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


Rick Wakeman


Symphonic Prog

3.68 | 83 ratings

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3 stars In 1975 I gave away my copy of the original 1974 LP of "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth" and never bothered to replace it, as I found the music too 'commercial' for my taste and parts of the performance sub par. Actually, listening to the 1974 album again now on YouTube, it is certainly no masterpiece and I find it corny and cheesy in places. To make matters worse, some of the singing was poor, especially ASHLEY HOLT's strained and often out-of-tune vocals. Furthermore, I'm not a huge fan of live albums (the 1974 release was a recording of a concert in the Royal Festival Hall) as I find the occasional imperfections and crowd noise rather irritating. There are exceptions, of course, but generally I prefer a studio-recorded album (even if a group puts a track down live in the studio, it's usually better than a concert recording).

So why did I fork out my hard-earned cash now for this 2012 reboot by RICK WAKEMAN? Curiosity, mainly. I wanted to see if he had improved on the 1974 original. I was also interested to hear if the singing would be better than the, at times, dire singing on the original (I had hoped, in vain as it turns out, that ASHLEY HOLT would not be singing on the 2012 album). Furthermore, the prospect of hearing the parts of the work not included in the 1974 performance was also a factor. And, finally, I was interested to hear a polished studio recording of the work rather than a recording of a live performance.

So, what is the new release like, then?

I can't say I've changed my mind about the music itself: it's as commercial-sounding and corny as on the original album. In fact, some of the added parts sound even more commercial, that feeling reinforced in places by the vocals of HALEY SANDERSON. Yes, a female vocalist participates this time, singing the parts originally performed by GARY PICKFORD-HOPKINS as well as singing the newly-added songs. Don't get me wrong, she has a lovely voice, but RICK WAKEMAN's mainstream melodies coupled with her vibrato singing style at times are more middle-of-the-road or pop than progressive rock ('Journey's Dawn' and especially 'Echoes' are pure ANDREW LLOYD WEBER to me, for example). Mind you, I would rather listen to her than ASHLEY HOLT. To be fair, his singing on this studio album is much better than on the recording pressed onto the 1974 LP, but I do wish RICK WAKEMAN had used someone else.

DAVID HEMMINGS, the narrator on the 1974 album, died in 2003. His distinctive voice was one of the better things on that album, but PETER EGAN, another British actor, does a credible job on this reboot as he also has a clear, pleasant voice with some gravitas. He could perhaps have injected a little more awe into the narration, but it's fine.

I have to say that the studio recording is good; the music sounds crisp and well-played. The orchestration is also good, and the synthesizer sounds are there too. The booklet containing the CD just lists RICK WAKEMAN's instruments as 'keyboards', without specifying the makes and models. My guess is that most -- perhaps all -- were digital rather than the analogue keyboards he played in 1974. Whatever they were, they sound good to this synthesizer fan. Overall, then, I prefer this reboot to the original live recording. I suppose my musical tastes have mellowed over the years as well, so the more-commercial sound does not grate as much as it did back in 1974.

The accompanying 130-page Classic Rock special and replica of the 1974 tour programme make interesting reading. Classic Rock magazine are to be commended for releasing this CD and associated 'album fanpack', and I very much hope it is a commercial success and brings the music to a new audience, not just to the old guard.

By the way, there are a few short pauses (track changes?) when I play the Audio CD on my Audio CD player in the lounge, but it plays seamlessly in the optical drive on my laptop so I assume the problem lies with my stand-alone CD player rather than the Audio CD.

I'll be hanging on to the album this time, but I can't say "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth" is essential or even particularly important to own if you are a fan of progressive rock. Unless, that is, you collect also for a historical perspective, in which case it is as much a piece of the 1970s as 'Close To The Edge', albeit nowhere near as good. But it is quite fun and, let's face it, you can hum or whistle along to this stuff. My rating for the original 1974 album was 2 stars (Collectors/fans only) but I'm going to give this 2012 rehash 3 stars (Good, but not essential). Actually, were such a thing possible, I might even be tempted to bump that up to 3.5 stars to take into account its historical interest.

Fitzcarraldo | 3/5 |


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