Saturday, July 9, 2011

John Wetton On Being Raised In Captivity

"Raised In Captivity is really about me growing up, and being born into the post-war England. We still had rationing, and we still had the Victorian morality hanging over us, hung over from the previous century. So everything weren't allowed to do this, you can't do that, and if you did anything wrong, you were beaten - everybody's running scared, I mean, what chance did they have? That is the general theme of Raised In Captivity, except that, the flip side is the joy of freedom for me now. It's just unbelievable to actually come full circle. I went through two life threatening illnesses in the last ten years, so I really do feel blessed, and every day is to be lived to the fullest. I've got no idea where I'll be tomorrow, and no power over yesterday, so now is all I've got - this moment. All I'm able to do is make the most of what I've got. That's the flip side of being Raised In Captivity." John Wetton

John Wetton is making the most of the moment, of that there can be no question, of that, there can be no doubt. Raised In Captivity is Wetton's sixth solo album, and one of nearly sixty albums that he has sung and played upon, including his multi-platinum super-group Asia, prog legends King Crimson, UK, Uriah Heep, Roxy Music, and his recent three album collaboration with Asia/Yes-man Geoff Downes, under the moniker Icon. It's been a storied, and incredibly varied career, and now Wetton has made perhaps his finest record - a recording that seamlessly combines many aspects of his great career.

Raised In Captivity was recorded over a three and a half week period in Los Angeles, with Wetton collaborating with Billy Sherwood, who produced the album, and played the lion's share of the instruments. Sherwood also co-wrote many of the arrangements, and is, in Wetton's estimation, the reason the record sounds so much like a functioning band as opposed to two fellows. The album also features great cameos from some notable luminaries from Wetton's past. King Crimson founder Robert Fripp contributes some heady atmospherics, and his usual intensity to the album's title track, Steve Hackett lays down a melodic solo on Goodbye Elsinore, Uriah Heepster Mick Box brings the rock to New Star Rising, Tony Kaye tickles the ivories on Don't Misunderstand Me, and Eddie Jobson appears as the violin wielding Devil on The Devil and The Opera House.

John had this to say when I asked about their sterling contributions: "The people that played their solos - I had decided all that before I left England. I knew I wanted Steve Hackett to play a melodic solo on Goodbye Elsinore, and there's a song called The Devil and The Opera House, which has Eddie Jobson on it. The instrument I automatically associate with the Devil is the violin, and Eddie said to me, 'Do you want ME to be the Devil?,' and I said, yeah, be my guest - it makes me smile.

"All the people who play on the record sound like they were born to it. I wanted Allan Holdsworth for the solo on The Last Night Of My Life, and Allan said, 'Yeah, I'll do it, but I've a solo album to work out, my first in 11 years, so it won't be my priority.' I said, fine, if you've the time to do it. Two days before the end of recording I called and asked if he had done it, and he said he hadn't. I thought, I'll call Alex Machacek - he'd fit the bill as he's going to be playing in the UK band with me, and he played a great solo. I didn't say anything about Allan Holdsworth, I just said, please play a noble solo."

Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Kansas) is featured on the album's opener, Lost For Words, and he brings to the table his usual collection of speed, melody, and jagged unpredictability that has been his signature for many decades. This solo would be at home anywhere in his discography, and the song is better for his six string musings. The song itself is as close as Wetton comes to his platinum hit making days of the 80s with Asia. The song aches for the era of melodic rock radio, and will more than satisfy any fan seeking a bit of the command the singer/bassist brings to this genre. Billy Sherwood brought this tune to the table, and you can hear the multi-instrumentalist at his best. This record never succumbs to Pro Tools proclivity for sterility.

John had this to say on the album's production, and the record's rockier side:

"It's all very edgy and it's great! I come to California, and it's all helicopters, police sirens, and I'm working with a guy who drinks too much's a bit more rock and roll. Billy Sherwood is a good man. I had a creeping suspicion that he was the guy to do the job. He's very musical, we both work very quickly, and the main thing is that he's a very nice guy - we share a similar sense of humor.

"It does sound live, and I give Billy credit for that. He said on our first meeting that we need to make this sound like a real band, not just the two of us. We didn't analyze every kick drum beat - there have been certain records I've made where we did analyze every detail, every sound, and it sounds like it! It sounds a bit anal, and so kind of clean that it loses some of its core personality.

"If I'd been left to my own devices, I'd be sitting at home with my acoustic guitar and my piano, writing dreary folk songs - if I had given that to my record company, they would have said, 'Very nice, but where's the rock?'"

Rock the record does, especially out of the gate with Lost For Words (a bit of a misnomer, as Wetton is surely not in any way lost for words) and the album's title track, which finds Wetton in top form. His voice sounds fantastic, and his bass playing is aggressive and melodic as ever. He has called the album, "an Anglo-American music document, a true autobiographical journey," which indeed it is. Lyrically the album sees the singer with his heart upon his sleeve and well ready to expose a darker side than one may be used to finding on his albums with Asia:

"It's very much a statement of how I am today. It's a lot more personal than I would get with Asia - the reason being that I can get kind of personal with an Asia record, but I can't drag the guys into the corner that I go to sometimes. Where, with my more personal stuff, you know they don't deserve it, they don't need to go there.

"If I'm acting as a spokesman for the group, I don't believe it should be just my stuff - on a solo album I can do whatever the hell I like, and it is a great barometer of where I am, right now. It's often moody, and it's very honest."

Alongside the broadside rockers sit some of Wetton's most melodic moments, and his most poignant poetry. As I sat and chatted with John, I realized that I saw the man as being quite professorial - he's equal parts bard, troubadour, and rock star. While he is obviously best known for his tremendous ability to craft a three minute piece of pop melody, he cannot avoid his sense of equally impressive harmonic sophistry. His lyrical prowess has also never been in short supply, and he reckons it certainly is on display throughout Raised In Captivity:

"It's verbal dysentery, is what it is," he laughs. "Lyrics to me, are just as important as the music - it is, after all, what I'm saying!"

Amongst the more melodic and poetic to be found is the folkish ballad, Steffi's Ring, a tune that largely features Wetton's voice, acoustic guitar, and the keyboard embellishments of fellow Asia member Geoff Downes. This sounds like Twenty First Century Shakespeare Man. A beautiful, and too brief ( a mere 2:35 - I could have stood at least twice that) ballad that is sure to be a fan favorite.

Goodbye Elsinore is another lovely ballad that starts with just Wetton, and an acoustic guitar. The song then builds from verse to verse, leading to a soaring chorus of harmony expounding the song's title, only to be lifted even further by a perfect solo from ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett.

Throughout the entire recording, Wetton successfully straddles the genres he has embraced over his career and he has succeeded tremendously in giving nod to all, but being a slave to none. Mighty Rivers, which closes the album, is sure to become a modern prog-rock classic - a duet with Anneke Van Giersbergen, formerly of Dutch proggers The Gathering - the song is a bit over five minutes of brutal beauty. Wetton is doing some of the best singing of his career on this cut, and when he and Anneke join together, the result is gorgeous. This cut alone is worth the price of the album. It is truly breathtaking in its majesty. Wetton hits astounding notes for a gentleman of 62 years, in both pitch and duration. If you've ever enjoyed a note of his singing, you need to hear this.

"I'm glad that my voice is still intact! If it goes, I am absolutely screwed," Wetton grins, "I figure that's God's way of telling me that this is what I should be concentrating on.

"I can't see myself ever, you know, Tony, playing golf or anything like that, so I can never see an end to that, in terms of music. There will not be a day when I would say, right - I'm not gonna do that anymore, I can't see that."

Wetton has truly escaped being raised in captivity, having withstood the tortures of an empire, alcoholism, open heart surgery, and carpal tunnel syndrome. He has not merely escaped, but has risen above all this, and made an album as good as any of his career. And while he claims to not be excited by the thought of jumping right out on the road after a busy year of touring with both Asia and UK, I would not be shocked to see him take this one to the stage. As he said, it would be nothing to throw together a band and take it to some select cities to play this record live. The man is a worker, not one to rest on his laurels, perhaps not to rest, period:

"Well, I am still of the opinion that if I am not working on a Saturday night, something is terribly wrong. If I'm not playing on Saturday night, I'm not doing my job. That's the work ethic I've had since I was 16 - I suppose that's why I have always stayed so busy."

That is what being Raised In Captivity will do for you. We're very lucky that that is what it has done for John Wetton. He has not rested, and he has made one of the best records of a career filled with great music.

There are some cuts and cameos I didn't cover here, that I will leave it to you, the reader, to discover.

Raised In Captivity is being released July 1st in Europe, and July 12th in North America, by Frontiers Records.

Thanks to John Wetton, Dustin Hardman of Frontiers Records, and Libby Sokolowski.


Johnny Bruhns said...
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Anonymous said...
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Tony Conley said...
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Beachcomber Destin, Florida said...
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