Review of Out There submitted on 30/03/2003
When I heard that Rick Wakeman was going to release a "progressive rock" record in 2003, I was very excited. I have already been very pleased that Wakeman is back behind the keys with YES. One of my all-time favourite concert highlights was seeing Wakeman playing the ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’ organ at Radio City Music Hall during a Yes concert this past summer in New York City. To me, Wakeman is one of the most important figures in the history of progressive rock. The idea of him returning to his roots with a progressive release is music to my ears. Needless to say, I am very impressed with the release and Rick and the band are in excellent form throughout. ‘Out There’ contains a beautiful dedication to the seven astronauts who flew the last Columbia mission. This is a very appropriate dedication since the album relates the origin of music to ‘unseen dimensional astral plains somewhere amidst universes known and unknown’. Wakeman’s lyrics constantly reinforce this theme. The album begins with the epic title track, ‘Out There’. Wakeman’s symphonic intro lets the listener know he or she is in for a musical treat. The track, like many great epics, is broken into many sections. Wakeman’s keys are outstanding throughout, as are the vocals of Damian Wilson. Wilson, who reminds me a bit of Cairo’s Bret Douglas, has outstanding range. It is obvious why he was voted by the Classic Rock Society as the best male vocalist of 2002. I am also very impressed by the guitar playing of Ant Glynne. His driving guitar is present throughout the track and he explodes with a few blistering solos. In classic Wakeman fashion, a choir is used on many of the tracks. The choir adds to the emotionality of this particular piece. This song, in my opinion, is a modern day prog classic. ‘The Mission’ opens with Wakeman’s keys, which are joined by long time band member Tony Fernandez’s drums. Once again, Glynne’s guitar is prominent. Excellent playing by bassist Lee Pomeroy is also evident. I especially enjoy Wilson’s vocals on this song. ‘To Be With You’ begins with Fernandez on the electronic drums and the intro reminds me of the Yes song ‘Lift Me Up’. The choir has returned to handle the chorus in a beautiful fashion. ‘Universe of Sound is the most rocking song on the album. Wakeman and Glynne alternate several amazing solos. I really like the variety of sounds that Wakeman is achieving from his keyboards on this album. The song ends with an incredible Wakeman solo. ‘Music of Love’ is another great rocker that features more great keyboard and guitar solos. The final song, ‘Cathedral of the Sky’ is a favourite of mine. In vintage ‘Jane Seymour’ fashion, Wakeman’s presence on the church organ is unmistakable. The church organ/choir interaction is magical. The ten minute plus track is another Wakeman classic. Overall, I feel that ‘Out There’ is an outstanding album. I am very impressed by the band that Wakeman has put together. More than a solo effort, this is truly a band album. Wakeman has never sounded better and his songwriting is outstanding. I am also impressed by how important Ant Glynne’s guitar was to the overall sound of the album. With some albums that feature keyboardists, the guitarist will often take a back seat. This is not the case on this album I really enjoy Wilson’s vocals and Fernandez and Pomeroy are solid throughout. The addition of the choir completes the sound. In my opinion, ‘Out There’ compares favourably with any of Wakeman’s albums from the 70’s. The missing piece now is an American tour from Rick and the Ensemble. Of course, I will settle for some more US Yes dates. After hearing how great Wakeman sounds on this album, I am really excited about the prospect of a new Yes studio release! I highly recommend this album to any lovers of progressive rock and consider it a definite early contender for album of the year.