REVIEW: JOHN WESLEY – “A Way You’ll Never Be”
In the modern scheme of progressive music, alternative rock now plays as much of a popular influence on the scene as do the styles traditional draws of classical and jazz music. Among other greats, Porcupine Tree, The Mars Volta and Radiohead are some of the best known groups keeping progressive rock up to date and with the times. John Wesley, who is known as a live session guitarist and singer for Porcupine Tree over the years, aligns himself with this forward thinking trend in progressive rock. Wesley has been running a successful solo career for over 20 years, and in that period he released seven studio albums. His eighth studio full-length is titled ‘A Way You’ll Never Be,’ and is scheduled for the October 7 release via Inside Out Music. Although Wesley’s arrangements occasionally tip the hat towards the genre’s original legends, ‘A Way You’ll Never Be’ is a solid fusion of prog and alt rock. The two halves are given equal credence and proportion in the style, and though Wesley and the band, which features Ian Medhurst on guitars, Mark Prator on drums, and legendary Sean Malone on bass, left room for further improvement on this album, it’s rare to hear such a smooth combination of the old and the new.
Although progressive rock is the heart and soul of ‘A Way You’ll Never Be,’ I was surprised to hear such a heavy sound at play here. Yes, heavy like the celebration of everything opposite of the traditional prog spirit. Although the two schools are in direct conflict on paper, John Wesley makes the two work together. Although a modern rock sounds pervades the songwriting, much of the strictly heavy rock vibe on ‘A Way You’ll Never Be’ is confined to the guitar tones, which retain a crisp clarity in the production in spite of the fuzzy textures. Although progressive rock is certainly no stranger to loud guitars, the riff-oriented nature of John Wesley’s music is incredibly overt. Although the song structures ultimately favour 1sort of complexity and long form structures that so often appear in progressive music, many of these riffs are the sort of thing you might hear on a modern radio rock single. This balance between accessible and proggy elements largely defines what the frontman and co. have done on ‘A Way You’ll Never Be.’
Adding upon the hard rock foundation, Wesley layers the sound with spacey guitar solos which occasionally bring up the term “vintage” on the table. Particularly on the gorgeous title track, the way the guitar solos have been incorporated into the sound are incredibly effective. Although these songs have potential to reach out beyond the ten-minute mark and become, so called, prog epics, they are each based around melodies that you’ll likely find yourself humming along to by second spin. John’s voice is unique by itself and he definitely uses it as one of the biggest selling points. He has a welcome warmth and sincerity to his voice, and a slightly nasal quality that works well with the band’s alternative rock roots. Although the tone of the guitar is rich, it doesn’t feel over-mixed, what’s generally the case with guitar-driven records today. I get the impression that the band was trying to get the feeling of a raw, live performance across in the recording, and that worked out impressively well.
‘A Way You’ll Never Be’ is a great exclamation that progressive rock can be accessible and even catchy. John Wesley brings a strong set of compositions to this latest album. He successfully translates the progressive mentality onto the modern sound of rock, and that sort of thinking is something we need more of in the years to come.