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John Wetton - Battle Lines [Aka: Voice Mail] CD (album) cover

BATTLE LINES [AKA: VOICE MAIL]

John Wetton

 

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3.47 | 53 ratings

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VianaProghead
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Review Nš 365

John Wetton was an English bassist, singer and songwriter. He was a professional musician since the late of the 60's. He was a man with a musical career absolutely unique, rich and enviable. He was member of many progressive rock bands and he also participated in several musical projects of so many artists. I absolutely agree with the expression put on John Wetton's biography on this site: 'a man who has been in more bands than most of us has had hot dinners'.

So, John Wetton reached the fame in the progressive rock due to his participation in some of the best progressive rock bands and worked with some of the best progressive rock artists too, such as Family, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, U.K., Wishbone Ash, Steve Hackett. And he was also one of the founders of the super group Asia. So, all over his extensive career, he participated in some of the best progressive rock albums. It included King Crimson's 'Larks' Tongues In Aspic' of 1973, 'Starless And Bible Black' of 1974, 'Red' of 1974 and the live album 'USA' of 1975, UK's self-titled debut of 1978, Roxy Music's live album 'Viva!' of 1976, Steve Hackett's live album 'The Tokyo Tapes' of 1998 and Asia's self-titled debut of 1982, only to mention some of the most important albums in which he has participated.

John Wetton was, in my humble opinion, one of the best vocalists and one of the best bass players of the progressive rock music. He had a style of bass playing very own and very powerful, which makes of it very distinct and unique.

'Battle Lines' is the third solo studio album of Wetton and was released in 1994. It's the European release of 'Voice Mail', the original album released in Japan in 1992. The two versions have the same content but have a different cover.

'Battle Lines' has ten short tracks and we can say that musically the album has some similitudes with the earlier sound of Asia. John Wetton invited to participate on this album a handful of musicians. So, the line up on the album is John Wetton (vocals, bass, acoustic guitar and keyboards), Bob Marlette (keyboards, grand piano, synthesizer and programming), Michael Landau (guitars), Michael Cartellone (drums), Claude Gaudette (keyboards and programming), Robert Fripp (guitar and devices), Simon Phillips (drums), Steve Lukather (guitar), Dave Boruff (alto saxophone), Robbie Buchanan (grand piano), Jed Leiber (keyboards and programming) and Paul Buckmaster (arrangements for orchestra).

In the 80's John Wetton shifted his focus slightly to what could best be described as 'Prog-Pop' or possibly 'Arena- Prog'. With 'Battle Lines' Wetton shifted even further into the pop realm with his brief foray into the realm of adult contemporary music in an attempt to attract some new listeners and perhaps make himself a bit more accessible. While not as adventurous or as interesting as Wetton's more progressive material, 'Battle Lines' is certainly more accessible. The material is still unmistakably John Wetton but it lacks to it a bit of the adventurousness of his earlier career. As a 'Prog-Pop' album, 'Battle Lines', is a bit a disappointment for all his progressive fans. But on the other hand, 'Battle Lines', is thoroughly enjoyable from the start to finish. The only 'throwaway' or 'filler' track to be found here is 'Jane' which would not have sounded out of place in the 80's, but it's somewhat troubling considering that 'Battle Lines' was released well into the 90's. By the other hand, Wetton's voice is thoroughly enjoyable as always. While he may not be the best singer, what he lacks in vocal quality he far more than makes up for in the overall passion of his vocal delivery. His vocals particularly stand out on the title track, 'Battle Lines', and on 'Hold Me Now'. In reality, the album succeeds as a very melodic showcase for Wetton's voice. Even though there is no Geoffrey Downes the album is very keyboard heavy. Most of the songs are built upon piano or keyboard as opposed to guitar. Highlights include 'Crime Of Passion' co-written with John Young, 'Hold Me Now' and the title track, which is one of the best songs John Wetton ever wrote.

With subsequent releases John Wetton would start to return to his more progressive roots to the delight of his fans. But this album shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Taken in the right context this album is thoroughly enjoyable as anything else John Wetton has ever recorded. If there's a knock on the album it's that the majority of the songs are the same mid-level tempo. So, some credit must be given for John Wetton to try a genre he wasn't known for performing.

Conclusion: 'Battle Lines' is really a great rock album with very good songs containing some incredibly beautiful and romantic passages and where the qualities of the songwriting are almost of the high quality. The precision and the quality of the production are also irreproachable. I really like this album. However, I have a problem to rate it. At first sight, it deserves 4 stars, but I can't rate this album with 4 stars. Why? Because 'Battle Lines', is an album with very few progressive lines. With the exception of the participation of Robert Fripp and the two first songs 'Right Where I Wanted To Be' and especially 'Battle Lines', which is, in my opinion, a fantastic song, the rest stuff aren't progressive, and we can never forget that we are in a progressive rock site. Although, if you aren't a progressive fundamentalist and if you like a good melodic rock album and you also have some extra money to spend, I strongly recommend this album.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

VianaProghead | 3/5 |

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