a book about flowers, you following me?  Our greatest triumphs all reside in our ability to adapt, and our great perils are in not recognizing when, or if, we need to change, quickly enough.  So while there are many things about “Obsolete” that I can empathize with, I’m on a much shorter supply of sympathy with this concept…we possess all the tools to avoid becoming stale past our due date, but it’s up to us to use them.  And if the world moves on past what YOU love doing more than anything else in the world, but YOU still love doing whatever that might be – how would that ever be “Obsolete?”  Irrelevant could potentially be a bad thing I suppose, but even that’s a subjective term too.  If no one is stopping you from doing what you love…if the damn machines haven’t confined you to bed or taken your limbs from you…then I’m of the opinion that there’s still a place on this planet for you somewhere.  You might not be in the mainstream like you once were, sure…but you’d still be far from “Obsolete” too.  I suppose the Hindenburg disaster would be a perfect way to illustrate that I’m wrong in my perspective…we’re not about to go traveling around in the air in a big ol’ hydrogen tank anymore.

“Rehearsals For Retirement” would be right up there with the best of the best on this record in my opinion.  The main hook for the chorus is a genuine achievement for Fradkin’s vocals and melody – I think he absolutely nailed it.  With a mix of thoughtful caution, this whole song might also be one of the more relevant cuts you’ll find in this lineup as well.  “All we’re eating is inflation” – that sound familiar?  It’s really all any of us have been hearing about for the past year, maybe two.  It’s interesting considering that this whole album was written two decades ago…Les obviously had a bead on what the future was going to hold in-store for us, but you have to really look at how glass half-empty his entire plethora of predictions have been throughout this set-list of songs…it’s admittedly pretty bleak stuff.  That being said, it’s hard to argue with a lot of what he’s brought up throughout the songs on Reality – The Rock Opera, and I suppose now’s the time where we ask the guy to stop making sense and perhaps keep the predictions to himself for the future to follow.  Would all of these things have happened if Les hadn’t manifested them?  Is this Fradkin’s world and we’re just living in it?  I think it’s fair to at least ask a few of these questions, am I right?  Anyhow.  I stand by what I’ve said – I think “Rehearsals For Retirement” is very likely my favorite track in the lineup, not just for the content and insightful lyricism, but definitely for the melody & tightness of this tune too.  It’s a real gem on Reality – The Rock Opera.  “Who’s gonna take care of me” is a line that is gonna bounce around my mind until I die I reckon.  It’s a hauntingly sincere plea…and I think as we get older, it’s natural to notice the chill of feeling unprepared.

“Reality Check” is indeed twenty-eight seconds long, this I can happily confirm.  You’re welcome!

To make up for how short the preceding track was, Les hauls out the longest cut on the record right afterwards with “System Crash,” which goes on to expand over the seven-minute mark.  I’d be the first to tell ya he’s saved a lot of his best material for the final quarter of this record, and I’d definitely go as far as to include this massive track in that assessment as well.  In fact, when I first reviewed this song on his Artist Kit Sampler EP, I’m positive I remember saying this was likely the best track I’ve ever heard from the guy for both its concept and performance.  Is that accurate?  You’ll have to click here to find out for sure dear readers, dear friends (oooo the suspense!)…but I believe that was the case.  In any event, it’s definitely up there…I might have to reconsider that assessment…at least a little, but that’s a reflection of how much I like “Rehearsals For Retirement” I think.  It’s never really a bad thing to be your own competition, is it?

The “Rebirth Of Hope” is somewhat the callback to “Overture” in a way…or perhaps more accurately, it’s the opposite instrumental bookend that tells you this story is officially wrapping up.  And to be truthful with ya, this is probably where I would have cut it…I personally feel like the following track “Together” is a bit of a step too far.  I get where Fradkin is coming from – Reality – The Rock Opera would be freakishly BLEAK without offering at least a little bit of hope by the end, so in a way, it seems like it would be the right thing to add in.  Having said that…it’s noticeably disproportionate.  We’ve got a lineup of tunes where the vast majority paints a very sad picture of who we are and where we’re headed as the human race…so to me, tossing in one kumbaya-esque track at the end really doesn’t wrap things up the way that I’m thinking Les might have thought they would?  It’s like slapping a bandaid on an axe wound when what you need is a tourniquet, you following me?  So for me…I’d have felt like “The Rebirth Of Hope” would have potentially made for a more satisfying ending with a wider degree of interpretation.  Again, I’m never gonna be the guy to tell YOU that’s how YOU should feel, but that’s the way I see it I guess.  I reviewed “Together” a couple weeks ago or so in advance of this record…you can check that out by clicking here.  All-in-all, it’s been quite the ride through Reality – The Rock Opera…it gives you plenty to consider, and was clearly a prescient album given that it was written twenty years ago.  We’re clearly right on a crash course for where Fradkin assumed we were going to end up, for better, or for worse.

Find out more about Les Fradkin at his official website at:  https://lesfradkin.com



"I’m passionate about what I do, and just as passionate about what YOU do. Together, we can get your music into the hands of the people that should have it. Let’s create something incredible."

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