Review Summary: "I can’t speak, I can’t play, but this flesh has much more to say."
Jason Becker’s life story teaches two important lessons. Firstly
, it teaches perspective—which was the apt title of his second solo album—because no matter how difficult your life is, it could be worse, so learn to appreciate what you have. Secondly
, it teaches perseverance, because no matter what challenges lie in your way, perseverance will help you overcome them.
Thirty years ago Jason Becker was standing on top of the guitar-playing world. He had released three superlative instrumental metal albums—two with Marty Friedman in the band Cacophony, and one solo album—while still in his teens. Then none other than David Lee Roth came calling to ask if Becker wanted to play guitar in his band. You might have heard about Roth. He had previously played with Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai, so he knew a thing or three about guitar-playing talent. That was when fate dealt Becker one of the cruelest blows imaginable. He was diagnosed with ALS and steadily rendered completely paralysed and unable to play guitar within a few years.
But the horrifying failure of his body failed to dim the lights in Becker’s mind or silence his muse. Despite having been given only a few years to live, and and having lost the ability to speak by 1996, Becker began using a computer pointer system controlled by his eyes to communicate and compose music. Over the better part of the past 20 years, this has led to the creation of Triumphant Hearts
is more than a mere curiosity and is indeed triumphant. While it may not ever be regarded with the same awe as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—which was composed after Beethoven had become fully deaf—Triumphant Hearts
is every bit a testament to the human spirit as Beethoven’s Ninth. Assisted by a bevy of notable names such as Marty Friedman, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Trevor Rabin, Joe Bonamassa and several more, Becker is able to bring to life his opus about life.
The music itself is a combination of symphonic and contemporary classical pieces, adult contemporary pop, and some throwback blues rock and shred metal. There’s even a somewhat elaborate but fairly straightforward arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind”. This is a lot of ground to cover in a single album but Triumphant Hearts
truly shines on the orchestral pieces that are fortified with, rather than driven by, its guest appearances. The title track, with its climactic solo by Marty Friedman is a case in point for how Becker’s talent for classical music and his love for neo-classical guitar-playing can be perfectly melded. “Fantasy Weaver” which features ukelele contributions by Jake Shimabukuro, and “Magic Woman”, which features Uli Jon Roth and Chris Broderick's guitar playing, similarly find perfect synergy between Becker and his guest performers. “River of Longing” and “Valley of Fire”, while being the centrepieces of the album, are slightly underwhelming because Becker’s contribution to the songs is largely relegated to a backing track for his illustrious collaborators to solo over, which seems a waste of his compositional talent.
However, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the album are the poignant lyrics written by Becker for “Hold On To Love” and “We Are One”, which perfectly complement the rest of the album’s themes of love, optimism and unshakable resolve in the face of overwhelming tragedy. The songs themselves, in their ‘90s R&B/Pop stylings, are an interesting change of pace from the orchestral pieces that surround them, but they are every bit as catchy and uplifting.
Throughout Triumphant Hearts
, Becker’s abiding love for music and life shines brightly through his compositions. His unerring optimism even shines through in his arrangement of “Blowing in the Wind”, turning the melancholic introspective tone of the song into one of peaceful acceptance. While the prolonged gestation of Triumphant Hearts
may have left some of its pop-stylings sounding a bit dated, it’s hard to argue with the sheer daunting magnitude of a work like this. Becker has, both before leaving his teen years and after becoming fully paralysed, managed to accomplish more than most musicians do in their entire lengthy able-bodied careers. If the sheer existence of Triumphant Hearts
doesn’t inspire you to go out and work on your craft and hug your loved ones then nothing will, and really, if that inspiration is the legacy of this album then it's pretty hard to argue with its greatness.