Starship Trooper

Rick Wakeman

Purple Pyramid Records, 2016

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


How many Rick Wakeman albums is enough? This is apparently a purely rhetorical question, as All Music Guide now lists well over 100 studio albums—not counting dozens of anthologies and live recordings—credited to the former Yes keyboardist and prolific solo artist.

Complicating matters further, this particular release is only a Rick Wakeman album by the most fanciful stretch of an overeager record label executive’s imagination. Let’s allow Wakey himself to weigh in: “Cleopatra informed me last year that they were going to issue a compilation of some of the tracks that I had played on as a session musician. They are perfectly legally entitled to do this, so obviously I had no objection. What does need to be made clear, though, is that this is not MY new release. Whilst I always do my very best as regards performance on other people’s productions, they are not my productions. I am simply adding to what is already there. The pieces are not my arrangements, my choices of music or indeed my production and so therefore cannot be remotely considered as ‘My Album.’”

What we have instead, then, is a baker’s dozen of tracks on which Wakeman has played for Cleopatra and its sister label Purple Pyramid over the last 15 years. These tracks are a genuine hodgepodge of originals, covers, reissues and previously unreleased tracks. Credited guests include fellow Yes-men Steve Howe, Tony Kaye and Billy Sherwood, as well as other notables such as Tony Levin, Steve Hillage, Nik Turner, Colin Moulding, Jerry Goodman, Carmine Appice and the inimitable William Shatner. (With no help from the incomplete credits, I was able to deduce that most of these tracks were produced by Sherwood.)

Many words could be used to describe such an album—mishmash, smorgasbord, potpourri—but the one I eventually settled on here is “potluck.” As in, many chefs and varied results, with some tasty bits and others that look good at first but may end up tucked in your napkin.

Let’s start with the best: “The Great Gig In The Sky,” taken from the 2006 Pink Floyd tribute album my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Return To The Dark Side Of The Moon, is a wonderful, largely faithful rendition highlighted by Wakeman’s rippling piano and tasteful arcing slide notes from Howe. “Crime Of The Century,” from the 2012 Supertramp tribute Songs Of The Century, also features some magnificent work from Wakeman, with his fluid piano lines residing at the heart of the song, and an equally pleasing synth solo in the later going.

Nice but missing something is a cover of “Love Reign O’er Me” taken from 2012’s Who Are You: An All-Star Tribute To The Who; this instrumental version is strong enough but feels incomplete with Joe Elliott’s vocals stripped from the mix. Similarly, “Check Point Karma” from the first Prog Collective album provides a welcome spotlight for Wakeman’s dynamic soloing, but despite this album’s credits, Colin Moulding’s vocal track is nowhere to be found. Which makes it all the more puzzling when they leave in Sherwood’s vocal for “Nobody Home” (from another Floyd tribute) even though Wakeman’s superb, jazzy keys are clearly the focal point of the track.

As for the lowlights… well.

“Starship Trooper” is an absolutely bizarre choice to be featured as the title track. Never mind that Wakeman hadn’t even joined Yes yet when the song debuted on 1971’s The Yes  Album; he doesn’t even show up on this version until the song’s nearly over. To my ears, at least, Tony Kaye plays all the early Hammond parts and Wakeman doesn’t come in until the last three minutes of this 8:34 track. Meanwhile, punnily-cast former Starship lead throat Mickey Thomas seems a decent enough choice to match elfin-voiced Jon Anderson’s original vocal right up until that final segment, when out of nowhere he suddenly chirps “Starship trooper! Woo!” like a hyperactive middle schooler. Chalkboard, meet fingernails.

Further illustrating the hazards of turning familiar vocal songs into instrumentals, the version of “I’m Not In Love” found here remakes the 10cc classic as elevator music; it’s barely recognizable. Then there’s a bizarre instrumental take on “Light My Fire,” with Wakeman’s synths seemingly set to “carousel organ”; the whole thing comes out sounding like the score to an acid trip at a carnival.

There’s also some mildly interesting industrial stuff early on featuring Jürgen Engler from Die Krupps and a blisteringly weird cut lifted from a Nik Turner album. But the album is really summed up best by the Shatner track “Changes”: overblown, odd, and a bit too clever for its own good, though it does have its moments.

Finally, while I grant you that only a handful of liner notes geeks like yours truly will actually give them a close read, I can’t let these pass without commenting on one other point. This otherwise comically breathless summation of Wakeman’s voluminous credits over the past half-century (“The King of Keyboards!”) includes a major gaffe, suggesting that Wakeman and Anderson left Yes after 1980’s Drama album rather than before it. Close but, well, not really close at all if you ever actually followed the band.

Starship Trooper is perhaps best viewed as evidence of two things: (1) Rick Wakeman is both remarkably talented and remarkably promiscuous in his sharing of said talents; and (2) for record labels, these truly are desperate times.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2016 Jason Warburg 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 Purple Pyramid Records, and is used for informational purposes only.