So I’m reviewing another album from actor and musician Brent Spiner, for this album he is collaborating with American cabaret singer and recording artist Maude Maggart. Dreamland was released in 2008 and is a jazz/pop album which shows of Brent Spiner’s love of Jazz music and what he can really do with his voice.
‘Wake Up Call’ starts off with a drum roll before and a full orchestral hello before we hear Brent Spiner going through his late night routine, brushing his teeth and requesting a wake up call from the hotel he’s staying in. Its different, especially backed up in part by the popular classic song Mr. Sandman. I liked it as an introduction because it’s real and it’s grounded and sees our character for the upcoming songs played by Spiner do all the regular mundane things before he goes to bed and when he does enter ‘Dreamland’ things will be far less mundane. Something I thought although I may be overanalyzing it, when he asks if any messages have been left for him he sounds morose and not very hopeful at the prospect but the fact he asks suggests he wants someone to be trying to reach out to him and so it adds more expectation that this ‘Dreamland’ is going to be fanciful where Spiner’s character can live out the kind of life he doesn’t live in real life, one full of companionship and adventure. But I haven’t listened to the rest of the album yet so I’ll hold off on forming anymore expectations.
‘City Streets’ opens with the full and rich sounds of street life before we are carried forward by Spiner’s strong vocals, I’ve only recently listened to his first album released all the way back in 1991 and his voice has only improved with time and he certainly knows how to sing to this type of music, a testament to his love of the style and genre. Also despite my previous thoughts so far the story contained within the album is still fairly grounded, sure we have Spiner tap dancing and singing through a busy urban street, but then reality kind of hits him and us when he’s interrupted by a woman to ask for directions to ‘El Parador’ which he gives her, albeit while sounding confused. It makes it seem like if this is a dream, then it’s a waking one and Spiner is sleep walking through this all singing, all dancing world inside his own head. I for one am super excited to see where the album goes from here, because two tracks in I’m already getting this distinct sense of story and tone, all backed up by impressive singing and instrumentals.
‘El Parador’ takes over right where ‘City Streets’ leaves off and has Spiner request a song for the lovely lady sitting in the table across from him, the same lady he gave directions to outside. It’s a great song as well, but honestly i’m still really enjoying the story happening throughout as well. It’s all very playful and embodies all the best qualities of old musicals like Singing in the rain, lots of whimsy and singing and it’s just sweet in that kind of nostalgic way we always like to remember the past. Of course no musical is complete without something to turn the narrative on its head, so rather than being charmed by his advances as it turns out the lady is creeped out by Spiner staring at her, evidently it takes more than him commanding an entire in house band to perform for her to win her affections. I also like the sound effects which make the world seem real and alive, everything from the rain, to the chatter in the background to the magical train all serve to improve the story we are listening to and frankly I can’t get enough of it, rarely when reviewing does an album surprise and impress me this much, especially so early on. I found reviewing a 16 track album a little daunting because there’s always the chance I’ll just run out of things to say but with such a standout piece of music I doubt I’ll struggle too much.
‘The Train Ride’ Finally begins to take a more surreal turn, Spiner apparently summons a train out of nowhere and he and his less than keen lady companion get on, destination ‘Dreamland’. He and the lady talk, the Spiner sings, and seriously I know people doubt actors who release these types of albums, but he’s really an amazing singer and Maude Maggart who plays the as of yet unnamed lady adds her own beautiful voice into the melody. I think they blend the train noises and background harmony perfectly with their singing. Right at the end things just skip ahead and we have both characters on a ferris wheel celebrating their one week anniversary, the timeskip seems very dream like, as you aren’t usually aware of the passage of time.
‘Waltzing On A Cloud’ is another beautiful little track, it’s just Spiner on his own until about the 1:20 mark when Maggart joins him, the track is very romantic and has the pair espousing their admiration and love of the other and how well suited they are, how angels themselves must have made made them for each other. The dream like qualities are held up by lines like ‘I didn’t know you could waltz on an actual cloud’ but are then grounded by their very real taxi ride, with sarcastic taxi driver. I like that it keeps slipping from both, because it could easy be talking about the fairy tale beginning of a relationship where everything is sugar coated and rose tinted and feels like a dream rather than a literal dream being had by Spiner, and it would certainly make sense as to why the reality is so deliberately present alongside the more fanciful elements.
‘Fireworks’ The idea I raised when talking about the previous track holds even more weight here because it has Spiner telling Maggart that he loves her, in song of course, whereas she’s trying to slow things down, again keeping things grounded, he’s ready for a happy ever after because he’s living in a dream and she admits she likes him but doesn’t want to rush things, a situation so real it’s practically a cliche. I love the beat of this song and the way they harmonise and play off each other when they are singing. Which brings me to a point I wanted to make, I’ve talked a lot about the story being told because I think it’s very important to the appreciation of the track but stripped of context and without analysing it too much each track so far and I assume all those that follow are great songs on their own, powerful little pieces of music with excellent vocals and instrumental sections.
‘A Rude Awakening’ opens to a lovely cheery little number, Spiner is happy and he wants the world to know it. He’s on top of the world as he puts it. It’s a very strong if short number. But because things are going well and this is very much a narrative, the foundations of the track are shaken from beneath us and Spiner, we are once again questioning if this is a dream or reality or some horrible combination of the pair. He finds a different lady in bed with him and isn’t sure what’s happening. Things get particularly surreal when he hears his actual lady coming down the corridor singing to wake him up, she enters the room to find him in bed with the other woman and is rightfully disappointed. We are left thinking what happened right alongside Spiner as the next track starts.
‘This Is A Nightmare’ opens with Spiner in a panic trying to get his lady to forgive him and in something of a role reversal she starts the singing and sings about how she’ll never forgive him. As as sad as it is, its also a truly beautiful song, the score is just perfect for the track and Maggart really gets to steal the show so to speak when she leads the song, her voice is strong and unwavering and yet shows the vulnerability of the character and I’m nearly speechless…a rare occurrence for me at this touching little number. We have another time skip, again in keeping with it being a dream, where Spiner is aboard a ship and even meets the mariachi singers who helped him attempt to woo his lady in ‘El Parador’ they are now a troubadour group and they read a message he has received which informs him his lady has moved on with another man.
‘A Sinking Feeling’ has Spiner dealing with the knowledge that his lady has moved on, she joins him although we assume she’s singing from wherever she is and is also having trouble coping with their breakup. It’s a nice little song that captures the mood very well. Then of course as the song hints at the ship goes down ala Titanic. Around the 2 minute mark particularly things get kinda surreal, with repeated lines from other songs as he relives those moments, interspersed with snoring sounds and what sounds like him talking in his sleep further hinting that he is indeed dreaming.
‘Club Crescendo’ is upbeat and has a lot of whimsy but it seems to be deliberate so he can cover up his feelings, it’s like he’d like to be over it but obviously isn’t. That being said it is one of my favourite songs on the album its swinging and powerful and just really enjoyable. His lady even appears in the song, although she’s with her new man. Spiner gets to live out his fantasy of being a lounge singer in a musical, he even partially quotes the all the gin joints speech, made famous by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Her man seems like an ass, but then again if this is a dream then of course he’d imagine his replacement as being a crude boorish slob, all the better to contrast with him the affable hero of the musical. The dialogue between the pair is very real and the tension and love lost between the pair is palpable.
‘Reunion’ continues right on the coattails of ‘Club Crescendo’ and is another song lead by Maude Maggart, her voice again is strong and hauntingly beautiful as she tells Spiner’s character that she never forgot him, with an obvious undercurrent of also not being over him as well if I’m not wrong. We hear Mr. Sandman again which again plays with the reality of the narrative.
‘A Long Walk Home’ Spiner’s voice is amazing in this track again, but he did kinda just ignore a homeless man asking for some spare change, instead choosing to sing and walk away. A long Walk Home, kinda resets the story again, with a repeat of what happens in ‘Wake up Call’ but this time instead of him going to sleep he receives a call from his lady.
‘One More Time’ has Spiner tell his lady, in song, how she should be there with him instead, how she should come back to him. This is another track that really outdoes itself, strong in every way, and picks up after some slower tracks, building towards the big closing number that’s just a few tracks away. An by this point you know the characters and want them together so this is welcome development. Again reality is fudged a little, because one second she’s on the phone and by the end of the number she’s at his door, although she does sound out of breath so maybe she ran to him as soon as he started singing.
‘Troubles Ahead’ sets everything right, sure they might have to deal with her current boyfriend who’s crazy but they are together and are ready to face the music. The boyfriend smashes open the door and pulls a gun on the pair, a brief argument ensues before the boyfriend fires and apparently shoots and kills the lady, although after her funeral Spiner speaks with her ghost. Again reality is taking a pounding here but I love it.
‘Starway To Heaven’ is a sweet little number that reunited the couple from beyond the grave, they dance among the stars together, he’s held in her angelic embrace and the fly off together to the moon, completely escaping from reality in the process. It’s a beautiful track, and at 4 minutes and 39 seconds it’s the longest track on the album.
‘I Am Awake?’ Finally we come to the closing track, which has Spiner’s character woken up, and at first he thinks he’s reliving ‘A Rude Awakening’ again and tries to explain the woman in his bed but after a moment of disorientation he gets out of bed and answers the door, only to find the lady, alive and well. This song has him telling her the confusing plot of his dream before he sings, he even manages to slip a little reference from his tenure on Star Trek as well. I was expecting something a little bigger, but I wasn’t disappointed by what I got, this was an amazing closing number to a lovely, sweet little musical journey. We even have the obligatory is it real or not, with the ringing phone going unanswered, a clear reference to the wake up call he asked for at the start of the song.
First Published on: https://offtherecordblog.org/