Album review: JOHN WETTON – Anthology The Studio Recordings Vol.1

In this interview extract from April 2009 John Wetton tells David Randall about his early influences, and the immediate aftermath of his departure from Asia in 1991 which led to the release of his second, and favourite, solo album ‘Battle Lines’. (6:49)

JOHN WETTON - Anthology The Studio Recordings

Primary Purpose [Release date 09.03.15]

It’s about time we had a properly curated anthology of John Wetton’s solo works.  And who better to be the curator than John himself?

For some years the old Voiceprint label kept the Wetton fire burning, and there was also an anthology, but now we have a more erudite overview even if you’ll soon be searching Amazon for the complete albums.

Wetton has had a stellar career and in spite of a period of great difficulty, fighting back from alcoholism and heart surgery in 2007.  Given his greater visibility with the likes of King Crimson, Roxy Music, Family – and mostly with Asia – his solo work does get overlooked.

‘The Studio Recordings’ is billed as Volume 1 so there will hopefully be more riches in store in future.  In the absence of a definitive box set, the possibilities are rich with John’s voluminous session work, collaborations with Geoff Downes and others, and also prolific live recordings over the years.

There are some real gems in this collection, testifying both Wetton’s songwriting skills (he worked in the States for a time in the early 1990s and collaborated with Jim Vallance amongst others) and vocal ability.  Having interviewed him in 2009 he reiterated that his childhood choral background informs much of his compositional structure.  This might be no surprise to Asia fans, but songs like ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’ and ‘Hold Me Now’ major on the big memorable choruses with rich orchestration.

There is a 14 year gap between Wetton’s solo debut (‘Caught In The Crossfire’) and 1994′s ‘Battle Lines’ because Asia had consumed him during the 1980s. ‘Battle Lines’ was and is a career highlight and is represented here by six tracks (from the 10 on the original album).  1997′s ‘Arkangel’ is also well covered with seven tracks featured.

The more serious listener will be able to play “spot the session player” with some heavyweights represented throughout, including Michael Landau, Steve Lukather, Dick Wagner, Greg Bisonette and Billy Sherwood whilst Martin Barre pops up on ‘Woman’ (from ‘Caught In The Crossfire’) and Steve Hackett contributes harp to ‘Real World’ from ‘Sinister’, a co-write with Ringo Starr whom Wetton had met when living in LA.

There’s a certain timelessness also in this collection which suggests Wetton is not beholden to trends, with 2000′s ‘Sinister’ including tracks that originated a decade earlier (such as ‘Second Best’ which features one David Cassidy on backing vocals) whilst the compilers have brought the solo story further up to date with selections from Rock Of Faith (2003) and Raised In Captivity (2011).  As ever, fans might dispute the inclusion or omission of some of the selections.  For example, the superb ‘Space And Time’ from ‘Battle Lines’ is conspicuous by its absence.

This 2-CD collection achieves greater consistency by not following the original albums chronology.  It is a marvellous re-introduction to an enduring artist and one of rock’s great survivors, and not least showcasing one of our most talented songwriters.  ****1/2

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.


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