On January 31, 2017, singer/bassist John Wetton passed away at the age of 68 due to cancer. He had a career of over forty years in progressive rock music, playing with bands such as Family, King Crimson, Uriah Heep, U.K. and Asia, along with various collaborations and, of course, a glorious solo career. The news hit me hard at the time, as his impressive vocal range and unmistakable bass playing had always been to my liking. He is one of my absolute heroes.
His departure from Asia in 1992 gave him the opportunity to fully focus on his solo career. Although he had already released a solo album, “Caught In The Crossfire”,in 1980, it didn’t go beyond that at the time. The album discussed here, “Battle Lines”, from 1994, marks the actual beginning of his solo career, so technically, it is not a debut. Well, duh.
In terms of accessibility, “Battle Lines” follows the path of Asia, but that’s about it. Most of the compositions on the album belong to the top tier, such as the opener, Right Where I Wanted To Be. It is an exuberant track adorned with excellent guitar work by either Robert Fripp, Steve Lukather, or perhaps Michael Landau. It’s nowhere to be found who plays where, apologies. Right Where I Wanted To Be is one of the many songs Wetton co-wrote with American keyboardist Bob Marlette and that combination is pure gold.
In that regard, listen carefully to the title track, Battle Lines. It had been a staple during concerts for many years. The song has all the ingredients to be considered brilliant. Subdued verses alternate with bombastic choruses that are further enhanced later in the song with majestic grand piano playing. Crime Of Passion, co-written by John Young, is another standout track. The saxophone-infused song is a mixture of intensity and release, something every album can benefit from.
Other gems include Hold Me Now and You’re Not The Only One, ballads that are tailor-made for Wetton. His intense way of singing is incredibly fitting for the music. He exudes something natural that permeates the entire album, a charisma that instills confidence. Even in songs like Sand In My Hand, Sea Of Mercy and the drumless Walking On Air, he manages to draw you into the song. However, I don’t want to overlook the excellent contributions of his guests. The guitar work in Space And Time is truly sublime, most likely a highlight by Steve Lukather. In fact, there are constantly enjoyable elements to be heard, although it must be said that Jane, with its brass sounds, sounds very much like the ’80s.
With “Battle Lines” John Wetton created a fantastic starting point for his solo career. He subsequently released several more albums, each of which showcases unwavering quality.
© Dick van der Heijde 2023