How Savatage isn't bigger is beyond me. It boggles the mind that such an amazing group has never made it much bigger. They have survived through the worst of times and stuck to their guns the whole time. How can anyone not respect that? Those of you who have known me longer than a month know how much I push this band to other in order to draw more attention to them. I've had some success, but I'm hoping this will convince some of you just how much you're missing.
Streets is a landmark album in Savatage's career. They had already produced two albums with Paul O'Neill (Hall of the Mountain King and Gutter Ballet), and Streets became their first concept album, based on a novel that Paul had written.
The story tells of a young musician who pays the bills as a drug dealer. He becomes known as Downtown Jesus (DT Jesus for short) as all the junkies saw him as their savior. Utilizing the nickname as a stagename, DT started playing in a band and became a huge rockstar. He became addicted to his own drugs however, and ended up destroying his own career.
DT cleaned himself up and prepared for a comeback, when a figure from his past swept in and murdered his closest friend. Grief-stricken and lost, DT wandered the streets of New York, looking for answers, though no one could help him. He finds his answer though as he comforts a dying old homeless man in his last moments and witnesses the spirit of the man finally pass on to the next hereafter in peace.
It's a very powerful story, and particularly struck a chord with Jon Oliva, lead singer, pianist, and founding member. At the time Jon read the book, he himself was going through a period of wild drug abuse and had recently been released from the Betty Ford Clinic. It would turn out to be eerily prophetic two years later when his brother, Criss Oliva was killed in a car accident. Though one does not need to hear this backstory to enjoy the album, it does add another dimension to the powerful message.
The album itself was not only a landmark for being the band's first concept album, but also because of the diversity of the songwriting. There's no shortage of roof-raising anthems that power metal specializes in so well, but also mixed in are plaintive and heartfelt piano-driven ballads. This strikes up a balance to the listener between Criss' intense fretboard gymnastics and Jon's emotive piano work. This makes for a delightfully diverse album that will satisfy most any metal fan.
I doubt I could effectively do a song-by-song critique like I would normally do. Each song has its own individual character and charm, and there really isn't a single weak track on the album.
But what I can tell you is that there are two tracks in particular that are worth the price of the CD.
The first being track 2, Jesus Saves. This song starts with a spoken intro of panhandler on the streets of New York talking to another man whom he was asking for change about the story of DT Jesus. From there, it launches into Savatage's standard bombast and edgy melodies. The lyrics tell of DT's initial rise and fall.
But the final track... I'm sorry give me a minute, I'm really choked up here because I'm listening to it as I type this... Believe is without a doubt the most powerful song the group has ever made. From Jon's gentle piano work, thundering drums, and the beautiful layers of guitars that Criss Oliva and Chris Caffery put together with Paul's help, this song slowly creeps forward and gradually gains steam into an anthem that will reach deep down into your soul.
From the atmospheric and chaotic opening track of Streets all the way to the final, delicate whisper in Believe, Streets: A Rock Opera stands as an under-appreciated classic of American metal, nay, of metal overall.
I am the way, I am the light
I am the dark inside the night
I hear your hopes, I feel your dreams
And in the dark I hear your screams
Don't turn away, just take my hand
And when you make your final stand
I'll be right there, I'll never leave
And all I ask of you is believe