The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table

Rick Wakeman

A & M Records, 1975

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


By 1975, fans of Rick Wakeman had to be wondering what massive project he would tackle for his third album. After all, he had done musical tributes to The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, and he had adapted a Jules Verne novel into his Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, both with personal and professional success.

The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table (hereafter Myths), Wakeman's third release, has many great moments on it, but dares to suggest that such an epic tale could not be neatly summed up in seven songs and 45 minutes. While it is no failure, it represents a small step back for Wakeman - and many of the problems could have been easily fixed.

Now, I'll freely admit I'm not an expert on the tales of King Arthur - and I'm sorry, Rick, but every time I hear references to the "Black Knight," all I can think of is the one scene from Monty Python And The Holy Grail. So, while you don't necessarily need a history degree to appreciate the music, having some knowledge of the story line is essential.

Musically, Wakeman again does the wise thing and allows the ensemble to take center stage, not just his synthesizers and piano work. When the keyboards need to be up front in songs, Wakeman has no problem taking the spotlight - but he recognizes that is the work of the entire band - including guitarist Jeffrey Crampton, bassist Roger Newell and vocalists Ashley Holt and Gary Pickford Hopkins - which makes this concept initially take flight.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Indeed, for a good portion of the first half of Myths, very little goes wrong. My one complaint, though, is that Holt and Hopkins's vocals are often buried in the mix, and should have been potted up much higher than they were. Many times throughout this album, I strained to understand just what they were singing, since I could barely hear them over the instruments. I do, though, now understand why there is a bit of disharmony on "Guinivere". If my memory serves me right, both Lancelot and Arthur were competing for the affections of Guinivere, even after she was married to Arthur. The fact that there is not perfect harmonization on the first part of this song echoes the image of the two men proclaiming their love for one woman. Sorry I didn't catch that when I first heard this track on the Journey To The Centre Of The Earth DVD.

If there is one thing I would have encouraged Wakeman to do, it would have been to use more of the medieval-sounding chorus breaks throughout Myths. It is an effect which works well when introducing certain tracks, and it absolutely powers "Lady Of The Lake" to 45 seconds of brilliance. (Okay, two things I'd have encouraged - use Terry Taplin more than just at the beginning and at the end. A little more narration could have helped people like me follow the story better.)

Yet Myths has two flaws, in my eyes. First, it sometimes feels like certain tracks just don't fit in with the overall feel of the album. "Sir Lancelot And The Black Knight" and "Sir Galahad" both feel a little out of place musically, though I'm positive their inclusion is essential. Maybe mixing the vocals up would have helped me appreciate these tracks more - after all, it's easy to lose a little interest when you don't understand what's going on. And while "The Last Battle" does fit musically, it too suffers from a weak vocal mix.

This all kind of ties in to flaw number two - trying to tell an epic story in such a short amount of time. Sure, Wakeman did it with Journey and did it well. But this is something a little different. One wonders what this work could have been like had Wakeman been able to turn it into a two-record epic - and why he didn't, one can only speculate. But it often feels like we're only getting a small slice of the story, and there is much more of the tale that goes untold past the musical pieces here.

This all isn't to say that Myths is a bad album; indeed, it's still a pleasurable way to spend 45 minutes. But one wonders what it could have been had the right cards been played.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B



© 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.