...Two centuries forward from this discovery, three geologian
explorers traversed land and sea before they reached the mass of
volcanic tufa known as Iceland. Veiled in secrecy, their purpose: to
emulate the journey
that had been taken by their forefathers two hundred
years previous.... (from "A Vision")
Return to the Centre of the Earth is a 1999 album by Rick Wakeman that adds a new chapter to his 1974 musical interpretation of Jules Verne's
Journey to the Center of the Earth. While the storylines are very
similar, Return has new music, new collaborators, and, best of all,
narration by Patrick Stewart.
The premise of Return, and of its predecessor, are that intrepid
explorers follow the route of the sixteenth century naturalist and alchemist
Arne Saknussemm, from the mouth of a dormant volcano
in Iceland, down through the bowels of the Earth, and into its fabled
hollow center. Along the way, they encounter fierce
(and not so fierce) creatures -- all long since presumed extinct -- and
other fantastic sights and sounds. The only question beyond what amazing
things they'll discover next is Will they make it home alive?
Wakeman's original work was a live concert at London's
Royal Festival Hall in January of 1974. It was received with great public
enthusiasm and critical acclaim, but Wakeman was so frazzled from
writing the music, organizing the rock band, hiring the
London Symphony and English Chamber Choir, and above all working with
synthesizer technology of the 1970s, that he wound up having
a mild heart attack after another performance at the Crystal Palace Bowl.
He wisely chose a more relaxed
pace for Return; he kept the wonderful orchestration, narration, and
guest performers, but recorded it in studio, rather than live. He also
recorded the artists in various locations around the world rather than
bringing them all together, and simply mixed them together afterwards.
The result is a beautiful piece of work, and some of Wakeman's most
The first thing the listener is treated to is the rich voice of
Patrick Stewart as the story's narrator, taking over the role played by
David Hemmings in the original. This isn't a minor appearance, he
plays a very
central role in the album, and his voice is perfect for the part.
It's impossible for me (and probably most people) to disassociate his voice
from his role on Star Trek, but that's fine -- after all, Return
is a Journey into space, just inner space rather than
Stewart does a wonderful job of narration, conveying the emotions and
excitement of our heroes on their voyage into the depths. What's
especially nice about the CD is that each narrative segment has its own
track, so you can program your CD player to listen only to the narration.
However, there are several additional songs mixed in with the narration and
orchestral tracks, most featuring excellent vocal talents. Wakeman's
long-time friend Justin Hayward (Moody Blues) appears on one track, and
Rick also brought in a few other surprise guests, including Yes' former guitarist/vocalist
Trevor Rabin and another old friend, Ozzy Osbourne.
The rock tracks are all pretty good, though Wakeman's lyrics aren't
quite as good as the narrative prose he wrote. But with a Wakeman album,
most people are
listening to the keyboards anyway, and Rick doesn't disappoint. He uses a
mixture of synthesizers and piano on this one, and he's in great form as
usual. Instrumental tracks such as The Kill, Floodflames,
and (my favorite)
The Dance of a Thousand Lights are perfect examples of Wakeman's
technical mastery. And Dance... is one of his lovelier compositions
Overall, Return to the Center of the Earth is a fun album, and
it's a shame it wasn't as big a success for Rick Wakeman here in the
United States as it apparently was in the rest of the world. Wakeman
fans should pick up a copy as it's yet another overlooked solo record of
his, and of course, Star Trek fans should have it for
Jean-Luc's appearance alone.
The orchestra and choir were once again the
London Symphony and the English Chamber Choir, respectively. Rick plays
all the keyboards, which (for those interested) are:
Korg O1W ProX, Roland JD 800, Kurzweil K2500 R, Korg Trinity ProX,
Korg X5DR, Technics WSA, Steinway & Sons Concert Grand,
MiniMoog, Fatar SL-880, and G.E.M. PRO 2.
Rick's backing band are:
- Fraser Thorneycroft-Smith, Guitars
- Phil Williams, Bass guitar
- Simon Hanson, Drums
The guest vocalists are: Ozzy Osbourne, Bonnie Tyler, Tony Mitchell,
Trevor Rabin, Justin Hayward, and Katrina Leskanich.
And finally, the track list:
- A Vision (narration)
- The Return Overture
- Mother Earth (narration)
- Buried Alive (with Ozzy Osbourne)
- The Enigma (narration)
- Is Anybody There? (with Bonnie Tyler)
- The Ravine (narration)
- The Dance Of A Thousand Lights
- The Shepherd (narration)
- Mr. Slow (with Tony Mitchell)
- Bridge of Time (narration)
- Never is a Long, Long Time (with Trevor Rabin, vocals and guitar)
- Tales from the Lindenbrook Sea (narration)
- The Kill
- Timeless History (narration)
- Still Waters Run Deep (with Justin Hayward)
- Time Within Time (narration)
- Ride of Your Life (with Katrina Leskanich)
- Floating (narration)
- The Volcano (narration)
- The End of the Return
The CD clocks in at nearly 77 minutes.
As Wakeman says in the liner notes, it's over twice as long as the original.
I think it is much, much more than twice as good.
The CD catalog number is EMI Classics CDC 7243 5 56763 2 0. Cover art
was by Roger Dean. The album was recorded in Dolby Digital Surround Sound.
It's still in print (thankfully) and shouldn't be hard to find.