Polydor 1979 & Blueprint 1999 / Cherry Red 2014
Old friends roll out their archives and rock wild.
Given a wide dissipation of John Wetton‘s extracurricular works, a full-blown, multi-disc anthology of his recorded output is long overdue, but this double-CD set can somewhat plug the gap. It showcases the singing bassist’s collaboration with Richard Palmer-James who, to many, was a lyricist for the Wetton-fronted KING CRIMSON and SUPERTRAMP’s first guitarist, but their story goes back to TETRAD, a school band the two played in, serving up rhytm-and-blues staples. Quite an unexpected choice for ASIA fans, perhaps, yet one that allowed John let his hair down and let it rip in 1978, in Musicland Studios, when he and another childhood colleague, keyboardist John Hutcheson, visited Richard in Munich where, with a help from a local drummer, the JACK-KNIFE project came into existence.
It’s sharp, indeed, the band going for the funky jugular with their frenetic reading of the Hammond-licked “I Wish You Would” and slicking down the voodoo groove of “You Can’t Judge A Book,” although “Dimples” comes sprinkled with the glitterball’s splinters, and the spaced-out framing makes “Eyesight To The Blind” lose its desperate edge. More so, the insipid disco of “Walk On Heaven’s Ground” is, despite its “sha-la-la’s,” the product of its time rather than a throwback to the days of yore. The rest of the originals on offer fit such a context perfectly with a taut twang of “Mustang Momma” and a sparse rumble of “Confessions,” its cosmic synth solo notwithstanding, although the ballad “Adoration” brings the crooner, not the rocker, out of Wetton. On the other hand, this reissue, as all the preceding CD versions of the album, replaces “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” with “Too Much Monkey Business,” and while the former is absent altogether, the latter, a blinding live rendition, throws a bridge to the second disc of this twofer that collects bits and pieces of the friends’ oeuvre from their CRIMSO period to the late ’90s when John still tried to tie some loose ends.
It’s only by then that he finally found a place, on 1997’s "Arkangel", for “Magazines,” whereas “Woman” which landed on John’s debut under his own name, “Caught In The Crossfire,” in 1980, is a wordless demo here, sung and played on acoustic guitar by Wetton to give Palmer-James a melody to hang words on. Similarly embryonic sketches, piano-based, come as a revelation when they’re prototyping future CRIMSO classics, “Easy Money,” “Book Of Saturday” – given a little more fleshed-out live reference from 1994 – and, most impressively, “Starless.” It remains unclear why this perennial and “Doctor Diamond,” which Robert Fripp’s band played on-stage yet never took to the studio, received a new, weirdly plastic, polish in 1997, the same year that Richard and John revived “Cologne” – first conceived two decades earlier and, judging by the both versions, sounding better in its first, more dynamic in terms of content and delivery, draft – and wrote the upbeat, if sad, “Rich Man Lie,” possibly considered for “Arkangel” and left off it.
The same destiny might have befallen “The Glory Of Winning,” co-composed with Geoff Downes at the same time, if it wasn’t released, after the “Monkey Business” collection had been out, on the second outing of their ICON project. There are also demos cut for the successor to “Red,” one that never materialized, as Wetton continued working with Bill Bruford before reuniting with him in U.K., so “The Good Ship Enterprise,” ready for Fripp’s adornment, and “Confessions,” that went on the JACK-KNIFE album, were originally, and in quite a punchy form, laid down by the two during John’s stint with URIAH HEEP. Still, no matter how many times the writers had a go at “The Laughing Lake” – its progress in 1976-1977 is tracked with four takes of various length – the ballad didn’t make the cut then, as the singer temporarily abandoned plans for a solo career.
These bits and pieces serve as a parallel history to it now, yet the full story is yet to be told – the sooner the better.