A Wakeman ‘solo’ album with a difference, Starship Trooper sounds more like a band and features several cover versions.
Label: Purple Pyramid
Time: 13 tracks / 75 mins
Rick Wakeman is one of the most talented keys players of the last few decades, and possibly the most loved. Yes were rarely the same band without him and his session work includes legendary tracks like Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Cat Stevens’ “Morning has Broken.”
Yet his solo work has been highly inconsistent, peaking with both the original and re-worked live versions of Six Wives of Henry VIII, but troughing through numerous re-packages and repetitive compilations.
This release sits somewhere in between – although much higher than average – and is well worth regular fans paying attention to (especially those with the impression that filler is the new norm). The difference here is that this is Clepopatra Records' compilation of material featuring him, rather than a disc he has releasd. Consequently, what also sets this apart is the winning combination of a full, often instrumental, band sound with some fine, proven tracks.
It starts, for example, with a cover of Tool’s instrumental “Sober,” which has a fizzing, soaring top end, coupled with a growling bass. “Are We to Believe” follows, and includes a couple of sax solos – a true rarity with Wakeman’s work.
The familiar tracks include a good (previously released) version of Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky;” the Doors’ “Light My Fire” (an instrumental that suits the album’s style completely) and, of course, Yes’s ”Starship Trooper,” which comes complete with vocals, but fades abruptly and surprisingly after the synth solo.
While the sound is fairly full, there are airier moments with a sprinkling of his trademark virtuoso piano style.
Sometimes the tracks are a little over-long (most of Supertramp’s “Crime of the Century” is a fine inclusion), or need more direction, and while a short William Shatner track often provokes raised eyebrows and is good for a laugh, this one is a waste of space.
But quality musicianship is a given, and it can be fascinating to hear Wakeman’s style overlaid onto familiar tracks like 10cc’s “I’m not in Love.”
Endnote: Wakeman has put a note on his website regarding this release, stating, "Whilst I always do my very best as regards performance on other people’s 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'.
"Having said that, I would never send back any performance that I was not 100% happy with, so I know there will not be any playing from me that I would listen to and go 'ouch!' ... Starship Trooper is certainly an insight into how I work on other people’s music and so I think certainly has its place."