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Rick Wakeman - Retro CD (album) cover


Rick Wakeman

Symphonic Prog

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4 stars I have some Rick Wakeman albums but the only one I really like (up to now) is Six Wives Of Henry VIII. For me too much of Rick's music borders on the cheesey. Thankfully he avoids that here. This is clearly a labour of love and great thought and time has been put into the songs and compositions. There is also the joy of hearing a range of 'vintage' keyboard instruments like the Mellotron and Moogs... hence the title.

The first track 'Just Another Day' gets things off to a great start. The instrumental intro draws you very nicely before Ashley Holts powerfull lungs get to work. Tony Fernandez provides able support on the drums, not too flashy. 9/10

The second track 'Mr Lonely' features some aggressive distorted vocals with a straight forward beat laid underneath and finishes with a superb synth solo.7/10

'One In The Eye' is an excellent short instrumental work out.Very well executed and reminds me a little of White Rock.Fernandez is excellent here while Rick has plenty of fun. Classic Wakeman.10/10

'Men In White Suits' starts with a nice slow symphonic introduction. The Mellotron is well used here before Holt takes over with his powerfull vocals. Then another instrumental section follows that again is classic trademark Wakeman before Holt returns again. Not too much to dislike here. Good solid prog. 8/10

'Leave The Blindfold' comes across as a bit Beatlesish (similar to 'When I'm 64' perhaps?) and is ably sung by Rick's grown up daughter Jemma Wakeman. Very nice.7/10

'Waveform' is the second pure instrumental piece on the album. Starts fairly quietly but builds quite effectively. Not earth shattering but maintains the high standard nevertheless.7/10

Its about this time on a long album that I'm looking for a bit of something different. 'Retrospective' isn't it. Maybe Rick could have done something a bit more interesting here.6/10

'Homage To The Doctor' is a tribute to Bob Moog as you might guess. Rick does some brilliant soloing before Jemma and Ashley finish the track off with great vocals.Probably my second favourite track here. 9/10

'Can You Smell Burning' starts with some Wakeman hammond work similar to Six Wives (Catherine Parr). Mr Nimble fingers is up to all his old tricks, and so much the better! Tony Fernandez provides the oomph factor on the drums. Top notch instrumental. 9/10

The album is finished off with 'The Stalker'. Holt sounds suitably desperate as he laments not being able to be with his true love. The lyrics are maybe a little on the Andrew Lloyd Webber side of things but its okay.7/10

Overall is this a masterpeice? No not really but it comes in at nearly 69 minutes and as I said in my pre amble Rick has put a lot into this.

Report this review (#72155)
Posted Friday, March 17, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars A welcome new effort from the grand master of keys. The previous reviewer rendered much of the details which I don't need to get into here. But I do have a few comments. One thing is that I very much like this effort getting all the old equipment out dedicate this album to the good old vintage sound. But as often, it yet again it seems that Wakeman does things a little half-hearted. Maybe also, because of being such a highly regard keyboard player the expectations are quite high. Anyway, the very opening part of the first track features a really awkward sound patch (at least in conjunction with how it is used) which will soon disappear but raises the question "why?". Then of course there is the old problem with Wakeman's leglection of decent drumming. I am sorry to say this but Tony Fernandez is not the right drummer in this environment and never was. His 80s drum sound (or cheap neo-prog sound at best) is uninspired and lacks dynamics. Often it sounds as if it could have been programmed - which for this being a "retro" album to me is a fatal flaw. Plus, the drumming clearly just ornates the overall performances instead of being the driving force for the rhythm - a cornerstone to built up a proper groove. One of my greatest wishes would be if Rick Wakeman would collaborate with a proper drummer with decent drum sound! So many unknown bands can do it, why not he? Of course, in kind of a selfish way I would wish that old buddy Bruford would some day show some mercy and come to the rescue... The last complaint would be the silly lyrics on "the stalker" which does not encourage much to be listened to a second time, a pity. But enough of that - Wakemans performance is highly enjoyable. "Homage to the Doctor", "One in the Eye" and "Can You Smell Burning" I would pick as personal highlights on this album. To me he still can make the analog equipment sing and i am sure this alone will be enough to make many fans happy. 3.5 stars.
Report this review (#73552)
Posted Thursday, March 30, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars I was - am - a big Rick Wakeman fan and was pleased to hear about this album using "old" keyboards - Mellotrons, moogs, Hammond, RMI, Prophet and early Korg, and the like. Wakeman's solo efforts have been disappointing for some time but this seems to have been a real labour of love, and the care he has shown pays off. Its not a masterpeice but it does at times show real class, and he's not lost his touch at the keyboards. The downsides first - a tendency for quantity (nearly 70 minutes) over quality, and the use of Ashley Holt (sorry Ashley) who did great work on "No Earthly Connection" but with respect is no spring chicken and years have taken their toll on his vocal chords; and maybe some of the tunes aren't that great. OK that's enough carping - what it does show is his passion and enthusiasm for music; his technique which is undiminished by passing years; and Tony Fernandez remains under-appreciated. Best tracks - "Can You Smell The Burning" has Wakey in fine fettle on Hammond; "Just Another Day"; and I admit to enjoying "Leave the Blindfold" though I'm not sure I'd want my daughter singing about leaving a blnidfold on the bedpost though mine is half the age of Ricks..even so!? I think Rick has put a lot of love and care into this album, and all credit for resurrecting the very special sound of those '70's keyboards. In terms of this site's marking regime, its good, but not essential - 3 stars, though nostalgia nearly gained it a 4th.
Report this review (#76824)
Posted Monday, May 1, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars Recommended album for Wakeman fans, but not interesting enough for anyone else. Retro is an album where Rick Wakeman decided to focus solely on 70s vintage instruments like the hammond, the analog synthesizers, and the mellotron. It is a refreshing album full of nostalgia, but some of the keyboard sounds are the hideous ones from his clunker "Rhapsodies" album. Other problems include some mediocre songwriting in places.

Nevertheless, you can't ask for a better opening track as "Just Another Day" takes you back to the 70s and the composition simply shines all the way through. Opening with a bizarre motif (later used in the second half of the song) and leading with the grandiose mellotron, great old-school keyboards and synthesizers, and Ashley Holt giving possibly his best vocal performance since No Earthly Connection's "The Prisoner." Sadly, the best song is followed by the worst one: a weak, noisy, repetitive rocker with distorted vocals and horrid guitars. "One In The Eye" has a weak main synthesizer motif and while the playing is good, the instrumental does not leave a good impression. Fortunately, "Men in Suits" improves things somewhat, with great use of the mellotron and analog synthesizer, but it's still not an excellent tune by any means. "Leave The Blindfold" is a melodic tune sang by Wakeman's daughter. It's not bad, but it is out of place here. While "Waveform's" middle section is good, the rest suffers from a horrible quacking-sounding synth sound and out of place mellotron. A bad song. "Retrospective" rescues the album again, a mellow and more thought out composition with appropriate usage of the old instruments. "Homage To The Doctor" is a tribute to the deceased Robert Moog, the inventor of the synthesizer. I really think that Rick Wakeman should have dropped the cheesy lyrics and focused on putting a great show by playing loads of synths. He does play the synths well here, but the vocal parts are a bit unnecessary. While this review doesn't look too positive for now, the last two songs are better than anything after 'Just Another Day'. "Can You Smell Burning?" is an instrumental with blazing synthesizer runs, 5/4 rock groove, and fiery Hammond B3. The closer "The Stalker", while having weak lyrics, it is the most epic-sounding track and both Ashley Holt and Jemma provides good vocals. It provides a very good dramatic climax to the album.

1. Just Another Day (A) 2. Mr. Lonely (F) 3. One In The Eye (D+) 4. Men In Suits (C) 5. Leave The Blindfold (C-) 6. Waveform (D-) 7. Retrospective (C+) 8. Homage To The Doctor (C) 9. Can You Smell Burning? (B+) 10. The Stalker (B)

Report this review (#132114)
Posted Monday, August 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars In the process of moving, Rick Wakeman came across a bunch of old equipment he'd not used for thirty years. He used this equipment to make 'Retro', as he explains; "As more and more flight cases were opened to check contents, my engineer was continually coming out with comments such as: 'That's got to be older than me!' and 'When was the last time you plugged that in?' The average age of the keyboards used was around 35... the most commonly heard phrase over the first few days was 'can you smell something burning?' Our only concession to the 21st century was that of using modern recording techniques and therefore to record onto hard disk, but no sequencing or music software was used in any way".

That alone is enough to make this project worthwhile. The music isn't bad either and though it may not have the grand spirit of vintage Wakeman, it certainly has the sounds of that period and is a treat for fans and synth-heads. Beefy arcade waves start 'Just Another Day' and are followed-up by a 'tron, Rick's electric piano and some downright Yes-like lines for a bit of old-style Wakeman and plenty of classic keyboard sounds from his endless assortment of Hammonds, Moogs, Korgs and Prophets. Grating pop tune 'Mr. Lonely' is irritating but 'One in the Eye' is back with slippery synths and a fresh take on old ideas. The bright modern drum sound proves a distraction throughout most of this recording and doesn't match the old fashioned tone here, and would've done with a warmer quality. But a very nice twin-synth duet supported by the grind of an ancient mellotron for 'Men in Suits' and though the vocal performance is more theatrical than serious, it has some real cool noodling from Rick. Showcase track 'Waveform' cuts along nicely, Wakeman pulling out all his tricks as he moves from keyboard to keyboard, sound to sound, setting to setting. It's at this point one wonders why Keith Emerson hasn't made a solo album so good and 'Retrospective' is even better, setting a film score atmosphere. 'Homage to the Doctor' is questionable but at nine minutes covers enough good ground to merit some attention. It's when he lets go that Wakeman really shines, unhindered by trying to write 'a song' and just doing his neo-classical thing better than anyone.

Quite uneven and the commercial stuff may nauseate, but there is enough good stuff here and 'Retro' is probably the most interesting thing this icon has done in awhile.

Report this review (#146044)
Posted Saturday, October 20, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. Make an album using only vintage keyboards - "just real playing, exciting to play just as exciting to listen to" according to the album's liner notes. However it's one thing to come up with good ideas it is another to execute on the concept. I feel that with this album it was a great idea but it falls down in the execution. Wakeman has always been guilty of just churning out the music and unfortunately this album does showcase this to a large extent, having said that he is genuinely creative and of course a superb musician and master arranger.

So where does that leave us with Retro? I believe he put in a lot of effort on how to present these keyboards but he really didn't think it through properly. He has no problem in creating jaunty or comedic melodies or creating quirky sounds and in this regard he succeeds admirably but there is far too much of it. I would have preferred some of the tracks to be a bit meatier instead of being light-hearted. Only two tracks, Just Another Day and Men in Suites get anywhere close to having an epic feel and these songs are pretty satisfying (could still have been better though). The best of the rest are Can You Smell Burning? with some truly great Hammond organ work and Mr Lonely with a first ever vocal by Wakeman - albeit being processed through a vocoder. Homage to the Doctor, a track dedicated to Robert Moog, is also good but his Moog solo goes on far too long (3 minutes) and doesn't sustain interest. The worst songs for me are Leave the Blindfold and The Stalker, both of which are pretty abysmal.

To top off the negatives he really should have used a better backing band, I guess these guys are old Wakeman cohorts and he uses them to keep the cost down but some of the tracks deserved better. Ashley Holt's vocals are excellent and Lee Pomeroy shines on bass occasionally, but the drums and guitar don't offer any real substance. There just isn't enough drive especially in the drum department.

As has been said in other reviews, expectation was high for this album, but for me it largely falls short of what I had hoped. To sum up a solid effort but lacks real imagination.

Report this review (#170305)
Posted Friday, May 9, 2008 | Review Permalink
1 stars Dear Santa Claus,

Mama said that I'm a good boy and behave very well this year. I hope you can give life to my wish, that is intended for the benefit of the fans of Mr. Rick Wakeman.

Ater filling our ears with tons of sh*t for more than 20 years mr. Wakeman decided to record an album with the good old sound of vintage keyboards. Lovely decision, but unfortunately he forgot to write decent music for this new project.

Santa, it's sad to say but we all know that besides live appearances and live recordings mr. Wakeman doesn't have anything more to say about music, specially in the vein of their classic ouputs from the Seventies. So I ask you and your friend mr. Jesus to help mr. Wakeman to give and record other gigs as his last in Hampton this year and never more record anything so dreadful in the studio. The promise of music with the sweet old tron and moog filled my heart with hope, but even the decent presentation of mr. Holt (different of what he delivered in the great bootleg from 2007 in Toronto) could save this record of being a huge disappointment. Another one in the last zillion albums mr. Wakeman had made since Criminal Record.

Thank you Santa. I give 5 stars to mr. Wakeman as a man and his past as a musician but a lonely one to this awful record.

Yours truly,


Report this review (#235117)
Posted Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Prog Specialist
4 stars When I read reviews of some post New Age Wakeman albums and people compare this albums with the ones of the early 70's, I can't do anything but laugh, of course the Wakeman of the 00's is not like the Wakeman of the 70's...Please, the music, musicians, audience, styles, moods of the 70's are not the ones of the 21st Century, not even the world is the same,so a musician must change and re-invent himself in order to survive.

Of course I consider the period between "Six Wives of Henry the VIII" and "Criminal Record", the peak of Wakeman's career, but RETRO is an excellent album for the new century, as the name implies he returns to his roots, and does it well, with outstanding melodies and pompous arrangements as we are used to.

The alum starts with the electronic intro of "Just Another Day" which leads to a beautiful Baroque passage and Ashley Holt vocals that sound unusually great on this album, the song has multiple changes with Rick playing extended and fluid keyboard passages in which he includes massive amounts of Mellotron and Moog plus the always effective support of that human metronome called Tony Fernandez, one of the most underrated drummers in history...What else can a Prog Lover ask for?

"Mr Lonely" is a weird electronic oriented song, not what you expect of the Cape Crusader, but a good innovation that proves he didn't got caught in the 70's cliche allowing his versatility to flow, of course the classical connection can always be found attached to the unusual performance, good change.

"One in the Eye" is a return to his usual sound, accuse him of arrogant or pompous, who cares, this wonderful excesses are one of the reason why I still listen Progressive Rock after 3 decades. Rick's ability to jump from Classic back to Baroque and forward to late Romantic, is impressive, he has changed with the years, but to be a more solid performer.

The intro of "Men in Suits" reminds me instantly of Vivaldi's delicacy and structured compositions, this time Rick Wakeman doesn't jump from styles, he concentrates in only one so his movements and changes are soft and structured, just brilliant. But that's not all, after a strong vocal passage by Ashley Holt, Rick takes us back in time playing a passage extremely close to "Merlin the Magician" but in a different mood, can't be more pleased by this moment.

"Leave the Blindfold" is probably the weakest track in the album, Jemma Wakeman adds good vocals to a soft and predictable track with some BEATLES aroma, not ,my cup of tea.

At this point, I caught the idea behind the album, seems like a trip across past stages of Rick's career and "Waveform" sounds close to "The Breathalyser" from "Criminal Record", but this time with enhanced brilliance and pomp.

Retrospective also brings us back some years, this time the song has a similar ,mood to "Return to the Centre of the Earth", even when softer and more gentle, followed by "Homage to the Doctor" more or less in the same vein, but now more martial and strong with magnificent Moog solos and organ performance plus a great touch adding Jemma and Ashley powerful vocals at the end.

"Can You Smell Burning?" is a real gem, that has everything, as usual the guy is a wizard with the Moog and the organ, taking us back to the "Six Wives of Henry the VIII" era, frenetic from start to end.

"Retro" is closed with "Stalker" a pompous song that seems to recapitulate everything done in this album with Ashley Holt giving one of his best performances ever, really solid sand the perfect complement for the epic sound of the track.

If you are one of the fans who believe Wakeman only wrote great music in the 70's, the solution is simple, go to the store and get new copies of "Journey", "Six Wives" and Myths & Legends", but if you have a wider vision and are ready to listen new material with a touch of the 70's, get RETRO, a really strong release hat I enjoyed almost completely.

Not a masterpiece, but a solid album for the 21st Century with hints of the past, no less than 4 very solid stars.

Report this review (#235528)
Posted Friday, August 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars Rick himself once said in an interview that if you notice the sounds as a standout, the the songs are probably substandard.

To make an album out of the sounds, unfortunately indicates that this material was not really 'top drawer' material and more stuff he could use and use fairly well.

Now before I sound like a total git, I will say that like any man whose spent the best part of three decades immersed in this music, the idea of 'Wakey on Hammond and Trons' gets my mouth watering. Full stop.

Add to that the other things, the timeless Minimoog, Electrapiano, and what-have-you, and there is a recipe for some seriously good sounding music. And thats what you get. The keyboards, quite frankly, sound so damn good that you can almost forgive anything.

Almost anything.

Unfortunately, Rick's sojourns with Black Sabbath and Ozzy over the years have introduced something rather unpalatable to his music, the lugubrious 4/4 guitar riff. It's on 'Return To The Centre Of The Earth', and it's (most horribly) on the new live 6 Wives DVD. But, it's also here.

Tony Fernandez is capable of providing some wonderful stuff, check out NO EARTHLY CONNECTION or and live recording from that era and you have some amazing drumming. But here, he pretty much rides the kit with as much enthusiasm for it as he'd ride the bus to work. It's all very simple, leaving the faster stuff to Wakeman and the horrible guitarist that likes Tony Iommi way too much.

Ashley Holt is sounding remarkable in his later years. Better than ever in fact, and some of his vocals are almost highlights. Just Another Day begins the album in good stead before the Ozzy-Riff bit ruins it. The mellotrons are gorgeous, the RMI takes me back to 73. One In The Eye and Waveform are basic, uninspired filler that occasionally rise above their mediocrity and provided a glimpse of their originator's brilliance before receeding again. Men In Suits is rather better as it uses the mellotron beautifully and the timing at the start is interesting. And it quotes Merlin The Magician.

Leave The Blindfold sounds like something Jon Anderson might have written, but not in a good way. And the parping polymoog brings back some rather unfortunate memories of the less palatable Tormato-era Yes keyboards.

Homage To The Doctor is simply horrible. Bob Moog deserved better. The whole thing sounds very uninspired with terribly cheesy lyrics.

Retrospective begins with a very classy bit that made me think 'How would it sound if Wakeman used these sounds on the next Yes album?', and the whole track is more of a highlight, although it's not as rhythmically exciting as one might hope.

Can you smell burning is great, marred only by the drumming of Fernandez, who fails to inject any form of accent into the track, and it's a great shame as the keyboard work is magnificent, and would have benefitted from something interesting in the rhythm section.

The stalker has horrible 80's keyboard sounds all over it and feels like a Lloyd-Webber musical number. Thats all I can say. Ashley Holt sings well, but the lyrics are pretty cringeworthy.

So, do the magnificent sounds manage to overcome the mediocrity of the material?


Report this review (#284668)
Posted Thursday, June 3, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars I was quite disappointed with this album - even when my expectations weren't very high in the first place. I have learned that Rick is not a great song-writer (or a composer at all) but that he can turn out his keyboard wizardry into a fairly enjoyable music. And usually he also sees the effort to avoid sounding always the same and having always the same atmosphere throughout his albums. Yes, he does so in this album too (the tracks vary from each other quite well). But the problem is, none of the tracks is a guaranteed winner, and the most of them are more or less stupid. What a wishful title Retro was... No, the music is not very 70's style, Yes-like symphonic or whatever you'd expect; the title refers to the used instruments. It came as a (bad) surprise that about half of the album features vocals. As I said, Rick is not a good song-writer.

Furthermore, I don't like either of the singers, Ashley Holt and Jemma Wakeman (his daughter). Ashley's manly vocals are a bit musical-like with too much vibrato and power; in this case "strong" is not a virtue. Some of the more proggy, longish tracks here would have been better without his vocals, for example the opener 'Just Another Day'. And Jemma is just an average young singer (I have a feeling that Country genre has lots of vocals in her style), who delivers mostly backing vocals, and lead vocals only on 'Leave The Blindfold', which is sadly one of the most useless tracks. Silly little staccato number with a melody part similar to the Beatles' 'Blackbird' line "you were only waiting for this moment to arise". The harmless song is only three minutes but once you've heard it there's no reason to listen to it ever again. But that's even a better case than with some of the other tracks that I got bored with within seconds. (A little remark on my listening habits in general: I don't waste my time with music I clearly dislike within its very beginning. Very rarely the music after its nasty beginning turns out to be something I like. Not even in Prog!) In Rick's case it's usually just silly sounds and the lack of "something to say" feeling. That is, the music just leaves me cold. Sometimes he can get away with it (the lack of emotional substance) by showing his virtuosity, but even in that department this album is not very strong.

I can't say that the whole album is crap. Of course 69 minutes of it include some nice moments too, but there's way too much below-average stuff going on.

Report this review (#471331)
Posted Tuesday, June 28, 2011 | Review Permalink

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