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Rick Wakeman

Journey To the Centre of the Earth

Review by Gary Hill

Another concept album from Rick Wakeman, this one focuses on the famous novel by Jules Verne. It relies heavily on readings from the book to tell the story and this is probably as much classical music and musical theater as it is rock. It’s good – but almost feels like one long piece of music. I’ve heard that there are versions of the CD that separate this out into four tracks, but my copy is just two tracks – each with two epics within. This whole thing was recorded live with a symphony orchestra and choir in addition to rock band.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
The Journey / Recollection
The audience can be heard at the start of this. The orchestra and keyboards deliver a powerful opening salvo. Then the cut moves forward with a killer symphonic rock vibe. There are female chorale vocals over the top. It all swirls downward, just leaving Rick Wakeman's keyboards. Then one of the central musical theme emerges in a very symphonic rock styled arrangement. This drops down even further from there to extremely ambient music. Wakeman's synthesizer weaves some intriguing webs of sound, and then the vocals enter to deliver the first lyrics of the album. It moves forward in an organic way, feeling rather like classically tinged folk prog. The cut works through some variants and eventually it all drops away again for a narration section. Then a new motif emerges. Chorale vocals glide over the top of the musical arrangement. It has both a prog rock and a classical vibe to it as it works forward. That drops back for the next narration. After that one we get a rocking section that's dramatic and powerful. That gives way to a mellower movement that has a familiar musical theme. Then we get another narration. They work out from there to a rocking jam that's sort of trademark Wakeman, really. It's energetic and driving. Different instruments take the lead at different points. I love some of Wakeman's keyboard sounds on this. It drops to just the keys, and then chorale voices join to dance over the top of that. After a time it shifts toward a more folk prog styled mode and the sung vocals return to move it forward. Another chorale topped movement takes it from there. Then we get another narration. After that narration we get a definite symphonic movement. Some mellower symphonic prog takes it to its closing after that.
The Battle / The Forest
A spoken section starts us out here and then we get a tasty keyboard solo that builds gradually. After the minute and a half mark they take us out into full band arrangement and Wakeman gives us some ever more delicious morsels from his keys. We get a rocking segment – perhaps the most purely rocking vocal section so far – from there. They take us through a number of variations with more classical themes interspersed amongst the rocking territory. A little past the five minute mark the next spoken section emerges. From there we get another instrumental section and this one has a mysterious, powerful element to it. Then it’s time for another reading. After a time keyboards take over by themselves and then vocals come over this. After a verse or so we get female chorale singing as support. Eventually this works out into a more rocking arrangement before we get another spoken reading. Eventually they move out to another rock oriented movement with Wakeman soloing like crazy overhead. Around the fourteen minute mark they take us into a performance of “Hall of the Mountain King.” I’ve always loved this piece of music and it’s quite powerful and when Wakeman joins the symphony it shoots way up. Then they resolve out into a more typical Rick Wakeman style keyboard solo. It drops down from there and works through some more symphonic, but still quite synthesized music before getting very atmospheric. Then it works out into some returning themes with a symphonic delivery. This takes it through to the closing of the epic.
 
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