The Six Wives Of Henry VIII

Rick Wakeman

A & M Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


To many people, Rick Wakeman's time in Yes was the definitive period for the band in terms of popularity. Replacing Tony Kaye in 1971, Wakeman added a classical touch to his playing, as well as the occasional bit of jazz flair. Some have even suggested that Wakeman was Yes at this juncture in their career - casually forgetting the influences of Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Jon Anderson.

But there is no denying that Wakeman's keyboard work shaped Yes's sound - and, in fact, might have held back Wakeman's ability to branch out. His 1973 epic The Six Wives Of Henry VIII is ample proof of this. A mixture of all sorts of influences and styles, this disc, with rare exception, demonstrates how good progressive rock could be without falling into any of its inherent traps.

Wakeman challenges the listener throughout the 36 minutes of this disc - most notably in keeping the melodies he structured for each wife in historical context. More than a brief knowledge of history is really needed to capture this essence, though even a neophyte like myself, with the liner notes sitting in front of me, can occasionally put one and one together to see where Wakeman was going with some of these pieces.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The listener is also challenged by Wakeman's refusal to be bound by any strict categorization. One moment, he's performing a souped-up prog lick from a keyboard; the next moment he's on an acoustic piano pulling out some incredibly haungint melodies. These two examples occur in the opening track, "Catherine Of Aragon," showing that the listener needs to not only be patient with this disc, but also paying attention.

What keeps The Six Wives Of Henry VIII going successfully is partially because of Wakeman's tight songwriting - but also because of the intense energy one feels in the performance of these six songs. "Catherine Parr" - one which I became familiar with again thanks to watching the DVD of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (more on that soon) - feels like it's switching genres every 30 seconds or so, but it all seems to be a natural progression. Only a skilled tunesmith can accomplish this feat.

From reviews I read at the "Rick Wakeman Communications Centre," there is some debate over the track "Anne Of Cleaves," with many people claiming this one doesn't fit the mood of the album, or that it is the weak link. I disagree - in fact, it is the outward jazziness of this track that sucks me in each time I listen to it. Wakeman's willingness to just let the music take him wherever it wants to go is infectious, and you can't help but smile and tap your foot to this one.

Weaknesses? They're all pretty much subjective. "Catherine Howard" occasionally suffers from an unbalanced mix, leaving guitars buried in the mix. (Anyone else catch the partial "Morning Has Broken" riff in this one?) Likewise, "Jane Seymour" sometimes has the feeling that we're missing much more than we're physically hearing - and that ends up hurting the overall track. Still, these are minor points.

It had been many years since I dug this one out of the Pierce Memorial Archives, and it will probably be some time before it goes back (though I've given this one about five spins just prior to writing this - and I still don't feel I've captured all the nuances). Where Yes was a strictly prog-rock outfit following the musical visions of Squire and the lyrical inspiration of Anderson, The Six Wives Of Henry VIII shows without a doubt that Wakeman was a force to be reckoned with.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2002 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of A & M Records, and is used for informational purposes only.