Manned space exploration is not dead. We will go back to the moon and beyond. But until then, we can take pride in the pioneering astronauts in the space programs of the 1960s and early 1970s, the pilots, and the crew of all the space shuttle flights and the International Space Station. We also can look forward to the potential of commercial spaceflight as we approach 2020, and the adventures of Leonard, The Lonely Astronaut from singer/songwriter Andrew Omega. Wait … what?!
In one of the most interesting concept albums I’ve run across in years, Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut documents a year in the life of Leonard, a man who spends a year working on a spaceship all by himself. Before you get all scientific or concerned about Len, he’s fictitious, like worker Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) on the moon in Duncan Jones’ film Moon. This is a concept album, a way for Osenga to explore a life in detail.
It’s really quite brilliant. And I have to say, he manages to pull it off beautifully. This is an album to experience from beginning to end, not piecemeal a track at a time in our randomized world. That, in and of itself, makes it unique these days, but it doesn’t stop there. The music is gorgeous, varied, and deep as Leonard deals with the death of his wife in the middle of a divorce by taking this job and spends the next 14 tracks diving into his memories.
It begins with “Brushstroke” and a poetic farewell to the world. “I keep thinking of that painting/Of the sisters at the piano/That brought a tear to your eye/Babe, today I was a brushstroke on the canvas of a perfect blue sky….” Sad and distant, but hopeful, Osenga’s voice has a slight echo as he says his goodbyes as he heads skyward on a rocket with just a bit of piano and guitar in the background. This song is so unique it’s difficult to describe, so I’d encourage you to take a listen to this YouTube video from Osenga singing the song.
Later in the album, Len remembers his childhood in “Hold On, Boy.” This is a powerful song that brought to mind my own childhood in the opening lines: “I walked to school every day with a boy up the street/Our mothers declared we were friends, so it was to be….” And yet, it’s designed much differently, more powerfully than “Brushstroke” – almost sounding like a Thomas Dolby tune with the vocal range, keyboards, and piano driving it all to an electric guitar crescendo that simply rocks. The ebb and flow and build-up really works here.
The light and airy “Smoke Signals” belies a sadness in the words of a marriage falling apart. “You’re fast asleep/I’m laying in the dark/My thoughts keep wandering/The counted sheep are grazing/In the fields of what’s gone wrong….” Like “Brushstroke,” this song mostly floats on the rise and fall of piano and guitar and the hope in Osenga’s soaring voice.
Not since Matt Duke’s acoustic version of “Kingdom Underground” have I heard a song with biblical references that really got to me. Osenga’s “It Was Not Good for Man to Be Alone” deals with Adam in the Garden of Eden being alone until God created Eve. It’s a powerful song without being preachy, relying on poetry and electric guitars to drive the emotion without overreaching.
Really, the whole album deals with the cycle of love, loss, introspection, and redemption without wallowing in despair. The musical styles change. The tone of each song changes as Leonard goes through different phases. And ultimately, you’re left on a positive note.
Quite honestly this is one of my favorite albums of 2012. Andrew Osenga’s Leonard, the Lonely Astronaut is available now. Pick up a copy and go on a journey with Leonard. I’m sure he won’t mind.
For more about Andrew Osenga, be sure to check out his website.