Griffin 1996 / Esoteric 2014
Looking for pastures new, the ivories’ magician falls on a shallow ground.
The ’90s posed a challenge to Rick Wakeman‘s creativity in terms of financing his flight of fantasy, so he kept the motion down to earth until drilling back to the center of it in 1999 and has been soaring high again since then. Not that Rick didn’t try to take off in that period, and this album is a testament to his effort – with a cautious glance over the shoulder.
It was the first time Wakeman revisited “Starship Trooper,” a YES classic he never recorded, but instead of reproducing his on-stage experience with the piece – sung, like all the vocal tracks here, by Chrissie Hammond – the maestro adds an underlying, banjo-like bluegrass layer to the first solo section, where the organ takes a top line, before the increasingly wild Moog picks it up at the end. As far as returning to the past goes, though, “The Fighter” doesn’t bide too well when it builds upon “The Siege” from "Softsword" yet gets rid of its belligerence, while the anthemic alloy of “Arthur” and the theme Rick composed for BBC’s coverage of General Elections, which was added to the album in 1997, sounds alluringly organic.
Some compositions here, such as hymn “The Never Ending Road” hung on reggae groove, feel quite superficial, and instrumental “The Spanish Wizard” barely delivers on its Saracen promise, despite Fraser Thorneycroft-Smith’s guitar rage and flamenco-like lace, which can’t cover the tune’s similarity to Wakeman’s reading of “Eleanor Rigby.” The same can’t be said of soulful, if simple, ballad “The Promise Of Love,” with keyboards in a supporting role to the voice, as they are in a rather dry, hoodoo-less relative of “Iko Iko” called “The Niceman.” So the soft texture of the title track sounds like an absolution and does indeed sets hope in the heart of this fallow land.