‘The Life and Times of an Imaginary Rock Star’ is the latest album from musician and artist Ruben Vine. This eclectic collection fuses punk, rock and metal with the trappings of concept album. It also boasts linking narration by the great Michael Jayston, who Whovians know better as the sinister Valeyard.
Ruben Vine is a Sussex-based alternative rock musician and artist. As well as being a prolific musician, Vine runs ‘Articles of Faith’ – an online store selling lightboxes, t-shirts, posters and other paraphernalia featuring his artwork. Vine provides the main vocals on ‘Imaginary Rock Star’ as well as playing bass and the title role.
Michael Jayston played the Valeyard throughout season 23 of Doctor Who, ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’. His character torments the Sixth Doctor, acting as a prosecutor with his own motives in mind. The Valeyard was one of the better aspects of a lacklustre final TV outing for Colin Baker’s era. So it’s no surprise that Jayston has reprised the role in several Big Finish productions. Without giving away the twist in a thirty-year-old story, there’s a reason the Valeyard works as an adversary to the Doctor.
This is most definitely a concept album, drawing inspiration from the likes of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ or ‘War of the Worlds’ – the latter being directly quoted. While each song can stand alone, they’re only scenes in one 45-minute story. On first listen, it’s definitely best to hear the whole thing in one sitting before you pick out favourite scenes.
With such a variety of styles, which songs you enjoy the most will definitely depend on taste. For me, the earlier tracks definitely stand out as the strongest including ‘Nuketown’. ‘Gossips’ is also an earworm, with a refrain that got stuck in my head for days after only one listen.
While the narration and songs merge more later on, Jayston’s links in the first half come in separate tracks with a backing score. It goes without saying that Jayston is a master of his craft and does a fine job. But what surprised me is just how well his hard-edged voice is suited to the tone of the album. Even lines that seem too bizarre for him to deliver straight are given the utmost conviction. The man was born to narrate surreal sci-fi concept albums, it seems.
The Rule of the Mob
The absolute high point for me is ‘Oh My Days’ and the narration that precedes it from Michael Jayston. Not only does this mark the protagonist’s turning point, it shifts the album’s tone towards more heavy metal songs. But it’s tempered with elements of folk music, with plenty of violins and snare drums, to add a surreal edge. Though perhaps not as catchy as the earlier songs, the change definitely emphasises the album as a journey.
“A lavish package released for Record Store Day, on double vinyl LP, CD, or download, accompanied by a 28 page comic illustrated by Francisco Maldonado and Oscar Blanco. The album features the apparently unlikely pairing of underground musician Ruben Vine and well-known actor Michael Jayston, known for his role in Shakespeare productions, historical dramas, soaps, sitcoms and Doctor Who.
What we have here is a sort of allegorical punk rock opera, with Ruben Vine’s heavy-hitting music punctuated by scene-setting narrations from Michael Jayston. The music draws largely from punk, metal, classic rock, and hard-edged alternative rock, whilst taking on board ideas from beyond the rock sphere and also combining rock subgenres in a creative manner. Swallowed by the Mainstream blends lazy, hazy psych-rock with choppy post-punk riffage. Gossips employs strings and piano for a sophisticated artistic touch. The Journey is another string-led piece, most akin to chamber pop, featuring a catchy chorus alongside a pro-underground, pro-free thought manifesto narrated by Michael Jayston. Modern Lament sets punky vocals to an inventive orchestrated arrangement.
The theme of the album and its accompanying artwork celebrates underground creativity over mainstream blandness. The story is set in a dystopian world populated by ‘junkie consumers’ who blindly follow the messages pumped out by the cathode ray tubes that double as their own heads. It is the job of the underground heroes, led by Ruben Vine himself, to combat the morass of banality, violence, prejudice, greed and environmental destruction that is the norm among these people. Ruben Vine urges creative people to take control of their own destiny by embracing the DIY philosophy, as an antidote to the corporate music industry dictating people’s tastes.”
“In a collaboration between Ruben Vine and the renowned British actor Michael Jayston and accompanied by a twenty-eight page full colour comic, a unique release particularly in it’s physical form.
Ruben Vine is an underground alternative musician and artist who currently resides somewhere in East Sussex. He is the main protagonist in this production and the purveyor of words. He appears as the Imaginary Rock Star, sings, plays bass and other instrumentation. Michael Jayston is a well renowned actor and lover of cricket who resides in Hove, Sussex. He has enjoyed acclaimed and critical success in theatre, television, films, and radio, Doctor Who and as a voiceover artist and narrator since 1962. He continues to perform. In this production he appears as the narrator.
Ruben produces a punk rock sound that reminds me of The Apostles in that it’s raw and melodic at the same time and the narration from Jayston is sublime. There is a documentary narration and DIY punk rock accompaniment – the concept album sounds too strange to be true but it absolutely works and it works really well. It’s one of my favourite albums for some time. Nuketown appears with narration and then as a punk track with female vocals before Vine brings in his vocal snarl – it’s in your face and angry.
The story of the life and times of the imaginary rock star builds throughout the double album with Jayston’s beautiful narration backed by keyboards, strings as well as the regular guitar, bass and drums. Vine’s songs alternate with those narrated tracks and he varies his approach with Gossips exploring the gypsy punk genre and bringing his own version of it.
I have no idea whether Vine and Jayston intend to perform the album as a play/musical but it would lend itself well to the stage. It is an extraordinary approach to punk rock with DIY and professionalism production values colliding, punk with acting – The Great Liberator echoing The Men They Couldn’t Hang. There is punk, folk, jazz all wrapped up in a single package. I found the entire package simply brilliant!”