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(Polydor 230 2080)***
Ignorance is a blissful condition I find myself in frequently enough but it would be a great help, if a dose of specific amnesia could blank out everything I know about these guys: Bruford, Holdsworth, Jobson and Wetton, awareness of track records like theirs embracing adventurous rock of the Seventies from Yes Family, Curved Air and Soft Machine through to Zappa, Roxy Music, Gong and National Health makes it absolutely impossible to know whether you are overreacting to their past glories or being hypercritical because of excessive expectations. Both the situation and, I think, the music it has produced, indicate that this is a band which will have been around for a year or so before a fresh identity emerges, unclouded by preconceptions.
The four are of course, famous sidemen rather than stars and they seem to have taken a leaderless democratic approach to their own creative cravings, though Wetton and Jobson are the main composers used. Also they recorded before playing live, and these two factors have probably contributed to an overall feel of questing intelligence rather than sensitivity.
This first time out they have produced no duff tracks and no great ones, rather a collection of startling moments in a setting of careful craftsmanship. The three linked tracks which open the album In The Dead Of Night' are kind of a shop window saying, "Look this is what we can do:" the gamut of Jobson's keyboards (orchestral, cosmic, raunchy) and rich violin tones, the fierce strength of Wetton's voice and thundering bass, Bruford economically hard or thrashing like a percussive centipede, Holdsworth holding out elegant sustains or rattling through improbable runs. It is generally vigorous, sometimes pretty, but not gripping.
Roughly the same applies to 'Time To Kill' and 'Nevermore' on Side Two: I like a wildness, perhaps the absence of a certain confidence needed to let the real craziness come pouring out.
All this is still listenable stuff mind you and full of ideas, but more important the remaining tracks do hint at their potential for inspired and challenging :music . As they say there's no way round high hopes for a band such as this and on my somewhat tense first play through they weren't realised until the end of side one with '30 Years'. It's a slow song of regret for lost opportunities, a good tune. But the back of your neck starts to prickle when Jobsons' 'strings' theme and Wetton's' vocal kind of pull apart into a near atonal edginess Then Holdsworth delivers his finest moment with a beautiful guitar line over tear-away percussion. It hurts you nicely
Alaska succeeds in a different way. It has a patience with itself lacking in the other tracks. Jobson sets a synth rumbling underground and periodically fires high fanfares over it. You have time to soak in it for a little, enjoy the texture.
On the other hand, 'Mental Medication', the final cut, works despite being something of an 'everything-but-the-kitchen-sink' job. It opens meditatively, goes charging off into chaotic keyboards and percussion, then transforms itself again through a vertiginous bass and drum figure into a more relaxed vein with Jobson's violin cheerful as Stephane Grapelli. It must read like a mess but it sounds right. Perhaps it's in that kind of creative wildness that UK will find their role in the future.
Transcribed by Per Stornes
Updated: February 1, 2001
Scheduled update: None
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