You know, we're still only scratching the surface with these instruments and we've still got loads of vintage stuff yet to use...
— Erik Jordan (Engineer/Co-Producer)
I know, and I've got loads of ideas too...
At least one of the pioneers is still producing quality product: this is Yes keyboard virtuoso Rick Wakeman in his element, a return to sinfully delicious analog exploitativeness that began with last year's Retro. The support is same as last time: New English Rock Ensemble players Dave Colquhoun, Lee Pomeroy and drummer Tony Fernandez on guitars, basses and drums, respectively, along with engineer Erik Jordan back in his chair to oversee the rising bars of red. Rick's lovely daughter Jemma returns to sing on a pair of songs, and she certainly cuts no corners. Longtime collaborator Ashley Holt is absent; in his stead is vocalist Elliott Tuffin.
As with Retro, analog synthesizers are the true stars of this recording, which is at least as good as its predecessor, if not better. Think a little less quirk, even on the bombast, and a bit more grit. All the while, the power of the voltage-controlled oscillator reigns supreme. Blocks of Mellotron choirs, flutes and strings (and a smattering of brass and cello) populate seven of the ten tracks. For those signature monophonic solos and lead lines, the Caped Crusader fires up his MiniMoog, PolyMoog and Prophet 5 most often. (While there's Hammond on roughly half the album, again one must ask — why no Clavinet?) Many new sounds and textures surface, and this time the instrumentals — twice as many as last time — outnumber the songs. If that doesn't reel in the skeptical Wakefan, nothing will. Though it would be grand if the third installment was entirely wordless!
Ashley Holt has been the subject of much ire (but much admiration as well) for over thirty years, but while
replacement Elliott Tuffin is more of a "rock" vocalist — then why not Damian Wilson? — his performance on the country rock-esque (!) "Expect The Unexpected" is suspect and a little too gruff. A poor man's Holt, if you will. He does a little better on "Robert The Robot" but alas, those two tracks are probably going to get swept under the mat due to his presence. On the flipside, "An Angel Spoke To Me" owes its success to Jemma's precision. It's a wispy, understated, ethereal number generated only by her vocals and Rick's employ of Mellotron and a Korg EPS-1 (electronic piano). Against the rockier landscape of the rest of the album, it's a standout. Jemma also sings several verses on the eleven-minute "The Temple Of Life," an ambitious mini-epic peppered by muscular MiniMoog & PolyMoog lines and silky Tron samples that could have been appropriated for a proper N.E.R.E. album.
The instrumentals this time out are ballsier, a bit more diverse. For all the Wakeman vs. Emerson arguments that are conveyed ad nauseum, "The Fairground Shuffle" is a finger snapper that sounds weirdly like Emo in spots. But then the Prophet solo is unadulterated Rick. "Tigger The Bounce" is a new exquisite solopiano piece, one that will join his other best piano works. The remaining four instrumentals are classic Wakeman: "Chasing The Devil," "Beyond The Void," "The Soundtrack" and "Standing Room Only" could have debuted as bonus material on reissues of Criminal Record or White Rock and hardly a soul would have questioned their inclusion as "vintage" material (well, the production values may have given them away). Setting aside the overt technical ability of the players, "Standing Room Only" is a pure organ-driven rock vehicle, but the other three are thematic successes in their own right. Nods to Goblin, Fabio Frizzi and Claudio Simonetti manifest spontaneously, correlating to the fact that Rick is no stranger to film scoring himself. A piece titled "The Soundtrack," even! (As if the heavier reliance on Tron choirs didn't suffice as its own signpost.) And while the keyboard work is as sinewy as Stallone circa Rocky III, the efforts of the N.E.R.E. boys should in no way be discounted. Pomeroy, Fernandez and Colquhoun reliably pump up this affair with pounds of rock crunch. Pomeroy is an excellent bassist who ably serves up the grooves and sneaks in cool fills here and there. Fernandez achieves the power drummer feel that commonly eludes him. Colquhoun maintains his status as an accompanist but cuts to the fore when it's time to fire off solos from the queue, a chief example being those with which he counters the saucy Prophet and PolyMoog solos on "Chasing The Devil."
The Verdict: Retro 2 ...Rick said there wouldn't be one. He obviously realized that one flashback is never enough! As a postscript, the quote above the review reflects the intentions of the creators before and after the completion of Retro 2! Stay tuned for Retro 3!
"Chasing The Devil" — Sequential Circuits Prophet 5; PolyMoog, Moog Taurus MK1 bass pedals*; Korg Sigma, Vocoder VC10; Mellotron
"Expect The Unexpected" — Prophet 5; Sigma; Hammond Organ
"Beyond The Void" — Prophet 5; Korg MonoPoly, Vocoder VC10; MiniMoog, PolyMoog, Taurus MK1 bass pedals*; Mellotron
"An Angel Spoke To Me" — Korg EPS-1; Mellotron
"The Soundtrack" — Prophet 5; Mellotron; Hammond Organ
"The Fairground Shuffle" — RMI Electra Piano; Prophet 5; Mellotron; Hammond Organ
"Robert The Robot" — Prophet 5; MiniMoog; MonoPoly, Sigma
"Standing Room Only" — Prophet 5; Hammond Organ; Mellotron; Taurus MK1 bass pedals*
"Tigger The Bounce" — Yamaha Baby Grand Piano
"The Temple Of Life" — Prophet 5; MiniMoog, PolyMoog, Moog Taurus MK1 bass pedals*; MonoPoly; Mellotron
1. Chasing The Devil (6:09)
2. Expect The Unexpected (4:38)
3. Beyond The Void (9:04)
4. An Angel Spoke To Me (5:33)
5. The Soundtrack (7:29)
6. The Fairground Shuffle (4:34)
7. Robert The Robot (3:44)
8. Standing Room Only (6:20)
9. Tigger The Bounce (4:42)
10. The Temple Of Life (11:02)
Total time – 63:36