Prog not prog
By ProgBlog, Oct 26 2014 09:39PM
The ProgBlog didn’t appear last week due to a combination of circumstances. Firstly, the weekend was taken up with the TUC Britain Needs a Pay Rise march in central London followed immediately by Crystal Palace vs. Chelsea at Selhurst Park, with domestic duties transferred to the Sunday and secondly, because I had writers block.
The ProgBlog is intended to form the basis of a book, A personal Guide to Progressive Rock, should any publisher be willing to take up the idea. After all, Prog magazine has been going for over 5 years and there is a growing library of progressive rock-related literature. I’ve amassed around 60000 words in blog posts and a further 15000 in gig reviews, aiming to write about 1100 words each week. I’ve stuck to this formula pretty well, taking breaks for holidays when necessary and using the holiday experience to form the basis for a post.
The Genesis documentary continues to provoke umbrage amongst prog aficionados. A conversation with brother Richard, who is coming down from Cumbria to London to see Steve Hackett next Saturday, was dismissive of Genesis: Together and Apart because of the lack of input from Hackett and included nothing at all about the guitarist’s extensive solo output. Speaking to Jim Knipe on our way to see West Bromwich Albion vs. Crystal Palace yesterday (Jim is a Baggies fan and when Palace and West Brom manage to be in the same league, we both do the home and away fixtures) he also referred to the TV programme and reiterated his comment posted to the blog that he thought it was outrageous that the band continued to call themselves Genesis when their output in the 80s and beyond was such rubbish. Richard had suggested the next blog should be about when prog bands stopped playing prog; Jim had derided rump Genesis for not being prog...
The golden age of prog ended in 1978 for reasons covered in a number of my posts. Many of the less successful acts simply disbanded but of the major prog bands that continued, Yes changed musical direction following the perfectly acceptable Drama with a modern-sounding rock; an established three-piece Genesis continued to strip their music of complexity and churned out soft-rock; Pink Floyd succumbed to control by Roger Waters and, despite the brilliance of their studio trickery dropped any pretence of symphonic prog and became a run-of-the-mill rock band with lyrics that seemed to attempt to out-snarl the punks, who had themselves largely disappeared; ELP broke up following Love Beach (1978) and made two brief almost reunions as Emerson Lake and Powell in 1985 and 3 (Emerson, Palmer and Robert Berry) in 1988 that didn’t really approach prog territory. The album Emerson Lake and Powell has two tracks running at over 7 minutes and also includes an adaptation of Holst’s Mars, something that Lake had performed when he was in King Crimson, running in at just less than 8 minutes; To the Power of 3 has one 7 minute plus song; following a prog-folk trilogy that ended with Stormwatch in 1979, Jethro Tull also modernised their sound and, in contrast to the stable line-up of the band since 1976’s Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die adopted a policy of changing musicians for subsequent albums. Though originally intended to be an Ian Anderson solo album, A was released under the Tull moniker and with short, contemporary songs (4WD [Low Ratio], Fylingdale Flyer, Protect and Survive) it really wasn’t prog. The Pine Marten’s Jig forms a sonic link to the three preceding albums but the other tracks are stylistically closer to material that appeared on Anderson’s 1983 solo album, Walk into Light. Tull’s 1982 offering, The Broadsword and the Beast featured Walk into Light collaborator Peter-John Vettese on keyboards, strikes me as being closer to Stormwatch that to A because the subject matter is less ‘modern’ and the concept of Beastie is suggestive of folklore. I thought Under Wraps was uninspired and simply disappointing.
The other major act, last seen in 1974 following the famous announcement that King Crimson “had ceased to exist” made a surprise return in 1981. Quite different from previous incarnations and more aligned with art-rock thanks to the inclusion of former Talking Head Adrian Belew, this Crimson, originally testing the water as Discipline, were most definitely prog; different, but certainly prog. It’s deeply ironic that it was King Crimson who returned as standard-bearers for the genre (from the perspective of someone who listens to and buys progressive rock music) as the other main proponents changed to conform with a bland music industry but, as the neo-prog movement briefly burned bright and faded, Crimson also broke up in 1984 after three albums of remarkable originality. A ten year hiatus, during which time prog was re-evaluated and subsequently deemed less toxic than it had been at any time since the mid 70s saw not just the reappearance of King Crimson but also of former acts and an amazing roll call of new bands from all over the world.
The issue of retaining a band’s name has resulted in more than one legal battle. Jim suggests that it’s shameful that Banks, Collins and Rutherford should have continued to call themselves Genesis. Though I agree with this sentiment, bearing in mind that Banks and Rutherford brought in vocalist Ray Wilson for the 1997 Genesis album Calling All Stations that also included drumming provided by US prog royalty, Nick D’Virgilio of Spock’s Beard, Banks and Rutherford were two of the founding members of the band. The Yes saga was resolved with the union of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe and the Squire-Rabin LA based Yes but, rather like Jim and his issues with the post-Hackett Genesis, I have a problem with the 90125 band taking on the name of Yes. Originally a project that went under the name of Cinema (hence the track Cinema on the album) they only became Yes after the late inclusion of Jon Anderson. The temporary disagreement between Tony Kaye and producer Trevor Horn and subsequent hiring of Eddie Jobson might have put the adoption of the name Yes in (legal) jeopardy but Kaye was brought back into the fold and Jobson, not wanting to share keyboard duties, stood down. I think there’s a qualitative difference between the music pre- and post 90125; Drama, though lacking Anderson and Wakeman, is stylistically similar to the preceding albums and is undoubtedly symphonic prog. 90125, on the other hand, is a very different sonic beast that also demonstrates a shift away from the spiritual and ecological themes that characterised Yes musical territory up to Drama. Jim’s point is that the post-Hackett Genesis is stylistically and thematically divergent from the pastoral symphonic long-form pieces based on mythology that required input from all band members, not least Steve Hackett who had to treat the guitar quite differently from that used in normal rock bands, to make it stand out from the keyboard melodies. Though The Lamb appeared quite different at the time, you can detect motifs originally aired in Selling England and, perhaps more importantly, this was the classic prog Genesis line-up.
The Gilmour-led Pink Floyd ended up in a legal battle with Roger Waters but again, despite the inclusion of founding members Rick Wright and Nick Mason in the Momentary Lapse line-up, Gilmour’s resurrection of the Floyd name should be allowed on the grounds that A Momentary Lapse of Reason is a return to the symphonic prog last expressed on Wish You Were Here. The post-Barrett Floyd were a very different kettle of fish from the whimsy psychedelia that dominates Piper. Wright and Gilmour were together responsible for the more progressive leanings that emerged from the fledgling space rock of Saucerful; Waters seemed to be hooked on simplistic acoustic guitar riffs that are detectable on his solo portion of Ummagumma, through the short tracks on Atom Heart and Meddle and that re-emerge on the tracks Wish You Were Here and Pigs on the Wing, then dominate The Wall, The Final Cut and his first solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. Despite its success, I don’t really regard The Wall as a genuine Pink Floyd album in a musical sense because of the domination of the ideas of Waters and how the concept was delivered to the rest of the band. The live performance was a wonderful piece of theatrics but it wasn’t prog. I don’t imagine there are too many other people who think like that...
Any plans to review the ''new'' Floyd album? And is it prog?
There will be a blog/ review of The Endless River but I don't own a copy just yet!
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I was lucky enough to get to see two gigs in Italy last summer while the UK live music industry was halted and unsupported by the government, and the subsequent year-long gap between going to see bands play live has been frustrating - but necessary.
The first weekend in September marked the return of live prog in England, and ProgBlog was there...