Review Summary: The superb effort of a short-lived group that never got the attention it deserved.
At the dawn of the 80s, the quality of classic progressive rock declined, slipping into the Dark Ages, the realm of new wave and punk. UK
was a rare band to keep the genre alive. Unfortunately, they were a short-lived supergroup born in the twilight of prog’s Golden Age. It’s not surprising that in a time where the only survivors were bands that were not afraid to make a lot of compromises to stay alive, such as shortening their songs, modernizing the sound and adding pop elements in order to get more radio friendly, UK
were the odd group out, but they seemed to be there to stay. They can be seen as a pre-echo of what was to come for the creative musician working in a music industry that had become increasingly hostile towards progressive bands.
Despite the Dark Ages looming on the horizon, comments from fans and even the media (wich were already starting to shun all 70’s prog rock monuments), proved to Wetton that there could still be some life in the Wetton/Bruford rhythm section of King Crimson, which had at this point broken up. Series of coincidences proved to be all the momentum needed in getting UK
off the ground. Both keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music, Curved Air, Zappa) and virtuoso jazz rock guitarist Allan Holdsworth (Soft Machine, Gong, Jean-Luc Ponty) were asked to join in, making for a line-up of four outstanding prog rockers. It could have resulted in nothing but noodling, but became the exact opposite. Beautiful melodies and exciting arrangements is what this debut album is all about. With such a line-up, you cannot expect more than a thrilling work. The album is very consistent, and flows effortlessly from start to finish. Despite Bruford once admitting that the album's recording process felt like four novelists trying to write one book together, the result is as good as it gets.
did not see chart position as the barometer for success, instead making the sort of music that their collective backgrounds might suggest. The band has produced 2 excellent studio albums and an equally valid live recording before splitting up in their glory days, not even related to external pressures from record labels asking them to be more pop. No, in their case, things got bad while touring. Holdsworth objected to being expected to play the same solos every night. Despite his musical fluidity and virtuosity, this approach did not suit John Wetton, who fired him from the band. Bruford left shortly after to pursue his solo career with Holdsworth on guitar. Bruford was replaced by Terry Bozzio (Zappa) for UK’s second and final studio album Danger Money
. The band’s breakup was a shame, as they could have very well been able to spearhead a prog revival movement.
Split between radio-friendly vocal-parts and keyboard-dominated complex instrumental pieces, UK
was definitely a great product of its time. Jobson was meant to be their driving force, and the album is totally based on his fantastic electric violin and the use of Yamaha CS 80,an analog synthesizer with a lot of power. Especially his keyboard work is absolutely fantastic, ranging from creating superb electronic landscapes to constantly battling with his violin and the rhythm section. UK
is a keyboard driven band which offers a good mix of symphonic prog and jazz fusion, strengthened with strong vocals, stunning guitar solos, excellent keyboards layers and violin shots, and based on one of the best rhythm section prog rock has ever known.
These divided interests of both prog and jazz (Jobson/Wetton and Holdsworth/Bruford, respectively) converge in a solid sonic source that captures the pompous magic of the best early 70s prog rock, but gives it a somewhat modern approach, which is in no small degree due to the featured use of state-of-the-art Yamaha synthesizers by Jobson. The man proves to be UK
's core: since his artistic sensibility is not foreign to the influence of jazz-rock, it allows him to become the bridge between the two pairs that conforms the band's ensemble.
One of the great things about this album is how catchy the choruses are mixed with the incredible instrumentation. It’s a total group effort. Wetton is at his most emotional, and has mainly a haunting vocal tone that is perfectly suited for the album. His bass playing is also quite superb as expected, and complements Bruford’ magnificent drumming perfectly. Bruford plays many off beats and syncopated beats with ease as much as he wanted, and paired them with a lot of odd time signatures. He played like he never did before, and like he’d never do subsequently. Jobson has sensibility for textures, harmonic bases and spacey atmospheres on synthesizers as well as his melancholic, yet imposing violin solos. He plays with flawless alternation between slow, atmospheric, and majestic, energetic keyboard chords. His electric violin is often floating, creating a spacey and floating atmospheres as well.
The album opens in attention-grabbing fashion with In the Dead of Night
, as Wetton’s bass throbs with floor shaking power, and Jobson’s keys establish the main theme, before Bruford makes his presence known with his trademark precision and unmistakable, rapid-fire snare sound. Soon after the catchy chorus, guitar virtuoso Holdsworth steps to the front and offers an inspired, melodic, yet sinuous guitar solo. While the majority of the songs are penned by Wetton and Jobson, the instrumental Alaska
is written by Jobson alone, and proves to be a highlight. It starts with epic, atmospheric, ethereal keyboards. Then, both Jobson and Holdsworth are engaging in some sort of titanic struggle, like if they were competing for space on the same solo spot. The interplay between Holdsworth and Jobson during the solos is breathtaking, and the album is full of various moods and unexpected instrumental workouts throughout.
From the unashamed riffing of In The Dead Of Night
to the blistering electric violin solo of Thirty Years
, this is a record that starts well and continues even better, somehow managing to gather even more momentum and build up increasingly complex melodic and rhythmic layers. Overall, the whole thing is bursting with great musical ideas and packed with energy. It's made of effective melodies, energetic interplay and amazing performing skills, and an essential addition to any progressive fan’s collection.