[Review] U.K. (1978)

The debut album from one of the last great progressive supergroups, featuring members of King Crimson, Soft Machine and Roxy Music.

Kronomyth 1.0: Aurora.

There were a lot of people who lamented the loss of King Crimson, and it’s tempting to see the first U.K. album as a kind of Crimson Mark II. Bill Bruford and John Wetton had been half of that band, Eddie Jobson had replaced David Cross for some studio overdubs on the live U.S.A. and, while Robert Fripp was irreplaceable, Allan Holdsworth was hardly a case of settling for less.

“I think U.K. was sort of the last of the classic progressive-rock bands of the ’70s. We were the last, final breath.” — Eddie Jobson, as quoted in a 2013 Miami News Times article.

The record does invite comparison to King Crimson, but Frank Zappa, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jean-Luc Ponty also serve as reference points. In fact, there are several moments on here where the words “Ponty on steroids” come to mind. (Holdsworth, you may recall, had just come from playing on Ponty’s Enigmatic Ocean.) What’s unique about U.K. is that they’re not jazz-rock fusion in any sense that I understand the label. It’s almost as though the band took the musicianship and unpredictable twists and turns of Zappa (e.g., “Presto Vivace And Reprise”) and Mahavishnu and drained all of the jazz out of it, leaving pure prog chops in its place. And it’s in that sense where the first U.K. album is groundbreaking, because it allowed future proggers to make highly complex, dynamic and mathematical music without leaning on jazz idioms to do it. There are a lot of prog bands in the 21st century that are making music that sounds like U.K. did thirty years ago.

As much of a powerhouse album as this is, I do feel like it falls apart in spots as the band tries to mesh melodies, vocals and high-octane musicianship together. The closing “Nevermore” and “Mental Medication,” for example, probably would have worked better as instrumentals than extended songs. That said, the opening suite, “In The Dead of Night,” is classic prog—something I didn’t expect to encounter anymore in 1978—and “Thirty Years” is pretty amazing too.

Until now, Eddie Jobson had been a peripheral (if popular) player in prog circles, but this album established him as a major creative force in the field. Unfortunately, the band began to fall apart soon after, with Bruford and Holdsworth leaving the fold (they would reappear on Bruford’s next release, One of a Kind). What remains on this first record is a sweet, wonderful alignment of stars that one can happily exonerate for the future crimes of Asia.

Original LP Version

A1. In The Dead of Night
I. In The Dead of Night (Eddie Jobson/John Wetton) (5:38)
II. By The Light of Day (Eddie Jobson/John Wetton) (4:32)
III. Presto Vivace And Reprise (Eddie Jobson/John Wetton) (2:58)
A2. Thirty Years (John Wetton/Eddie Jobson/Bill Bruford) (8:05)
B1. Alaska (Eddie Jobson) (4:45)
B2. Time To Kill (Eddie Jobson/John Wetton/Bill Bruford) (4:55)
B3. Nevermore (Allan Holdsworth/Eddie Jobson/John Wetton) (8:09)
B4. Mental Medication (Allan Holdsworth/Bill Bruford/Eddie Jobson) (6:12)

CD reissue bonus tracks
9. In The Dead of Night (single edit)
10. Mental Medication (single edit)

The Players

Bill Bruford (kit drums and percussion), Allan Holdsworth (guitars), Eddie Jobson (electric violin, keyboards and electronics), John Wetton (voice and bass). Produced by U.K.; engineered by Stephen W. Tayler.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and 8-track in March 1978 in the UK (Polydor, 2302 080), the US (Polydor/EG, PD/8T-1-6146), Japan (Polydor, MPF-1169) and the Netherlands (Polydor, 2344 104) with inner sleeve; reached #43 on the UK charts and #65 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee and compact disc in 1988 in the US (EG, EGLP/EGCD 35) and Japan (EG, VJD-28048).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in 2009 in the US (Globe Media, GLO 9100-2).
  3. Re-released on expanded super audio compact disc in 2014 in Japan (Virgin, UIGY-9570) with 2 bonus tracks.

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