“A Gallery of the Imagination” is the latest concept album by the legendary keyboardist Rick Wakeman and features the English Rock Ensemble. Drawing inspiration from his first piano teacher, Wakeman wrote this album as a collection of pictures, with each track as a musical painting. Listeners will find a fusion of different styles, with clear prog-rock influences, solo piano pieces, and unconventional vocal tracks. His classical roots and influences from the Romantic period can also be heard across the album.
High resolution audio enthusiasts will be most interested in the Stereo LPCM 48kHz / 24-bit mix, plus the up-mixed version by Simon Heyworth into 5.1 surround which can be found on the CD + DVD edition. Vinyl and CD editions are also available, along with a deluxe box set that includes all three physical formats. I must note, it still surprises me that the only codec available for the 5.1 surround mix is Dolby Digital AC3, 48kHz / 24-bit. Plus, apparently the additional video content that was promised has been excluded. More on that later.
The English Rock Ensemble is widely featured on the album, and includes bassist Lee Pomeroy, guitarist Dave Colquhoun, and drummer Ash Soan. Vocalist Hayley Sanderson, who is renowned for her work on Strictly Come Dancing, brings her unique sound to the album. As has become common during these pandemic times, each artist recorded their individual parts in their own studios. The result is an album that feels tactile, with each note and sound carefully crafted to create a sensory experience that engages the listener's imagination.
The concept behind A Gallery of the Imagination is one that Wakeman would like to explore further. He envisions listeners drawing or painting their own pictures or even creating sculptures inspired by the music. The album is a celebration of creativity in all its forms and a reminder that music can be as visual and evocative as any painting or sculpture. Join Rick Wakeman and the English Rock Ensemble on a journey through A Gallery of the Imagination, a gallery that belongs to everyone.
The album opens with “Hidden Depths,” an instrumental that builds the scene. Starting with a gentle piano intro and builds into a satisfying progressive groove driven by bass and drums. Wakeman layers on a mellow synth solo and is truly the most traditional Wakeman sounding track on the album. While the back channels provide depth to the mix, it is only somewhat satisfying. I am certain that had the 5.1 been a discreet surround mix, listeners would be experiencing this album in a whole new light.
“The Man in the Moon” features Sanderson 's buttery vocals in a slow rock ballad. Painting a mellow celestial scene that adds a new stylistic flavor to the album. The surround mix adds very nice depth with Sanderson’s warm vocals soaring across the soundstage, and the rich guitar solo echoes firmly off the back wall.
Showcasing his clever writing with a solo acoustic piano song, “The Creek” focuses on Wakeman’s stylistic inflexions. The tune is short, sweet, and simply beautiful. I found myself placed in a solarium with Wakeman at the keys which reverberate distinctly across the space on this track.
As one walks through the gallery, they travel around the world arriving at “Cuban Carnival” which is a calypso-style piece that takes Wakeman into new territories. Unfortunately, this song lacks the true depth that immersive listeners have come to expect from discreet mixes, and the reality that the 5.1 surround mix is only an up-mix become extremely evident here. Additionally, throughout the album I have noticed that the drums sound muffled with little dynamic life, which also can be heard on the stereo mix too. While the bass is moderately full, it really is the keyboards and vocals that shine through sonically on the album.
One of my favorite tracks is “The Dinner Party” where synths interact playfully between grooving basslines while catchy melodies layer over the chorus. In its proggy ways the composition really is a jam track. Ironically the up-mix for this track offers a sense of discreet elements with percussion and synth pads which are primarily focused in the rear channels.
“A Day Spent on the Pier” has a simple yet touching quality, reminiscent of Chas and Dave's Margate blended in with a lounge feel. The album ends with “The Eyes of a Child” that primarily features acoustic piano accompanied by the vocal work of Sanderson. The somber and pretty track lends itself perfectly to close out ones walk through of the musical gallery.
As hi-res listeners would expect, the LPCM Stereo mix offers greater definition, a deeper low end, and improved dynamics. Thus, it truly is the inclusion of the hi-res stereo mix that brings value to this release for high resolution audio anthusiasts.
I don’t often blast labels and artists, but it is a real shame that the surround mix is not offered in a lossless format when the promotion clearly stated that the disc was a DVD-A. This misrepresentation is not a first for Wakeman’s label, the previous release, “The Red Planet,” promoted a surround mix, which was later pulled, and then provided only as an up-mix to those who pre-ordered the CD + DVD pop-up edition. Additionally, the promotional material for A Gallery of the Imagination described a digipak for the CD + DVD editions, which is not what I received. Instead the item arrived in a jewel case with a booklet and flip top tray that houses both the CD and DVD. Some promotional material also listed video content, while other pages indicated that it may be included. Which is it? Well, there is no video content, just adding to the annoyance of how shortcuts were taken instead of creating a truly high-quality product.
I can only recommend this album for die hard fans of Rick Wakeman and surround sound enthusiasts who must have it all. While the price value would be generally good, the low bar of the overall quality is lacking. Sorry to have to say, I will certainly be thinking twice about any future releases from the Wakeman camp.
Released February 24, 2023.
CD + DVD with 5.1 surround up-mix 48kHz / 24-bit AC3 and 2.0 stereo LPCM 48kHz / 24-bit mixes. Also available on CD and Vinyl, plus via popular streaming services.
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About the Author
Wesley is a lifelong music enthusiast. He started his career in the recording industry in New York City as an audio engineer, producer, and studio manager. Subsequently he toured across America as a guitarist with the short-lived band Land's Crossing. After many years in the technology sector and amassing a substantial vinyl and CD collection, he delved into immersive audio and created Hi-Res Edition to share with other listeners about the sound quality and discrete mixes available on many formats. He recently upgraded his system to 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos and continues to seek out and share about the best sounding releases.