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

JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH

Rick Wakeman

 

Symphonic Prog

3.86 | 49 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Ajay
4 stars Rick Wakeman's 2012 re-recording of his 1974 masterpiece was always going to be a hard sell to me. When the 1974 album was released, I lay awake in bed with a transistor radio beside my pillow to listen to my local rock radio station's midnight broadcast. The following year, when Rick Wakeman toured Australia with the concert, I watched the TV broadcast. I've owned the album on vinyl and CD along with the DVD of the Melbourne concert. I listen to each at least a couple of times a year. I hum the themes in the shower.

When I read about the release of the re-recording, my heart lit up that a musical hero of mine was still active. I looked forward to the improved quality of the recording. I wondered, however, what changes had been made that I wouldn't like.

The first change which greeted me was the narration. As with the narration of another 2012 re-recording, Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of the War of the Worlds - The New Generation, the narration has grown. In the case of Journey, the narration has also been moved to the very beginning of the recording, so that it's the first material one hears, rather than the stirring overture. That's a structural weakness of the re-recording, that the opening introduces itself politely instead of grabbing one by the throat as the original does. Peter Egan sounds to me more like Patrick Stewart than the original narrator, David Hemmings, and does a fine job, although I find Hemmings's tone more exciting.

Once the music starts, though, the mists of time lift. Rick Wakeman's overture sounds as strong as ever, which goes for most of the music in the re-recording. There's magic in that material to cause shivers. The orchestral and choral performances sound perfect all the way through the album. That improved sonic quality is the re-recording's major advantage over the original, and is enough to recommend this album to anyone.

Likewise, the songs which return from the original version rock and wail as hard as they ever did, thanks to spirited contributions from the band. It's inspiring to hear Rick Wakeman attack a Minimoog again. Ashley Holt's gravelly voice fits the heavier material better than ever. In the softer material, the changes which the years have wreaked on his voice make him sound strained. I miss Gary Pickford-Hopkins's voice not being there to provide a balance.

In Gary's place is Hayley Sanderson. This album was my introduction to her. It's an unenviable task, stepping into what has been a boys-only band to deliver a reinterpretation of a song. Her performance has grown on me with subsequent listening, which I'm sure it'll continue to do.

Hayley also gets the other unenviable job: to sing the new songs. There are two, which existed in outline only back in 1974, and which Rick Wakeman has completed for this album. Both are ballads. Both have been arranged to fit in with the style of the rest of the music. There's no mistaking, however, that they were written at a different time than the rest of the material, hence they stick out more than they blend in. Unlike Hayley Sanderson's singing, the songs themselves haven't grown on me with repeated listening.

On my first listen, by the time Hall of the Mountain King rolled around, my eight-year-old son was on his feet and bopping and shouting, "This is great!" and I'm forced to agree. Whatever its few weaknesses compared with the original, it's fair to say that the re-recording comes off as forcefully as the original. If it introduces a master and his work to a new generation, as well as making old-time afficionadoes play air Moog, then it's a job well-done.

Bonus points for the packaging, which is very handsome with its Victorian reproduction style, and for the accompanying special edition of Classic Rock magazine, which is cover-to-cover Rick Wakeman and which clears up the mystery of how as unlikely a beast as a rock oratorio got made and released in the first place. Quality all round.

Ajay | 4/5 |

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