I have lost count of how many Wakeman albums I actually own, but including live works it must be approaching 100, so it is safe to say I am a fan. But if someone twisted my arm behind my back and ask what the last truly essential studio album he had released; I would probably point to 2003’s ‘Out There’. That album was, and is, a tour de force with everything gelling together and Damian Wilson’s vocals fitting in perfectly with the over-the-top proggy mastery. That Wilson left abruptly shorty after release and before the subsequent tour is a real shame, as I would have loved to have heard more from that combination, but The English Rock Ensemble is back, and on hearing this one can see why Rick has brought that title alive again.
Bassist Lee Pomeroy is still there, as he has been for very many years, but these days the other two slots are filled by drummer Ash Soan, and guitarist Dave Colquhoun. I always find it strange when Rick uses a drummer outside Tony Fernandez, but the latter is now full-time with The Strawbs which I guess makes it difficult for timetables to coincide. However, all these musicians have also been playing with Rick for some time, and together they provide the support for Rick to go right back to the beginning of his solo career. There are times when this is incredibly reminiscent of both ‘Journey’ and ‘Six Wives’, although this has no vocalists. This is Rick dusting off his favourite analogue keyboards and combining those sounds with his latest keyboards, and Lee often playing the melodic foil. Here we have a master not pandering to anything around him, but instead going back to his roots and consequently providing an album which many will say is his finest for years, and rightly so. It is not as rock-based as ‘Out There’, yet both have similar space themes, and he has taken that concept and added sounds and touches to this album which really does make one believe they are visiting Mars.
Rick released his multi-million selling debut solo album back in 1973, and in 2020 has released something that in many ways feels like a logical “progression” from that. Indispensable for progheads everywhere.