Judging by YouTube comments (yes, I know, but still), The Burning by Rick Wakeman is a polarizing score. Fans tend to look past the overly-bombastic nature of the synth-driven music, citing instead the creativity and originality Wakeman brought to what was (by most accounts) a largely banal ’80s slasher flick. Its detractors, meanwhile, cite how cheesy and uninspired many of the tracks are, so much so that Wakeman himself doesn’t even stand behind the finished product. But while it isn’t perfect, The Burning has some truly incredible passages that should make any progressive rock or horror fan happy.
Full disclosure, I fall into the camp that really enjoys this score. It appeals directly to my prog-rock disposition and love of ’80s synth. The only two tracks I don’t enjoy are “Doin’ It” and “Devils Creek Breakdown,” neither of which are written or performed by Wakeman, but do feature some solos by guitar virtuoso Arlen Roth. Neither song fits in with the rest of the score, leaving them largely forgettable.
The vinyl release is broken up into two unique sides — side one being called “The Wakeman Variations” and side two “The Music from the Film.” While side two contains those terrible country/bluegrass songs, it also features the strongest pieces on the record. “Campfire Story” and “The Fire” are the highlights, mixing dialogue from the film with sharp synth attacks and piano. It’s the most iconic music from the score, and makes a strong case for why this record is worthy of a spot in any collection.
Side one is made up of variations on the movie themes. It’s a fun listen, but not without meandering a bit too much at times. “Theme from The Burning” is a standout, beginning with the quiet sound of crickets and light piano, then joined by synth and drums. It’s completely over the top, but a lot of fun. “Shear Terror and More” is another high point, although mostly for the lightning fast intro. All the variations have lengthy sections with many movements, so it’s best to just let it play and decide what suits you.
Sound quality on this release is excellent. I own the original European press and it sounds dull compared to the reissue. This one also seems to be a lot quieter than the original black vinyl; very little surface noise was detected. Packaging-wise, it’s wonderful, the lush colors and artwork are a massive upgrade to the original white cover with sparse graphics. My only complaint is that I would have like to have seen some liner notes from Wakeman or someone involved with the film, mostly due to the fact that Wakeman seems to have some strong opinions about his involvement and performance.
With an admittedly dated soundscape and some throwaway tracks, The Burning is definitely not for everyone. However, do not let that deter you from giving it a shot; if you really enjoy the title track or just want a high quality reissue of an old favorite, then The Burning could easily find its way onto your shelf.
The Burning is available on vinyl at One Way Static.