[Review] Rick Wakeman: No Earthly Connection (1976)

As musicially adventurous as his earlier albums but conceptually tighter, as the English Rock Ensemble crystallizes around Wakeman’s far-out, new age theme.

Kronomyth 4.0: The massy gates of Paradise are thrown wide open, and forth come in fragments wild sweet echoes of unearthly melodies.*

Rick Wakeman jumped the shark on Journey to the Center of the Earth. On No Earthly Connection, he jumps Stonehenge. Even by prog’s permissive standards, this pushes credibility, purporting to be “based on a future, autobiographical look at music, the part it plays in our pre-earth, human and afterlife.” And yet, among Wakeman records, No Earthly Connection is a musically rich endeavor, at times even inviting comparison to Gentle Giant. It requires no small amount of faith, but in exchange you’ll be treated to a fantastic journey of sights, sounds and some surprisingly passable singing from Ashley Holt.

“If there’s such things as dear little astral plains and ghosts that can have a look down on what’s happening, I’d love to look down in a hundred years’ time and hear someone playing a piece of my music.” — Rick Wakeman, in a 1976 interview from New Musical Express.

Again, I’m reminded of the best parts of Journey (i.e., the songs) distilled and strung together into a proper album of music. The English Rock Ensemble had swelled to a solid supporting troupe, now featuring John Dunsterville on guitars, Roger Newell on bass and an actual horn section of sorts in Martyn Shields (trumpet) and Reg Brooks (trombone). Financial pressures would shrink the Ensemble with time, but on No Earthly Connection it might be said that Wakeman had his best support since Yes.

The albums from Rick Wakeman through Criminal Record are ambitious and impressive, few moreso than No Earthly Connection. In fact, this may be The English Rock Ensemble’s finest moment, if you care. The array of keyboards from Wakeman also plays out nicely; no Birotronic mishaps here. Go in with an open mind and open ears, and you’ll make a connection with this album.

*From Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “Religious Musings.”

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Original LP Version

A1. Part I The Warning (8:19)
A2. Part II The Maker (3:34)
A3. Part III The Spaceman (4:03)
A4. Part IV The Realisation (4:17)
B1. Part V The Reaper (7:55)
B2. The Prisoner  (7:01)
B3. The Lost Cycle (7:02)

All selections written by Rick Wakeman.

The Players

Rick Wakeman (Mander pipe organ, Hammond C.3, Steinway 9’ grand piano, R.M.I. electric piano, Hohner clavinet, Moogs, harpsichord, Baldwin electric harpsichord, upright honky tonk piano, Fender Rhodes 88 electric piano, mellotrons, Godwin organ with Sisme rotary-cabinet, Systech effects pedals), Reg Brooks (trombone, bass trombone and vocals), John Dunsterville (acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin and vocals), Tony Fernandez (drums and percussion), Ashley Holt (vocals), Roger Newell (bass guitar, bass pedals and vocals), Martyn Shields (trumpet, flugel horn, french horn and vocals). Produced by Rick Wakeman; engineered by Paul Tregurtha.

The Pictures

Art direction by Fabio Nicoli. Concept/design by Mike Doud (AGI). Cover illustrations by Chris Moore. Logo design by Geoff Halpin. Inner sleeve design by George Snow. Photographs by Mike Putland.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track in April 1976* in the UK (A&M, AMLK/CK M 64583), the US (A&M, SP/CS/8T-4583), Australia and New Zealand (A&M, L/C 35885), Brazil (A&M, 2166), Italy (A&M, SLAM-74583), Japan (A&M, GP-2002), South Africa (A&M, AMLH 64853) and Uruguay (A&M, 80106) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #9 on the UK charts and #67 on the US charts. (*First appeared in 5/1/76 issue of Billboard.)

  1. Re-packaged with Cost of Living on 2-for-1 compact disc in 1999 in Russia (CD-Maximum, CDM0600-461).
  2. Re-released on 24-bit remastered compact disc in 2003 in Japan (A&M, UICY-9295).
  3. Re-released on super high material compact disc on August 26, 2009 in Japan (A&M, UICY-94239).
  4. Re-packaged with BBC Live at Hammersmith Odeon 17/06/1976 on 2-for-1 super high material compact disc on December 9, 2016 in Japan (A&M, UICY-77937/8).

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