Rick Wakeman – Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (Deluxe Box Set)
This package is the perfect snapshot of prog rock at its glorious art-filled high-concept, somewhat self indulgent, zenith. Inside you will find a musical journey based on a Jules Verne book complete with narrator, choir, symphony and progressive art rock backing band, all overseen by a blonde tressed man in a cape behind a wall of minimoogs and mellotrons. It may be hard to believe today that an album such as this was a groundbreaking, Grammy-nominated, gold selling, chart topping smash but sometimes truth is stranger than art school fiction class.
In 1974 Rick Wakeman, known for his stints with progressive rock giants Yes and session work for Bowie, T. Rex and Elton John put his career and life-savings on the line to stage two live shows of his concept art piece. Performing to sold out crowds at London’s Royal Festival Hall, a venue more inclined to classical performances than keyboards played over adventure film projections, he recorded this live masterpiece.
This is actually the middle record of his concept album trifecta comprised of 1974’s The Six Wives Of Henry The VIII, 1975’s Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (live) and 1976’s The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table. These albums had a profound impact on the development of my arty side when I first discovered them as a pre-teen in the late ’70s. I had never heard anything like it and was frankly blown away that someone could combine rock music, orchestration, singing and voiceovers to tell a story. Simply put it rocked my small world and expanded my young mind.
This new deluxe box set contains a freshly remastered version of the album with a extra bonus track. Also included are two additional full live recordings of Journey, one from Boston in 1974 as well and another from Buenos Aires in 1993. The set’s fourth disc is a DVD audio quad surround sound mix and a hi-res stereo mix of the original album. That’s a hell of a lot of prog rock goodness. The new master sounds incredible, the Boston show was taken from a bootleg and is a bit echo-y but the Buenos Aries disc is a great document of how updated technology can capture much greater dynamics from a live performance. Roger Dean of fantasy art and Yes album cover fame provided original artwork for this set which also comes with a mini-replica of the original Japanese tour program and booklet documenting the recording of the album along with some great period photos.
All told this album has sold upwards of 15 million copies worldwide, spawned a 2010 re-recording and a 2013 sequel and whether you think it is bloated and corny or an achievement of high art it deserves a listen as a document of a time before punk and disco came along and washed all remnants of prog (other than Pink Floyd and Rush) from the mainstream.