John Wetton: The Studio Recordings Anthology/New York Minute

Solo best of and live set from the rock’n’roll zelig.

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What a memorable career singer/bassist Wetton has had: performing with prime-era King Crimson, UK and Asia (lest we forget, their debut album was the biggest seller in the US in ’82), and squeezing in stints with Roxy Music, Family and Wishbone Ash along the way.

His solo releases over the decades have been rather hit-and-miss, overcoming record label debacles, battles with the bottle and the odd situation of having released twice as many live albums as studio works.

Cherry-picking from his six studio efforts, the two-CD Studio Recordings Anthology showcases his sterling vocals and production proficiency, from 1980’s Caught In The Crossfire, through to his 1994 peak Battle Lines to 2011’s Raised In Captivity (co-written with Fripp). In truth, there’s not much evolution: he typically sings big bombastic power ballads over smooth forgettable arrangements. At its best it’s Foreigner-style AOR, very 80s, even when it’s not actually the 80s. Elsewhere one is frequently reminded of David Hasselhoff single-handedly bringing down the Berlin Wall, possibly while sporting a rather a dodgy mullet. Delve beneath the surface though, and there’s pained sincerity here, as on Hold Me Now (about his relationship with his mother) or the jagged Lost For Words. Yet Wetton’s highlights have been as team player, not as auteur.

Thus New York Minute, a new set recorded at a cancer charity show with late guitar giant Les Paul’s band in 2013, has more vibrancy. Over sparse, piano-led backing, Wetton’s big bear of a voice launches hungrily into favourite songs such as God Only Knows (“This was a major light bulb for me”), All Along The Watchtower, What’s Goin’ On and Lady Madonna. Having revealed the songs which inspired him, he closes the evening with his own Heat Of The Moment and Battle Lines. Freed from his overly smooth studio sound, he’s evidently enjoying the live moment as a caustic crooner.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.