Ah, Rick Wakeman. The most famous and in many people's opinions, best keyboardist from Yes. Though he only made a few albums with them, all albums (including Fragile, The Yes Album and Close to the Edge) made with Wakeman became instant classics. So what did the classically trained virtuoso pianist and keyboardist do after working with Yes" He made so many albums that it's very difficult to count them. Released in 1995, The Seven Wonders of the World is yet another keyboard driven concept album. The music ranges from gloomy, dark keyboard melodies to fast, powerful solos and attempts to capture the mood at the various "wonders" of the ancient world.
The linear notes read:
"This instrumental song cycle sets out to capture the particular
mood of each of the seven marvels of the ancient world and the atmosphere of
their individual time and place in our history. Each track is prefaced by a
short narrative delivered by the actor, Garfield Morgan. The strong modern
orchestral rock style has been created entirely on digital keyboards and
features the renowned Wakeman dexterity throughout"
Each of the Seven Wonders (by this, Wakeman means the ancient wonders; most of which have been destroyed) has two tracks to it. The first is a musical narrative done by actor Garfield Morgan and the second is an instrumental piece composed entirely by Rick Wakeman and percussion programming by Stuart Sawney. The music is the essence of progressive with many keyboard over-dubs and many sounds created by synthesizer. There is an abundance of ambient sound in the background at all times and Wakeman always has many melodies going at once while he shows off his soloing skills. One downside is that much forgettable. I'm not saying that it's boring and easily forgotten, the entire album flows so smoothly that it's easy to be transfixed by the enchanting melodies and all of the songs, though they do have their distinct parts, tend to blend together and any memory of the previous songs is lost. This is definitely not an album for passive listening unless done with the aide of hallucinogens or "trip out" drugs.
The album begins with very light and uplifting keyboard melodies and a narrative about the first "wonder", The Pharos of Alexandria
. Apparently is was the first lighthouse over to be built and it was constructed on the bank of Alexandria. It was destroyed after 1000 by an earthquake in 1796 AD (that's cool, Rick!). The instrumental begins with soft, calming noises and some sort of harpsichord soloing. The mood quickly turns dark and then light and uplifting once more. After a minute or so, the tempo and mood shifts as Wakeman plays a very bright, yet eerie melody that is extremely catchy and hypnotizing. This continues with descending fills that sound like a guitar tremolo picking while using its neck pickup but are actually made by use of keyboards. The rest of the song is a series of many different movements and is finished with a singing solo where Wakeman makes use of some sort of keyboard sustainer. Though it is uncertain which instrument he is simulating with his keyboard, it sounds a bit like a piccolo. The song ends on a high note and fades, preparing you for the next song.
According to the narrative, The Colossus of Rhodes
is about a massive statue of the sun god, helious built in 303. bc in Rhodes by people as a tribute to their god to thank him for protecting them from invasion. Many years later, an earthquake sent it crashing down into the sea. The song begins with a bit of an Egyptian feel. The tempo is fairly quick and Wakeman makes use of Egyptian sounding fills and a fast backing to create a feeling of the awe that would be experienced at the Colossus. The song doesn't change its feel until the end has a very impressive keyboard solo later on.
The Pyramids of Egypt
do not need an explanation; however there is one in the narrative. The song is very full and deep sounding and flows very well. It flows and sort of makes the listener feel like they are flying over the deserts of Egypt and looking down at the pyramids. Like the rest of the album, the same formula is used. A backing track and many over-dubs of various fills, leads and different instruments. Ah, the magic of electronic keyboards.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
begins with an arpeggio with a similar melody as Metallica's "nothing else matters" but quickly changes to a smooth and crisp feel that leads you to believe that you're in a beautiful garden. As an instrumental about a garden should be, most of it is relaxing and uplifting but not without the hauntingly beautiful melodies that are used so much on this album. As the song goes on, it becomes brighter and lighter until it ends on a high, happy note.
The Temple of Artemis
narrative begins with a mournful and dark sounding organ but becomes a little lighter as the narrative ends. The temple was built in 550 BC by King Croesus of Lydia in honor of the goddess, Artemis. The temple was set on fire 200 years later and destroyed by a mad man. It was rebuilt by Alexander the great later on. The song begins very dark and suspenseful as if a BIG OL' BAD GUY GONNA GET YOU! It later swings into a fast tempo solo bit with an extremely bright sounding tone (think Dragonforce's lead guitar +1 but - the wank). The music remains suspenseful but is less dark. The drum programming is more thundering than it had been in the album so far. Wakeman makes use of what sounds like women singing a very minor sounding melody and at about 4:10 swings to a major sounding part that slowly ascends in pitch with a beautiful keyboard solo. Afterwards it goes back to a dark sounding bit that is beautiful none the less. I'll just say that this song is one of the most dynamic in mood on the album. Although he doesn't bust out an crazy Siberian Khatru style solos, the leads are very impressive near the end.
The Statue of Zeus
is about the statue in Olympia. It was carved from ivory and gold and encrusted with gems. It lasted for a very long time but became neglected and so it was taken to constinople where it was later destroyed by fire. This is according to the narrative. Compared to the moods of the album, the atmosphere is sort of moderate on this one. It has many complex patterns playing at all times as usual and (probably best fitting because it's about the statue of Zeus) it has an epic feel that is sort of generic and typical of what you would expect. However, the playing near the end is very melodic and beautiful as well as impressive. I quite enjoyed the section of arpeggios near the end as well as at the very end, a solo that is similar to "Roundabout", Yes's most popular tune.
The last song on the album, The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
is also the longest at a little over 11 minutes. The song begins slow and gloomy and eventually builds up speed. It has a sort of sad atmosphere to it and some great lead bits. This is probably the most sad and most beautiful song on the album. After the fairly long built up, the song finally swings into what would be considered the prime of the song. Rick finally uses his "piano" setting on his keyboard (wow! a keyboardist using the "piano" setting" Unreal!). It would be considered a positive or a negative but the album does sound very computerized because of lack of classical piano parts and of course a drum program. At about 6:30, a spine-tingling classical piano solo begins. Wakeman's virtuosity really shines as he plays fast runs, arpeggios and shows off but still keeps it tasteful. The tempo then slows down a little and it goes back to keyboard soloing. Once thatís finished, all momentum is lost and the song reverts back to atmospheric keyboard and ambience as it started. Soon the momentum picks up and for the last 2 minutes of the song (and of the album) Wakeman's hands dance around his keyboard playing fast and emotional solos. Think David Gilmour of Pink Floyd but with speed and on keyboards. The song ends with a little bluesy organ playing but then the stereotypical epic song ending with lots of ambience, drum cymbals and one sustained note from a synthesizer used to create atmosphere.
-Excellent song structure
-Wide variety of keyboard settings used
-Excellent songwriting. Wakeman really does have a great ear for melody was well as a vast knowledge of musical theory.
-All instrumental except a short narrative at the beginning of each song.
-A similar style of composing is used in every song giving the impression that the songs are similar sounding.
-Could sound very digital and computerized to some; however the advantage to digital is that at least 10 different instruments (probably more) are simulated and it makes for a wider variety of sound.
I really enjoy this album and recommend it for any fan of keyboards, Yes, ancient history, or even just someone who likes beautiful melodies.