Saturday, November 7, 2009

U. K.

U. K./1978

The winds of change howled back in the late ‘70s. A major paradigm shift was slamming the glittery, glammy universe that was rock music. Younger and much poorer musicians were now looking upon the era’s wealthy celebrity rock stars (along with their “dinosaur” bands that came of age in the late ‘60s) with extreme disdain. Okay, hatred. These young musical revolutionaries – many of whom couldn’t even play an instrument, but had dead-on aim when spitting on members of their audience – would teach those old codgers a thing or two, and bring back the fire and passion they believed was lacking in rock music. Not exactly the best time to form a Progressive Rock super group, is it. Enter U.K., four battle-tested veterans from previous Prog giants: drummer Bill Bruford (King Crimson, Yes), bassist/vocalist John Wetton (Family, King Crimson), guitarist Alan Holdsworth (Soft Machine) and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson (Curved Air, Roxy Music, Frank Zappa). Inhabiting an alternate universe that ignored the changing musical landscape, U. K. (the album) was a Prog lover’s wet dream, a final brief shining moment of ingeniously arranged, multi-part epics like “In the Dead of Night,” the sneaky, meandering instrumental “Alaska” and the jazz-meets-pomp of “Nevermore.” All played with extreme precision and dazzling instrumental interplay – stuff only guys who had been around the block a few times with their instruments could pull off. All four were obviously expert players in their own right. Problem was Bruford’s jazzy, scittering drum patterns and Holdsworth’s fluid fret work drifted further into jazz fusion territory, while Jobson’s twiddly, classical keyboard style and Wetton’s massive, distorted bass thud landed firmly in the heavy-duty Prog camp. In other words, it was all too good to last. After their debut album, U. K. split in two, with expatriates Bruford and Holdsworth forming another band (called Bruford) to more freely exercise their jazzier tendencies. Jobson and Wetton soldiered on with a new drummer, and U. K. was now a keyboard power trio – carrying the cross for a couple more albums before laying it down for good and moving on. The late ‘70s became the early ‘80s, MTV emerged on everyone’s 19-inch sets, and rock music evolved into big hair bands, synth-pop purveyors and futuristic new wavers. But, much like the title of the closing track on U. K., “Mental Medication,” these four musicians were the perfect prescription for an era on life support…before the plug was finally pulled on '70s Prog.

Essential Tracks: “In the Dead of Night” “Alaska” “Time to Kill” “Mental Medication”

1 comment:

  1. Just one correction: Bruford had already been formed prior to UK. Their 1st release, Feels good to Me, predates UK.