[Review] Allan Holdsworth with I.O.U.: Metal Fatigue (1985)

This is probably what U.K. would have sounded like if Holdsworth were in charge of the band rather than a hired hand.

Kronomyth 3.0: I.O.U.K.

Following his short-lived and doomed dalliance with the majors, Allan Holdsworth returned to the realm of independent records and released the highly listenable Metal Fatigue. The album credited I.O.U. (which now consisted of Chad Wackerman, Jimmy Johnson and Paul Williams) as the backing band, and featured a mix of instrumental and vocal songs that invited comparison to Holdsworth’s earlier stint in the supergroup format, U.K.

Holdsworth’s guitars, however, take center stage from the beginning. He manages to get at least a dozen distinct sounds out of his guitar, ranging from soft and jazzy keyboard tones to squonky prog guitar solos. Flim & The BB’s Jimmy Johnson is an excellent choice on bass, and ex-Zappa alum Chad Wackerman provides typically challenging rhythms, but you won’t be able to take your ears off of Holdsworth for more than a few seconds as you alternate between asking yourself “Is that actually a guitar?” and “Can a human being really play the guitar that fast?”

Although he never played with Frank Zappa, it’s amazing to me how much Holdsworth sounds like Adrian Belew, Mike Keneally and Steve Vai (although I’m guessing it’s really the other way around). The opening “Metal Fatigue,” for example, sounds a lot like something Mike Keneally would have concocted, with its rock-music-turned-on-its-head approach. And about a minute into “Devil Take The Hindmost,” there’s that familiar Adrian Belew animal wail making an appearance. The second side of music is dominated by the fourteen-minute “The Un-Merry-Go-Round,” which offers slightly classical variations on a theme and provides the album’s most challenging listening.

Although never destined for wide commercial acceptance, Metal Fatigue will appeal to those prog rock aficionados who would gladly burn a candle to the greatest living guitarist at any particular moment, which would be Allan Holdsworth for a good twenty minutes of these moments. As the last of AH’s albums before he fell under the spell of the SynthAxe, Metal Fatigue is one of the more amazing guitar-centered prog records you’re likely to encounter. If you dug U.K., you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

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Original LP Version

A1. Metal Fatigue (Allan Holdsworth/Paul Williams) 4:54
A2. Home (Allan Holdsworth) 5:29
A3. Devil Take The Hindmost (Allan Holdsworth) 5:33
A4. Panic Station (Allan Holdsworth/Paul Williams) 3:31
B1. The Un-Merry-Go-Round (Allan Holdsworth) 14:06
B2. In The Mystery (Allan Holdsworth/Paul Korda) 3:49

The Players

Allan Holdsworth (guitar), Jimmy Johnson (bass guitar), Chad Wackerman (drums) with Mac Hine (drums on track 6), Gary Husband (drums on track 5), Paul Korda (vocals on track 6), Alan Pasqua (keyboards on tracks 5 and 6), Paul Williams (vocals on track 1), Gary Willis (bass guitar on track 5). Produced by Allan Holdsworth; engineered by Robert Feist, Allan Holdsworth, Dan Humann, Dennis McKay, Biff Vincent and Gary Wagner.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette in 1985 in the US (Enigma, 72002-1/4), Canada (Enigma, 4XT-73222) and Japan (WEA, P-13098). Cover art by Francois Bardol; photo by Robin D’Arcy; design by Henry Marquez.

  1. Re-released on super high material compact disc on July 23, 2014 in Japan (Vivid Sound/GEN, VSCD4274).
  2. Re-released on remastered compact disc on March 30, 2018 in the UK (Manifesto, MFO46505).
  3. Re-released on Blu-Spec compact disc on September 5, 2018 in Japan (King, KICJ-798).

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