Sun Ra soars into space on his latest album.
Not many jazz acts can be confused with Sun Ra and His Arkestra. From his Egyptian-style African garb to his obsession with space, Sun Ra managed to define Afrofuturism both culturally and musically. Tribal rhythms hid behind lyrics dealing with space, science, and the future; ancient mythologies merged with dystopian literary references; lyrics dealing with nuclear explosions and Mutually Assured Destruction are sung over jazz bass lines and horns. Taken individually, these topics have been discussed before, but no one other than Sun Ra has managed to combine jazz, science fiction, and ancient civilizations together, and made it all sound so good in the process.
This, in essence, is what The Space Age Is Here To Stay offers its audience. From the very first song, “Along Came Ra/The Living Myth”, Sun Ra utilizes religious lyricism and imagery to create a mythos around the album and him. It sounds ostentatious and pretentious at first, but the stripped back percussion and tribal chants ground the song in a way that makes the abstract concrete, the general more intimate. In this way, he delivers unto his listeners more than mere music; he’s giving them an opportunity for a musical and spiritual journey through the cosmos of sound.
Along this journey are a variety of musical and lyrical styles. “Back in Your Own Backyard” and “Round Midnight” are soft piano jazz ballads, while “Space Is the Place” and “Nuclear War (Live)” feel like acoustic jazz-rock. “This Song Is Dedicated to Nature’s God” stresses environmentalism, “Moorish Nights” deals with the possible extinction of black people and their culture, and “1984” is an ode to the popular George Orwell novel. These seem like distinct topics, but Sun Ra and his Arkestra manage to link these topics through science fiction. The Space Age Is Here to Stay does not deal with the past or present, even though it occasionally comments on them. Instead, its focus is the future, and how the concepts of race, class, gender, technology, and religion in the present will come to shape the future of mankind, for better and for worse.
Even if one were to disregard the lyrical content of the album, The Space Age Is Here to Stay is worth listening to simply for Sun Ra’s unique take on jazz music. Everything’s here, from horns to piano to bass, and the variety of singers give each song an inimitable flare. The music on this album was recorded at various times in Sun Ra’s career, starting in the fifties and ending in the eighties. While the time and experience do contribute to the dynamism of The Space Age Is Here to Stay, Ra’s own, freewheeling take on jazz is the one link to tie everything together and makes listening to the album enjoyable both musically and lyrically.
Sun Ra’s music has always been more than music; it’s an experience in every sense of the word. Just as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis blended 20th century cinema with science fiction and became a seminal work in film history, The Space Age Is Here to Stay combines 20th century musical genres with science fiction and hopefully will receive the same acclaim that Metropolis does in the years to come. It’s an album that showcases the best of the best in Sun Ra’s career, an hour and 17-minute-long epic that reveals the best (and worst) about humanity in the 20th century in a way that’s creative, accessible, and wholeheartedly rewarding. For that, it’s worth an hour of your time.