by Phil Freeman

Keyboardist Rick Wakeman is frequently thought of as a kind of grinning, beer-swilling lout who somehow wound up creating incredible synth soundscapes for Yes, a band otherwise mostly populated by blissed-out prog hippies. (Wakeman has exited and rejoined the group several times; there are currently two versions of Yes touring, one led by Wakeman and singer Jon Anderson, and one led by guitarist Steve Howe.) He seems to have a good sense of humor about himself and an allergy to pretension.

Apparently that’s not entirely true, though. In addition to his work with Yes, he has about 100 solo albums to his name—not a joke—including multiple movie soundtracks and innumerable live releases. Some, like The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, are fairly well known and even sold well at the time…but, you know, it was the ’70s. The majority of his solo work is pretty obscure. And in the case of The Art In Music Trilogy (get it from Amazon), that’s a good thing.

This three-CD set was originally released in 1999 on Music Fusion, a German label that ran out of money shortly thereafter, sending it out of print. Now it’s been reissued by Esoteric, a UK-based prog imprint run by Cherry Red. It packs 35 short tracks into just over three hours, all solo synth pieces in the ambient/New Age/background-music zone.

The music is mildly pretty; the melodies are simple and repetitive, but ultimately unmemorable; and they’re basically all the same. There’s no thematic flow to the individual discs, so you might just as well listen to them on shuffle as in album order.

The Art In Music Trilogy is so low-key it’s hard to even describe. To pick just one example, “Mountain Mist” sounds like music from a coffee commercial, or the closing-credits music from a low-budget, direct-to-video romance. So do the other 34 pieces. There are two very long tracks, “Lucky Curve” (10:37) and “Glacier Valleys” (11:57), but almost everything else is in the three- to six-minute range. The really surprising thing is how old the music sounds—it doesn’t seem to have been recorded in 1997 (which it was); it sounds like something unearthed from the late ’80s. Wakeman uses an awful MIDI piano sound throughout, with shimmering-chimes effects and pink washes of synth filling in whatever gaps might remain. It’s the soundtrack to being trapped in a scented candle store.

All that said, if you own a scented candle store and need something to play in it, or if you’re an absolute Rick Wakeman completist, go ahead and buy this.

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