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Eclectic Prog

4.11 | 659 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Prior to the band's founding, the members of U.K. mark 1 had already played with some pretty big names in prog rock. Keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson had been in Curved Air and Frank Zappa's band, and in Roxy Music with bassist/vocalist John Wetton. Wetton and drummer Bill Bruford had been in King Crimson together; Bruford had toured with Genesis and was a founding member of Yes. Guitarist Allan Holdsworth was featured in Bruford's late-1970s band. But as much as U.K. reflects those bands on occasion, it's fair to say they have their own sound. In fact, in places on their debut I'm reminded of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer more than of any group of which Jobson, Wetton, Bruford, or Holdsworth had actually been a member.

Given the lineup, it would be a true shock if the musicianship weren't top-notch. These guys don't disappoint. Wetton, a serviceable bassist, is solid, and the other three players are excellent, demonstrating their proficiency via their arrangements as much by shredding. Check out "Nevermore" for examples of Holdsworth on both electric and acoustic guitars and Jobson on piano and synthesizer. Jobson also turns in some excellent violin performances, such as on "Time to Kill," which also includes excellent guitar and synthesizer improvisation. Bill Bruford fancies himself a jazz drummer, but he is in full rock mode here, avoiding some rock-drumming clichés, but playing a 4/4 beat (even a straight 4/4 beat) when appropriate.

The vocals are OK. Wetton over-emotes, as is his wont, and has to strain to hit some notes - - another of his tendencies. By the way, did Wetton originate this singing style, was he imitating Greg Lake, consciously or not? It really seems as if the songs were arranged for Wetton's vocal range, and then tuned up several steps to ensure that he'd have to overtax his voice. Wetton is listed as only vocalist on the album, so I guess that must be him singing the harmonies, although in places it sounds like there's another singer as well. As far as I know, U.K. predated the wall-of-sound vocal harmonies featured on Wetton's 1980 solo debut Caught in the Crossfire (e.g., on "Turn on the Radio") and perfected two years later on Asia's self-titled debut. Interestingly, in addition to traditional methods, on U.K. Wetton experiments with a harmonizer effect, for example, starting at around 1:36 on "Nevermore."

What separates this album from a four-star LP like Bruford's relatively similar Gradually Going Tornado (1980) is the compositions. The songs on U.K. are merely good. In particular, the melodies are pedestrian, especially given that the group was evidently aiming for a radio-friendly sound. Wetton would finally find that sound on the first two Asia albums. While U.K. is more musically ambitious than Asia (1982) or Alpha (1983), I prefer those two - - maybe because the finished products were more consistent with the objectives of the group.

patrickq | 3/5 |


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