The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Rick Wakeman) - 1973 A&M Records
Best song: Catherine Of Aragon
(Good / Mediocre)
Best song: Catherine Of Aragon
Rick Wakeman's first solo album is usually considered his best, but it's an album that I don't especially love. Don't get me wrong, I find it basically enjoyable, and some parts are great. Rick is, of course, an absolutely phenomenal keyboardist (if one of often dubious taste), and it's interesting to hear him essentially have a whole album to himself. The thing is, though, I can't quite call this album that much more than interesting, and even then it's only from a "scientific" perspective at times. To put it another way, a Rick Wakeman solo passage can be absolutely stunning and breathtaking - but only in small quantities, maybe five minutes at a time. After all, melodies are not the point of this album - it's arrangments and the way Rick attacks his keyboards.
Naturally, some passages are fairly entertaining. The opening track, "Catherine of Aragon," has all of the 'classic Yes' members playing on it (except Anderson, of course), and was even briefly displayed on Yessongs. It actually has a very interesting main theme, simultaneously complex and somewhat catchy. It is truly quite enthralling the way Rick winds his way through passages of varying speed, mood and intensity, making them flow almost seamlessly into one another. Plus, his pallette of keys on the track is highly diversified, so there are plenty of interesting tones to be found. There's even some nice, pleasant humming/chanting on the part of some backing vocalists, and they help further establish the number as a minor classic.
The rest of the album, though, seems impressive when on but doesn't have much in the way of staying power. There are good moments and aspects, of course; "Anne of Cleves" has those ominous scales, "Catherine Howard" stands out by being almost totally piano-based, "Jane Seymour" has some really ominous passages, and the other two have their charms. And yet, they're not especially memorable, and they definitely don't leave any sort of lasting impression in mood or atmosphere or anything like that.
In small stretches, with individual tracks striking my fancy from time to time, this stuff can be friggin' awesome, and for that reason it's able to get as high of a grade as it does. On the whole, though, I'll pass. I can understand the perspective from which this is some sort of classic, but that sure doesn't mean I have to agree with it.
Kolby Kramer (gkkramer.gmail.com) (05/03/07)
Catherine Parr's organs aren't memorable to you? They found their way in my head pretty easily after only a few listens.
I agree, it's hard to remember it when it's over, but while it's on, it really is fun. Rick's agility and arranging skills are amazing. I find it interesting that although "Catherine of Aragon" has the rest of Yes on it, "Anne of Cleves" sounds more like Yes to me, with those trickier time signature changes. That could have easily been part of a Yes song. Unlike some of his later work, Rick avoids the tackiness and lack of taste that he could inflict on listeners. A nice companion to the Yes albums of this period.
Best song: Something from side one
This is definitely a prog rock album, but it's much closer to a cross between early Yes and the impending Larks-era of King Crimson than to contemporary Yes (though there's a curious "Roundabout" quote that pops up a couple of times in the first half). It's entirely instrumental and not at all song-based, and its primary purpose seems to be to allow Peter to work in as many of his favored approaches to guitar playing as he could. This means that album gets a little jammy and rambling in parts, and my attention sometimes drifts, but it's still a rather enjoyable listen on the whole.
The first half is taken up by six tracks that should be listened to as a single suite (the track names are "Vision of the King," "The White Horse Vale: On the Hill/Lord of the Dragon," "Knights: The Falcon/The Bear," "Battles," "Knights (Reprise)" and "Last Eclipse"). "Vision of the King" quickly builds from a thin layer of guitar sounds into a thick layering of electric guitar chords that are absolutely majestic, before dissolving into the acoustic intro of "The White Horse Vale," which spends its six minutes meandering through all sorts of acoustic and jazzy wah-wah licks, before it in turn morphs into "Knights." "Knights" has a discordant riff that makes me think of some of the better and noisier moments of Yes, but it's not as prominent as I tend to remember it; there are a lot of quieter stretches with two or three layers of Peter noodling about, but the noodling has enough interesting stuff going on that I don't get too annoyed (and it builds into a really nice angry frenzy before the riff comes back). Eventually "Battles" comes around (after a brief reprise of some of the best sounds from "Vision of the King"), and it's a bit of a noisy anti-climax (it's fine, but that much build-up seems like it should resolve into something more), and "Knights (Reprise)" (which brings back the "Knights" riff, with some silly guitar effects thrown in for good measure) and "Last Eclipse" (which closes things out with some final call-back to the "Vision of the King" quiet guitar meanderings) bring the suite to a nice but fairly predictable conclusion. All in all, the suite isn't spectacular, and it certainly doesn't live up to the sidelongs that Yes was doing at the time (I guess it's better than "The Ancient," but I'd definitely take "CTTE" and all of the other Tales tracks over this), but all Yes fans should definitely hear it.
The second side, after the aforementioned "Beyond the Loneliest Sea," consists of the 14-minute jazz-rock-fusion jam "Stop That!" and the closing "Get Out of My Fridge." "Get Out of My Fridge" actually sounds to me more like something I'd expect from a Steve Howe solo album than a Peter Banks solo album, courtesy of its focus on the kinds of electric prog-boogie licks that are Howe's calling card, and it's a lot of fun to hear Banks try to beat Howe at his own game. "Stop That!" is a decent jam, with Collins showing off his future Brand X-like jazzy rhythms and Ray Bennett contributing some very active bass, and Peter does his best to keep things interesting, though there's only so much that can be done once things blast beyond the 7 minute mark or so. My mind drifts a lot during this track, and while I basically enjoy it on the whole, I can't help but feel that Peter bit off a little more than he could chew here.
While this album isn't exactly any sort of lost classic, this is definitely a cut above average as far as Yes-related solo albums go, and it's worth hearing. As long as you go in with proper expectations (don't expect anything on par with the first Yes album, let alone anything from later), you should enjoy this if you're the type who likes Yes enough to seek out all the Yes-related material you can find.
Best song: One of those bits early on
I feel rather ambivalent towards this album, truth be told. I hated it the first time I listened to it, and even now when I basically like the album (even though the thought of saying so makes me cringe), there are quite a few things that bug me within it. Like, say, the voice of one of the male singers. One of the singers actually has a rather nice voice, which helps me enjoy the lovely melody of the first "song" of the album, but the other one must have had compromising photos of Rick with Jon Anderson to win the chance to sing on this album. He almost sounds like Gordon Haskell, and if you've read my King Crimson reviews, you'll know that that's about the biggest insult I can foist on a prog vocalist.
It's also a little annoying that, well, I can't really get that worked up about this album for more than a little dose at a time. It's neat to hear the main classical-based themes alternate with lovely ballads with mildly funky patterns with whatever (all underpinned with Rick's sci-fi synths, with sounds he rarely brought out in his Yes stint), but it's also very difficult to keep my attention from fading in and out, especially in the second half when the sung parts disappear for a very long time near the end. I could see myself enjoying brief snippets of this as one of Rick's solo interludes during later Yes concerts, but as a whole, tied all together with that snooty narrator? Meh, that's a little harder.
I guess the big problem I have overall is that, while I enjoy the album (for the most part), it also provides a clear example to me of why British prog rock, a perfectly decent genre from the early 70's, eventually earned so much disdain from so many people. Nice as it is, there are still too many orchestral passages that sound nice but undistinguished, too many synth passages that sound cool but kinda pointless, and too much of an all-encompassing feel of stuffiness throughout. And this bugs me, because I almost never feel this way with Yes. Anderson might have had pompous lyrical topics, but in essence he was just somebody who was very spiritual yet very confused, and who thought that singing (in his own bizarre way) about spiritual topics he liked would be neat. And as for the instrumentalists, well, I guess the best thing about having so much talent in the band was that no one person could outright dominate the musical direction of the group, whereas giving Wakeman full control resulted in things like this.
So ... I dunno. I like quite a good deal of this album, but I also feel dirty and ashamed in saying so. I probably won't listen to it again for a long time, though I am playing it as I write this, and I'm enjoying it, so draw your own conclusions. If you're a hardcore progger, you might love it, though.
PS: When I bought this album, the other CD I purchased was The Clash (US). I half expected my bag to burst into flames from a bad chemical reaction on the way home.
Cameren Lee (cameren_lee.yahoo.com) (01/13/12)
I really enjoy this album, but you're right: Ashley Holt is a bit of a pain in the *ss. Personally, I would give it an 8.75 (round
it up to 9). My least favorite part is The Battle. Everything else is, frankly, orgasmic.
Best song: Merlin The Magician
Oh goodness, this album is DORKY!!! To borrow from Achewood, the greatest comic strip in the world, if I were to play this around an attractive woman, her tits would fall off and roll under the couch, and her uterus would shut like an airlock. And it was later performed ON ICE!!! The seriousness of this album is transcendantly ridiculous, and I'd be hardpressed to think of an album that better symbolizes why prog-rock suffered such a miserable crash and burn around this time.
Yet for all that, this is still a pretty good album. Once I cut through the Medieval male choirs, the crappy vocals, the stuffy narrator and the fact that the album seems to have taken upon itself the task of restoring "dignity" and seriousness to the Arthur legend (after the humorous "desecration" of Monty Python and the Holy Grail), I find that there are some pretty lovely melodies and just enough diversity to keep things mildly interesting. There's no mistaking any of this for anything but solo Wakeman, but at least this jumps between epic balladry, epic forced "rocking" and epic forced goofiness. Plus, while it may be extremely banal, there's a very clear narrative thread that minimizes the need to think when listening to the album and allows the brain to spend as much energy as possible on maximizing enjoyment of the album ... which for me still isn't an incredible amount, but at least is somewhat.
Several high points of the Arthur legend are hit: Arthur pulling Excalibur out of the stone, Arthur meeting the Lady of the Lake (which gets less than a minute devoted to it), Arthur's relationship with Guinivere, Lancelot's battle with the Black Knight, the wizardry and magic of Merlin, Lancelot meeting his bastard son Galahad, and Arthur's death in battle. "Guinevere," "Merlin the Magician" and "Galahad" all have a brief, pretty piano theme near their beginnings, but while "Galahad" ends up extremely forgettable, "Guinevere" ends up as a mildly lovely ballad (with mediocre vocals, unfortunately), and "Merlin the Magician" ends up as a multi-part epic that's as good as solo Wakeman is supposed to be in theory. There's a majestic theme, there's a mildly "aggressive" guitar-driven theme, and there's a goofy rag-time theme where Rick suddenly turns into Works-era Keith Emerson. It's corny, but it's quality corn.
"Sir Lancelot and the Black Knight" "rocks" in as stiff and as awkward a way as can only be otherwise imagined, but if nobody else is around, I can mildly enjoy it. The opening "Arthur" and the closing "The Last Battle" each manage to not stick with me much past listening, but they have quality "epic" (in a good way) atmospheres that frame the album well. It's not good that they're so overblown in relation to the number or quality of the ideas, but that's just par for the course with solo Wakeman.
The short version, then, is that while I can see why this album sold pretty well and is regarded so highly by Wakeman fans or hardcore fans of "serious" music, I also can't completely share that perspective. There are no enigmas or elements of abstraction to be found, and the way Wakeman presents this makes it feel like the Arthur legend rewritten by kindergartners. The populace might have liked that, and people who like to feel smart with a minimal of effort might like that, but to enjoy this album (which, sadly, I do) I have to work very hard to overlook that. Man, Wakeman was a talented man, but he really needed other people to keep him from going off the deep end.
Adam Kaddoura (akad678.hotmail.com) (10/27/06)
It's a pretty...okay album. I guess. The only Yes solo members' album that I've ever heard, although I'll get Chris Squire's if I can actually find it. Also, Achewood REALLY IS the greatest comic strip in the world. Thanks for mentioning that.
Best song: The Nature Of The Sea
Oof, this is really not a good album. The single biggest mistake of the album was for Steve to handle the vocal duties himself; I mean, it's possible for a technically weak singer to find ways to make his vocals interesting, but Steve's sung parts are so dull here that he's in a dead heat with Gordon Haskell on Lizard for the worst lead vocals performance I've ever heard on a prog album. I like when he layers his vocals in parts of "Lost Symphony," but that's a strong exception.
Even without the vocals, though, this is mostly a 3rd-rate 70's prog album (that it's sung by a 4th-rate vocalist only amplifies the problem). I'd say there are two tracks that are clearly a cut above average: "The Nature of the Sea," a nice instrumental (with a good amount of variety in Howe's guitar approaches) that alternately conveys peaceful aspects of the sea and more "energetic" aspects of it, and the title track, which may be a little overlong but has some nice Howe acoustic parts amidst Moraz's orchestrations for winds and strings. It's as prissy as anything, but it has some nice atmosphere, and I don't mind listening to it.
The rest of the album, whether instrumental or with vocals, is really not good. The opening "Doors of Sleep" shows some promise in the opening parts, but Howe's singing is just soooo bad, and the song never really establishes a coherent direction. "Australia" has even less direction and even worse singing, and "Lost Symphony" largely wastes a pretty introduction by going into a brassy shuffle with Howe's bad vocals dominating things way more than they should. On side two, other than "Beginnings," the only other track that I notice for good reasons is "Ram," yet another in Howe's enjoyable finger-picking acoustic jaunts, yet this is definitely nowhere near the level of "Clap." "Will o' the Wisp" is six minutes of boredom, and not even Bill Bruford's drumming contributions on the last two tracks can save them, even if they have some pleasant aspects.
The thing is, I can hear plenty of ideas on here that could have worked to make really good music, but only if they'd been bounced off other people and grafted into other people's snippets of good ideas (I have the same complaint about Jon's solo album during this period too, mind you). As is, most of these ideas have no chance to grow into something great, especially when the singing is such a catastrophe. Only a handful of tracks keep this from being a disaster, and I must strongly recommend for Yes fans to stay away from this.
Best song: You By My Side
"Great basslines in search of riffs" is the greatest description of this album I've ever come across, and I must say I agree with that assessment. Chris Squire's first and only solo album is usually regarded as the best of the many, many Yes-related solo albums, but if that's the case I'm not sure I'll be hungry for more. The raw materials are in place - good vocals (Chris manages to sound like a cross between himself, Jon Anderson and Trevor Horn on this album), the expected killer basslines, decent guitar (from Chris, of course), appearances by Bruford and Moraz - but it doesn't all quite come together.
The album consists of but five tracks, two of which are lengthy behemoths and three of which are shorter length, normal numbers. Now, I love Yes' lengthy epics as much as anybody, but these suggest pretty strongly that, er, Chris wasn't the driving creative force behind stuff like "Gates" and "CTTE." "Silently Falling" does feature a bizarre Moraz passage in the middle, but beside that it seems the band is jamming mindlessly with no desire but to show off chops (with the exception of some actual emotion coming out of the piece over the last third of the piece, as Moraz lays the foundation with some pretty piano, while Chris' vocals really provide the feel of slowly falling to the ground). You know, the sort of thing that people routinely accuse Yes of doing but that they never actually did. Go on, take a listen to this track and you'll have better idea of what mindless noodling REALLY sounds like. That said, even if that passage is mindless noodling, it's awfully energetic and rousing mindless noodling.
As for the closing "Canon Song," I know that lots of Yesfans love it, but I just can't figure out the greatness of this one. It's not even just lack of "catchiness" - I mean, a good prog epic can, under the right circumstances, overcome a lack of directly catchy themes - but there's just not really any sense to the whole thing. It's pleasant background music, but there's no real sense of build or waxing/waning of intensity and themes or any of those pleasant tricks Yes used to hook in the listener. It just keeps going and going for 15 minutes, and loses my attention in a way that "The Revealing Science of God" never ever could. Bleh.
Now the shorter songs, that's a different matter entirely. The opening duo of "Hold Out Your Hand" and "You By My Side" are catchy and compact *gasp* pop songs, each punctuated with the expected killer basslines and well-conceived keyboard and drum parts (not to mention appropriate doses of orchestration, which pop up occasionally throughout the album). The latter in particular might give a hardcore "pop sucks prog rules" fan a heart attack, but the wonderful, swaying piano-driven melody would have fit in well on The Yes Album and not changed the quality of that album one iota.
I also find the side-two opener, "Lucky Seven," quite enjoyable. It has a bit of a jazz/funk (!!) feel to it, courtesy of a slightly off-kilter keyboard riff that Chris delights in playing off of (not to mention Bruford's mastery, of course). Naturally, of course, it would have sounded completely out of place on any given Yes album, as saxophones and other elements of "sleaze" hardly fit in with what fans expected out of the band. Here, though, it only adds a slice of "down-to-earth" feeling to help prop up the listener's ears between the two epics.
Alas, though, with the epics taking up 60% of the album and only being intermittently entertaining, it's hard not to be somewhat harsh on the album as a whole. But still, I'd hate to remain a Yes-fan who hasn't, at some point, partaken of the vast entertainment that comes from the three-and-a-half good songs on here.
What a great review page of the Yes albums - CTTE,Relayer and GFTO would be my absolute favourites. But the reason for my email is your Fish Out of Water comment putting you off other Yes solo albums - and you'd be right - apart from one classic which is Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunhillow. It is unlike any other album I've got. Yet if you like a lot of the Yes catalogue, you will love this. Trust me on this - though you will need to give it a few plays.
The other solo albums I think are pretty average - though the title track from Song of Seven is classic Jon Anderson.
Best song: The Maker
There are two factors that prompt me to rate this slightly higher 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.
Best song: Huh?
Well, as you can see, my gamble didn't really pay off. Anderson might have been the band's visionary, bringing in all sorts of goofy, interesting ideas that formed the basis for some of my favorite albums of all time, but he was still (by and large) a bit of a hack as a musician and composer. His ideas were good, but he needed the rest of Yes as much as they needed him, as they were the ones who cleaned up his ideas and made them something more than the ravings of a clever lunatic. On this album, the only person Anderson had to bounce ideas off of was himself, and while I can feel potential greatness in some of these tracks, none of them pull it off.
The best way I can think of to describe this album is as a cross between a 'cosmic' New Age album and Tormato, with just a smidge of prime Yes sprinkled here and there. Yup, a lot of the vocals on here sound just like "Madrigal" would a couple of years later, both in tone and in the rambling shove-too-many-words-into-each-line approach to the melodies. The sound is busy but never really engaging, with Jon layering keyboards, harps, acoustic guitars and whatever else struck his fancy onto melodies that almost never manage to capture my attention. He does manage to stumble into a pretty decent synth-driven chord sequence in "Solid Space," but even that song doesn't have much else to warrant praise. Other than that, except for the rambling vocals of "Sound Out the Galleon," I have trouble recalling even a single moment, good or bad, from this whole album.
I will grant that this album isn't terrible, as there are a number of places where I feel like the other Yesmen could have made something interesting out of what I'm hearing, and embryonic greatness isn't something to be totally dismissed. At the same time, listening to this is like eating half-baked bread; even if you can taste how good it might have been, it's hard to ignore the fact that you keep getting flour on your tongue. This is for hardcore completists only.
Best song: ...
This is a very silly album. It's also an album with a good share of interesting ideas and themes, and more importantly it's one filled to the brim with piano mixed with all sorts of glorious 70's keyboard sounds, played with typically superhuman speed and fluidity. The opening title track may be underpinned by one of the lamest attempts at a "Latin" rhythm ever (at least that's how it sounds to me), and the keyboards may be set on full-on wank mode (and they sound way more like what I'd expect from Emerson than from Wakeman on a given Yes album), but I find myself drawn in more than I might like, and I'd have to give the track a thumbs up. The next two tracks ("Searching for Gold" and "The Loser") feature the only instances of vocals on the album (courtesy of the female choir), though they're mostly indecipherable apart from an occasional "Searching for gold" line (the line makes its way into both tracks, and an instrumental reprise of the theme can be found in a later track). "Searching for Gold" doesn't sound worse than a typical Six Wives track to me (perhaps with a little less direction, but there are some really lovely mellotron-sounding moments interspersed with other sounds), and "The Loser" has some really lovely piano parts (with other keyboards giving texture as needed).
Hitting the other tracks: "The Shoot" (which makes me think of skiing in the faster parts for some reason) has some goofy pseudo-honky-tonk parts interspersed with piano. "Lax'x" (what a strange name) is a bit of a bore in its "main" portion, but when the mellotron flutes come out I'm very happy, not to mention that the synth-driven reprise of the "Searching for Gold" part is surprisingly moving. Also, am I wrong in thinking that a lot of the last portion sounds awfully "Ritual"-esque? "After the Ball" is a very lovely, very tender piano-dominated piece (with synths coming in a little over a minute into it); "Montezuma's Revenge" is a goofy synth-reinvention of Gypsy music (which for whatever reason brings to my mind an image of miniature Krusty the Clowns quickly shooting up and down in a whack-a-mole game), and the closing "Ice Run" is surprisingly eerie and majestic (at least, if you're into cheeseball synth moods) in its first half before turning into a rather typical up-tempo solo Wakeman passage (it does have some Hammond, though, which hadn't been a Wakeman staple lately).
Honestly, there's probably no chance somebody who doesn't somehow already have this would ever listen to it; it's ridiculously out-of-print except as a Japanese import (and not even available on iTunes or other legal downloading sites), and I can hardly recommend putting a ton of effort into trying to seek it out. And yet, I can definitely say that this fits very well into my established pattern of listening to (most) 70's solo Wakeman as effective background music that's sporadically very entertaining. If you're incredibly curious, try to seek it out. It's no worse than his most famous albums, I think.
Best song: Most can qualify
I know that I've only heard about a tenth of Rick Wakeman's solo career, and a smaller portion of the total solo careers of all the various Yes members, but if this isn't the best Rick Wakeman solo album (and the best Yes-related solo album) I'll be shocked. I mean, it is still an album of lengthy keyboard wanks, and as such it could never be one of my favorite albums of all time, but it's the only Rick Wakeman album that I can honestly say I enjoy from start to finish. I almost never find myself getting exhausted with the style, and it's the only Wakeman album I know (as of writing) where the music is as interesting throughout as solo Wakeman so often is in small quantities.
There's a loose concept in the album, about criminal justice and law and all that, but it's only reflected in the titles; this kinda makes it a throwback to Six Wives, full of instrumentals that could have been given any title in the world, but I really contend that the music on this album is better than the music on that supposed classic. One thing that doesn't strike me as coincidental is that this album came about during roughly the same period as the recording of Going for the One. I've long felt that Wakeman's work on that album is some of the best keyboard work in prog rock history, both in terms of the actual parts and in terms of the sonic pallette, and I feel like a lot of his inspiration from those sessions leaked into this album. Plus, there's a good chunk of work from Squire and White, and while they're not particularly notable on the album, they're recognizable, and it's nice to have them instead of the usual shlubs from Wakeman's typical backing band.
In the end, though, these are just nice songs. They're each filled with a variety of memorable themes and melodies, and there's an equal amount of variety in the keyboard choices. There are but six tracks, with only two around four minutes in length and the rest significantly longer, but they're all really nice. I actually find it very difficult to pick a favorite here, honestly. A lot of times it's the opening "Statue of Justice," which has a lot of entertaining build into an incredibly lovely theme that I get stuck in my head all of the time. Sometimes it's the closing "Judas Iscariot," which is essentially Rick's own solo version of "Awaken," filled to the brim with moody church organ and a Swiss choir. Sure, it might almost be considered Bach for dummies, taking on the form and majesty of something from JS with only a fraction of the actual "sophistication" of something he'd have written, but it's still really enjoyable nonetheless. I'm also very fond of "Crime of Passion," which careens through all sorts of moods and features a marvelous "stereotypical" Wakeman passage on one of his synths. Good stuff.
Among the others, "The Breathalyzer (Policeman's Holiday)" is a fun relative throwaway, most notable for an amusing vocal part (the only one of the album, unless you count the wordless Swiss choir singing of the next track) about getting forced to pee in a cup safter refusing to take a breathalyzer. "Chamber of Horrors" and "Birdman of Alcatraz" aren't as amazing as the highlights of the album, but they each have a small number of nice themes, and they fill out the album nicely.
In short, if you're really feeling the need to get a Rick Wakeman album, this is probably the place to start. It doesn't have a lot of the fame of the earlier albums, but that's largely because it lacks a lot of those albums' flaws. Plus, I'd even dare say that every serious Yes fan should have this album.
Best song: Pennants or Look Over Your Shoulder
Whoa! This is a really good album! Honestly, I wasn't expecting a lot from this album, given that Steve's solo debut had been so unappealing and that Tormato, the last Yes album before this one, hadn't exactly captured Steve at a high point. This is better than Beginnings or Tormato by an incredible amount, though, and while it becomes clear as the album goes on that Steve Howe doesn't have quite the same potential as a solo artist as, say, Steve Hackett did, this album nonetheless shows that he was perfectly capable of making a good album on his own. Plus, I kinda admire the cojones required to draw parallels to one of Yes' best albums with the album title; this works every bit as well as a statement of purpose for Steve as The Yes Album did as a statement of purpose for his new band in 1971.
The biggest improvement for this album over the last one, without a question, is that Steve is almost silent as a singer, except for some understated, quiet vocals near the end of "All's a Chord," where they're almost an afterthought. In fact, the only other track with vocals is the side-one closer "Look Over Your Shoulder," where Steve employs the services of one Claire Hamill, who sounds so much here like Annie Haslam (of Renaissance fame) that I was convinced it was actually her the first few times I listened to this (until I looked it up and found out it wasn't). The track is a major highlight, by the way, with Claire giving a nice vocal part to an atmospheric rocker full of varied guitar work (the main theme of the album), pulsating bass (also done by Steve) and some powerful drumming from Alan White.
The rest of the album (all instrumental, except for the aforementioned snippet of Howe vocals) is all about showcasing all of the different guitar types and musical styles that struck Steve's fancy, and it's a major breath of fresh air after Tormato had him not sounding his very best (and after Beginnings tried so hard to be prog that it forgot to be good). My personal preference out of the lot is towards the opening "Pennants" (funny that I'd instinctually gravitate towards the tracks with White on drums even before I knew for sure it was him) which starts off on such a rocking note and with such a great guitar tone that I find myself utterly perplexed as to why he couldn't have had a sound like that on Tormato. The song's center is a rock one, held down by White's steady drumming and solid riffage, but it's a great showcase of ideas and themes for guitar and keys, and the variety of guitar sounds pulled out in this track is just fascinating. The variety peak, though, is definitely in the previously mentioned "All's a Chord" (with Moraz on keys and Bruford on drums) where Steve plays eight different kinds (!!) of guitar (to be fair, one is bass, but still) and creates something that works as much more than just a technique demonstration.
The rest of the album is a little background music-y, but I quite like it. The first half (all of the tracks so far mentioned are in the first half) is rounded out by "Cactus Boogie," a fun mix of banjo, Les Paul and pedal steel, and "Diary of a Man Who Vanished" is either really upbeat for a slightly sad number or really mournful for a cheerful number, but a winner either way. In the second half, I find my attention drifting some, but taken track by track, things here are fine. I would say that, if there's a clear mistake, it was in putting the 8-minute "Double Rondo," a decent mix of guitar meanderings with a string arrangement right before the closing cover of the 2nd movement of Vivaldi's "Concerto in D," only because the Vivaldi piece is soooo much better than what comes before it. Of the remaining three tracks, "Meadow Rag" is a fun bit of acoustic rag (I wouldn't want to hear a whole album of this kind of music necessarily, but having one an album is fine by me), "The Continental" is kinda jazzy and bluesgrassy (I guess), and "Surface Tension" is a good bit of acoustic Spanish guitar. Again, not essential listening, but all very nice.
Look, this may not quite be a great album, but it's definitely a very good album, and it's easily in the upper tier of Yes solo albums. Heck, I like it more than Fish Out of Water, and I'm pretty sure that puts me in a minority among fans who care about both. Anybody who's a fan of Steve as a guitarist (and really, why else would people be a fan of him?) should seek this out at some point.
Best song: Can't Look Away
And do you know what? It's not a truly terrible album, even if much of it feels every bit as dated as the worst aspects of BG did. What hurts this album most for me, honestly, is the singing; I can understand why somebody would enjoy Trevor's voice, but there's just something the sound of his voice that makes me associate every bad cliche of 80s rock vocals with it. I can listen to it solo in short stretches, and it's basically ok when it's working in harmony with Jon and Chris, but an entire album of Trevor in the lead is enough to drive me batty. Needless to say, the rating suffers a lot for the vocals problem.
So what about the music itself? Honestly, there's quite a bit of schlock, but there's also a surprising amount of good to be found. The most remarkable thing about it is that, aside from the drums and the backing vocals, this is quite literally a solo album; in addition to the guitars, Rabin was responsible for the bass, the keyboards, any other instruments thrown in, much of the vocal layering and a good amount of the production. Questions of taste preference aside, Trevor demonstrates that he's perfectly servicable in these other instruments and probably could have made a living playing any of them exclusively full time, so that has to mean something. But, ultimately, the guitar parts are Trevor's main focus, and this album is a pretty reasonable presentation of his skills. There are of course a lot of instances of Trevor playing hyper-technical 80s heavy metal wank that may show better raw chops than Howe did but not a third of the personality, and quite a few where he sounds fairly indistinguishable from many other highly trained 80s rock guitarists (especially in some of the "heavenly" moments). On the other hand, there are also a good number of stretches where Trevor shows the kind of beauty in his sound that he showed in some of his best Yes moments, and this kind of sound isn't something I've quite heard matched by others. This sound is wisely what Trevor chooses to emphasize in the beginning passage (and in some of the longer breaks) of the opening title track, and while the song itself is overlong and a little overblown for the melody quality, these instrumental breaks are enough to elevate the song to a good one on the whole. This song actually makes it easier to understand why people later tried to classify Talk as a Trevor Rabin solo album; the best aspects of the guitar playing here sound a lot like the best guitar playing in "I Am Waiting."
Beyond the first track, there's a lot of material that's uninteresting, overlong or both, but there's still some rather good stuff to be found here and there. "Promises," for instance, is slow and draggy in the verses, but I rather like the synth parts in the climactic moments of the song (they sound like the better parts of Power Windows), cheese-tastic they may be. "I Didn't Think it Would Last" embodies a lot of bad aspects of 80s music, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't like the descending melody before the chorus (the chorus has a lot of cheese, but it could be worse). "Hold On to Me" has a really awkward bridge, but the verses are surprisingly touching, and the chorus kinda sounds like one of the good ones on The Other Side of Life (this is nowhere near the highest compliment in the world, but that album has some good songs). And hey, the closing instrumental, "The Cape," kinda works in the same way Peter Gabriel's Security/Birdy-era music did, though certainly much cheerier.
Of course, there's a lot of material here I find very distasteful, which is the big reason this album can't get a higher grade. "Something to Hold on to" was a (very minor) hit single, but it's one of the most by-numbers pseudo-tough 80s pop songs I can imagine, and it actually makes "Love Will Find a Way" sound inspired and original. "Sorrow (Your Heart)" is pure 80s ethno-adult- pop cheese, "Cover Up" is a total bore except for some small bits of inspired pseudo-acosutic playing a la "I'm Running," and the list goes on. There are just too many moments that are more dramatic than warranted, and too many melodies that just don't match my taste whatsoever. But again: this is what I expected, and I'm more interested focusing on the parts that are contrary to my expectations. For an album that I bought as a joke, this could be worse.
Darren Bolick (Darren.Bolick.airgas.com) (02/13/12)
Bro – you are way off on this LP and the Rabin influenced Yes years. He brought an influx of new ideas into thegroup that carried them into the new generation. Yes was for all intents and purposes dead in the water – I would even say they probably would never have made Talk, The Ladder, Magnification, etc. if Trevor Rabin and Jon Anderson had not been introduced to one another.
Trevor Rabin was the bridge between the two classic Yes lineups and was the collaborator that rekindled Jon’spassion for rock music. And, to say he was – in your words – “brainless and generic” is WAY off the mark. First he is one of the most gifted musicians I have ever heard – the man can play anything (he and Neal Morse are THE two most gifted people I have ever listened to). And he also hasa brilliant sense of melody. Combine that with the fact that he can write and play progressive rock like nobody’s business…well, I think you MUST give the man his props. Can’t Look Away is loaded with several really strong songs – the title track, Something to Hold On To, Sorrow, Cover Up, Promises – all these hold up even today – they do not sound particularly dated.
I think as Yes and prog fans we need to be more open to ideas and music that are not “prog” in nature. Forexample – while I love Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic and Neal Morse’s solo prog LPs I also truly enjoy his other solo output – like his first two solo LPs – very modern pop/rock in nature. But, this does not detract from the quality of songwriting or the songs themselves. As prog fans we (more than any other fan base) should be aware of music snobbery and how the “critics”and press look down their collective noses at our beloved music genre. So, when we are looking at straight ahead rock (or arena rock as some critics call it) in the form of a Trevor Rabin LP or an 80’s Yes LP we should remember to be more open minded. Maybe I am naïve and am of a different ilk than mostprog fans. But, I know great musicianship and songwriting when I hear it –and Can’t Look Away has both!
(author's note): I sent the following response: Regarding this solo album, I've actually been meaning to rewrite this
review for a very long time and have been listening to this album off
and on for the last couple of months. I'm not sure when the rewrite
will happen but it should be sooner than later. It will be less of a
toss-off review, for sure.
Regarding Rabin's contributions to Yes, I think I was pretty fair and
gave him a decent amount of praise, especially in the 90125 and Talk
reviews, where I'm much more favorable towards him than most Yes fans
After my response, the following was sent:
Regarding Rabin's contributions to Yes, I think I was pretty fair and gave him a decent amount of praise, especially in the 90125 and Talk reviews, where I'm much more favorable towards him than most Yes fans are.
After my response, the following was sent:
I apologize that I did not read those Yes reviews before responding to this LP review. I appreciate your opinions and am simply glad to see stuff like this out on the web for people to check out. Thanks for the quick response - I did not mean to sound mean spirited in any way.
Best song: Close To The Edge
Laurent MASSE (masse.geocean.u-bordeaux.fr)
This concept is a little bit strange: instead of focussing on the ones which are really symphonic in scope and making it entirely symphonic, they go for a bitchy mass-appeal middle-of-the-road approach. We could have had a killer complete "Gates", and instead we get to hear the ridiculous "Owner" with Howe and Bruford lifelessly pumping along and the violins trying to reproduce those silly synth blurbs! Some of the material really is symphonic in nature and works, like the main theme of "Close To The Edge", "Mood For A Day" and "Soon", but "Wonderous Stories", "Starship Trooper", "Roundabout" and "Heart Of The Sunrise" really sound like "Abba plays the European TV song contest", and it's a shame.
Robert Grazer (xeernoflax.jack-the-ripper.com)
I've heard some of the symphonic Pink Floyd album "Us and Them," and if you ever post that one up here, I'll listen to the rest, by it still comes down to the concept that some songs work symphonic and some don't. (You should hear symphonic "Brick in the Wall Part 2" UGH!) "Close to the Edge" comes out excellently. "Soon" almost seems like it was meant for a symphony, but I miss Anderson's singing there. I do love the way "Roundabout" turnes out, although the absence of the middle segent is disappointing; that would have sounded great on the horns. "Heart of the Sunrise" comes out very nicely. Plus "Survival" turns out pretty good too.
BEST TRACK: "Mood for a Day" is better than it has ever been before.
COMPLAINTS: I never liked "Owner of a Lonely Heart" in the first place, and despite some great guitar work and the fact that it beats the original, it doesn't quite match up to what I would have liked it to be. The other complaint is "Starship Trooper." I love the song. Even not being a big fan of live albums I enjoy listening to Wurm jams. But this song was NOT meant to be symphonic. It's still passable, but wouldn't you have loved hearing "To Be Over" or "And You And I" in its place?
RATING: My Scale: ***1/2 John McFerrin's Scale: 8(11)
Best song: Awaken
I'm not sure I've ever come across an album concept more doomed to commercial failure than this one. Ok, so apparently this is aimed at the subset of people who are (a) big enough Yes fans to buy whatever new album is found under the Yes name and (b) able to enjoy (or at least tolerate) electronica in general. Or, alternatively, those who will buy every Yes-related album in the world for the sake of completism and to review it. Which leaves ... me and Mark Prindle. Way to go Virgil Howe (son of Steve)! Sorry I stole half your sales by downloading this!
(I should note that I did buy a legit copy of this eventually)
I actually kinda like it, though. They're not going to stop me from going back to the originals, of course (though I do kinda like the bizarre interpretation of "Arriving UFO" more than the original), but except for the rambling, uninteresting mess that is this album's "Heart of the Sunrise," every one of these tracks is good for at least a few listens. My favorite is "Awaken," which focuses on Wakeman's opening piano parts and the hypnotic mid-section, turning those elements into a really cool trance number, but the remixes of "Siberian Khatru" (which amplifies the funk elements of the opening 20-fold) and "Starship Trooper" (whose standout moment is when he loops a dark line from the acoustic section that I didn't even realize was there before) come pretty close. "Sound Chaser" is slammed into a 4/4 rocker format, kinda the same way George Harrison pummelled "Within You, Without You" into a pop song format, "5 Per Cent For Nothing" gets a ridiculously cool jazzy deconstruction, "Tempus Fugit" has way too much fun with the "Finally answer to YES" part, and lots of other stuff happens too. It's not all very exciting, but it's at least interesting, most of the time.
And, um, that's about it. I don't love it by any stretch, and it's hardly an essential purchase, but it's a novel enough curiousity to merit at least some interest.