Raised in Captivity is the new solo album from John Wetton, made in close cooperation with Billy Sherwood. Wetton and Sherwood co-wrote and performed most of the album between them, but there's also a gaggle of guest stars. (These include Tony Kaye, which puts Wetton's tally of Yesmen he's worked with up to 11: Banks, Bruford, Kaye, Howe, Wakeman, White, Downes, Horn, Rabin, Sherwood and Khoroshev.) In recent years, Wetton has been reinvigorated after past health problems and he came to this album after the successful Asia and UK reunions. Sherwood is a self-professed fan of Wetton's work, particularly UK, and has also been busy on multiple projects these last few years, including CIRCA: and several solo albums. It looked like the right ingredients for a strong album.
Despite Wetton's recent reunion with UK and the appearance of guests like Robert Fripp, Wetton has not returned to the more progressive stylings of King Crimson and UK. Stylistically, Raised in Captivity is in keeping with Asia or Battle Lines, but with Sherwoodisms thrown into the mix. I expected that and was looking forward to this album. I was bitterly disappointed. Too much of this album is uninteresting, generic and forgettable. Take the opener, "Lost for Words", it perhaps shows the best combination of Sherwood's and Wetton's styles. With its catchy melody and fun wordplay, is a nice starter to this album, but 3 minutes into its 5 minute duration, I grow bored of it. There's just not enough meat. The same is true elsewhere. Like "Goodbye Elsinore", a nice enough song, but it outstays its welcome past Steve Hackett's solo. And these are not long pieces, so something's not right if I'm getting bored halfway through them! The diminutive "Steffi's Ring" is the only piece that doesn't outstay its welcome.
At least "Lost for Words" and "Goodbye Elsinore" begin OK. There are other pieces here that are just deathly dull. I struggle to imagine that anyone in 6 months time, even Wetton or Sherwood, will be able to remember such throwaways as "New Star Rising" or "Don't Misunderstand Me". At least the latter has a cute middle eight, but the former is just so bland. Other songs feel like repeats: "The Last Night of My Life" is a bad "An Extraordinary Life" (from Asia's Phoenix), "The Human Condition" is a poor "Information Overload" (on CIRCA: 2007).
John Wetton has long been known for his vocals and as time marches on and many of his peers have had problems with their voices (e.g. Jon Anderson, Ian Anderson), Wetton's voice has stood out even more. So it's somewhat disappointing that I don't feel he's been produced very well on this album, precisely where his vocals should be front and centre. Particularly on a piece like "Mighty Rivers", a duet with Anneke van Giersbergen that should be all about the vocals, Wetton's vocals don't sound as good as they do on the likes of Omega.
I guess most reading this blog are familiar with Sherwood's work in Yes/CIRCA:/World Trade/Conspiracy/Yoso/solo etc. His contributions here are distinctive, but at some point he crosses the line between distinctive and cliché. In particular, Sherwood's drumming style tires rapidly. He has recognisable fills, but he uses them everywhere. The comparisons with Asia are most obvious and while Sherwood is a talented musician in many ways, he's not as good a drummer as Carl Palmer, or as good an electric guitarist as Steve Howe. You can't help thinking that had the album been recorded by a band, say the recent UK line-up with Jobson/Machacek/Minnemann, then it would have been much stronger.
I've mentioned some of the guests already. Their contributions are variable. Steve Morse's solo on "Lost for Words" is disappointing. Hackett's in "Goodbye Elsinore" better. Jobson's violin on "The Devil and the Opera House" is one of the highlights of the whole album and makes you weep that he's largely turned his back on studio work. Palmer-James' words on the same piece add a nice variety in lyrical style. Yet, broadly, many of the guest appearances feel tacked on, most notable of all being the Fripp Soundscape used to bookend the title track. It's nice, but it has nothing to do with the piece it frames.
Sherwood has said, "John is incredibly prolific and fast... I can relate to that and so we created the template of the entire record within the 1st 10 days of working together. [...] We spent 30 ish days together working every single day with the exception of the day I had to go to the L.A. NAMM show. Everyday we worked we moved forward..." In his Classic Rock Presents... Prog interview about the album, Wetton likewise makes the contrast with the long and expensive process of making Battle Lines. I'm glad they worked well together and the speedy production must have helped keep the budget manageable, but the problem is the end result sounds like it was put together that quickly. If this was a set of demos, I could perhaps approach them with some optimism. "Take those ideas. Drop those ones, they're not working. Now record it with a proper band." As a finished album, there are bits and pieces I like, with "Lost for Words", "The Devil...", "Steffi's Ring" and "Goodbye Elsinore" the strongest, but not one song works for me all the way through. Little of it is actively off-putting (except perhaps "We Stay Together"), but so much of it is is superficial and unmemorable.
I re-listened to Battle Lines and Caught in the Crossfire for a comparison. 24 hours after Caught in the Crossfire, I was still humming "Turn on the radio..." I can't get 24 minutes into Raised in Captivity before wanting to listen to something else.
If there is a note of ire in my review it's not because I think poorly of Wetton and Sherwood. Quite the opposite: they've both done better, which is why Raised in Captivity is so disappointing. If you want some good work from Sherwood, I recommend his last solo album, Oneirology. For Wetton, there's a wealth of options: Asia's Omega is a good album, while fans of his 1970s work should get Ultimate Zero Live. And for an archival release, anyone who likes Red or UK should consider the recent DGM download of 1977 rehearsal sessions by Fripp, Wetton and Mahavishnu Orchestra's Michael Walden: see here.
In the interests of giving a right to reply, I point you to a thread on Yesfans.com. I mentioned my dislike of the album there and Sherwood offered a rebuttal here (scroll up for my prior comments). [3 Sep EDIT: Link now fixed.]