November 30, 2023

Keeping the same title of the 2022 book about his life, An Extraordinary Life consists of eight CDs drawn exclusively from the solo career of John Wetton. Musically, Wetton did indeed live a life which was full and packed with music and, when he sadly sailed away in 2017, aged only 67, he left a hole which is unlikely to be filled anytime soon. His career spanned more than four decades and few musicians in rock or prog can point to as impressive a CV as Wetton. The list of bands he played in would take too long to write out and his list of friends and admirers would probably fill the new Spurs stadium.

This boxset consists entirely of newly remastered editions of all six of his solo albums, released between 1980 and 2011, with each now having extra bonus tracks. Two further discs have also been included in the package, containing a whole swathe of previously unreleased material from the Wetton vaults, including some surprise choices with the material performed. There’s also a 64 page book with an intro written by Roger Dean, plus comprehensive sleeve notes by Nick Shilton, who also wrote 2022’s book of the same name. 

If you’re a fan of John Wetton, the likelihood is you’ll already know some or all of the solo albums he recorded over a thirty year period, interspersed with playing in Asia as well as recording with other artists, so there’ll be little here which’ll surprise you. All the albums have been remastered for greater sound quality, and each solo album has had a couple of bonus tracks attached, though on Rock Of Faith, which many consider to be amongst his best solo work, his recording of the Beach Boys classic God Only Knows, however, was a most unwise decision, with none of the beauty and majesty of the Beach Boys being captured. John could sing and play, no doubt, but this one should have been left well alone. What does stand out on his solo albums, though, is just how far away from his prog roots he strayed, as he tended to embrace soft rock and a commercial approach aimed at being commercial radio and MTV friendly, which is surprising given that the guest musicians who played on these albums read like a roll call of the great and the good of prog, featuring luminaries such as Fripp, Jobson, Box, Hackett (who also played harmonica on ‘Real World’ on Welcome To Heaven), Downes, Mitchell, Lukather … to name a few.

The two discs of rare and hard to find material, including a few live tracks, contain songs which will make you curious why some of these were never released during his lifetime, given many of these tracks stand at least on a par with what he was doing with Asia. They include a few surprises, notably a largely acoustic version of All Along The Watchtower, and some serious guitar shredding on Tears Of Rage, though the guitarist is uncredited.

Upon his sad demise, Carl Palmer stated: ‘John Wetton created some of the most lasting melodies and lyrics in modern popular music, and his voice helped take Asia to the top of charts all around the world. He will be greatly missed.’ John left behind a significant musical legacy, and this remastered set of his solo works is a fitting testament to an artist whose fan base took in prog aficionados as well as prog-lite bands like Asia, and they illustrate a life well lived very succinctly.