Personnel: David Essex (keyboards); Chris Spedding, Phil Palmer (guitar); Alan Wakeman (saxophone); Paul Maguire, Francis Monkman (keyboards); Ken Freeman (synthesizer); Trevor Morais, Barry De Souza, Kenney Jones (drums); Ray Cooper (percussion).
Liner Note Author: Phil Hendriks.
Ignoring the fiery breath of punk that laid waste so many of his glam rocking peers, David Essex moved into the late '70s on a wave of musical confidence, readjusting his own early teen appeal for a more adult approach, but without ever falling into the prevalent trap of full-on AOR. Imperial Wizard was released in the wake of his biggest hit in three years, "Oh What a Circus" -- performed in Essex's role of Che Guevara in the stage musical Evita. A number three hit in summer 1978, it succeeded a bunch of 45s that had struggled to make the Top 30, but the album proves that its success was not a fluke. Pre-empting the warm, sax-driven moodiness that would soon bring great reward to Gerry Rafferty, Imperial Wizard opens with the smooth "Let It Flow" before drifting into a menacing art-funk vibe ("Call On Me" and the super-rousing title track) that helps dominate the remainder of the album. Elsewhere, Essex even takes on medieval folk song, to firmly establish his all-round musical qualities -- an asset that was to prove of immense importance as the 1980s hove into view. Arguably, the best of his next decade's worth of albums was originally blueprinted here. There are a handful of missteps that prevent Imperial Wizard from truly ascending to the ranks of great Essex albums. But the overall sensation is of a performer who was truly aiming for the long haul, fame and fashion be damned. ~ Dave Thompson