I’m sure that the vast majority of people reading this review would be thrilled to never again hear the term “rock opera.” Swirling in the midst of Coheeds, American Idiots, and Max Bemises(?), the rock opera concept has become sweepingly popular in today’s alternative music scene, and why not? For any given artist who’s talented in the crafting of musical spectacle but lacks an immediate source of inspiration in their nuclear environment, the ability to wrap their art around a storyline or idea can be that much needed spark, that cue that triggers the wrath of creativity. The past year or so has seen an explosion in bands utilizing this very theory, almost to the point where non-concept albums seem to fall to the role of minority! However, the choice to incorporate an imaginative side into the genre of rock and roll is truly a prototypical double-edged sword. Now more than ever, in a time where these types of records are becoming commonplace, a band needs to have a true focus and sense of direction, as well as parallel musical talent to back up any such operatic venture. Enter: Ludo.
Generally speaking, concept albums are usually saved for full length ventures. After all, you need all that space and track time to appropriately tell a story, right? Well Ludo say no. Their conceptual baby, Broken Bride, is a bold little EP, attempting to communicate a tale that has, in other incarnations, been the basis of blockbuster films and infamous novels (H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, which was also a film, and I don’t fully recall but I’m sure somewhere in Back to the Future they were saving someone’s life). The story isn’t all that original, a man loses his love to a fatal accident and then attempts the feat of time travel to save her life, and that shit just never works out (just ask Napoleon Dynamite). Let us not be deterred by the lack of an original plotline though, as I’m sure Claudio Sanchez (in all respect and admiration) borrowed at least a third of his ideas from Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. The important thing to realize is that the story is undeniably enchanting and surefire in the way of adventure and romance.
So what about the music? This is where Ludo redeem themselves from any shortcomings one might find in their animated approach. The songwriting on this disc is excellent, in terms of rock and roll it’s varied, impactful, and energy infused. In terms of operas/musicals (nothing to hide, I’m a huge Broadway fan) Ludo actually included elements to more formally imitate the interconnectivity of a musical, whereas for example in Say Anything …Is a Real Boy the songs were not linked musically/instrumentally, but simply followed the story’s lineage. The boys of Ludo established unifying melody line (see 5:33 in Save Our City, 5:26 in Morning in May, 7:23 in The Lamb and The Dragon, etc.), and utilized the ever powerful refrain, which comes off even more fulfilling in rock operas such as this (see 4:38 in The Lamb and The Dragon, refraining track 1, Broken Bride). If you’re willing to trust me and go along with this whole thing, I promise it will be a super amusing ride.
“Part I: Broken Bride” possesses this overwhelming frenzied mood as “The Traveler,” recalls his mission and accidentally soars into the Jurassic period. These are the cheesiest lyrics of the year (even What to Do When You are Dead maintained greater seriousness) but I’m all for it. Think of Broken Bride as The Labyrinth starring David Bowie, yeah… it’s ridiculous, but just enjoy the cinematic fantasy ride. It is clear that Ludo are precise storytellers. If the imagery and mood of this first track and the remainder of their pop-rock soundscapes don’t paint a picture in your mind, you probably had a rough childhood. “Save Our City,” is at once groovy, immense, and passionate, as it seems a village is praying for savior as they face imminent doom. Andrew Volpe’s vocals are something of a spectacle. As the songs weave on he brings to life several different characters and in doing so portrays almost every angle of the rock and roll vocalist. Andrew is all over the place, and invaluable to the band. “Part II: Tonight’s the Night,” is that straight forward pop single that seems to pop up on every concept disc. What’s interesting is that the song is still a highlight of the album; still as colorful, melodramatic, and pleasing to the ears as the rest. And then, just when you think Ludo has proven their worth in multi-faceted songwriting, you get the epic (there I said it). Shakespeare himself loved a rapturous 4th act climax (it’s technically part III, but it’s the fourth song), and old Bill would have been proud of “Part III: The Lamb and the Dragon.” This beast is wonderful. What haven’t we heard yet? Prog-rock? Metal? Country-western? Heavenly hymn? It’s all here in one glorified eruption. When all the smoke clears, Ludo hit you with the money shot: the teary eyed ballad conclusion. For fear of spoiling the ending I won’t go into detail, but story finds its end in “Part IV: Morning in May.” A gorgeous and almost gaudy romantic last track confirms the identity of this over-the-top musical, and even showcases the crescendo instrumental ending that no Broadway show dare go without.
Some people will love this EP and some people will scoff at its ridiculousness, there is no doubt about that. As we all know there are listeners that revel in the serious, listeners who value a fun listen, and those that flourish in between, all with reasonable cause. I implore members of each designation to check out Ludo’s latest. The best description I can offer is Ultimate Fakebook/Weezer meets Coheed and Cambria, which I’d say is rather accurate. I have wondered to myself if Ludo have lasting value. Seeing as how the concept is such an essential part of this EP, will they be able to captivate and affect listeners next time around without the smoke and mirrors? Looking back, I am certain they will continue to impress. If you stripped this disc of its storyline, what would remain is a batch of awesome rock songs, each still as superb as the next, vibrantly delivered by a group of relentlessly talented musicians. But for now, story and all, Ludo offer a rock and roll adventure for the ages, and a competitor for best EP of the year.