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Rick Wakeman - The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table CD (album) cover

THE MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF KING ARTHUR AND THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE

Rick Wakeman

 

Symphonic Prog

3.59 | 361 ratings

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2 stars Rick Wakeman - The Legend of King Arthur

Opens with male voice choir. The arrangement sounds like some 6th form composition, with mostly static harmonic columns moving step by step to the next one through safe harmonic progressions, and a few prescription "joining notes" in a vain attempt to give a sense of movement.

This short introduction ends with a reasonable suspension and predictable perfect cadence - I would really have liked some open fifths to give a suggestion of Mediaeval music, and some working on the harmony parts such that each became closer to a melody than an enforced part of the vertical structure of each chord.

The overall effect is muddy, where I'm sure the intention is to be grand, and this is largely due to a baritone part with too low a register, and too little attention paid to the upper registers. That said, some of the harmony is more reminiscent of Barbershop quartets than straightforward Oxford Harmony Book 1.

It's the close attention to detail that would have lifted this from the compromised dirge that I find it to be, and it's by examining in detail the treatment given to the material here that the expectations are set for the remainder of the work - and really, one would hope to be proved wrong, and that the composer is not, in fact, running before the walking thing has been mastered. The evidence, under analysis, would suggest that this is sadly true;

Next we have a piano section which tells me my memory for tunes needs some refreshment - where does that snippet of melody come from? Answers on an email to. This is mysteriously overlaid with harpsichord - presumably an attempt to lend an olde worlde feel to it. I doubt that anyone in King Arthur's time had ever seen a harpsichord, however. This ends with a distinctly 18th Century style flourish such as might end a short cadenza, or have been lifted from a Beethoven Sonata - perhaps the Pathetique. But it's well executed, so we can forgive the Wakemeister that.

After this, a slightly darker keyboard section, with multi keyboard layers and pseudo- brass and a nice, rich bass line provides some nice, gentle, moody prog rock with soft sixths and OH! Those Mellotrons! The bass rolls along very nicely, with the piano melody getting a reprise before tumbling headlong into a heavier section, a kind of freaky Led Zep Riff, over which Rick unleashes some fireworks panning madly across the stereo, underlaid with some Beethoven-inspired piano.

This opens into a gentle reprise of the main theme with Mellotron choir, and then the most horrible fairground type racket replete with detuned Cockney, knees-up Mother Brody type piano. Very fast and intricate, but UGH!

This tangentially drops back into the soft sixths, and onward back to the main theme. I really would have liked actual thematic rather than simple textural development here, but it's rather predictable, and the bassist particularly seems to have issues maintaining concentration, as Rick unleashes the mad panning stereo solo and the Beethoven piano runs once more, adding string layers, then sending the synth down low - then ARGH! That horrible fairground section is back but with added cheesey bits. Fortunately it all ends there.. For now.

Next we get more of the male voice choir. The lyrics are dodgy to say the least, and you can practically hear the conductor (Rick?) waving his arms about to encourage some dynamics - as if to hide the decidedly average content.

There now follows another, somewhat unnecessary reprise of the piano theme - well executed with turn decorations. but then a kind of variation on the fairground theme follows, with a kind of Carribean flavour, mysteriously. A vocal section follows, and all is rather chaotic with no real flow; loads of sounds are piled in, seemingly for their own sake as if the complexity of sound layers is attempting to make up for the famine of musical ideas here.

A little piano interlude made up of an ostinato figure takes us to the next part of the vocals, which has a nice dark change - and here is where it gets a bit better. A pseudo reggae-flavoured passage cavorts into a full choir section, and a solo vocal section which pulls out even more stops than were pulled out earlier - more is more seems to be the motto here. Some new musical themes are introduced, leitmotif-like, although these are all rather short and do not develop.

This drops away to a rather nice section featuring tubular bells and electronic seagulls, to a wistful vocal section. yes, those lyrics are still Wensleydale to the core. The layers are interesting, and the bass and drums meander very nicely, Prog Rock style, with hints of Yes, but it's all idea on top of idea then repeat idea rather than idea grows into idea then develops. What's wrong with that approach? Well, you know how a pop song is constructed - verse, chorus, verse, chorus and so on - well that's exactly it. Without development, this might as well be a little series of pop tunes all tacked together with sticky tape.

There are some good ideas here, but mainly the sort of stuff that an obsessive ideas and quick-fix merchant would appreciate or dream up. I'm sure Rick has done some top-grade work, it just feels like this was something exuberant that was dashed off in a day or two - there are few signs of careful workmanship or a desire to create something new, more a kind contractual obligation of a lazy display of keyboard abilities that are certainly higher than average, and compositional abilities that would prompt the report card "Must Try Harder" - low Grade 5 tops.

If ever there was an award for number of layers - or good choice of keyboard sounds, then this would surely appear high on the nominations list.

At the end of the day, this is some of the most pretentious and bombastic Prog Rock ever - and rightly so. Prog Rock should be pretentious, and bombastic is good. The virtuosic keyboards are designed to dazzle - and if you don't play yourself, then chances are they might - so there's no need to be put off by an academic lambasting.

My biggest complaint really is the complete failure to conjure up images of an Arthurian world populated by the Knights of the Round Table, Lady of the Lake, Excalibur and so on - only a few nods and winks to appropriate musical styles exist, the lyrical style makes an effort - but makes you wish it hadn't, and the atmospherics are almost entirely of a Prog Rock extravagana rather than of a bygone era of heroic deeds and derinng-do. I'm tempted to say it's more like derring-don't.

It is not a bad Prog album, however, and a worthy consideration if you're not one of those awful artsy types who takes it all seriously or a die-hard Romantic with expectations and ideals to match - in fact, if you're not analytical by nature, you might enjoy this very much for itself.

However, if you do fall into the former categories, there's a lot of pain and too little pleasure to get much enjoyment out of this particular opus - so I suggest you try elsewhere for your introduction to the genius of Rick Wakeman, 'coz it ain't here.

*No I'm not going to review side 2- this is long enough - the booklet has some nice pictures on it ;0)

Certif1ed | 2/5 |

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