I can’t say I like programmatic music a lot of time as I often find the concept completely unhelpful in appreciating the music. (The exception to this is a really great tone poem, wherein the program sometimes helps locate the experience.) So frankly I am unconcerned with whether or not this record does anything with Henry VIII’s wives. It could be called Instrumental Prog Rock Featuring Members of Yes and the Strawbs as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve always though Keith Emerson was a greater keyboard virtuoso than Rick Wakeman but this record helps to dispel that notion at least a little bit. Wakeman creates these massive keyboard orchestras (backed by rock bands on most tracks) which show off both his prodigious playing ability and his ambitions as a composer and arranger. If you’re looking for showy, virtuoso prog keyboard playing, look no further. (Also, this music sounds hard to play for the guests too. There is some good drumming here and a good guitar solo or two.)
As actual pieces of music – or, especially, as a suite of pieces of music – I’m not sure they’re as strong as they should be. But if I am thinking about this as an excuse for some good musicians to show off – something I often enjoy – it works as far as that goes.
Though it’s a little lacking in songs – or, conversely, as a serious piece of music fusing rock with high art ideas – I still think it’s better than the little other solo records I’ve heard by prog artists. (So often you miss the rest of the band.) And I am tempted to say that it holds up better than Tubular Bells even though (because?) it is less ambitious.
Still, this is for people who have listened to Close to the Edge-era Yes and wonder what the band would sound like with more keyboards and less of everything else.