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The Diaries of Private Henry Hill

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Album Review

A concept album built around the true-life diaries and letters of a young U.S. serviceman killed in Iraq, The Diaries of Private Henry Hill is one of those rare (too rare, considering how many of the things there are out there!) thematic offerings that is as impressive in execution as it was in conception. Blow Up Hollywood frontman Steve Messina first heard of Hill when the young man's bereaved father walked into the homeless shelter that he, Messina, was running. They talked, of course, of war and loss, but it was only when he was loaned the soldier's own writings that Messina comprehended the true nature — and horror — of the war. The result was a collection of songs and themes that neither support nor attack the conflict, but simply show it from the point of view of the people who are actually there: the only people, in fact, whose opinions on the rights and wrongs of the war actually matter. Musically, it is easy to compare Private Henry Hill with latter-day Pink Floyd, if they hadn't gone so horribly off-course with and after The Wall. Of course, the theme is one that is likewise dear to Roger Waters' heart, but more than that, the performance possesses that same sense of gut-wrenching drama that was the hallmark of Waters' most effective compositions. Lyrics are forthright and to the point, but they are also sparingly used — the album is at its best when the instrumental passages paint the pictures in your mind, with the occasional well-chosen sound effect to hammer home the precise time and place. Such comparisons, however, are also a cop-out — Private Henry Hill deserves to be viewed alone, heard in isolation, and appreciated within the nightmarish darkness of the shell-torn foxhole in which Henry Hill wrote his original words — and in which countless thousands of other, unknown Henry Hills are still writing their own. Thanks to the Internet, the Iraq War has already established itself as the most literate conflict the world has ever seen. More albums like Private Henry Hill could also see it become the most musical.

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The Diaries of Private Henry Hill, Blow Up Hollywood
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