John Wesley is known to most prog fans as a sideman, having worked as MARILLION‘s guitar tech, Fish‘s songwriting partner and guitarist, and most famously as PORCUPINE TREE‘s live guitarist and backing vocalist. However, throughout the years he’s had his own solo career as well, and “a way you’ll never be” (the lack of capitalization is an intentional stylistic choice) is already his seventh full-length studio album. Wesley‘s great playing and unique singing voice impressed me on PORCUPINE TREE‘s live DVDs and convinced me to check out his previous solo album, “Disconnect” (2014), when it came out. The record hasn’t exactly been in constant rotation, but I’ve found myself revisiting various songs occasionally, such as “Mary Will” and “How Goes the War,” thanks to the great guitarwork and melodies on them.
On “a way you’ll never be,” only Wesley himself, drummer Mark Prator, and backing vocalist Geri X – who makes an appearance on the title-track – are left of the “Disconnect” line-up. They’re joined by bassist Sean Malone of CYNIC fame, whose rumbling bass reinforces the sound with a booming low end. Like its predecessor, the album presents guitar-driven alternative rock with a progressive edge, but the songwriting on “a way you’ll never be” is perhaps a little more complex.
Opener and lead single “by the light of a sun” combines catchiness with interesting rhythms, and the second single “to outrun the light” includes some clever key changes. The guitarwork on “sun.a.rose” is slightly reminiscent of RUSH‘s “Jacob’s Ladder” at times and the song has got some cool effect-laden vocal harmonies. The up-tempo “the revolutionist” shines in the riff department, while the focus on the instrumental track “unsafe space” is soloing. The most interesting and varied song is “nada,” which ranges from acoustic arpeggios to heavy wah-wah riffing and frenetic drum fills.
Wesley‘s playing is tasteful and never veers into shredding-for-the-sake-of-shredding Yngwie Malmsteen territory. He’s also got a knack for good riffs and vocal lines, and the songwriting is more consistent than on “Disconnect.” However, the weakness of “a way you’ll never be” lies in its lack of dynamics. Wesley‘s voice stays in the same mid-range register for the most part, and almost all of the songs are on the rocking side, which makes the album rather fatiguing to listen to in one sitting. The only ballad is “the silence in coffee” and even that one is played on electric guitars with some distortion. It’d be great to hear more of Wesley‘s acoustic playing and the falsetto that he made good use of on various PORCUPINE TREE live recordings. If the music calmed down just a bit more often, “a way you’ll never be” would be more compelling to listen to and go back to.
Written by Wille Karttunen
- by the light of a sun
- a way you’ll never be
- to outrun the light
- the revolutionist
- the silence in coffee
- unsafe space
- pointless endeavors