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Rick Wakeman - The Six Wives of Henry VIII CD (album) cover


Rick Wakeman


Symphonic Prog

4.10 | 860 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Is Rick Wakeman a great artist?

He is certainly one of the most controversial figures in prog, and his solo albums are often mentioned as painful examples of bad taste.

About THE SIX WIVES there can be little doubt. It's one of the freshest-sounding products of 1970s prog. I can think of no other prog-keyboard virtuoso who recorded a similarly convincing album which is 100% instrumental. Tomas Bodin recently came close with PINUP GURU. But Mr Wakeman was the ORIGINAL keyboard battery wizard!

Wakeman being Wakeman, certain moments on THE SIX WIVES sail close to kitsch. 'Jane Seymour' is one of Rick's best church organ pieces - but was it really necessary to overdub the siren-like scream of a synth onto its dramatic climax? Such a trick may have seemed brave in 1973, but to my modern ears it sounds cheap. 'Anne Boleyn' finishes with Wakeman performing (very prettily, I must say) part of an old English hymn, but the melancholic effect is spoiled by all too melodramatic back-up vocals. The main theme of 'Catherine Howard' must be one of Wakeman's most appealing tunes, but Rick's piano embellishments here seem tacky - he sounds like a forerunner of Richard Clayderman.

However, 'Catherine Howard' also makes clear what's so special about this album: in at least three of the compositions ('Catherine of Aragon', 'Anne Boleyn' and 'Catherine Howard' itself) the main themes are played on grand piano, after which Rick inserts Moog 'outbursts' or solos on other instruments (organs, mellotrons, honky-tonk-like harpsichords) and in different meters. These solos are usually surprising, sometimes humorous (e.g. that 'quacking' synth on 'Anne Boleyn') and always delightful.

To my taste, however, the most enjoyable tracks on the album are the ones where the noble Hammond organ predominates. 'Anne of Cleves' almost sounds like a jam session; it's wonderfully energetic. On this piece the bass player does a great job and Alan White is having the time of his life - in my view, his drumming surpasses the things he went on to do on RELAYER. The 'panic-signal' opening of 'Catherine Parr' is disconcerting, but the tune soon develops into a vibrant Hammond organ (and moog) showpiece. (I've heard Rick play 'CP' live and was astonished by the speed of his rendition.)

So in spite of its relative shortness, I truly feel we can call this album 'a masterpiece of prog'. But let's briefly return to my initial question.

A great artist is someone who expresses in his work the deepest emotions and/or the clearest insights ALL THROUGH HIS LIFE. It never fails to amaze me, when I listen to master pianists such as Keith Jarrett or Bobo Stenson, that they played only piano thirty years ago, are still doing the same thing nowadays, and most of the music they record is incredibly inspired. Rick Wakeman's career, on the other hand, looks rather different. When Wakeman started releasing piano-only albums in the 1980s, it turned out they contained nothing but mediocre New Age-stuff. On Prog Archives you'll find dozens of reviews by disappointed listeners.

Is it possible that the simple honesty of the grand piano is 'beyond' Mr Wakeman? Perhaps the main problem is that true improvisation is not Rick's forte? So even if THE SIX WIVES, with its multi-coloured sounds, could be considered a masterpiece, is it fair to say Rick is not a great artist?

fuxi | 5/5 |


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