Top positive review
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Gets better with age not worse
on December 28, 2003
To some people Rick Wakeman is flashy and self-indulgent. Well, that's why I love him. He's unique and nobody else sounds anything like him, which is partly why he will be remembered. The other part is that he wrote some damm good stuff, especially his first solo outing here.
There are six tracks which are supposed to interpret Henry 8's six wives. If you want them to, Rick. I don't go for this idea much, but it is brilliant music whosever musical portraits you want to put upon it, and it was certainly fantastic marketing in the early 70s - classically-influenced synthesizers with some old English history chucked in by a long-haired precocious prog rocker. Nice mix.
The six tracks are more than just keyboards for their own sakes - they are strong and complex compositions, well arranged with interesting timbral choices between the different instruments - lots of theme and variation, different moods such as jazzy pieces like Anne Boleyn and traditional organ arrangements like Jane Seymour (which is a little too Bach Toccata-like for me, but this was early in Rick's career when he was busting with classical influences.)
My favourite pieces are the three Catherines - the opening, Catherine of Aragon is mostly piano with some interesting rhythm changes (try keeping time to it). Catherine Howard is the one most people will know if they've ever been to a Wakeman or a Yes concert but this original version is very different from the one he plays these days with the Celtic jig added. I think his later versions are actually better, but it's still a good solid piece of music.
Anne of Cleves is the most unusual track - it almost sounds out of place amongst the more conventional compositions. It's the track that sounds most like a synthesizer exercise, but it's worth a listen (apart from the prominent split note near the beginning!) for the unusual time signatures (again) and the fantastic Hammond organ work and Bill Bruford's drumming together. Yes musicians abound on this album and it does have a slight Yes feel but it's definitely NOT a Yes album and definitely classic Wakeman.
I don't think time has worn this one out. If anything I enjoy listening to it more than I did in the past. I love listening to the old analogue sounds. I know nobody would be without digital keyboards these days but there is something about analogue sounds which can't be reproduced - they're more individual, less tinny and less predictable. I guess they were also a nightmare with going out of tune or not working but somehow that added to their individuality - you never knew what you were going to get, which did make for interesting live experiences.
Elton John said this album is in his top twenty of all time. Won't argue with him on that.