[Review] Rick Wakeman: Journey To The Centre of the Earth (1974)

Wow, this makes Tales From Topographic Oceans look like a study in self-restraint.

Kronomyth 2.0: What in Earth was he thinking?

You can pinpoint the exact moment when progressive rock jumps the icthyosaurus on this album. It occurs when Wakeman punctures his high-flying balloon of orchestra, choir and rock with narrator David Hemming’s reading of Verne’s actual text from the book. It’s not the only cringe-worthy moment on the album. For example, in trying to match the literary description of the novel, Garry Pickford-Hopkins is forced to sing “Silurian epoch hosts me as my grave / My final blow I wave / A life too late to save” and the English Chamber Choir is given the unenviable task of making “Crocodile teeth, lizard’s head, bloodshot eye stained ocean red” sound like high art rather than something a trio of witches might mumble over a potion.

Where Six Wives was brilliantly stitched together, Journey shows shoddy workmanship in the arrangements; near the end of the work, Wakeman inexplicably nicks Grieg’s “In The Hall of the Mountain King” to move things along. Is staging a live musical adaptation of Jule Verne’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” ambitious? Absolutely. Is it admirable? Sure. It is effective? Not at all. In fact, from a musical perspective, I see this as a monumental failure. A failure that sold millions of copies and topped the charts, so I doubt that Wakeman, his label or many of his fans see it that way.

There are some salvageable moments, such as the rock songs encased in “The Battle” and the music following the creation of the Hansbach. If Wakeman had realized this work as a succession of songs rather than a continuous text, it could have been quite good. History, if it hasn’t lost its spectacles, will likely view this a quixotic venture from an idealistic age or the poster child for prog’s grandiloquence.

Read more Rick Wakeman reviews

Original LP Version

A1. The Journey
A2. Recollection
B1. The Battle
B2. The Forest

All songs written by Rick Wakeman.
Orchestral and choir arrangements by Danny Beckerman and Wil Malone.

The Players

Rick Wakeman (keyboards), Mike Egan (guitar), English Chamber Choir, David Hemmings (narrator), Ashley Holt (vocals), Barney James (drums), London Symphony Orchestra, Roger Newell (bass), Garry Pickford-Hopkins (vocals). Produced by Rick Wakeman; recording engineered by Paul Tregurtha and Pete Flanagan; production engineered by Keith Grant; production co-ordinated by Lou Reizner.

The Pictures

Art direction by Michael Doud. Design by Michael Wade (Bloomsbury Group). Photography by Chris Foster, Paul Wakefield, Peter Waldman, Nigel Messet (Bloomsbury Group), Ken Randall.  Retouching by Mike Mann.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track on May 3, 1974 in the UK (A&M, AMLH 63621), the US (A&M, SP/8T 3621) and Japan (A&M, GP-226) with gatefold sleeve & booklet; reached #1 on the UK charts and #3 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-released on quadraphonic elpee in 1974 in the US (A&M, QUS-3641) with gatefold cover and booklet.
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 1988 in the US (A&M, CD-3156).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in May 1993 in Germany (Spectrum, 550 0612).
  4. Re-released on remastered gold compact disc in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 633).
  5. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFCD 848).
  6. Re-released on SHMCD+DVD on June 8, 2016 in Japan (A&M, UICY-76993).

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