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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

UK

Danger Money

Review by Bruce Stringer

This being the only studio album from the scaled down, three-piece lineup of Eddie Jobson, John Wetton and Zappa alumni Terry Bozzio, there is so much to live up to and the obvious question is: does it? The previous format of the progressive super group, UK, included ex-Yes man Bill Bruford on drums and guitar virtuoso Allan Holdsworth, so it comes as a paradigm shift (and certain risk) that the group would continue without the aid of a six-stringer or the Yes draw card. Instead, Jobson and Wetton – who already seem to have a stable working relationship – hire an American whiz kid behind the skins who, through sheer technical ability and finesse, allows Jobson to reach heights that were unattainable within the four-piece incarnation. Not forgetting Wetton, who is the lynchpin that holds the artistry together with firmness and familiarity, UK covers so much ground with so few instrumentalists and successfully carves a new niche for – what was at the time – the dying art of prog rock.

Impressive stuff was indeed happening in the studio with UK in 1979. The inclusion of Terry Bozzio was to be the best move that the duo of Jobson and Wetton could have made. It is such a pity that this lineup didn’t go on to produce more studio albums. As a musician, one can revisit the UK material with wider eyes (and ears) time after time, because new elements seem to pop up out of the blue – and this is the magic of music. It’s something very rare to find in the current climate of the so-called music industry, so it is with a heavy heart that one rues the demise of acts like this who, no doubt, would never survive in the two dimensional entertainment world of today. Maybe the future looked brighter when UK was around or maybe the optimism was simply a little over abundant. Either way, history will look favorably on the trio of Eddie Jobson, John Wetton and Terry Bozzio who will forever be icons in a world that never was.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Danger Money
Focusing on dramatics, Jobson’s synth slashes a splendor of dischordant analog dark matter while Bozzio smacks those skins with synamic force. Wetton holds his ground and plays off the rigidity of the drums. It would take a track like this to open an album like this; how else would these guys ever compete with “In the Dead Of Night”? And what we get is sheer brilliance! The band bursts in with a cool straight-yet-syncopated chorus before a 6/8 verse that’s cut, time-wise, yet again. The lyrics deal with the world of the assassin which, in this current climate of gangsters and would-be tough guys, seems to predate the fashionable version of the hired killer and produces a complex image of the mind within. The music has some great dissonant bass work beneath some traditional ELP-style organ playing and moments of introspection. Bozzio holds firm and matches Jobson and Wetton – never overplaying. There is no real solo section, just cool interplay. With a trio like this, these guys could be playing kazoos and it would sound wild! Thankfully, there are no kazoos and the guys make mince meat out of their contemporaries.
Rendezvous 6:02
With nice pianos and soothing voice, it would seem that this would be the chosen single from the album – although it would go on to be a live classic. That very English predilection of catching one’s train in the rain, stood at Waterloo Station; although covered the eerie blankness of grey carpet skies and an impending downpour have to be experienced in a British winter to fully understand. The lyrics are finely crafted and, sadly, the most under rated aspect of a band like this, with references to a post-world war two London. Wetton’s yearning can be felt; Jobson knows the feeling well and plays emphatically melodic piano. This track could well have been contender for single with its haunting vocal themes and sparse yet tightly wound arrangement.
The Only Thing She Needs
This has got to be one of the tightest pieces of music ever recorded and it would seem something that couldn’t have worked with an extended lineup. After dissecting the live album, “UK Live In Boston”, one could not feel impervious to the differences within the band’s chemistry compared to this. Holdsworth’s guitar sometimes seems a little messy, almost out of place while Bruford falls back on his half-time feel grooves that might have worked a charm in Yes but failed to impact on some of the UK tracks. It seems that Jobson and Wetton were pushing the envelope and really working much harder to reach the potentiality of what was there. There is a hint of funkiness, with Bozzio playing some disco style hi-hat work. His double-kick pedals just have to be heard! The syncopation – even during the verses – is something to behold. It’s as if these three guys considered every moment in every song as opportunities to expand and play at their peak, without ever overplaying or steeping on either of the others’ toes. Some splendid electric piano garnishes the heavier aspects of the track before a solo keys section a la Yes’ Fragile album taken two steps further. A time change ushers in a subtle Jobson keyboard solo that develops into a full frenzy of sonic abuse, thanks to some futuristic synth sounds (remember, this was recorded late 1978 / early 1979!). Wetton has one of the best bass sounds I have ever heard and Terry Bozzio… Well, one could write volumes on his playing and never scratch the surface to his unbridled genius.
Caesar’s Palace Blues
Upon comparison, this version is definitely superior to the arrangement worked on with the Bruford-Holdsworth lineup thanks in part to the scaled down lineup but in no lesser way to the inclusion of Bozzio and his ability to provide a perfectly workable canvas for Jobson’s prodigious abilities. It seems that much of this album couldn’t have worked without Bozzio: his drumming is precise and way ahead of anybody in his field and it is obvious that Jobson needed somebody who could understand and compliment his own ideas. Whereas Bruford played a mainly half-time groove when performing this live, Bozzio leaps right in and abuses those skins as if the 5/4 time signature is a simple four-to-the-floor. The confidence to attack the drum kit is again evident with his double bass pedal work. The cool violin riff is almost simplistic in its complexity but then Jobson bursts forth with a flurry of arpeggios that defy the logic behind the simplicity. Wetton manages to construct an intricately phrased lyrics that deals with gambling in Las Vegas and the shifting shadows that wait behind the curtains. The commerciality of this number is epitomized with the use of tambourine during the later moments but the final violin arrangement at the very end defies this and has the impact of having one’s eardrums poked out with a violin bow!
Nothing To Lose
“Nothing To Lose” is the obligatory ‘hit’ single from the album (as can be seen on YouTube) and is fairly relaxed in its instrumentation compared with other elements from Danger Money. This tends to date more so than the crafty musicianship of “Caesar’s Palace Blues” or the title track however, considering the era, it is still years ahead of the synth-pop that made bands like The Buggles or Japan household names. The mix is excellent (as is the production of this whole album) and the trio never overstate the compositional thematic, which is often the case with commercial music. There is an emphasis on subtlety and the only real shift in time signatures occurs in the triplet section that carries the keyboard theme. Overall, this is a great late ‘70s pop-rock single, and a reminder of the benefits of real musicians to the commercial music market.
Carrying No Cross
As explored with the four-piece lineup in the live realm, this epic manages to cross so many unique territories and maintain a rigid compass in its twelve and a half minutes. It is reminiscent of “Thirty Years” from the previous studio LP, but rejects the meandering elements for some brilliant interplay and tightly spun moments of virtuosity. Each member shines: Jobson manages to stretch between piano and Yamaha CS-80, pushing both to their limits; Wetton underscores with intricate bass work and diaphragmatic vocals while Bozzio does his best Bozzio impression. There are parts that seem to work over (what now would be considered) a sequence. The lead-up has Bozzio fitting in some intricate tom work. Jobson’s spookily supernatural synth sound is eerie over the triplet 5/4 pattern. The band traverses major territory with some groundbreaking music equaling the best moments of Yes, ELP or the technicality of “Moving Pictures”-era Rush. Wetton holds his ground against some of the crazier cut timing, which affords Jobson the freedom to play an incredible piano solo, then an equally impressive organ solo. The themes are grand and the total sum of this number is immeasurable on many levels.
 
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