Music Fusion 2003 / Esoteric 2014
Starship trooper takes his crew far beyond and, at the same time, closer to home.
Given his height, Rick Wakeman has always been reaching further for celestial spheres than most yet, past the ’70s, the keyboard wizard’s stellar drive was over and his output became rather patchy if still often concept-based. But this album, dedicated to the memory of the “Columbia” astronauts, not only implements another continuous theme but also revives ENGLISH ROCK ENSEMBLE. Previously a name for the ever-changing line-up of backing musicians, on “Out There” the group for the first time take their leader in, making the record his most guitar-heavy and least ivories-minded – and all the better for it.
“Universe Of Sound” sees the band in full swing – the “roll over, Beethoven” idiom hasn’t had such a great airing for a long time – and Wakeman, in addition to his regular array of synthesizers, above all the Moogs, employs a Hammond roar to contrast the otherwise light slide behind “The Mission.” In their turn, Ant Glynne and Fraser Thorneycroft-Smith’s riffs and solos anchor the stratospheric soar of the title epic that passes its hymnal elegance to the grand finale, “Cathedral Of The Sky,” where celebratory organ and ENGLISH CHAMBER CHOIR unfurl a grandiose cosmic tapestry topped with Damian Wilson’s powerful vocal performance.
He shapes whatever levity is there before leading the multitude of voices on the heartbreakingly spiritual “To Be With You,” its pain elevated with a piano that’s also very prominent on “Music Of Love,” while Tony Fernandez’s drums and Lee Pomeroy’s bass add weight to what expands into a highly melodic hard rock album. Its new version would make a computer-made full-length video in 2004, but in pure audio the record – which, by the way, was sent to space on the shuttle “Atlantis” – remains a minor triumph for Rick the Crusader.