Wakeman and the English Rock Ensemble
- Out of the Blue - 2004
It seems that Rick Wakeman is determined to return to sympho-prog paths, taking up again the road he left: “No Earthly Connection”, and rebirthing his old band The English Rock Ensemble. In order to do this, he has count on his son Adam, the eternal drummer Tony Fernández, vocalist Damian Wilson (the knight of Ayreon´s “Into the Electric Castle”, and lead vocals on Landmarq and Threshold), guitar player Ant Glynne, and bassist Lee Pomeroy. This album tries to place itself halfway between the latest two releases: “The Wizard and the Forest of all Dreams” and “Out There”. This album neither has the lyricism of the first, nor the adrenalin of the second. Rick simply takes old songs, does a “face lift” and that´s all. This album is the live document of a show held in Buenos Aires´ Teatro Coliseo (Argentina) April 21st 2001.
Rick doesn´t make life difficult for himself choosing the set list: a new version of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” (16:43), not very different than other previous versions, except for some guitar licks, the energic Lee Pomeroy´s bass, and Wilson´s voice, that provide the track with a new air. Apart from that, I like the power of the keyboards and the sound quality, but I´m sure that this version was more enjoyed by the audience in the show than by the people who find in the CD a version of a very tired track.
Naturally the song from “Return to the Centre of the Earth” that could better sound with the current line up is “Buried Alive” (6:45), originally sung by Ozzy Osbourne. It was an easy task for Wilson to do it better. I´m sorry but this Wakeman is not my cup of tea.
As always, a journey to XVIth Century England should not be missing. This time Rick forgets our fellow countrywoman Catherine of Aragon, and focuses on the “calm, sad and humble” “Jane Seymour” (4:42). This song is an oasis of peace among all the energy.
I must admit “No Earthly Connection” never excited me and all the more so when I compare it to “The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table” or “Six Wives of Henry VIII”. In any case this stage of Rick´s career is recalled with the suite “No Earthly Connection/The Prisoner” (11:49). Keyboards and their infinite sounds and rhythms are the protagonists of this track. I like the length of this version because the whole version is a little bit boring.
Henry VIII´s world ends with his last wife “Catherine Parr” (9:45). I´m not sure but by the sound, it must have been a father-son clash of titans. One of the best moments of the album.
I don´t have much to say about Phantom Power because I don´t have the album (the whole Wakeman´s discography is around eighty albums, and it´s a cost that sometimes is not rewarded by quality). The chosen song is “The Visit” (5:40), an energetic song with a nice guitar work by Ant Glyne.
A version of classic Yes song “Starship Trooper” closes the album. Do you remember that tribute released in 1995 and titled “Tales From Yesterday”, that included a wonderful “Turn of the Century” performed by Steve Howe and Annie Haslam?. I think it´s one of the few tributes to escape the carnage. The last song of that tribute was “Starship Trooper” by Jeronimo Road, a band that included Adam Wakeman, Damian Wilson and Tony Fernández. So the script was already written. Although this song was composed before Rick Wakeman joined Yes, it seems that Rick loves it because it appears on lots of recordings. This version is interesting because it´s not a mere recreation. Some developments and rhythms have been changed but this time Wilson loses the battle against Anderson because Damian turns this track into a heavy song.
In short this is an album with a renewed and compact sound. Wilson´s voice is not my cup of tea but it provides the music with fresh air, as if some of the tracks weren´t almost thirty years old. In the same way Glynne´s guitar has a protagonism not very usual in Rick´s recordings. Anyway I miss an instrumental richness that has been replaced by mountains of keyboards.