Reviews by Ben Jordan

Reviews by Ben Jordan

Review of Journey to the Centre of the Earth submitted on 29th January 1999

Journey is a masterpiece - a great fusion of 70's rock, orchestra and choir that stands out far apart from the music of that decade, and indeed the decades since. A concept album, based on the Jules Verne epic, told with great panache and atmosphere. I'd be lying if I said it didn't at times strongly evoke the time it was made, but why should age detract from enjoyability? You can criticise this album for sounding dated (and everyone's opinion is fair enough), but I wasn't even alive when it came out and it doesn't bother me at all. Indeed, it is precisely this which makes it even more unique today - you won't get anything that compares to this now (unless perhaps it was produced by Rick!) The vocals I feel required artists of a deeper timbre, though the narrator's voice and delivery is spot on. Listen to this and you'll know why Rick felt was worth making a sequel. A true classic.

Review of The Myths & Legends of King Arthur & The Knights of the Round Table submitted on 29th January 1999

The King Arthur album is another triumph for the greatest ivory-tickler in the world. Another concept album, with a stirring opener which attempts quite well to provide a medieval-meets-modern musical blend. However for me it is 'Merlin' which truly defines the album, with its melodic precision and stylisic fusion - with a madcap honkytonk interlude. I saw Rick play this track on a video of a 1975 Australian concert and you can't help but marvel at the man's gift, which for me 'Merlin' perfectly demonstrates. The other tracks are good too, but not in the same league as 'Merlin' and 'Arthur'. And the vocals are again too weak for my liking (as with Journey), but don't let that put you off - a worthwhile addition to your collection.

Review of Live at Hammersmith submitted on 27th July 1999

Here you will find out what Rick's classic works sounded like in 1985, as played to a live audience. Represented is a medley from the King Arthur album, 6 Wives Of Henry VIII, and a very watered-down version of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, all usin

Review of Return To The Centre Of The Earth submitted on 27th July 1999

In an age inundated with computer riff-driven musician wannabes, it's like a breath of fresh air to hear this album. With each soothing electrical note, Rick imparts his soul into his creation, and in so doing makes a serious mockery of the others, who re

Review of The Very Best of the Rick Wakeman Chronicles Video submitted on 29th December 2002

Although originally hailing from Australia, I'm too young to have seen Rick when he did perform Down Under, so this video for me is perhaps a bit of compensation for that. It was also the only live performance of Rick I'd ever seen, and the warm atmosphere of the set, punctuated by Rick's enjoyable anecdotes (such as what it was like to play in Japan with vocalists unable to pronounce the phoneme /r/!), really make the proceedings a pleasant thing to watch. It's great to put faces to names, and to see, for example, Mr Pickford Hopkins and Mr Holt being the great prog rock stars of the time that they were, rather than simply hearing them. Being able to see it all really brings to one the 'feel' of the era. We fans do think of Rick's greatest works to be timeless, but it doesn't hurt sometimes to view them as products of the era in which they were made. Of course, if you were alive then, it's a nice nostalgia trip too. And there's also the joy of the obviously very satisfied Melbourne crowd which is pleasing. In the end though, this is all about the performance itself. When I first got the video, I'd yet to hear the Henry VIII and King Arthur albums, and was thus judging their renditions here afresh. Although sounding quite melodic and interesting, I enjoy far more the original studio versions I have since heard. Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn, for example, are simply not the wonderful haunting mood pieces that I would later hear on the studio album, but there's no flaw in the way they are played here. I think the problem is because the actual sound is a bit flat. No criticism of the performers, it's the recording itself. With today's recording equipment, this concert would no doubt have stood out even better, and of course it would've been in stereo. It is however a great joy to watch Rick play Merlin, especially the keyboard solos. With his hands dancing over not just one, but two keyboards at once, it seriously demonstrates what a talented man this guy is, in even his early days. I listened to the Journey suite with a very critical ear, as it was something I'd listened to repeatedly as far back as I can remember even existing, and I knew it off by heart. Initially, I wasn't so impressed, again I think because of the sound quality. Journey also suffers because without the backing of a proper choir and orchestra, it lacks the sheer power and resonance that made me completely at one with the music and oblivious to my surroundings everytime I heard the original as a child. With repeated listenings, I find myself being more charitable to even the sound quality here, and appreciating all that is on offer for being a different interpretation to the original albums. This would continue later when I listened to the same tracks played on the Live In Hammersmith album, and finding that although markedly different, and scaled-down, there was something about these versions that made me appreciate them for what they were. Why should they have to reproduce the originals note for note? One thing that irked me though was Terry Taplin. Sorry, but David Hemmings was THE man for that job, and Terry's voice is too high and lacks any weight to be taken seriously, though he does nonetheless really throw himself into it. I have also found that plugging the vcr (or vtr) into the stereo system's speakers really helps. I recommend this video despite it's faults for the chance to see Rick live in his heyday, especially if you never had the chance to do that in person. It's also worthy since it allows us to hear what the 3 most popular albums sounded like when played live at the time they were made. It's worth buying if you really like these 3 albums, and enjoy listening to all the different permutations of them. Yes, I've waffled on about the sound quality a lot ^^, but in the end, it's the visuals that you ought to get The Rick Wakeman Chronicles for.

Review of In The Beginning submitted on 29th December 2002

Put simply, Nina Wakeman giving narrated highlights (in sequence) of the Christian Bible (as opposed to the Catholic, Mormon, Methodist Bibles, etc), accompanied by a simple, uncomplicated soundtrack of Rick Wakeman on keyboards, essentially his new age style. There are no instrumentals, but moments where Nina pauses before reading another verse/book, where you can hear music only. You don't absolutely HAVE to be a Christian to like this album. I can say this because I'm an atheist, and I'm perfectly comfortable to sit and listen to it. I've always felt that even if you are completely unreligious, the Bible is nonetheless the most influential text ever in human history (in the Western World at least), and that makes it a book worth paying at least some attention to, if only for it's historical perspective. Sitting here, listening to Nina's very clear enunciation, accompanied by Mr Wakeman's practised hand is a very nice way to do it. If there is anything you have to be in order to listen to this album, it's that you have to like Rick's new age music. This is a far cry from the albums that he is known for. It isn't prog rock, or even rock, so if that's what you want, this isn't the place to find it. It's laid-back early 90's synth. I don't assume that even if you are religious, you'd automatically appreciate this album. After all, you're here because you're a Wakeman fan, so again, it could well depend on your appreciation of this electronic-only work. I can't see myself playing this too often, as another reviewer said, but it's not bad. I don't need Rick to be a prog rock musician all the time, but it is what made me get into his music in the first place, starting with Journey, and this is a world apart from that. This is not the music or even the playing which made Rick famous. It isn't complex, experimental multi-textured lines of anti-mainstream sound that made us recognise him for a virtuoso in his own right. But Rick is a diverse player, and thus it gave him longevity. This album was deliberate meant for a quite specific audience, and was thus not ever intended to please every Wakeman afficionado. My only criticism of In The Beginning is that I feel Nina's voice drowns out the music a bit too much. It should've been mixed in such a way that the narration and backing music seem more a part of each other, rather than sounding like one layer added to another. Apart from that, not too bad for what it's meant to be.

Review of Cirque Surreal submitted on 26th January 2003

Rick goes to the circus! I've never seen Cirque Surreal, but the music does seem to convey that kind of circus atmosphere, something to accompany feats of daring, constantly active performance that you would expect. Wings Of Fortune and Static seem to convey this to me most strongly, with that carnival-like organ playing. I must freely admit I don't know much about keyboards, but at least one used here sounds exactly the same as that used in Return To The Centre Of The Earth (only 4 years between them after all), and so I was sometimes reminded of that album, especially during the songs on Cirque Surreal. I'm afraid that the songs here did little for me. They don't sound bad, but they don't stand out. To put it another way, if this had been the first RW album I'd ever heard, I would've concluded "Stick to the instrumentals Rick, that's where you shine so well." Of course I do know better, and he has written some great songs, from Guinevere to Still Waters Run Deep. But that greatness does not shine here for me. As I intimated though, the instrumentals are excellent. It probably comes as no surprise then that my favourites on Cirque Surreal are devoid of lyric, they being the aforementioned Wings Of Fortune, Static, and the final track, The Jig. The Jig is wonderfully upbeat, and sounds like modern day Celtic folk music. It's a perfect finale to the album. Overall, I think Cirque Surreal should appeal to those of you that liked Return To The Centre Of The Earth. It isn't the same huge production, but Rick and his band are so pumped up here, it doesn't need to be. There are definitely at least a few tracks here that deserve to stand out up among the greats.

Review of Phantom Power submitted on 28th March 2011

Phantom Power essentially presents the musical highlights to the new score Rick provided Universal in 1989 when they decided to update the 1925 adaptation of Phantom Of The Opera starting Lon Chaney for a modern audience. If the purists weren’t already offended by the colour tinting added to the ensuing drama, the wholly un-traditional score would have had them in fits of apoplexy. Not only do we get Rick’s contemporary keyboard motifs, but actual songs in both the rock genre and more operatic entries in between. These in turn are brought to life by long-time stalwarts of the Wakeman sound Ashley Holt, Chrissie Hammond and opera tenor Ramon Ramedios, with their respective talent really broadening the scope of the production.
Holt, for example, lends his powerful lungs to the production’s excellent opening number, The Visit, as well as wonderful moody pieces like Evil Love. Romance is of course what Phantom is all about and much of its musical commentary is expressed through Hammond’s contrasting tones, from the poppy Fear Of Love to the slow and reflective You Can’t Buy Me Love. There is indeed a lot of love in this soundtrack! Ramon Ramedios unsurprisingly fits into the endeavour extremely well, being the one vocalist Andrew Lloyd Webber might have used in his melodramatic musical, and often appearing to great effect on many a Wakeman album of the period. His incredible range and commanding voice brilliantly illustrate many moods throughout the film, from professions of undying affection in The Love Trilogy to a mob with burning torches pursuing the fleeing Erik through the streets of Paris in the fittingly-titled Rock Pursuit.
And of course there’s the keyboardist himself, ably shifting not only through the musical genres but of course interpreting the action on screen. Since there are actual songs in the score, only some of the music is interpretive and entirely in-sync with the action, The Sand Dance being the stand-out example on the album. With Phantom Power being only part of the score, it doesn’t contain much of the incidental music one can hear while watching the real thing. This makes for a much tighter album in its own right and therefore a great listen on its own terms. Credit must also go to D’zal Martin, whose guitar work can also be heard on another of my favourite Wakeman albums, African Bach, and of course Tony Fernandez who needs no introduction.
Indeed to borrow from African Bach for a moment, my two main criticisms of Rick’s Phantom score are that it is sometimes a) “born out of time”, which is to say that over two decades on, thanks to the rapid progress of electronic music, what was once an attempt to be a bang up-to-date contemporary reinterpretation of the film is to modern ears an anachronism; and b) “out of place”, in that much as I love the songs, by their nature, they don’t sync up with the action causing a feeling of disconnect – they are thematic and could appear anywhere. Nonetheless, the first is certainly no-one’s fault and the second entirely a matter of taste. Overall, I enjoy the music immensely and it is now as much a part of Phantom Of The Opera as a certain 1974 concept album is synonymous with a certain Jules Verne novel. Alternative soundtracks are a lot of fun and who else would you want to put a new creative spin on an old classic than Rick Wakeman?
To get a proper sense of what he achieved back in 1990, I do strongly recommend you track down the Universal film. That, after all, is what it was all about and only then do you really get the context of the project. At the same time however, the album stands as a classic in its own right and certainly simply having a familiarity with the story will bring it all to life.

Review of Piano Vibrations submitted on 6th September 2011

While understandably not officially counted by Rick himself (see above), Piano Vibrations is an interesting time capsule for the fans. It's a snapshot of a jobbing young musician on the cusp of fame - indeed the reason Pye rather misguidedly released it in the first place - and being also a collection of period pop tunes, is not at all painful to listen to. Indeed, the early 70s instruments and production only gives it a more distinct character with the passage of time, as does the lack of a lead vocalist! Standout tracks include 'Yellow Man' and the perennial go-to track, 'Classical Gas'. By no means a classic, devoid of any original compositions, and a desperately foolhardy attempt to cash in on the world's greatest keyboard player - one that is sure to raise a groan or two from Mr. Wakeman whenever it's mentioned in his presence - Piano Vibrations is nonetheless an enjoyable 'historical document' for those of us who've been with him ever since.

Review of Rock n Roll Prophet Plus submitted on 12th September 2011

Although guaranteeing the original Rock ‘N’ Roll Prophet a wider audience than it had upon first release, the Plus edition is for me a bit of a mish-mash. One could argue that the title alone is already a strange marriage to the music – the collection of quirky songs and lighthearted keyboard instrumentals is as far removed from rock as it’s possible to be – but that attempt at humour and the original 1979 production values at least gave Rock ‘N’ Roll Prophet a cohesiveness. The addition of four extra tracks on Plus sound exactly like what they are – the Rick of 12 years later and not conceived in the same mindset. And it’s the lighthearted oddity of the album that makes it so enjoyable. This is delivered chiefly through vocal tracks ‘I’m So Straight I’m A Weirdo’ (watch the music video if you can), ‘Maybe ‘80’ (I *love* this song), and ‘Do You Believe In Fairies?’ While Mr. Wakeman would be the first to admit singing isn’t his forte, his untrained efforts are perfectly-suited to the lighthearted madness of the songs – and since Prophet is a one-off, add to the novelty value of the album. The instrumentals don’t quite match the entertainment value of the songs, but there are nonetheless some pleasing efforts on board – ‘Dark’ and ‘Early Warning’ being two key examples. Of the Plus additions, ‘March Of The Child Soldiers’ and ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Prophet’ are my favourites. That they don’t match the originals is not to say they aren’t any good, only that it would have worked better as the Rock ‘N’ Roll Prophet equivalent of White Rock II, ie – if Rick had gone all the way and produce a second album of new tracks. Indeed, if he ever again feels like going “off the wall” as he describes above, I for one would love to hear it. ‘Maybe ‘(20)18’, anyone?