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


Rick Wakeman


Symphonic Prog

4.09 | 834 ratings

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5 stars Here's a guy who gave the finger to almost everyone. A finger he should proudly present, by the way, to the authors of the highbrow and mean-spirited write-ups this 1973 album often garners.

Screw 'em, I say, and if they want to pretend Six Wives of Henry VIII should have been something else; something other than a combining of rock with Baroque stylings, or God forbid something more "progressive", then what the Hell are they doing here? It's like walking into a gallery and claiming Jackson Pollock was a hack who did little more than vomit colors on to canvas. Or deciding Gene Roddenberry didn't really 'create' Star Trek, he just lifted ideas from a then fledging space program, cleverly seducing a gullible and witless audience. Yeah, I smell sour grapes, and it isn't pretty.

Maybe it's not just the music, either. Maybe some just don't like Wakeman, this yellow-maned Morlock of a man with the temerity to release so many albums, and worse; someone with the nerve to have left one the prog scenes' most beloved groups at the height of their glory (having of course unselfishly provided them with one of the most distinctive and rich elements in their sound). Who does this meat-eating troglodyte with more vigor in his lower lip than his wan, emaciated vegan ex-bandmates have between them think he is?--

I'll tell you: he's a working musician who wants, more than anything else, to make music.

So he does. A lot of it. Some of it good, some of it not so much. This release was one of the good'ns, and I can't see it disappointing too many progophiles. I mean what is there not to like? The ambition, vision, musicianship, planning, all more than commendable. The only weakness is perhaps the creaky production. But it's rock 'n roll for crying out loud, not the Mills Brothers. I want a little dirt on my flowers, it adds to the authenticity and reminds me where they came from. 'Catherine of Aragon' pops with familiar quotes and Wakeman's seasoned hands, warming with the soft voices of a choir, each measure rising and arriving at 'Anne of Cleves' with Rick's street-savvy piano and eager band - including several Yes alum - kicking out the rock rhythms for eight minutes of classic prog power, pure, and unashamed. Some Copland for 'Catherine Howard', an unusually sentimental tribute to a long-dead Queen (and Henry VIII's fifth wife)-- but the hoedown is corrupted beautifully by Wakeman's starship synthesizer sounds and neat jumping between styles, from Romantic to Heroic to Pastoral, all presented with rigor by a master. The deep dungeon sounds of Bach's 'Toccata & Fugue' and its improvisatory school of German organplay open and close 'Jane Seymour', transitioning to harpsichord and back to the cold mist of Rick's pipe organ [a Hammond C-3 actually] and Minimoog. Lush and capricious 'Anne Boleyn' distantly echoes Pink Floyd that same year but keeps changing; from bouncing dance rock to great funky vamps, space oddities, Americanism, all resolving to a tender salute at the end on solo piano. And 'Catherine Parr' - our third Catherine - finishes with gusto a record that defines the word "classic".

I'm sorry, this is a great f*cking album, and any fan who deprives him or herself of it because of bad press or surly word-of-mouth is missing out on one of the great moments of Prog's all too short peak years. Six Wives is our heritage and we should warmly embrace it as often as our busy schedules allow. Get it, love it, live it. And thanks, Rick, we owe you at least one.

Atavachron | 5/5 |


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