[Review] Rick Wakeman: Aspirant Sunshadows (1991)

Wakeman puts his meditative music trilogy to bed with this final, restful installment in the Aspirant series.

Kronomyth 29.0: Nighty knight.

I am an anxious person, or so I’m told. I blame faulty wiring and a modern society where predators have been replaced by hordes of competitors. We compete for wealth, fame, power, beauty, posterity, even peace, and some days I long for the simplicity of a large stick and a sharp-toothed nemesis. Like most anxious people, I’ve developed a few strategies for self-calming, from meditation to music (but not medicine, as pharmaceutical companies are proof that predators remain). Rick Wakeman’s Aspirant series was created with the purported purpose of reducing stress and inducing sleep (and maybe, just maybe, making a little money from a growing interest in new age music). Aspirant Sunshadows is the third and final installment in the trilogy, and supports the saying that good things come in threes. Featuring five-minute instrumentals in what seem to be progressively slower tempos through the series, Aspirant Sunshadows could be seen as a soporific sister to Vangelis’ Opera Sauvage. In fact, listening to this album, I was continually struck by how well this music would have worked in the milieu of television. (Milieu, really? Cut me some slack, it’s early and I’m sleepy.)

Most of the songs on Aspirant Sunshadows sound the same, and I expect that’s by design. They employ either a slow 4/4 or 3/4 (waltz) meter, feature soothing arpeggiated chords as their foundation and draw from a limited (by Wakeman’s usual exciting standards) palette of muted colors. Sometimes, he embellishes a piece with a simulated instrument to give it a distinctive flavor (“Nightwind,” “Evening Harp”) as a weaver might introduce colored strands of thread into a broader tapestry. And Wakeman clearly seems to be creating a tapestry of sound on Aspirant Sunshadows, rather than a collection of individual songs. Even moreso than the two earlier editions, the music on Aspirant Sunshadows blends together to form a greater whole.

On the one hand, I would tell you that the Aspirant series isn’t representative of Rick Wakeman the Artist. For that, you’d want the energy and excess of his earlier concept albums. Yet the genius of Rick Wakeman is his facility with different musical forms and his mastery of electronic keyboards, both of which are in evidence on these albums. Making simple instrumental music isn’t necessarily simple; Wakeman just makes it look that way. Every musician probably thinks they can make an album of Eno-styled ambient music or new age synthesizer music, yet many who tried have failed. Wakeman’s Aspirant series, by contrast, soothes the savage breast with beautiful sounds and succeeds at creating an oases of rest for a weary world.

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The Songs

1. The Nightwind
2. Churchyard
3. Tall Shadows
4. Shadowlove
5. Melancholy Mood
6. Mount Fuji By Night
7. Hidden Reflections
8. The Evening Harp
9. The Moonraker Pond
10. The Last Lamplight
11. Japanese Sunshadows

All songs composed by Rick Wakeman.

The Players

Rick Wakeman (performer). Produced by Rick Wakeman; engineered by John Burns.

The Pictures

Cover painting by Delio Vargas. Artwork by Kai Design.

The Plastic

Released on compact disc in 1991 in the UK (Rio Digital, RIO CD 1010). Also re-packaged with Aspirant Sunrise and Aspirant Sunset on 3CD on September 25, 1991 in Japan (Jimco, JIM 0072~4).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in June 1993 in the UK (President, RWCD 19).

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