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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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4 stars I eagerly bought the LP when it was released in 1973 and was not disappointed: lots of keyboards, including the synth sound I liked so much. The concept of an album about Henry 8th's wives is clever, although the order of the tracks does not match the order of the marriages (not that it matters), which was: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard and Katherine Parr.

Quite a lot of the music does have a medieval feel to it, thus in keeping with the concept. In the album's liner notes WAKEMAN states that the style of music may not always be in keeping with each wife's individual history but it is his personal conception of their characters in relation to keyboard instruments. With the exception of Track 2 ('Anne of Cleves'), which to me sounds absolutely nothing like her character (my vision of her is a quiet, unsophisticated, somewhat dowdy person), I think WAKEMAN has not done a bad job of representing musically the women.

The 1st track ('Catherine of Aragon') does bring to my mind an intelligent, strong willed, pious woman.

The 2nd track ('Anne of Cleves') doesn't sound to me at all like my image of Anne of Cleves: it is upbeat, boppy, fast tempo music, much more like my image of Kathryn Howard, or perhaps Anne Boleyn. Nevertheless it's a good track musically; a little jazzy in places, in other places quite a rock feel: prominent guitar and drums.

The 3rd track ('Catherine Howard') is a good track: a calm piano intro with a simple but very pleasing almost hymnal tune leading into a more boppy middle part with synth sounding quite majestic, followed by a stretch of pure honky tonk piano before slowing down again. The whole thing does bring to mind a vivacious young woman, although towards the end it sounds a bit too laid back to fit my image of Kathryn Howard; she flirted with the younger men of the court (perhaps even going further), which was her downfall, and the track does not bring out that side of her enough. Although this track is quite a good fit, I think the 2nd track would almost have been a better fit.

The 4th track ('Jane Seymour') is a very church organ sounding piece - which I like very much - and sounds very medieval. It's a great track: the church organ playing some high then deep, deep notes. By the way, it's a real church organ from St. Giles Church in Cripplegate. Then there's some synth over the organ - bliss for organ and synth fans. WAKEMAN's writing and keyboard skills are very evident on this track. The only question mark in my mind is whether the track reflects the calm, gentle demeanor that apparently characterised Jane Seymour. In some ways it does - the church organ and harpsichord giving that feel of stability and calm - but the very calm piano intro and catchy tune of Track 3 (Catherine Howard) would almost have been a better fit to the woman in my opinion.

The 5th track ('Anne Boleyn') starts with a laid-back barroom piano (beautiful tune) and then ups tempo and flits about, bops for a while and then settles back down to piano. The piano is very good in this track, and gives it a sophisticated feel, perhaps like my vision of Anne Boleyn, who was fluent in French (having attended two French queens for several years) and liked French clothes, poetry and music. She held off Henry's amorous advances for several years and so must have been quite a shrewd woman, but her temper and sharp tongue are perhaps not brought out enough in this track. Her failure to produce a male child was her undoing. Overall, WAKEMAN's interpretation of the woman feels reasonable.

The 6th track ('Catherine Parr') is generally quite boppy, with some fast keyboard work in places, although it is quite a 'stable' track and fits somewhat - although not as well as I would have liked - with the image of the well educated, sensitive and caring Katherine Parr, twice widowed before marrying Henry, and the daughter of a modest country squire. She apparently soothed Henry's temper, nursed him and brought the family together. She arranged good tutors for Henry's children and they apparently saw her as a stabilising mother figure. These traits do come out in some places in the track, but perhaps not enough. As for the music itself, there is a good basic melody and some nice touches: I like the short peel of bells in the middle of the track.

Overall the music is good, and the concept excellent, but perhaps WAKEMAN's execution of the concept was not as good as it could have been. That said, it's still a classic of progressive rock in my opinion, and much, much better than his subsequent "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth" and "The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table". As my evidence of this, I finally bought the CD a few years ago to replace my long-gone LP, but did not bother to replace the other two. Putting the concept to one side, my only criticism of the music is that it is slightly souless, 'clinical' even. It seems to lack the warmth of YES' music when WAKEMAN played with them, or of PATRICK MORAZ's solo efforts. When I listen to the album I come away feeling that I have been through a session of heavy concentration and don't feel 'lifted' by the music, as I normally do if I have just listened to most other progressive rock music. But perhaps that's what WAKEMAN was aiming for: something heavier and more substantial than his previous music. However, I should say that this album does not strike me as being pretentious in any way. Ironically, I think this album would have been better as a live performance.

The rating of this album is a real conundrum: part of me says that it only deserves 3 stars (Good, but non-essential) but I felt compelled to buy the CD many years after having disposed of the LP, hankering to hear it again, and I do dig it out and play it from time to time and enjoy the sophistication of the music, and the keyboards. I do think that it should be part of any prog rock collection, so 4 stars it has to be.

Fitzcarraldo | 4/5 |


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