President 1991 / Esoteric 2014
Previously subtitled “King John And The Magna Charter,” the only royal-themed album that doesn’t reign.
There was no glory in the rule of John the Landless, Richard the Lionheart’s successor on the throne, but his faults led to the signing of Magna Carta, a precursor to the British constitution, and to this album whose music was originally writen for Dickens Festival. Suitably, unlike other Rick Wakeman‘s records dedicated to kings – both mythical, such as Arthur Pendragon, and real, like Henry VIII of England or Ferdinand I of Naples – it’s a low-profile rock affair where grandiosity is scaled down due to its production. But even though synthetic percussion doesn’t convey the drama of drums – in “Battle Sonata,” the rhythm goes all Caribbean – there’s a lot of memorable melodies and, courtesy of Chrissie Hammond’s voice, passion.
“Magna Charter,” the first part of which is an overture hinting at themes to follow, unfolds into a piano-driven diorama punctured with David Paton’s supple, if mighty, bass but doesn’t deliver on its epic promise as synthesizers can’t provide the depth of perspective to it. More so, “The Siege” falls victim to shallow virtuosity, Paton’s guitar failing to add tension to another ska-marked piece, while “Rochester Collage” seems to rely on “King Arthur” lines, although “March Of Time” possesses orchestral potential, and the organ thread in the soulfully silky “After Prayers” saves the day. It seems lost in “The Story Of Love” wherein only vocals breathe fire, as the six-string lace fades just before it’s flaunted in full, but “Hymn Of Hope” breaks into an AOR ballad – funereally moving and finally allowing its author to fly.
Not the best of his works, “Softsword,” now repackaged to heighten its appeal, remains a vital part of Rick Wakeman’s canon, just like its protagonist retains his place in British history.