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UK

UK

Review by Scott Prinzing

Considered by many to be one of the greatest prog albums of all time, it is a shame that the line-up lasted only one album and tour.  The combined talent of these four players (Bill Bruford on drums and percussion; Allan Holdsworth on guitars; Eddie Jobson on keyboards and electric violin; and John Wetton on bass and vocals) is simply astounding.  While the term “supergroup” is virtually synonymous with ’70s prog, this group had quite a collective CV when they formed: Curved Air, Bryan Ferry, Gong, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Soft Machine, Uriah Heep, Yes and Frank Zappa (later adding such notable bands as Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe; Asia; Earthworks; Icon; Jethro Tull; Wishbone Ash; and innumerable solo albums, side projects and sessions).  But this is the one and only studio work by this amazing quartet.

Most prog fans knew what they would get from Bruford and Wetton, but fewer would have been familiar with the indisputable talents of Holdsworth and Jobson.  What they produced can best be described as something bridging the gap between the more experimental work of King Crimson and the more commercially accessible work of Asia.  Classical discipline and virtuosity is crossed with jazz experimentation and improvisation tempered with subtle pop sensibilities.  Holdsworth in particular impressed everyone from Eddie Van Halen to Yngwie Malmsteen to Frank Zappa and it’s obvious why: there is a fantastic aura emanating throughout Holdsworth’s playing that reexamines the role of the electric guitar in a rock setting like few others before him. 

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
In the Dead of Night: In the Dead of Night

If ever a track encompassed this group it is this first movement of “In the Dead of Night.”  The brilliant juxtaposition of Jobson’s almost Christmas-y major key riff and the punchy syncopation of the rhythm section makes for one of the most memorable introductions on a debut. Wetton’s lyrics are simultaneously complex and playful: “Rich and powerful ascend complicated bends to be free / To indulge in what they will any jaded thrill or fantasy / Shuttered windows that belie all the stifled cries from within / And prying eyes are blind to proceedings of the kind that begin.”  Holdsworth’s fluid solo is as otherworldly now as it was 33 years ago.  This track was covered by Yngwie Malmsteen as he played an inspired metallic cover of this on his appropriately titled 1996 album, Inspiration.

In the Dead of Night: By the Light of Day

Wetton takes the basic vocal melody and lyrical structure of the first movement’s chorus and brings it down to ballad level, revealing how big of a role he played in the sound and imagery of King Crimson: “Black clouds moving gray sky to thunder / Kinetic sunrise fever and blood / Fire and water element anger / Horizon melting to blood.” Jobson plays an ethereal electric violin solo supported by the jazzy offbeats of Bruford.

In the Dead of Night: Presto Vivace and Reprise
The instrumental intro here is a Jobson/Bruford showcase that is unbelievably virtuosic.  The “Reprise” is a conjoining of the first two movements: “By the light of day / In the dead of night.” 
Thirty Years

Holdsworth plays a bit of rare acoustic guitar on the intro to this eight-minute Wetton ballad-cum-Bruford-rhythm-fest.  This one is co-written with Bruford, who doesn’t make an appearance until halfway through.  His drum part is obviously what the bulk of the tune was based upon.  Incidentally, Wetton and Bruford would both turn 30 the year after this was released (Holsdworth was already 32 and Jobson a mere 23!).  It’s hard to infer that it’s autobiographical, though: “Sometime when you've time to spare / Dreaming of missed opportunities / Spare a tear and douse your bridge (Burning) / Thirty years and on the ledge (Learning).”

Alaska

This is a Jobson keyboard showcase.

Time to Kill

This track is the most King Crimson-like on the album, although, the chorus sounds more like an Asia song.

Nevermore
Holdsworth and Jobson spar a bit in one of the jazziest tunes of the set.  The chord phrasing and vocal lines are unconventional, but beautiful.  The lyrical imagery evokes an imaginary land, but is very urbane: “Oh to go / Down to Soho / There bold spirits don't sink so low / Gold amber / Of lights / Beer glasses / Misty nights.”
Mental Medication

The album closes with another showcase for the intricate ensemble work and the individual mastery over the instruments.  Covering the broad spectrum of the UK sound, sonically brilliant, precise and spontaneous, ethereal and frantic, Bruford, Holdsworth, Jobson and Wetton present an unmatched work for the sacred prog canon.  The final lyric, reportedly penned by Holdsworth, is a fitting summation of this indispensible masterpiece: “Mental medication / Music’s conversation / Need your inspiration near / Melody fair.”

 
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