With sound strength destroying sight, legendary ivories driver concentrates on a space rock that is Mars.
Easing into retirement – whatever it means for such an indefatigable performer – Rick Wakeman seemed to venture back to his principal instrument, but for all the elegance offered by piano the most famous aspect of the legendary artist’s spirit could never vanish. More so, fans kept asking the Grumpy Old gentleman to return to prog, and eventually he acquiesce, the result being this record which features a refreshed line-up of THE ENGLISH ROCK ENSEMBLE that, for the first time ever, doesn’t include a singer. A unique prospect, then, and a logical conclusion of "Out There" and other unearthly albums.
“The Red Planet” offers a faux-baroque setting that’s so typical for Rick whose Wakeman-by-numbers filigree often evokes his earlier oeuvre, so quasi-self-quotes pepper up this musical tapestry as the veteran has returned to the usual method of mapping pieces to a particular person or place. Here, it’s the latter, of course, with each composition a landscape of a certain area on Martian surface, creating a highly enjoyable whole, because the Caped Crusader’s quartet excel in conjuring up a vivid imagery while highlighting their own mastery of melody.
From the church organ which rolls “Ascraeus Mons” towards military march, drenched in cosmic synthesizers and washed in celestial choir, to the cinematic finale “Valles Marineris” which naturally refers to Holst and swells with the foursome’s orchestral interplay, there’s understandable belligerence to the album. This is the sort of defiance that may come with acceptance of one’s mortality, as “The Red Plant” can be the keyboards wizard’s last epic, but Ash Soa’s drums and Lee Pomeroy’s bass inject vivacity into the flow, and Dave Colquhoun’s electric and acoustic guitars on the almost-familiar likes of “Arsia Mons” are painting romance all over the panorama. So if “Tharsis Tholus” has new-age to inform its start, the cut’s serenity ripples with fusion splashes before riffs ruffle the ivories’ runs and the Moog frills add thrills to the picture until everything pales again,
Still, the contrast between solemnity and playfulness in “Olympus Mons” seems rather forced, yet the lightweight synthesizers and bar-room piano in “Pavonis Mons” weave an arresting symphony, whereas the heavy – albeit less bright, tune-wise – drive of “The North Plain” fares well too, especially after the entire group take wings and soar. So the glacial perspective of a slider-caressed “South Pole” gets narrowed down to a dew-drop touches of acoustic stripe only for this chamber reverie to shoot into outer space. Once there, “The Red Planet” will join the myriad of Rick Wakeman’s records, although its chances to be ranked among his best are slim: and yet, it’s solid as rock.