Album Review: Rick Wakeman — A Gallery of the Imagination

Rick Wakeman is staggeringly prolific. I defy anyone to absorb his entire body of work; hell, even coming up with an accurate count on the number of albums he’s released is a Herculean task. What matters more, of course, is the quality of the music. And while that has inevitably ebbed and flowed, as a rule, Wakeman’s output is always worth a listen. His most celebrated material was released during his A&M era, 1973 to 1979, but there are gems throughout his career, now well into its sixth decade.

2020’s The Red Planet is his most recent release of note, and it’s a testament to his enduring popularity that that album charted in his native UK. That instrumental album followed on from his classic The Six Wives of King Henry VIII and featured his band, the English Rock Ensemble.

His latest, A Gallery of the Imagination, again features that group, this time with vocalist Hayley Sanderson. Now, Rick Wakeman albums with vocals – not his, mind you – tend to rank a bit lower on my preferential list than do the instrumental releases, but that has less to do with any perceived shortcomings of the singers and more to do with my interest in hearing Wakeman’s keyboard solo runs and nothing but.

It’s perhaps inaccurate to classify A Gallery of the Imagination as a concept album, but it is a collection of thematically linked songs. The album opens with a catchy instrumental number, “Hidden Depths.” Featuring the whole band, it has a character not far removed from Alan Parsons Project, albeit with some flashier instrumental work. A yearning ballad, “The Man in the Moon” features Sanderson’s vocals out front. She’s a fine singer, but the track is at its most interesting during the instrumental passages. Lots of Mellotron (or, more likely, the modern-day equivalent).

The dreamy “A Mirage in the Clouds” evokes a contemplative, vaguely haunted feel. “The Creek” is a lovely – if comparatively spare and simple – piano solo. Dave Colquhon’s lyrical lead guitar is the highlight of “My Moonlight Dream.” While keyboards dominate on the understated “Only When I Cry,” the tune does have vocals. But they’re buried in the mix and thus function more as another sonic element.

“Cuban Carnival” sounds like its title suggests; Wakeman’s long-standing affinity for the Caribbean country is showcased here. “Just a Memory” is an elegiac piano solo. “The Dinner Party” is an instrumental, too, but a more fully orchestrated one featuring some wacky sonic textures. “A Day Spent on the River” is vaguely evocative of sixties girl-pop a la Petula Clark, with some nice keyboard textures added. Sanderson’s vocal showcase is “The Visitation,” in which she explores the upper end of her vocal range. It’s a dramatic piece of work. The album concludes with ‘The Eyes of a Child” (not the Moody Blues song), a quiet and understated way in which to end an album.

As the liner note booklet explains, the album wasn’t record as a band; each musician laid down his or her parts in their own studio. But the results mesh together seamlessly, and the album doesn’t have a patchwork character. A Gallery of the Imagination isn’t among Rick Wakeman’s best, but those who appreciate his artistry won’t be disappointed with it.