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Rick Wakeman - No Earthly Connection CD (album) cover


Rick Wakeman


Symphonic Prog

3.74 | 242 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars There are two factors that prompt me to rate this slightly higher (it's still a ***, but I'd almost rate it a ****) than the better known 'classics' before it. The first is that, in a return to Six Wives form, Rick doesn't bother to incorporate an orchestra, instead relying on his seven-man "English Rock Ensemble." This is for the best: for all of his grandiose ambitions, Rick just didn't have the skills to come up with interesting melodies and arrangements for 50-odd instruments, and he was better off attempting his classical-rock fusions on a smaller scale. The second is that, unlike the easily understood but extremely banal topics that made up the previous albums, this album's theme makes absolutely no sense. Critics of the day tended to note that Rick had seemingly gone completely off his rocker with this album's concept, and I agree with them, but given the choice between a topic that makes me roll my eyes and one that makes me cross my eyes, I'll take the latter any time.

And doggone it, I like the actual music. The vocals are terrible, as usual, but underneath the sheen of pompous keyboard-driven self-importance are a bunch of well-written melodies (with one theme that pops up repeatedly on the first side), an acceptable level of diversity in terms of style and vibe, and a nice assortment of keyboard sounds and creative production techniques (it's hard to have a great deal of ire towards an album where the sound of a waterfall is simulated by having a dozen men urinate at once). The only track on the album that doesn't do anything for me is the closer, "The Lost Cycle," which I find a bit lacking in substance given the level of pomp, while everything else has something likable. "The Warning" is driven by a fascinatingly odd sounding wah-wah effect in the guitars, which combine with the drums in such a way as to create the closest thing to funk you will ever hear on a Rick Wakeman album (that is to say, it's not funky at all, but it momentarily fools my brain into thinking it is). "The Maker" has an extremely lovely theme dominated by horns and piano (with synths coming in over time), with a "music of my soooooul" line that pops up repeatedly and is the best idea on the album. With some better vocals, I don't see any reason why this wouldn't have worked as a decent single to lure in some of the fans that were starting to abandon him around this time.

"The Spaceman" (which begins with the aforementioned urine waterfall) combines beauty and absolute art-rock cheese in a way I enjoy despite my dignity (the "chorus" is great). "The Realization" almost sounds like it could have fit in on Jesus Christ Superstar (with different lyrics, of course) without a great deal of reworking, which is a compliment. "The Reaper" combines a decent theme with a creepy stretch where various themes from the rest of the first side fade in and out under Rick's synth grumblings, which I guess symbolizes the protagonist dying and having flashbacks. Plus, the side begins with a five minute 'overture,' which has some terrible vocals but which also introduces a number of the better themes that come later (plus, it starts off with that cool, albeit extremely dated, sequence of synth tones, which later come back during "The Reaper"). All in all, then, the first side is a lot of fun if you don't mind a lot of pretense in your music. It's nowhere near perfect, but it's a decent way to kill twenty-odd minutes.

The first of the two second half tracks, "The Prisoner," loses me a bit, as Rick's attempt to 'menace' up the sound is a little laughable, but it still has its charms. I mean, it does have that "YOU SHALL HANG" bit, with Rick bringing out the harpsichord for its best appearance since "Siberian Khatru." That doesn't change that its seven minute length could be cut down to three without difficulty, or that this is the point where listening to Ashley starts to really wear on me, but it's not terrible.

The album, then, deserves a pretty decent dose of credit. Of course, it should still be mocked on the principal that Rick left a band that he felt was too pretentious, only to set out and make albums like this, but the mocking should be slight. The chances that you'll ever find this album for a decent price on CD are rather low, but if you have a way to acquire this in a way that won't set you back terribly, I'd definitely recommend giving it a listen.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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