[BEGIN AUXILIARY INTRO] In a career which spans more than three decades of contributions to various musical forms: progressive rock, classical, opera, pop, instrumental/new age, soundtracks, and even hard rock and metal, Rick Wakeman's musical output has met with equal parts praise and scorn. Following a short stint with David Bowie, fame came to the Caped Crusader as the keyboardist for Yes: the image of the tall, longhaired blonde Brit in his glittery white cape (originally purchased as an inexpensive, impromptu prop), boxed in by an excess of keyboards, became iconic within the annals of classic prog. Ever the prolific composer, Rick began releasing solo works before he was a member of Yes, though the majority of listeners regard The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, released in 1974, as his first album. The years immediately following ushered in both of his trendsetting prog operas, Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and The Myths & Legends of King Arthur & The Knights of the Round Table; the lavish supporting tours were artistic triumphs, but financial disasters. Rick's solo discography is mind-boggling, and includes such gems as No Earthly Connection, Criminal Record, White Rock, 1984, Zodiaque, and several entries of The Classical Connection, along with duet-albums with his keyboard-playing son, Adam (a knockout player just like his pops), billed together as Wakeman & Wakeman. Adversely, Rick's efforts aren't without their pitfalls, and releases like Cost Of Living, Time Machine, and Phantom Power aren't often beheld in a positive light. Even Return To The Centre Of The Earth, the sequel to the classic 1975 album, was met with mixed emotions. [END AUXILIARY INTRO]
Wakeman's on-again, off-again touring band, the English Rock Ensemble, reformed yet again in 2001; longtime drummer Tony Fernandez was joined by guitarist-vocalist Ant Glynne, newer bassist Lee Pomeroy, and Adam Wakeman. Stepping in to sing was vocal powerhouse Damian Wilson (ex-Landmarq, ex-Threshold), replacing Chrissie Hammond from the previous ERE incarnation. Following a visit to Argentina in 2001, Wakeman's ERE released Live In Buenos Aires on CD and DVD from different shows (the DVD includes a separate CD of a 1997 live concert by the ERE lineup with Hammond). Live In Buenos Aires sees the band plowing through old classics like "Catherine Parr" and "Starship Trooper," and newer tracks such as "1984" and "Buried Alive," with Damian covering vocals on the latter two as originally recorded (respectively) by Chaka Khan and Ozzy Osbourne. Wakefans lapped up the ERE live album as thirsty camels at their troughs.
It was over four years ago when Rick initially began laying down his ideas for a new, full-blown conceptual symphonic rock album, predating Return To The Centre Of The Earth (and eventually set upon the back-burner while that was begun and completed). Another tour, a "duet" tour, happened in 2000 with longtime RW vocalist Ashley Holt, after which Rick took a yearlong break from music; sessions with the New English Rock Ensemble (presumably renamed as Adam was not involved this time around) resumed in the summer of '02. The result is Out There, the finest fifty-one consecutive minutes the Caped One has brought to the table since the '70s.
Without plunging (yet) into semantics, the thirteen-minute title suite is what we expected (and wanted) from the man who was at the forefront of this kind of music thirty-plus years ago. After a brief spell of auspice, the jubilant melody of "Fanfare Of Time (Part One)" gallops forth, signalling that Rick is still the captain of his boat, he just lets others take the wheel for awhile. Damian's vocals make one want to hear Yes' entire catalog rerecorded with his voice. Ant Glynne's power chords don't take a backseat, imbuing the drama with needed power as Fernandez & Pomeroy pump out a vigorous cadence. Ant naturally duals (and duels) many of Rick's leads and chord progressions. Showing he's no slouch when it comes to lyricizing, Rick penned all of the lyrics over the course of fourteen days of soul-searching; one inspiring, ambiguous verse goes: Now releasing/Hidden deep emotion/Offered to us/But ignored by humans/Being timeless/Unforeseen fantasy, or/Dying old man/Changing to a new man/Out there/Answers for us all. To hear Damian sing those lyrics is another matter, entirely. The English Chamber Choir enters the mix after an episode involving fiery soloing by Ant & Rick. After a wailer of an opener, the question is whether the rest of the album can maintain the momentum.
"The Mission" is an edgy kicker which begins with staccato Clav chords and one of prog's signature voices, the Mellotron. Out There is dedicated to the seven astronauts of the Columbia tragedy, and that loss appears to be the theme of this track. Damian seems to never have off-moment, while Ant & Rick pull another one-two punch Rick solos on an organ patch, this time (very nice, if the organ had a little more bite, it would be that much better). "To Be With You" is a great change of [slower] pace, sculpted to completion by the poignant vocal melody. Lyrically, "Universe Of Sound" could have been dreamt up by Jon Anderson, with a vision of the musical feeling/The only energy of matter concealing/Within a miracle of ultimate healing (your mileage may vary). It's a rocker of a track, though; Ant gets to kick off this tune, which harbors Rick's best soloing on the album, he & Ant trading licks ad infinitum (have a .gif or .jpg of Rick holding his portable 'board handy)! "Music Of Love" is suspiciously titled, but is not a ballad; in fact, it approaches power metal with keys check the intro. Damian softens his delivery only for a couple of verses. Album closer "Cathedral Of The Sky" is another long 'un ten minutes (nice to think the shortest pieces on the disc clock over six minutes in length) and is the most classically-flavored of the lot, with a grand church organ lead, and (of course) that celestial choir.
And what RW album review should not touch upon his keyboards? The 'board phreek (such as moi) will revel in the plenitude of keyboard/synthesizer instruments, far too many to list here Rick's Korg's are never far: Prophecy, Trinity, Triton, Karma, and others. He also called back some quality Roland models in the form of the D-70 & JD-800 (which every synthesist has used), his trusty Generalmusic units and Fatar controller, a Kurzweil K2500, and his Minimoog. Virtual synths were also employed, three examples being the Steinberg Native Instruments "B4," the Waldorf Wave PPG Wave 2.V, and the G.Force "M-Tron" (sorry to spoil it for for those who thought he played a real 'Tron on this release).
Thank you for your time (and, er, patience), and in conclusion, Out There is
oh, just buy the [CENSORED] album, already! There isn't a domestic release, yet, but that shouldn't be a hurdle: it's readily available from import vendors, and even Rick's online shop click on the link to Rick Wakeman's Communications Centre, below.