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John Wetton - John Wetton & Geoffrey Downes: Icon II - Rubicon CD (album) cover


John Wetton


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3.39 | 26 ratings

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5 stars "Who dares to ride across the Rubicon?"

I should preface this review by stating that I have always been a fan of the keyboard driven melodic Asia sound (at least as envisioned by Wetton and Downes), and whilst I do acknowledge that they are not really a Prog band at all, I am not going to mark them down for it. I find if you accept them for what they are, instead of what they could be, then their brand of Prog-tinged rock is really very enjoyable to listen to.

And so we come to the review of the second Wetton-Downes Asia spin-off, Icon 2:Rubicon. The album is a metaphor for the crossroads that Geoff Downes in particular had come to with his relationship with John Payne and the creative and commercial cul-de-sac that Asia seemed trapped in. Unhappy with the sound and sales of Silent Nation, depressed by the small venues Asia was playing in, and unsure of the direction that the band was heading in with the under development "Architect of Time", he sought solace with his former song writing colleague and band-mate, John Wetton. The sessions for the Rubicon album were so productive and fulfilling, that it was during this period that he began in earnest sounding out a reunion of the original Asia and dissolving his partnership with Payne. Having made this decision, and crossing their own personal Rubicon as it were, Wetton & Downes proceeded to issue an album of remarkable power and melodic construction.

Revelling in the new found freedom, the album is superior to anything either of these two had done since the Asia and Alpha albums back in 1982/83, although Wetton's "Battlelines" comes close. Beginning with "The Die is Cast", a thoughtful and mellow keyboard introduction (whose basic chordal structure is re-used in the introduction of the final track) breaks into a hard and fast rock song, sung with urgency by Wetton. The usual ingredients are there, big choral vocals on the chorus, lush keyboards, but the playing is sharp, and Downes in particular shines through with some impressive arpeggio keyboard work over the final minutes of the track. Lyrically, it takes Julius Caesar's quote as he prepared to plunge the Roman Republic into civil war, and recasts it into the point in one's life where you have to just take a risk and gamble everything in order to achieve something important. A triumphant shout of exuberance from a man who had much to gain, but equally as much to lose, translating into a superb introduction for the album.

Next comes "Finger on The Trigger", another up-tempo rock song, much more keyboard driven than the opener. Again dripping in melody, it too carries on the overall theme of the album, of fighting against one's perceived fate and fearful of jumping into the unknown. This song, like most of the songs on the album, is given added feel and gravitas by the judicious use of stringed instruments, in particular the cello, adding a thoughtful, sad and hesitant note to the proceedings.

"Reflections of My Life", again aided by that haunting cello sound, is just simply a beautiful song, with a heartbreaking melody in the verses and a chorus that, while not instantly catchy, is perfect in terms of painting a picture of the cost of making one's choices. Loads of piano and keyboards dominate the sound. The imagery of being unsure that one's actions will lead to your damnation or redemption speaks volumes about both Downes and Wetton's need for change, come what may.

"To Catch a Thief" is a romantic duet with an exquisite melody, with Downes's keyboards again the star of the show, able to paint a picture without flashy pyrotechnics, just simple chordal structures built one atop another until the final product simply and easily moves one's emotions. Although on the surface just a simple love song, it is again another metaphor, this time for the Wetton/Downes relationship across the decades and the reunion.

"Tears of Joy" is another duet, but a completely different feel to the previous track, due principally to the violin melody written by Eddie Jobson (he of Roxy Music, UK and a myriad others) and used here to great effect. Unusually it begins with a length introduction that utilises the same theme as the rest of the song, but it is such a nice melody that you really don't mind. No drums on this track, very laid back, with a very medieval feel to the chorus, achieved through the clever use of harmony.

"Shannon" is probably the weakest track on the album, with conventional lyrical matter that Wetton feels obliged to include in every album he records. Not complex in terms of lyrics or musical content, although it has a nice Celtic feel to the melody.

"The Hanging Tree"is a first rate piece of music, very different in feel to the rest of the album. Eschewing the usual clear verse, chorus, bridge structure of many of their songs, it has a very oppressive feel and a nice use of percussion to add further depth to the music. A mature guitar solo and some weighty keyboard sounds create a very evocative musical journey. The lyrics fit the sound perfectly, about betrayal and the death of creativity, and the need to be free of one's personal darkness, no matter the cost.

"The Glory of Winning" is an old song originally written many years before by Wetton and his old writing partner Palmer-James. The introduction is new and revisits the introductory theme of "The Die is Cast"and the cello/electric guitar melodies of the verses recycle earlier motifs heard throughout the album. An enjoyable track, with brief duelling guitar and keyboard solos later on in the track. Although the lyrics had been written much earlier, they are a nice fit into the overall thematic journey of the album.

I must confess that "Whirlpool"is not one of my favourite songs from the album. Although it tries very hard to convey depth and emotion, the melody of the verses just puts me off, and the chorus does nothing for me. Lyrically, it seeks to paint a picture of the death of one's soul, trapped in a joyless place without exit, and the need to escape before you are swallowed up by despair.

Finally, we have the climax of the album ? "Rubicon", and what a climax it is. Thematically, it completes the journey begun on "The Die is Cast", as the Rubicon is the river Julius Caesar crossed to begin the civil war against the Roman Senate, leading to the death of the Roman Republic. The song plays on this image, insisting just as there was no turning back for Caesar once he crossed the river, everyone at some time reaches this point and they must also cross the river to the point of no return. Musically, the song is both the most complex and simple on the album. The introduction, mellow and thoughtful, revisits the earlier musical motifs that have recurred throughout the album. Then the chorus begins, with interesting syncopation, alternating between 4/4 and 3/4, with implacable imagery reflecting the mounting anticipation of crossing the river. The tension builds in the bridge before the chorus, the impending move, the thrill of making that momentous decision. Then we get the chorus, and what a chorus. Unbelievably simple chords underpin one of the most uplifting and evocative melodies I have ever heard ? and believe me, I have heard a lot. I defy anyone to listen to the chorus of "Rubicon" and not be moved by it. It speaks to the possible in everything, and for one aching moment, nothing is beyond your reach, not matter how impossible it seems. Yes, the chorus is THAT good. The song's greatness is built upon that, and the imagery of that crossing:

"Over the river to the rising sun, Ride on across the Rubicon. In waters deep, but we still go on, Straight on across the Rubicon."

The song and album ends with just Wetton's voice and Downes's piano playing the chorus just one final time, a fitting end for a wonderful musical journey. I highly recommend this to anyone who appreciates music with heart and soul and most importantly, melody. Leave your prejudices at the door, and enjoy something special from two remarkable musicians.

And finally, just as there was no turning back for Caesar, and there was no turning back for Downes and Wetton. Very soon, the old new Asia was proclaimed dead, and the new old Asia was reborn from the flames, just like the Phoenix of legend.

Oatley2112 | 5/5 |


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