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Rick Wakeman - Softsword CD (album) cover


Rick Wakeman


Symphonic Prog

3.26 | 39 ratings

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3 stars Rick Wakeman teaches history

Anyone who has attempted to venture outside Rick's most popular period (1973- 1977) knows very well that his solo discography is vast and wildly inconsistent. While exploring his 80's and 90's output you only occasionally hit upon a good album among many quite poor and boring albums. I think that no one (including Rick himself) can deny that he very often put quantity over quality. However, this 1991 effort is one of those rare instances where he made a good album once again. Though I haven't yet heard all of Rick's albums (who has anyway?), I am quite sure that Softsword (at the time of its release) was one of his best albums since the 1984 album that was released in 1981 - ten years before this one!

Softsword is apparently a concept album about King John, the king of England who signed the Magna Carta. King John was given the nickname 'John Softsword' because he lost a lot of wars (?). (I would have known none of these things if it wasn't for this album). The historic theme and references to kings of old might make you think of the classic The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table album. And while this is not entirely inappropriate it might push up expectations a bit too much - this is not another Arthur, or if it is, it is an adult contemporary version of Arthur with both progressive and New-Age influences.

The album begins with a 12 minute epic about the Magna Charter. This is one of Rick's most progressive pieces of music since the mid 70's. It has a strong chorus and some unexpected twists and turns. Chrissie Hammond handles all the vocals of the album, and I must say that she does a great job on this album. She sounds much better on this album than on any of the other Wakeman albums I've heard her sing on. She sounds a bit like a young man! Apart from Magna Charter, the best of the vocal tracks are The Siege and Hymn Of Hope. These two songs have a bit more of a rock edge to them due to the presence of electric guitars and a slightly heavier organ sound. The Siege is similar in style to Magna Charter and here Chrissie Hammond sounds even more like a man, is it really her singing?

There are also several shorter instrumentals of this album; Battle Sonata, Rochester Collage, March Of Time, Isabella and the title track all belong to this category. Mostly these instrumentals functions as interludes and helps a lot to make the album varied and interesting throughout. There is a perfect mix between vocal and instrumental material. Of the instrumentals, Isabella is the best one in its own right; this is Wakeman as we know him, or as we want to know him anyway.

Apparently, Don't Fly Away/After Prayers was released as a single. And these two songs are indeed the most commercial sounding and least progressive ones, but they are not examples of selling out. Rick himself claims to be particularly fond of After Prayers. I'm not too impressed myself, it is not much more than a good soft power ballad.

Despite some imperfections this album holds together pretty well and it has several nice moments.

SouthSideoftheSky | 3/5 |


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