Studio Recordings Anthology

John Wetton

Primary Purpose, 2015

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


If I said this was a double disc overview of the highlights of John Wetton's solo career, most people would probably say "Who?" If, however, I said the voice of Asia has seven solo albums to his name and this rounds up the best of those, you would not only know who I'm referring to but also have an immediate idea of how this music sounds.

And you are not wrong. Although these tracks span six albums from 1980 to 2011, everything sounds like it comes right out of the mid ‘80s, from the bland songwriting to the production. None of it is offensive, but all of it is very professional and adult-oriented, and much of it could have fit on any Asia album except the first one.

Wetton, of course, was part of the first King Crimson revival in 1973, the fertile period that produced Larks' Tongues In Aspic and Red, which then led to stints with Uriah Heep and UK. In 1980, the bassist went on his own, and the resulting album Caught In The Crossfire wasn't too bad, although it was a definite break from his prog-rock past. This was by design; in the liner notes to this anthology, Wetton says, "I didn't want to be stuck in the 'bass riff in 7/4' brigade. It's very easy to get strung out on progressive rock music; you can do anything you want. There are no rules. The more complex, the more esoteric, the longer the songs go on, the more progheads love it." You have to love a musician who not only knows his audience but refers to us as "progheads." I don't even think we call each other that anymore. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Nevertheless, while recording an album with Wishbone Ash, marketing guru John Kalodner suggested that Wetton continue writing more radio-friendly songs, particulary for the American market, and so in 1981 he began writing what would become Asia's first album. Critical opinion remains divided on the disc, but it was a huge seller in 1982, earning Wetton some commercial success instead of just the critical success he had found with King Crimson.

And it seems that yearning never really left, because Anthology is full of songs from a career trying to recapture that Asia sound and spirit, or at least the adult contemporary easy listening soft rock market that I always refer to as "dental-office music" on here. Many of these songs are interchangeable ballads, but the occasional lame overproduced midtempo rocker rises to the surface. Hell, even the titles spell this one out: "Nothing's Gonna Stand In Our Way," "I've Come To Take You Home," "Hold Me Now," "Right Where I Wanted To Be." Starship called, John. They've done this.

"Real World" and the title song from 2011's Raised In Captivity have a bit of that old Asia spark, but only "Caught In The Crossfire" is really worth seeking out on the first disc. Opening horns fill in gaps between a simple bottom-end six-note guitar riff and restrained vocals; it may be a dry run for Asia, but it's less overproduced and not as overtly commercial, favoring grit over synthesizers. "Emma" relies on acoustic guitars and actual heart toward the end of disc two,

The music is not sequenced chronologically, which makes no difference because it all sounds of a piece, and is spread across two discs roughly equally (Sinister and Arkangel lead the pack at seven songs each). But good God, wading through 25-plus ballads is an immense chore. Wetton himself has not only dismissed Battle Lines in interviews but doesn't play much of his own music at shows, picking instead songs from his Crimson and Asia days along with well-chosen covers.

Where this collection also falters is the complete lack of any live material. Shortened to one disc and with some good covers thrown in, this might have served as the perfect Wetton introduction. But only diehard completists and big Asia fans really need an entire Anthology, and it's not like they will go out and buy the six individual albums anyway if this is the best of them. Although, based on what's here, Caught In The Crossfire (the first solo disc) and Raised In Captivity (the most recent) are worth exploring further, I suppose. Still, unless you fall into either of the categories above or have run out of Ambien, skip this anthology.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2015 Benjamin Ray 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 Primary Purpose, and is used for informational purposes only.