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Rick Wakeman

The Red Planet

Review by Gary Hill

The argument could be made that the Rick Wakeman solo releases of the 1970s were the golden era of his career outside of Yes. Surely they set the bar next to which his later releases would be judged. Looking at it that way, I'd rank this album very high. In fact, I think it's likely one his three or four best solo sets of all time. Given how much music the man has released, that says a lot. This really feels like a modern recording of the same type of music he did in the 1970s. As some of the best of that music, this is an instrumental progressive rock set. Not only would I consider this one of Wakeman's best, it's likely to make my "best of 2020" list.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2020  Volume 6. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2020.

Track by Track Review
Ascraeus Mons
Organ brings this into being and holds it as it moves outward. Drums enter after a time, and the cut begins to evolve from there. This really feels like a long-lost Wakeman track for the heady days of the 1970s. It's dramatic, powerful and so cool. There are some synthesized chorale vocals that show up at points. The whole piece has some particularly effective keyboard work, but it's Wakeman so what do you expect?  There is also some smoking hot guitar soloing before it's all over and done.
Tharsis Tholus
After a percussion introduction, this works out to a more understated arrangement. After building in sort of mysterious ways, it shifts to a short fusion-like movement. Then we're brought back into the previous movement to continue. That fusion thing returns, but this time it gives way to a powerhouse hard rocking jam that seems to be soaring. Then we're taken into a synthesizer dominated jam that again calls to mind to the 70s era of Wakeman's solo work. This really gets into some powerhouse soaring instrumental work as it continues to evolve and grow. Another shift to fusion zones hits around the five-minute mark, and a revitalized version of the first main section of the track comes in from there. Some pretty crazed stuff is heard as the closing movement.
Arsia Mons
Dramatic classic prog jamming is on the menu as this leads out of the gate. They work that through to a crescendo and then mellower modes come in from there. That new movement builds gradually before it all explodes back out into harder rocking, soaring jamming. That gives way to another mellower section that allows acoustic guitar to be showcased before waves of synth wash over to take command. The synthesizer ultimately takes it to the end.
Olympus Mons
An up-tempo jam that again feels like it could have been lifted from the 70s brings this thing into being. The number works through some shifts before working out to a triumphant sounding movement. There is some scorching synthesizer work as this works its way forward from there. The keyboard jamming takes us into a frantic closing bit.
The North Plain
This comes in with a mysterious and understated sound. The mellower sounds, seeming to get spacier and stranger, hold the cut for nearly a minute-and-a-half. A gong signals a change, and they launch out from there in a fast paced jam that is classic Wakeman. It twists and turns a little as it continues, but then it drops back to the kind of spacey weirdness we heard early on its road around the half-way mark. It eventually works back out into the rocking zones and keeps on satisfying as it does. There are some bits of this that make me think of Deep Purple just a bit. The cut includes some nearly metallic guitar soloing. too. It's a real rocker during the second powered up movement. That segment eventually ends the piece.
Pavonis Mons
A melodic prog jam is at the heart of this. It has a bouncy, driving energy to it. The cut really feels like it would have been at home on The Six Wives of Henry the VIII. Wakeman puts in some great keyboard work (again, Wakeman). There are some changes here, but this is one of the most static pieces here. That's not a bad thing, though, It lends a bit of a grounding element to the album.
South Pole
Coming in with another rather melodic arrangement, this has a rather mainstream vibe to it. In some ways it makes me think of Yes. The bass in particular sounds quite a bit like Chris Squire. By around the three-minute mark it drops to a piano solo movement. That holds the number for over a minute, but it eventually fires out into a harder rocking section from there.
Valles Marineris
The dramatic opening arrangement on this piece makes me think of Holtz' "Mars" to some degree. I would imagine that the reference is intentional because really, how could Wakeman not reference that. It's more of a starting point, though as the piece builds upward and forward from there. At over ten-minutes long, this is the epic of the piece. It works to more of a mainstream arrangement after the drama and majesty of the first movement. The cut continues to evolve from there. As this continues its exploration it moves through a number of different themes and motifs. There are sections that make me think of Yes to some degree. There are more classical music leaning movements. The whole thing is quite dynamic and really is epic in terms of scope in addition to length.
 
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