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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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Prog Reviewer
4 stars Although Rick Wakeman has had one of the most prolific solo careers in progressive rock, it is still this debut offering that is widely regarded as his finest. Released in early 1973, The Six Wives of Henry VIII came out during the height of symphonic prog and also during one of the most creative eras for his main gig in Yes. The prog scene, especially in his native England, was bursting with imagination and ambition, and Wakeman's first solo contribution (barring 1971's Piano Vibrations, which even he doesn't consider a Rick Wakeman album) had no shortage of these traits. An instrumental concept album of sorts, The Six Wives of Henry VIII aims to describe each of Henry VIII's wives through different keyboard sounds and musical arrangements. It's an interesting idea that hadn't really been attempted before, and although one can easily ignore the concept if it seems too pretentious, I think Wakeman's attempt to bring this story to music is fascinating. It also doesn't hurt that the compositions here are among the keyboard maestro's finest, and the end result is an album that still sounds fresh forty years later.

It could be argued that all progressive rock is indebted to classical music, but The Six Wives of Henry VIII is one of the most classically-inspired prog albums you're likely to hear from this era. Almost like a romantic piece of classical music played using rock instruments, this album showed progressive rock's viability as a modern output of classically-inspired songwriting. The totally wordless compositions may not appeal to all Yes fans, but those who appreciate tremendous keyboard work and spectacular arrangement are likely to enjoy the hell out of this one. Some of Rick Wakeman's most stunning playing is found here, whether it be in the dazzling church organ in "Jane Seymour", killer Hammond and grand piano work in "Catherine of Aragon", or the cutting edge analog synthesizers in "Catherine Parr", all of Wakeman's playing here is enough to make any keyboard geek drool. A vast array of pianos, mellotrons, organs, synthesizers, and harpsichords are used throughout the album, and Wakeman's ability to blend all of these different keyboard textures together seamlessly is a large portion of what makes this album so great.

Fortunately, Rick also brought some excellent musicians along to complete his musical vision; many members of Yes and Strawbs (including, but not limited to, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford, Alan White, Steve Howe, Dave Cousins, Dave Lambert, and Chas Cronk) deliver spectacular performances here, so the musicianship is not exclusively focused on Wakeman by any means. The Six Wives of Henry VIII is simply a blast to listen to, and while it is a bit on the excessive and pompous side, I have a great time whenever I give it a spin, even if it doesn't move me on the same level that a masterpiece like Close to the Edge would. As overblown and pretentious as it may be, The Six Wives of Henry VIII is a bold and consistently excellent entrance statement from this mighty keyboard wizard.

J-Man | 4/5 |


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