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Rick Wakeman - No Earthly Connection CD (album) cover


Rick Wakeman


Symphonic Prog

3.76 | 260 ratings

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5 stars Before He Became a New Age Pensioner

Where to start?

Pompous, overblown, pretentious, bombastic, overwrought, egotistical, unwieldy and self indulgent.

These are just some of the perfectly justifiable barbs that could be hurled at No Earthly Connection but for reasons which I cannot begin to understand even after all the intervening years, it somehow manages to surmount all my habitual objections and be...unfailingly brilliant.

Musical ideas this good prove to be resilient to any manner of stylistic interpretation be it in bad OR good taste and Wakeman certainly displays a healthy disregard for both on this record. It is perhaps his own very powerful and sometimes 'difficult' personality that is imbued in the arrangements but not the compositions themselves that might go some way towards explaining the contradiction between the sublime message and the unsavory messenger.

Every track is top notch and there is never a lull or dip in the excitement throughout the whole 40 minutes.

The intro, utilising a dizzying number of multi-tracked monophonic Minimoogs, is one of those Prog soundbites that you wish were on an oxygen powered loop forever. But relax, it is reprised later on in the piece.

Ashley Holt's larynx must be twice the size of a small Balkan republic and he has one of those 'trained' voices that could conceivably puncture a spacesuit or divert a charging rhino, such is its power and dynamic range. Together with the repugnantly named 'English Rock Ensemble' he hollers with inimitable brio, his usual brand of panto villain melodramatics. The melodies and songs are of such high calibre however, that they survive this artifice and you can just tell that Mr Holt is having loads of fun in the process.

I do think it significant that the 'Ensemble' do not employ a string section, as this gives their brass only parts a 'bite' and rock energy that the addition of bowed instruments would perhaps mollify. What parts there are that may have been suitable for strings appear to be covered by Rick's organ and mellotron.

Much use is made by Wakeman of his trusty clavinet on these numbers and he proves once again to be one of the few keyboard giants who can approach 'funky' without embarrassing either himself or his listeners.

The 'portamento' effect available on the Moog (where the attack portion of the note is left out and you bend quickly into the next one) is perhaps a real Wakeman trademark and there are plenty of instances here where his mastery of this type of soloing is unmatched.

His piano playing is also equally distinctive, particularly on those sections where he appropriates those very fast arpeggios and trills found in some early medieval harpsichord music to great effect.

If I had one reservation it would be that although Newell's bass and Fernandez drums are both uniformly excellent, they don't appear to mesh or meld together in the way that other rhythm sections do.

Just an observation, not really a criticism. I have noticed this also on previous Wakeman solo albums where they seem to be 'divorced' from each other and not necessarily functioning as a single dynamic unit.

I will not comment on the faintly risible concept supposedly behind the album as I can invariably see in my mind's eye Wakeman's wry grin from behind his arsenal of keyboards when the gregorian choir chant:

He heard an astral choir

There is more than a glint in Rick's eye for many of the lyrical aspects of his solo work and it would be foolhardy to take such utterances too seriously. I am sure that Rick would be the first to admit that he is an entertainer first and an artist second.

In lesser hands this record could have resembled 'Jesus Christ Superstar' played by the Trumpton Infants School Orchestra but somehow Rick Wakeman has gelled an appalling potpourri of stylistic excesses into a progressive rock masterpiece.

The man is either a genius or luckier than a mosquito in a nudist colony

(Where to start?)

ExittheLemming | 5/5 |


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