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Rick Wakeman - Zodiaque CD (album) cover

ZODIAQUE

Rick Wakeman

 

Symphonic Prog

2.11 | 22 ratings

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Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
3 stars This turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise! At this years most recent Record Store Day, I decided to take a chance on several inexpensive Rick Wakeman solo albums from a local shop and see how I go. I've never given his solo works much time, but I'd always been curious to explore them a little better. I snapped `Zodiaque' off the shelf excitedly, for some reason thinking it was Rick's `Seven Wonders of the World', one of his I'd heard a few tracks of a while back and really enjoyed. But I'm happy to report that after my initial disappointment of my mistake, this one turned out to be a mostly decent album with much to offer New Age/light electronic fans.

`Zodiaque' is certainly not to be confused with the grand and pompous classic 70's albums of Mr Wakeman, but you'll still find traces of those ones popping up here and there and coming to the surface every now and then. It interprets the 12 astrological star signs as various electronic pieces, mostly filled with ambient mystery and an enveloping air. Wakeman also collaborates with Tony Fernandez here, who adds both live acoustic and programmed percussion/drums. I think Tony does better work when he adds simple programming and subtle loops, which offer a more restrained approach, as several of the tracks have that dreaded booming 80's Phil Collins sound smashed all over the top of it that was so popular at the time.

It's the more low-key and thoughtful pieces that work best on the album. `Capricorn' is such a stunning piece. One of the loveliest and most understated themes Rick has offered, it's a delicate, hypnotic and floating electronic piece that gently washes over the listener. The echoing programed drum loop sounds like dripping water, making you feel like you're in a tranquil cave. Just perfect this one. Along the same lines, `Cancer' is warm and sensitive, the reflective `Pisces' alternates between sad and hopeful. `Libra' brims with ancient world mystery, and the superb album closer `Scorpio' is a tiptoeing, subtle and majestic electronic dream-like drift.

The stomping `Aquarius' is probably the piece that reminds most of vintage Wakeman, that same imperial and regal pomp of his 70's work tries to break through here, and it even has a synthesized female choir near the end. The cold sci-fi of `Aries' has a very alien/computerized sound with a grand main synth theme, but Tony's addition of marching drums in the middle brings more of that Rick flavour of old.

Not all of the album works well. The boppy `Gemini' comes across as lively and playful, but it's a slightly cheesy upbeat arrangement that uncomfortably ends up sounding in parts like The Cure's `Lovecats', or worse `Rock Around The Clock'! Full of skittering jazzy drumming, with some sprightly soloing from Wakeman, it was probably an attempt to serve as a break from the more sedate pieces on the rest of the album, and although it gets better with repeated listens, I feel it stands out far too much and breaks up the mood the album was building. Although I like it a bit more, the dreamy `Virgo' is a spiraling fairytale melody that doesn't feel like it belongs here either.

`Leo' sounds like an instrumental outtake from Genesis' `Invisible Touch' album, a fairly faceless churning clinical piece with crashing 80's Collins drumming, only the final section briefly offers more tension and drama. The triumphant `Taurus' would make for the perfect soundtrack to slow-motion news footage of a sports race, not so great on this actual album though.

I have no doubt this album will divide listeners. Some will find it impossibly bland and devoid of any real identity, others may find it charming and pleasant. Also likely is some readers of this review might wonder why the heck I've given it so much time - believe me, I kind of ask myself that too! Anyway, it's definitely inconsistent, and certainly a few of the production techniques (especially the drumming) has dated the album unfairly, but for fans of light electronic music that's a step above faceless New Age dreck, you might really come to enjoy this one. It makes for a perfect relaxing listen, and best of all, it's highly melodic with easy to appreciate and moving melodies woven into the electronic instrumental soundscapes.

Three stars - maybe add an extra half star for `Capricorn'!

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 3/5 |

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