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Rick Wakeman - The Six Wives of Henry VIII CD (album) cover


Rick Wakeman


Symphonic Prog

4.09 | 834 ratings

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2 stars Style over Substance

I am in full agreement with Bryan and russelk on this one - this is an inconsistent album, full of highly decorated, very simple ideas with no compositional substrata to hold it all together or produce any kind of dynamic ebb and flow.

It's also highly derivative, and the bedrock of the music is simple chord progressions underlying repetitive groove-rock jams, with many, many moments of self-indulgent noodling and some flashy bluff based on one or two motivic ideas taken from classical music - certain pieces standing out shamelessly.

That said, it is not an altogether unpleasant listen - easily the best solo album (inverted commas!) that I've heard from Rick. Mind you, the only other one I've heard is the follow-up to this, which is quite dreadful.

There are moments when the music is engaging, and other moments where the music is proggy in style and good fun, and this is quite evenly balanced with moments of cheesey sounds and meandering nonsense, working out at a 3 star rating overall - mainly due to the strong Prog connections rather than any sense of progressiveness in the music.

However, after reviewing, I realised that 3 stars was just being too generous - I cannot bring myself to say that this is a good album. It has a few good moments and that is all.

PiIing in straight away with something that sounds a little ELP light, with a large helping of Mike Oldfield thrown in for good measure - and hints of Bach's famous Toccata in D minor, the music insinutates that it will drop us into something really heavy, then spectacularly fails to deliver - wimping out instead.

Catherine of Aragon continues with this Bach theme, overlaid with Oldfield type sounds and underpinned by Chris Squier's unmistakable bass sound, but does not develop it, instead, it dives off onto a completely different tack, with a nasty squelchy Moog underneath some more pleasant sounds - then abandons this completely for a gospel piano driven section, quite strongly reminiscent of The Great Gig in the Sky.

This in turn is abandoned for some reasonable piano bluff, then back to what I shall call the Toccata theme before ending lamely.

Anne of Cleves begins with something that could have come from a Hawkwind track - it's much darker than the earlier music, and the Hammond adds a nice texture. This all collapses into some dischordant nastiness before moving on to an ELP styled repetitive riff.

I think that's all the basic elements covered - we move on through repetitive funky/boogie riffs and aimless, smudgy noodling, through simple, repeated ideas and more noodling, which produce a reasonably compelling jam section before it all descends into noise, and an apparently detuned church organ.

Watch out for the guitar solo, which has to be the most horrible one I've ever heard - and, surprisingly, Steve Howe has put his name to it. Nigel Tufnel would have been PROUD of this one in it's we-are-not-worthy awfulness. And I'm not exaggerating.

Catherine Howard begins with a theme I've heard very recently on Clouds' 1971 album, Scrapbook - and it dawns on me that this entire album seems to be a kind of dumbed-down interpretation of what Clouds were doing years before!

A couple of arpeggiated piano ideas are presented, and these are picked up by what sounds like a guitar, but could be an electric banjo for all I know. The dreaded squelchy Moog returns - and I guess that this sound is a matter of taste, but I despise both it, and the repetitive themes.

Again, we are hit with tangential idea after tangential idea, even going into a kind of wacky hoedown kind of thing, which has me glancing longingly at the Skip button.

Some semi-interesting ideas and some horribly dischordant ideas follow this, before the 1st Clouds idea returns - although this is a highly simplified almost nursery-rhyme version of this melody. The underlying harmony is far simpler, and shifts syrupilly over a bass pedal, before the SAME melody is represented on the flute. This repetition only serves to make me wish it would go away, or at least develop (read Progress) a bit.

Jane Seymour returns to Bach's Toccata in D minor, taking phrase fragments from that great work and reducing them to something altogether more horrible.

The organ picks up, then the harpsichord, throwing phrase fragments backwards and forwards - with some quite impressive speed in the runs, but again, no sense of underlying harmonic rhythm and phrasing, just a sense of what comes across as dramatic in a showy and blustery way.

The constant return to the suspension, obvious bluff and careless modulations indicate a complete lack of craft in a manner whose audacity suprises me - people actually paid good money for this?

Anne Boleyn is more of the same but different really - the precise and fast runs are technically impressive, but the composition is annoyingly cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof, with idea after idea being tossed about in what seems to be an attempt to hide any overall grasp of the basics of composition by flummoxing the audience with lots of different ideas and sounds.

Catherine Parr seems like a continuation of Anne Boleyn with added Hammond, using a similar falling chord progression to open, then going off at a massive and quite unpleasant tangent into a 2 chord noodle-fest.

Grieg's Peer Gynt is occasionally dipped into - you know, the one famous theme that everyone knows, but apart from that and a few changes with frilly bits, another vacuous composition to end the album with.

When I first heard this album, I quite liked bits of it. Having sat down and listened really hard in order to evaulate its qualities in terms of Progressive Rock, I find it very lacking - but it's not as bad as the follow-up; The Knights of the Round Table, because the awful bits really are not quite as awful here.

If you're a fan of Rick's music, then it's an obvious one to have, as it's the highest rated by fans.

If you're a fan of Progressive music, then I would advise a single hearing only. The payback on repeated hearings simply isn't worth it - this is not quality music. Frankly, the esteem with which this album is more widely held is quite astonishing to me.

Viva la difference!

Certif1ed | 2/5 |


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