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Rick Wakeman - Return To The Centre Of The Earth CD (album) cover


Rick Wakeman


Symphonic Prog

3.54 | 160 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review Nš 89

"Return To The Centre Of The Earth" is the fifty-sixth studio album of Rick Wakeman and was released in 1999. The line up on the album is Rick Wakeman, Justin Hayward, Katrina Leskanich, Tony Mitchell, Ozzy Osbourne, Trevor Rabin, Bonnie Tyler, Fraser Thornrycroft-Smith, Phil Williams, Simon Hanson, Patrick Stewart, the London Symphonic Orchestra conducted by David Snell and the English Chamber Choir conducted by Guy Protheroe.

For almost 30 years, Wakeman has been slogging it out as one of the preeminent keyboardists in rock, notably as an off and on member of Yes. Along with ELP's Keith Emerson and Deep Purple's Jon Lord, Wakeman brought the keyboards to the frontline of the band. Emerson and Lord barely strayed away from the confines of their respective group situations, but Wakeman has continually forged ahead, composing full conceptual pieces in which his keyboard navigates makeshift ensembles of rock players around full blown orchestras and choirs. During the early 70's, Wakeman lodged these musical experimentations with classic allegory. With historical accuracy, he boldly released "The Six Wives Of Henry VIII" and "The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur and The Knights Of The Round Table".

But, perhaps his most well received album, however, was based and titled after the classic Jules Verne tale, "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth". As you can recall, "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth" is a conceptual album based on Verne's eponymous science fiction novel with the same name. "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth" tells us the story of professor Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans. As the music is dotted by telling the story based on Verne's novel, there was need to have a narrator in a prominent position. Wakeman performed "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth" with the London Symphony Orchestra, the English Chamber Choir and a hand full of musicians.

"Return To The Centre Of The Earth" apparently took three years to plan and tells the story of three explorers seeking the retrace the steps of Verne's intrepid voyager, professor Lidenbrock. He got into trouble trying to follow the path, after read the manuscript by Arne Saknussemm. These three guys, two centuries forward from that discovery, coming back to the path of the original expedition and embark on another fantastic adventure. As with "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth", the music is also endowed with a narrator in a very prominent position, by telling the story based on Verne's novel. Wakeman also performs "Return To The Centre Of The Earth" with the London Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir, beyond a handful of musicians and singers, "The Dream Team" as he called it.

Despite "Return To The Centre Of The Earth" be a sequel of "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth", it doesn't completely follow the same structure of it. This time we are in presence of a studio recording instead of a live album. It features a large number of separate songs performed by several guest vocalists. The original "Journey" took about thirty-six minutes and the "Return" take more than the twice of that. While on "Journey" the narration was brief, on "Return" the narration is present on the tracks to explain the adventure as if we were hearing a talking book.

"Return To The Centre Of The Earth" isn't an effort on Wakeman's part to become a classical composer. He is here with what he has been all along. Although, I will say that Wakeman's personal playing on "Return" is a bit less over the top than his 70's work. Some people will appreciate this, and others will be marginally disappointed. I found that the blending of all the elements here are different than what Wakeman achieved in the 70's, primarily because his playing is slightly less grandiose and less of a focal point. Maybe he blends it a bit better. There are plenty of grand flourishes and rising crescendos that are part of the symphonic rock oeuvre. The story is very cinematic and the music matches the excitement and drama much as you would expect from a movie score, only here there is no movie to distract you from the scenes your mind creates, as you hear the narration and listen to the music. But, I like it anyway a lot. I always had a soft spot for grandiose combinations of rock and symphony. Throw in a choir and things get even better.

Conclusion: "Return To The Centre Of The Earth", is a great achievement. Together with other gifted musicians, Rick has proven the world that good quality music will never die. EMI gave Rick the possibility to do this project. With a visualizing and breathtaking narration, this album takes you all the way to the "centre of the earth". Every song is very well balanced between the relaxed and heavy rock songs. The solos are pure ecstasy and Rick plays the good old Moog like no one. This album is a great blend between classical and rock music, the melodies are complex, the recording is of the best quality and the singers are all great. Let's all hope that he will from now on get more opportunities to do projects like these. If you don't own this album you're missing a big part of Rick's best working.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

VianaProghead | 4/5 |


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