Rick Wakeman's Criminal Record

Rick Wakeman

A & M Records, 1978


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


1977 had to be a confusing time for Rick Wakeman. He was getting back together with Yes, the band he had walked out on in 1974, while the whole prog-rock scene was beginning to slide. Add into this the difficulty he seemed to be facing coming up with conceptual ideas - his previous effort, No Earthly Connection, didn't even come close to measuring up to his best work - and the growing popularity of disco music, and you could easily understand how everything Wakeman knew seemed to be thrown into flux.

As a response to all this, Wakeman released Criminal Record, a mostly instrumental album which brought him back to the idea of writing simple pieces without as much musical fanfare as some of his previous works. While it is a step up from No Earthly Connection, this disc (which has been long out of print) seemed to suggest that Wakeman was having difficulty deciding which direction he wanted to take his music.

Let's start first with the fantastic song on this disc, "Birdman Of Alcatraz". Now, I admit I could be biased a bit since my first exposure to this song was on the my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Rick Wakeman In Concert 2000 DVD, but the original version of this acoustic piano piece was just as impressive to my ears - maybe more so, since it has a more earthy feel to it. Daring to suggest a future as a new age musician, this track captures Wakeman's skill as a songwriter and as a musician perfectly - ah, were there only more songs like this on the record!

Not quite in the same league, but not without its charms, is "Judas Iscariot," the disc's closing 12-minute opus which tries to tell the tale of the betrayer of Jesus Christ without the benefit of words. While it's a little slow at times, Wakeman does do a wonderful job capturing the internal struggle that the one-time apostle had to have felt when turning in Christ for 30 pieces of silver. The desparation and guilt of the title character is given life through Wakeman's performance - and the tambourine acting as the sound effect for the coins is amazingly powerful.

Regrettably, these are the sole standouts on Criminal Record. The remaining four songs run the gamut from acceptable to confusing - something I wasn't expecting coming into this album cold. Maybe it's because I've been listening to so much of Wakeman's work over the past few months, but I had high expectations going into songs like "Statue Of Justice" and "Crime Of Passion". Instead, what I heard was Wakeman struggling with what musical direction to take these pieces. It was almost like Wakeman felt as if he were a fish out of water not being able to lean on one of his extended opuses, and he counters by trying to recapture some of the feeling of earlier works such as The Six Wives Of Henry VIII. Regrettably, he often comes up short.

Sometimes, the problem is in the meandering keyboard lines, not quite knowing how to resolve their musical identities. Sometimes, it's the sparseness of the arrangements - meaning it's almost like more was called for than was offered to the listener. Sometimes, as on "The Breathalyser," it's wondering just how seriously we should take the song - and how serious Wakeman was taking these concepts.

This isn't to say that these tracks are bad; indeed, there are moments on "The Breathalyser" and "Chamber Of Horrors" which suggest better things to come. But the bulk of these tracks just don't seem to reflect Wakeman's best work, though it's not for any lack of trying. In the end, Criminal Record was no felony commited against the listener, but some of the songs warranted a written warning.

Rating: C

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© 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.