Twenty-five years after the release of Rick Wakeman's groundbreaking Journey to the Centre of the Earth album, a sequel entitled Return to the Centre of the Earth was released, this time including a who's who of musicians and vocalists. Still employing the London Symphony Orchestra to accompany his plethora of keyboards, Wakeman uses Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame to narrate the story and former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin for some spicy solos. But, even with famed vocalists like Justin Hayward, Bonnie Tyler, and Ozzy Osbourne in the spotlight, the music gets lost in fields of pretentious instrumental clamoring and strays far from Wakeman's intentional story line. Not enough time is given to enjoy Wakeman's artistry because of an overabundance of other instruments and unnecessary hubbub that disappointingly drown out his synthesizers. When Wakeman is caught playing, he falls short of his polished self, sounding rushed and irregular. His first Journey album sounded clean and finessed, thanks to simple organization and the fact that the focal point was aimed at his masterful keyboard playing. On the Return album, the music is louder, messier, and somewhat musically obtuse since it contains too many fragments of instruments, almost sounding like heavy metal at times. Even Patrick Stewart seems to be a little too long-winded throughout most of the album's duration. If programmed properly, the disc can be heard in the narrative only, or just the instrumentals. Wakeman's idea for a sequel was a good one, but he should have kept to his crisp progressive formula. Instead, the album falls prey to an evident case of overproduction and a classic example of the "too many cooks" cliché.
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AllMusic Review by Mike DeGagne