EG Records, 1978


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Memory does play tricks, doesn't it? One minute you're thinking, "Wow, that was a great album, why haven't I listened to it for twenty years?" The next minute, the answer is all too apparent.

Which pretty much sums up my reaction upon picking up a CD replacement for my old vinyl copy of this album. Let's face it, the pedigree of this band is tough to beat. John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson and about a hundred other prog combos) on bass and vocals, Bill Bruford (Yes, King Crimson) on drums, Allan Holdsworth (Tony Williams and a terrific solo fusion career) on guitar, and in a leading role, Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music, Jethro Tull) on keyboards and electric violin. The potential for a progressive rock supergroup like this is self-evident - as are the pitfalls.

And indeed, the band only survived one album in this configuration, with Bruford and Holdsworth exiting and drummer Terry Bozzio joining the fold for a final studio album (Danger Money) and live retrospective (Night After Night). But what an album this debut turned out to be… well, almost, anyway.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The backbone of U.K., both the band and the album, is Jobson's playing. His synthesizer and violin work shines on key cuts like the complex, rocking "In The Dead Of Night" and its companion pieces "By The Light Of Day" and "Presto Vivace." The combination of Bruford's anything-but-predictable time-keeping and Jobson's hyperactive keyboard melodies keeps the excitement level high. For his part, Holdsworth gets in some high energy licks on the first cut in particular, along with a twirling, keening, technically brilliant solo.

For me the heart of the album, though, is the pair of cuts that used to kick off side two (now tracks five and six on your CD). "Alaska" is a Jobson-penned instrumental that starts out all moody synth-generated atmosphere, effectively conveying the sense of grand scope and starkness that the title implies, before abruptly kicking into a furious double-time jam featuring wailing electric violin over driving organ figures. It's brilliant stuff, and then just as it crescendoes, the melody drops you right into "Time To Kill," a steady-on track with some sweet violin-guitar interplay courtesy of Holdsworth and Jobson.

The bad news is that by now the album's fatal flaw is well in evidence. Wetton, never a vocal genius, gives what was, so far as I can tell, the worst vocal performance of his career on this album. Never mind the trite-bordering-on-silly lyrics, on cuts like "Time To Kill" the guy just plain can't hit the notes. When he strains to belt out phrases like "going nowhere" in the chorus I imagine cats blocks away arching their backs and hissing; he's off-pitch and sounds nearly strangled. "Nevermore" and "Thirty Years" are even worse, as Wetton repeatedly resorts to a tone-deaf falsetto that warbles dangerously close to self-parody. Only on "In The Dead Of Night" does the song seem to stay fully within his limited register, and even there he throws in some falsetto gimmickry that quickly becomes grating on repeated listens.

So, my memory was partially accurate. U.K. is a terrific album instrumentally, with four prog-rock virtuosos offering strong performances and Jobson in particular doing a bang-up job with composition and arrangements. I just wish there was a remix album consisting of the same eight tracks with Wetton's vocals erased. I honestly believe it would be an improvement. But then, Asia always made me cringe, too…

Rating: C+

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© 2002 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of EG Records, and is used for informational purposes only.