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Rick Wakeman - Journey To The Centre Of The Earth CD (album) cover


Rick Wakeman


Symphonic Prog

3.73 | 349 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
1 stars Not even the most forgiving of rose-colored memories can salvage this relic of Progressive Rock's golden age, starring keyboard maestro Rick Wakeman (resplendent in white-caped, full-Prog plumage) live in concert alongside the London Symphony Orchestra and English Chamber Choir. Yes, I know a lot of fans still regard it as a five-star classic, but when revisited in the harsh glare of 20-20 hindsight (for me, after more than thirty years) the album survives only as one of the more prominent nails sealing the coffin Prog was buried in at the end of the 1970s.

I honestly don't have any problems with the concept, tacky though it was, even then (musically the album does for Jules Verne what Hollywood showman Cecil B. DeMille did for the Old Testament in his 1956 Technicolor guilty pleasure "The Ten Commandments"). Nor do I take issue with the narration by David Hemmings, although it eats up more than nine minutes of a forty minute performance (do the math: that's almost one-quarter of the entire album!).

No, it's the execution that stinks. By 1974 the cycle of symphonic / rock collaborations had long since run its course, and Wakeman adds nothing new to a novelty already exhausted years earlier by THE MOODY BLUES, PINK FLOYD, DEEP PURPLE, THE NICE, and even the pre-Wakeman YES (among many others, and most of it circa 1970). Perhaps the results might have been different if Wakeman had actually enlisted members of YES for his backing band, because the second-rate rockers here can't hope to compete with the LSO: listen to the uncertain timing of the supposedly dramatic bass ostinato nine minutes into "Part One", or the boilerplate funk workout four minutes later.

The keyboard wizard's unimaginative synthesizer patches don't help either, spoiling more than one episode (for example the heroic orchestral fanfare opening the album) with what sounds like the buzz of an improperly grounded electrical circuit. The musical low point, however, is an unexpected quotation from Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King", the sort of instantly recognizable musical non-sequitur best left to featherweight classical rockers like the ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA.

Charity forbids me from even mentioning the actual songs, except to quote a more or less representative lyric, in this case from "The Journey", sung with all the heartfelt conviction of a Karen Carpenter ballad:

"Roped as one for safety through the long descent, Into the crater of volcanic rock they went..."

Pure poetry, that. And it reaches a nadir at the nine-minute mark of "Part Two", when the clearly overtaxed vocalist croons in ascending off-key flatness: "Journey on through ages gone, to the center of the Earth..!"

Thirty years ago my high school Proghead friends and I laughed at the overwrought theatrics, but the instrumental passages made it worthwhile at the time. Well, even that silver lining has tarnished over the years, and badly. Maybe it's true: you can't go home again. But on the evidence of this ambitious but lead-footed clunker, why would you want to?

Neu!mann | 1/5 |


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