Inspired by the life of Harry Patch, ‘the last fighting Tommy’, The Imperial Plan is a true concept album, combining song, instrumental, sampling and narration to chart the First World War through the experience of an unnamed 17 year old soldier.
Predominantly written by one man (Mike Isaacs), but produced in collaboration with a diverse range of musicians, it is immediately clear that this album has been carefully and cleverly crafted to take the listener on a historical, political, emotional and musical journey. There are huge peaks and troughs in mood as the album (and the war) progresses, and pride, glory and triumph turn to fear, misery and tragedy. There are truly sombre moments, but also lighter moments – an important reminder that war was not all that occupied the minds of those who lived through it.
There is also real, raw emotion conveyed through the vocals – it is clear this has not been an easy album to produce. In places, it is not an easy album to listen to. Haunting, ghostly piano lines carry us through parts of the story, while in others, jovial organ and trumpet are unsettlingly juxtaposed with brutally honest lyrics about the horror of trench warfare. The narrated tracks are incredibly poignant, a window into the minds of both citizens and politicians as the war waged on.
Probably the standout track for me is ‘The Alliance Waltz’, an adaptation of Shostakovich’s 2nd Waltz overlaid with a narrated timeline of key moments throughout the war. Not only is the whole piece beautifully played, but the arrangement is so clever in its use of effects and instrumentation which immediately transport you to the scene being narrated, whether it be the samba drums and electric guitar of Brazil, or the bagpipes and marching drums of the first zeppelin raid on Great Britain.
Overall, this is a seriously impressive piece of writing which powerfully portrays the futility, inhumanity and devastation of war at every moment. It deserves to be listened to, really listened to – from start to finish and in an environment free from distraction – to be truly understood. You cannot fail to be moved by this album.