Monday, July 30, 2018

Remedies: Mental Medication

U.K.: Mental Medication [purchase]

The original lineup of U.K. brought together some of the best at their instruments British prog rockers. The band was formed in the late 1970s by drummer Bill Bruford, who had played in Yes and King Crimson, and singer/bassist John Wetton, who had played with Bruford in King Crimson and had also been part of Roxy Music and Uriah Heep. Bruford and Wetton each recruited another musician, with Bruford bringing Allan Holdsworth, who had been with Soft Machine, Tony Williams’ Lifeline, Gong, and Jean-Luc Ponty, as well having played on Bruford’s debut solo album, and Wetton inviting Eddie Jobson, a keyboard player and violinist who had played with him in Roxy Music, and who was in Frank Zappa’s band.

U.K., the one and only album recorded by this lineup is considered by many to be a prog-rock classic. Excellent playing (of course) on interesting, unusual songs, featuring a true fusion of rock, jazz and classical influences, has made this one of my favorites—which is not surprising, considering that Bruford is probably my favorite drummer, Holdsworth is my favorite guitarist, and I have lots of respect for both Wetton and Jobson.

That being said, I have to admit that “Mental Medication” is not one of my favorite songs from the album. There’s something about Wetton’s vocals, particularly at the beginning, that I don’t love. But there’s a thrilling four minute stretch of instrumental music, including a guitar solo from Holdsworth that is both jaw dropping and subtle at the same time, and a violin solo from Jobson, all over Wetton’s stellar bass playing and Bruford’s signature drumming, that makes it worth a listen.

Sadly, after some extensive touring, tensions in the band led to Wetton and Jobson “firing” Holdsworth, and Bruford also left. Rather than find a new guitarist, the remaining members brought in drummer Terry Bozzio, also from Frank Zappa’s band, and recorded Danger Money as a trio. It isn’t a bad album, and actually spawned a minor hit, “Nothing to Lose.” After a live album, Wetton and Jobson themselves disagreed on the future of the band, and they broke up. A couple of years later Wetton formed Asia, with Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes, which definitely sounded a lot like what U.K. might have sounded like if it tried for a more commercial sound.

Bruford took some of the songs that he had written for a second U.K. album and used them on his second solo album, the great One of a Kind (which also featured Holdsworth on guitar). There were a few Wetton/Jobson led reunions of U.K. over the years, featuring various drummers and guitarists, but the original lineup never got back together.

Sadly, both Wetton and Holdsworth died in 2017, which I commemorated here.

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