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  • Five Things Prog Musicians Should Stop Doing

    13. Sep. 2010, 16:10

    If you have nothing good to say, say nothing. This is my firm belief. No matter how rude people are on the big ol' Internet, I try to remain positive at all times. That's why I tend to review only music I'm exited about and only post comments on YouTube videos that I like. I just can't be bothered with crap, really.

    However, some things do bother me. A lot of things, actually. For once, I want to speak my mind about a couple of practices in my beloved niche of , that have either recently crept in or have been going on for ages. These things confuse me, annoy me or just tick me off. And prog musicians should stop doing it.

    5 - Cut Up Epics
    So, you've written a 15+ minute piece of music that goes through a lot of time and tune changes. Good for you. Way to keep the spirit of Prog alive, I say. For good measure, you've named each and every time shift differently, turning the whole thing into an amalgam of titles.

    While it may be a little old-fashioned, this practice is widespread among prog musicians and was probably carried over from our classical roots. There's nothing wrong with it per se, but many musicians also opt to put different parts of their epic on different tracks on the CD.

    The real problem is, we don't live in the vinyl age anymore. Today's listeners listen to CD's or, indeed, MP3's. You see, most CD and MP3 players have a nasty habit of playing a three second silence in between tracks. I have no idea why this is, but let me tell you, there is nothing quite as annoying as having your continuous piece of prog suddenly rudely interrupted by a beat that definitely isn't supposed to be there.

    Offenders: Spock's Beard, A.C.T, Fish

    4 - Grunts
    Why? I may get some flak for this, but I just don't get it. I know you want to add darkness to your music, or just plain old sound scary. Then why undermine it by doing your best Cookie Monster impression? It's plain laughable, is what it is. Somebody explain this if I'm wrong, but I don't think I can take dark music seriously if the singer is sounding like a muppet.

    Offenders: Opeth, Ayreon, any artist that uses grunts

    3 - Gratuitous Prince Letters
    W8 4 it. U R not going 2 believe this. While using Prince Letters (some particularly economic kind of l33tspeak, popularized by The Artist Formerly Known As the Artist Formerly Known As Prince) is common in hip hop and RnB, which we stay far away from anyway, we suddenly behold this practice seeping into prog.

    None other than Steven Wilson released a track with his Blackfield project called "Miss U". I'm not kidding. Y? Is he going for urban street cred now? Can't the guy be bothered to write "You" properly? We all know Steven's a genius, so I can't imagine he doesn't know how. It's only a minor offense, but it just confuses the heck out of me.

    Really, it does not make you look cool. Well, it may look cool if you're Prince, but U R not, R U? We are musical nerds; posing does not become us. Just write the whole thing out, please.

    Offenders: Blackfield

    2 - Bonus Tracks
    Album Crafting is a fine art valued by all prog lovers. Ever since Sgt. Pepper, we understand how an album can be more than the sum of its parts; resulting in a satisfying listen from start to finish.

    And then, when the 40-to-70-minute ride is finished, the bonus track kicks in.

    It has no place on the album. Either it's a different style, a demo or a jam, or just a silly joke. It makes the whole album one song too long; interrupting the flow and undermining the album craft. At the very least, you have to get up and turn off your CD player before it begins.

    If the song has no place on the album, why put it on in the first place? Every artist has plenty of Extended Editions and Fan Club Releases going on these days. Put it on those. True fan boys may like it, but to casual listeners, it's just an annoyance.

    Offenders: Marillion, The Flower Kings, Coldplay

    1 - Releasing music through Internet only
    It's always heartbreaking to hear one of your favorite artists is only going to sell their next album online, from their own store, or worse still, as a download only. I know the band makes more money that way and whatnot. I don't care. I. Do. Not. Buy. Stuff. Off. The. Internet.

    I don't want to order music through some shady Pay Pal business and wait for some package to drop on my floor. I want to go out to my favorite music store, pay money, and buy the CD. Accept no substitutes!

    We all have our own rituals when it comes to buying new music, especially prog lovers like us. We want the real deal, and we want it from our local stores. Internet shopping is a scary deal for still many of us, and it takes away a lot of the magic. All this online shopping business only serves to drive people toward piracy. And that's no good for anyone's business.

    Offenders: Marillion, Gazpacho, Spock's Beard
  • Review: Spock's Beard - X

    13. Jul. 2010, 23:37

    The Guy Who Isn't There

    Every generation of progressive rock bands has had The One Great Line-Up Change. The classic 70's age had Gabriel leaving Genesis, the Neo-Prog wave had Fish leaving Marillion and us guys riding the Third Wave now have Neal Morse leaving Spock's Beard.

    While both Genesis and Marillion got over their respective changes of face pretty quickly (albeit in very different ways), the same cannot be said of Spock's Beard.

    It's not that NDV isn't a capable singer, or that Feel Euphoria, Octane and, especially, Spock's Beard weren't nice enough albums. Also, the Beard continued to kick ass on stage, as evidenced on their latest DVD release. All in all, the new Neal-less incarnation of the Beard was a pretty cool band.

    But the Beard plus Neal wasn't just a pretty cool band. They were damn near perfect. They weren't the most original band under the great big prog sun, but damn if they weren't brilliant. Complex and compelling, excelling in both long and short form, melodic, weird, exhilarating, rocking-your-socks-off and so incredibly fun. The old SB albums are filled to the brim with joyful love of music, always simultaneously causing goosebumps and bringing a smile to my face.

    In recent years, while Neal is out there doing his thing for the Glory of the Lord, his composing quality was sorely missed at the Beard. As much as I hate to say it, the absence of Neal continued to be a problem throughout those last three albums. The once-mighty Beard had become The Band of The Guy Who Isn't There.

    Enter the X

    So here's the tenth Spock's Beard album, simply called X (mirroring the title of their fifth - V). They did the Marillion thing - they funded its release with pre-orders. And they don't just list the people who pre-bought it in the liner notes, no, they actually sing them. More on that later.

    Now, here's the thing about SBX: it is very, very good.

    It is, in fact, so good that the absence of you-know-who isn't a problem anymore.

    Allow me to elaborate. In retrospect, what the previous three albums were lacking was consistency. There were plenty of highlights (case in point: On A perfect Day, The Bottom Line, Ghosts Of Autumn, The Planet's Hum et al), but plenty of mediocre songs as well (Sometimes They Stay, Sometimes They Go, Feel Euphoria, The Slow Crash Landing Man) and the so-called "epics" were very fragmented and didn't feel at all. All in all, SB wasn't sure what it wanted to be; a prog monster, a hard rock band, a pop group?

    Song by song

    We'll leave that question hanging for the moment: let's dive into our subject proper. The first notes of opener Edge of the In-Between just scream "Warning! Incoming epic!" before moving into a very uplifting tune with a lovely sing-along chorus. True to its intro, things don't stay in one place. We also get a rockier and a slower section before the ten-minute piece closes on a neat book-end return to the main theme. As always, a very impressive opener.

    Quietly, it seems bassist Dave Meros has taken over the unofficial leader's position in the band. Along with his writing buddy John Boegehold, he is responsible for half of the album. As well as the opening tune, their contributions include the brutally rocking The Quiet House (which also happens to include the nicest "quiet bit" found on this album), the haunting, cinematic Their Names Escape Me (which includes a long list of names in the lyrics - the ones who pre-ordered the premium package - it does get a tad bit tedious but the music keeps it going) and the ending song Jaws of Heaven, which I will get back to.

    Guitarist Alan Morse contributes The Emperor's Clothes and The Man Behind the Curtain. Both are upbeat, cheerful and slightly quirky (in a good way - wouldn't be SB without it!) songs. The former was actually done in collaboration with little brother Neal himself. It's good to know they're still on good terms.

    Keyboardist Ryo Okumoto provides us with Kamikaze. Just like its creator, it is short, unpredictable, highly Japanese and batshit insane. It is what it is, just a goofy little instrumental.

    NDV's contribution is the 16-minute From the Darkness. It's length belies its fairly straightforward nature. There's no pompous beginning here; it gets straight down to business and moves through its four parts with little fuss. Like Nick's previous compositions, it is fairly fragmented, but it's a good listen and the transitions work well. And it rocks pretty hard.

    And then, there's Jaws of Heaven. This is it: the true epic we have all been waiting for. It starts off small, but it gets really big. It's a heavyweight symphonic masterpiece with an impressive theme that keeps popping up in all the right ways. Nick's singing really shines here. The guy has a great, versatile voice and, being a drummer, a particularly good sense of timing. Jaws of Heaven closes the album on a high but surprisingly dark and mature note. Great stuff.

    Verdict

    "X" has no weak songs on it. Unlike its predecessors, it is of very consistent quality. The album's highlights are many and carry the whole album to a higher level, making the whole just a bit more than the sum of its parts. If the previous three albums were puzzles trying to find their missing piece, all pieces fall together perfectly on this superb album.

    Answering the above question to what Spock's Beard wants to be, one could say they have firmly and happily elected the "prog monster" option. And that's what we all want to be hearing from Spock's Beard in the first place. The whole album breathes finely crafted progressive rock without sounding too much like something that Neal Morse could cook up in about ten minutes. "X" is easily the best SB album sans Neal, and pretty much one of the best SB albums overall.

    So, finally, the Mighty Beard are once again their own band. I would like to give SBX a big thumbs up. All prog fans out there who have become disillusioned by SB's recent output (such as myself) will be pleasantly surprised. Kudos!
  • HazyB's Top Ten Albums of 2009

    6. Jan. 2010, 22:56

    10. Transatlantic - The Whirlwind

    Rejoice! Transatlantic is back! Now, before hearing the album I already had a pretty good idea of what it was going to be like. Guess what? Turned out I was right. Overworked, overlong, unoriginal symphonic prog on steroids, with less-than-subtle Christian overtones. So yeah, it's a big Neal Morse show. And it's awesome.

    9. Pure Reason Revolution- Amor Vincit Omnia

    Pure Reason Revolution, on the other hand, took the sound of their first album and pretty much threw it out of the window for their second. This album is full of electronics and weird synths, and it's even more overproduced than their first album. Yet, it still manages to rock, and the multi-layered vocals give it the distinctive PRR sound.

    8. Muse - The Resistance

    Pah pah PAAAH! Muse just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and all the better for it. To their credit though, Matt and his pals do try new stuff on this album, including a smooth RnB-style track and a three part-symphony, both done beautifully. But the Queen-pastiche that is United States of Eurasia is just too much.

    7. Devin Townsend Project - Ki

    I'm pretty convinced that this is Devin Townsend's Damnation: A metal artist making a quiet, haunting album for a change, rather than his usual (tiresome) racket. This is still Hevy Devy though, and it is indeed a very heavy album: it's heavy on atmosphere and tension. It does go on for a couple of tracks too long though.

    6. dredg - The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion

    Dredg is a new find for me. At first glace, they seem like your run-off-the-mill angst-ridden alternative rock band. That's what they are, of course, but there's a bit more to them: A tendency to experiment and fill their album with quirky instrumental exercises as well as highly catchy rock songs. Accessible and rewarding.

    5. The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love

    Another new find, and a highly interesting one. Apparently, what we have here is a mostly acoustic concept album band. I'm still in the process of getting into it, but I know it should be up here. It's a musical journey as only concept albums can be, the vocals are great and the words are... very, very weird. And it rocks.

    4. Regina Spektor - Far

    The odd one out. This has nothing to do with any music I ever listen to. I don't care. This is gorgeous. It's one of those slightly offbeat, foreign gals with a piano. Think Björk, but nowhere near that level of eccentricity (good thing too). It's lighthearted, funny, cute, silly and very beautiful in places.

    3. Porcupine Tree - The Incident

    The Inevitable Steven Wilson. After a lot of albums with a common theme, the Genius himself now provides us with a full-blown concept album. But you know that. If you read this, you should probably have this album. If not, get it, you fool! As for my opinion, I think Fear Of A Blank Planet was better. But this one is miles better than Insurgentes.

    2. Marillion - Less Is More

    Talk about inevitable. As this album is just new, acoustic versions of older tracks, I wasn't going to put it in here... but damn, I have to. Most songs are better than their original versions and the whole thing flows perfectly and has a very consistent atmosphere. This is Marillion as I want to hear them. They beat almost everyone without even trying.

    1. Phideaux - Number Seven

    Of the many new bands I have discovered this year, Phideaux gets the cake. You may have heard of his masterpiece Doomsday Afternoon, which I consider the greatest album of the decade. Number Seven comes eerily close to that level of genius. What makes it so great? It has everything: the compositions, the instrumentation, the words, the melody, the vocals. All the while, none of it is overdone (here's looking at you, Mr. Morse). Phideaux is slowly gaining recognition in the progressive rock genre; I highly recommend you check this out.

    I think we saw some excellent releases in 2009, as well as some great new discoveries. To all happy listening in 2010!
  • Uninvited Guests: A beginner's guide to Marillion; Part 4: Back on Top

    5. Aug. 2009, 16:03

    Part 4: Back on Top



    It may or may not have been Mark Kelly, AKA Mad Jack, AKA the bald guy on keyboards. But somebody in the band came up with the idea to finance their next album entirely by pre-orders. A simple, daring, risky and above all revolutionary idea. For the first time, Marillion would be their own boss. There would be no more pressure from labels to go into whatever kind of music or to finish anything in time. And above all, Marillion would be the sole owners of their own music. All it required was a leap of faith from the fans. But would they, after a string of disappointing albums, still be willing to support this once-great band?

    2001 - Anoraknophobia
    * * * *


    Of course they were. The pre-order model was a tremendous success, and Anoraknophobia came *only* a half a year overdue. The confusing title is actually a statement; we're a bunch of anoraks, and we're not afraid of it anymore.
    Although this album marks the beginning of a whole new period in Marillion's career, musically it's a continuation of the previous two albums. Whatever was left of progressive rock has been replaced by trip-hop, electronics and funk. But don't let that fool you; at the heart of this album, there's rock all the way through. Between You And Me, Separated Out and If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill are among their hardest rocking tracks yet, and they are all awesome.
    On this album, Marillion find themselves inspired again. It is the culmination of their experimental period. The weird tracks aren't oddities anymore, but highlights. The Fruit Of The Wild Rose is a funky, bluesy number, Quartz is driven by a relentlessly hypnotic bass line and even sees Steve Hogarth rapping!
    Hogarth is in fine shape. All songs are laden with emotion. This is most apparent on When I Meet God, the highlight of the album and, despite themselves, the most "proggy" song. The only one I don't care about is This Is The 21st Century (although it's Hogarth's favorite track), which features a droning drum loop instead of proper drums, and does nothing and goes nowhere for ten minutes. Shame!
    Other than that, this album shows that it doesn't matter what kind of music Marillion is making, as long as they've got their hearts in it. And here, they certainly have. It may not be for everyone, but it's certainly miles better than their previous couple of albums!

    2004 - Marbles
    * * * * *


    Now, here's a joke. Through their new-found independence, Marillion, the band who went to great lengths to be anything but a prog rock band, suddenly found themselves to be absolutely free to make any kind of music they wanted whatsoever. And guess what they came up with? An all-out progressive rock album, that's what.
    Marbles released a veritable hype in the world of progressive rock. And for once, the hype was entirely justified. Marbles is brilliant.
    The epic opener The Invisible Man takes you for a ride through the darkest places of Hogarth's imagination. The world has gone mad. Like the Brave album, this song has both great emotional and sonic depth to it. It seems infinitely layered, always building up, breaking down and building up again, until Hogath is screaming at the top of his lungs and Rothery is up on the high strings. Did I mention it's a great song?
    There's more where that came from. The prog department also gives us Ocean Cloud, an eighteen minute epic on a man who rows the ocean, that easily settles itself up there with the best thing Marillion has ever done.
    The shorter tracks don't fail to deliver either. Marbles features both a return to Marillion's prog-pop roots, recalling Brave and Afraid of Sunlight in terms of atmosphere and orchestration, as well as a subtle continuation of the tendency to experiment. Fantastic Place earns its place as an instant-classic, Genie and Don't Hurt Yourself belong to the best Marillion pop song tradition. There's the gentle, jazzy Angelina and the psychedelic rocker Drilling Holes. It's all there and it's all done really well. Each track seems to harbor another aspect of everything that has been great about Marillion for so many years.
    Steve Rothery is back in action. He decided to go back to his signature soloing, although his sound is more varied than ever. His playing features prominently on almost every track. But never so prominently as on Neverland, the album's closer.
    And what a track this is. "Majestic" doesn't even begin to describe it. It isn't even overtly proggy, it's just ten minutes of pure euphoria. I'm reluctant to call it their best song, as there are so many great songs on this album alone. But it's definitely up there! In any case, it became the anthem of the Marillion fans and I believe the band have played it at nearly every single concert ever since.
    Look at me. This is already the longest review I've written and I feel I have only scratched the surface of this many-faced album. I'll suffice to say that it's one of Marillion's very best, recommended to anyone who likes music at all. Be sure to get the double album from the band themselves rather than the one-disc retail edition, you don't want to miss out on the full deal.

    2007 - Somewhere Else
    * *


    Each Marillion album is a reaction to the previous one. Obviously, Marbles wasn't going to be topped any time soon. As if they knew in advance, the band decided to (temporarily) drop the pre-order model for 2007's Somewhere Else.
    As expected, Somewhere Else doesn't even try to live up to its illustrious predecessor. It is a much more stripped-down and pop-centered affair.
    It starts out promisingly enough with the wonderful The Other Half, which starts off as a rocker but opens up into a majestic, soaring melodic piece. See It Like A Baby is the obligatory single; not bad, nothing special. Thank You, Whoever You Are, Somewhere Else and A Voice From The Past are the album's highlights. Curiously, they all more or less follow the same pattern; each starting off as a piano-based ballad that gradually builds and ends in a soaring guitar-driven finale.
    Unfortunately, the rest of the songs are lacking in overall quality. Out of all of Marillion's throwaway rockers, Most Toys might be the most throwaway of all. No Such Thing is simply dull. The Wound is an interesting failure; it consists of one half of Marillion-rocks-out and one half of Marillion-does-Radiohead. Both halves are good enough, but they simply refuse to be wedded into one song.
    What really makes the album fall short of a more favorable rating is that Marillion doesn't really bring anything new to the table here. They do nothing on this album that they haven't done before, and better. It's actually not a bad place to start if you're new to the band, but to the longtime fan, it fails to deliver.

    Fortunately, the subsequent tour was one of the best in their recent career, with a completely different set list every show. These songs work much better live. It brought forth Somewhere in London, which is without a doubt the best among Marillion's many live DVD's and comes highly recommended.

    2008 - Happiness Is The Road
    * * * * *


    Shortly after Somewhere Else, the band pretty much had their next album written. But something happened; the boys went on a creative songwriting spree. Suddenly, they found themselves with enough material for not one, but two albums. They were released as a lavish double album.
    If Marbles recalled Brave, then Happiness, surprisingly, brings Seasons End to mind. It sounds similarly fresh and inspired, and the overall feeling is definitely on the lighter side.
    It does the prog thing, as evident on songs like Essence, The Man from the Planet Marzipan and, particularly, Happiness Is The Road. The latter is one of those huge sing-along anthems to be sung in concert halls for quite a while.
    It also does the pop thing, particularly on the second disk. Half The World, Whatever Is Wrong With You and Especially True could be big hits, if it weren't that there's no place for these old rockers on the singles market today.
    It does the songs that are typical of Marillion, the kind of prog-pop crossovers like This Train Is My Life (my #1 track on LastFM!), Thunder Fly and Real Tears For Sale.
    It also has lots of Marillion's specialty of creating atmosphere and building up. This quality can be found throughout the first disk. Liquidity is actually Marillion's first instrumental studio track in a career spanning thirty years!
    And then there's some experimenting with new styles; Nothing Fills The Hole comes eerily close to black soul, Happiness Is The Road has traces of Jamaican Reggae, Older Than Me could be a lullaby and Asylum Satellite #1 is as psychedelic as anything they've ever done.
    There's of course fine performances, a high quality of composition, top notch lyrics and crystal-clear production. For an encore, it's 110 minutes long and doesn't sport a single weak song!
    I do have one point of criticism, though. There's another bonus track; the so-called Half Full Jam that is, as one might expect, rubbish. This stuff should be reserved for fan club releases.
    Other than that, I see no reason not to give Marillion's latest outing a full five-star rating. It's right up there with their best work; thirty years into their career, they are still at their prime.

    So there you have it; all of Marillion's albums until now. They have led a turbulent career with more highs than lows, in which they always tried to reinvent themselves, while at the same time remain true to themselves. To all those who still think this is a one-hit-wonder from the eighties, and to all who have become stuck in the Fish era: you are seriously missing out. Marillion are still alive and kicking, and releasing great and significant material. They still show no signs of wanting to quit, so let's hope there will be much more great music to come!
  • Uninvited Guests: A beginner's guide to Marillion; Part 3: Difficult Times

    24. Jul. 2009, 19:51

    Part 3: Difficult Times



    Halfway into the nineties, Steve Hogarth had definitively been integrated as Marillion's main man. Despite their ever faithful fan base, Marillion's success was insufficient to justify any further collaboration with the EMI label. Unfortunately, their new label, Castle, didn't even try to put Marillion on the map again, instead choosing to give their albums enough distribution only to reach the faithful rather than a new audience. Perhaps unconsciously, this prompted Marillion to try and do two things: first, to rejuvenate their sound, and second, to get rid of their new record deal as soon as possible. This resulted in a number of albums that clearly define a difficult period in the band's existence.

    1997 - This Strange Engine
    * * *


    As the title suggests, there's something strange about this album. Something's just not right. Marillion are still themselves, but they seem out of shape. What's going on?
    It's not the lack of strong tracks. Man Of A Thousand Faces opens the album with an instantly recognizable acoustic riff, leading into one of the catchiest pop songs they have ever made. But things don't stay in one place; the song closes with a huge almost gospel-like finale. Great stuff.
    One Fine Day and 80 Days make fine pop songs, Estonia is a beautiful ballad. For what it's worth, even the traditional useless rocker An Accidental Man is alright.
    There's Hope For The Future, a bit of samba silliness that's completely weird and out of place, but not quite as awful as some fans seem to think.
    And then there's the title track. This Strange Engine is a bona fide prog epic, their longest song with Hogarth so far. Its sheer beauty and power defy words; these are fifteen minutes of pure heaven. The end section with Hogarth once again singing from his toes is just incredible. Too bad they had to put a 15-minute silence and a bonus track at the end, though. I really don't see why musicians do this.
    So, having said all this, what's wrong, then? The album doesn't "flow" well. Unlike, say, Afraid Of Sunlight, this album feels very unbalanced. Somehow, the tracks don't seem to complement each other. The result is an album that is considerably less than the sum of its parts. The title track still makes it worth owning, though.

    1998 - Radiation
    * * *


    I hated this album when it just came out. Why? Because it didn't sound like Marillion at all. It had all these weird noises, freaky effects, distorted guitars and really no progressive rock.
    Looking back, it's not bad. It's just different. It's a good thing Marillion were trying new things. Steve Hogarth had been playing with members of Porcupine Tree, XTC and Massive Attack, and the band were picking up a serious Radiohead influence, as well. All this added up to a much more contemporary sound.
    There are lots of good songs here, with a much rawer and at the same time more crowded production that gives them their edge. Under the Sun is one of Marillion's better rockers, Now She'll Never Know is a nice acoustic ballad, Three Minute Boy and These Chains are actually vintage Marillion. Only The Answering Machine is over-produced, I much prefer the acoustic version.
    Cathedral Wall is a big shocker; a very loud and even terrifying track with ghostly vocals. It took some getting used to, but now I love it.
    As usual, the real treat is the closer: A Few Words For The Dead. Actually, it's seven minutes of what Marillion do best: setting an atmosphere and building up tension. Around the seven minute mark; the song opens up beautifully into the grand finale. Yes, folks, it's still Marillion.
    Unfortunately, this album, too, is quite unbalanced and fails to be more than the sum of its parts. As it's clearly a transition album, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone new to the band. But perhaps more than any album, it has grown on me.

    1999 - marillion.com
    * *


    Reviewing this album is difficult. This would be Marillion's final album on the Castle label. It is also probably their weakest album, despite it being mixed by none other than Steven Wilson. It retains the raw, modern production of Radiation and gives it an overall rockier and poppier twist. While there is nothing wrong with this, the album suffers from a simple but regrettable flaw: the songs just aren't up to par.
    Most songs are just ideas in need of polishing. They sound interesting, but not finished, lacking the excitement and the dynamics that Marillion usually do so well. Standout tracks would be Go! and Interior Lulu - the latter a fifteen minute epic that doesn't quite reach the high standard of This Strange Engine. A song like Rich is one of those tracks that could have been a lot better. It might even have benefited from a more conventional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus approach; now it sinks away into something that sounds like a studio jam, and Marillion are by no means a jam band.
    The album ends in very unorthodox fashion with House - a jazzy chill out dub groove, clearly inspired by Massive Attack. Quite interestingly, it actually works, even though at ten minutes it greatly outstays its welcome. A weird ending to a weird album.
    The worst thing is that below the surface, I just know there is a really good album struggling to get out, if only they had had more time. Now, we're stuck with a half-finished album; no more or less than an interesting failure.

    If I can say anything about these three albums in general, it's that they where probably rushed. The label was putting a lot of pressure on the band to finish each album on time. For their part, Marillion couldn't wait to fulfill their part of the deal and become independent. As Marillion are notoriously slow songwriters, this did the quality of their albums no good. No doubt the years between 97-99 would have been better spent working on one great album rather than three mediocre ones. Marillion were more than happy to leave Castle, but would they really be better off with no record label at all? Time would soon tell.

    To be continued...
  • Uninvited Guests: A beginner's guide to Marillion; Part 2: Hogarth Ventures Forth

    14. Jul. 2009, 11:01

    Part 2: Hogarth Ventures Forth



    The remaining members of Marillion wasted no time trying to find themselves a new singer. Auditioning came a young bloke from a band called How We Live. He came with a red bucket full of demos, a very impressive singing voice and a truckload full of talent. Sure, his voice was as far away from Fish's as one could ever be. But what this man brought to the table was just the right click, that very special something that ensured the band that magic would ensue. His name was Steve Hogarth.

    1989 - Seasons End
    * * * * *


    If there were any doubts that things would work alright out for Marillion, the first song of this album is sure to cast them away. The King of Sunset Town kicks off in huge soaring guitar fashion. Then things calm down a bit and Hogarth gets his fist chance to shine. This is vintage Marillion. Things get even better with Easter, a serious contender for Marillion's best song ever. Rothery is well known for his guitar solos, and this might be his best. If not, it must be the one on Seasons End. This, too, is an album highlight; a darker song that ends with an extended downbeat instrumental piece, with bell-like keyboard sounds.
    Mark Kelly has largely abandoned his fast 80's saw-synths in favor of a more serving and subtle approach, making the music more timeless. Only Berlin (written just before the wall came down) and Hooks In You come off as children of their time. The latter is the first in a string of useless semi-rocking tracks that don't work, that would sire every Marillion album from now on. As far as these go. Hooks in You is pretty OK.
    But Marillion, as ever, save the best for last. The Space really sounds otherworldly. One thing that Hogarth-era Marillion would really master was building up toward a climax. And this is one heck of a climax! Bombastic keyboard strings, Rothery going all out, and then Hogarth comes in with a stellar bit of vocal acrobatics that has to be heard to be believed. Twenty years on, he can still pull this off (on a good night).
    All in all, Hogarth is no Fish. But Fish sure as hell ain't no Hogarth!
    What else can I say? I love this album. Go get!

    It is also worth noting at this time that Fish kicked off his solo career properly in 1990 with the excellent Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors. So the whole split-up worked out for the better, after all.

    1991 - Holidays In Eden
    * * * *


    From the moment on Steve Hogarth took over, Marillion have been struggling to leave the eighties behind to evolve into... into what, exactly? Marillion are often accused of abandoning progressive rock for most part on this album in favor of radio friendly pop. I think that's an overstatement. In style and structure, this album is actually very similar to Seasons End, and almost as good.
    If anything, the distinction between prog songs and pop songs is a bit clearer here. The opening track - the positively obliterating Splintering Heart - clearly falls in the former category, as do The Party and the closing trilogy of This Town, The Rakes Progress and A Hundred Nights. All great tracks, with Hogarth having more and more of his versatility shine through, and loaded chock full of those delicious Rothery solos.
    The rest are more "straightforward" pop songs, albeit with a symphonic streak. Cover My Eyes, Wating to happen and Dry Land (a cover of How We Live - Hogarth's former band) may follow the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-corus model, but all are well-crafted, well-played and beautiful - Dry Land is one of my all-time favorites.
    There are a couple of "missers" however. No One Can is a bridge too far in the sappy pop song category. And Holidays in Eden is the throwaway rocker.
    For the rest, this album is a worthy successor to Seasons End, though not quite as magical. It represents the lighter, sunnier, accessible side of Marillion. All this is in sharp contrast with what's to come...

    1994 - Brave
    * * * * *


    Marillion have often stated that each album is a reaction to the previous one. This is especially evident in this case. Everyone other than me (including the band themselves) was a bit disappointed with Holidays in Eden - "Lean and mean commerciality", Mark Kelly would later say.
    Marillion took their time to come up with a proper follow-up - an ambitious concept album based on an article in a paper. A seventeen-year-old girl was found on Severn Bridge, in a confused state, unable to speak. Nobody knew who she was and where she came from. Hogarth and the boys took this premise to create this darkest of albums. Lyrically, it deals with estrangement, abuse, drugs, loneliness, love, rape, suicide and emotional detachment, to name but a few things.
    Musically, this is one of the most layered, intricate, detailed albums I have ever heard. More things will catch your ear with each listen. It's dark, sweltering, sometimes psychedelic... At times, Marillion rock like they never rocked before. But there is also a very constrained quality throughout, like there's something waiting to be released... More on that later.
    As with all concept albums, standout songs are hard to name, as the album is very much a continuing composition. But The Great Escape is clearly the emotional highlight; all the constrained emotions built up over the course of the album are released here. This is one of the two songs in the world that consistently bring tears to my eyes at every live performance (the other is a Peter Gabriel song).
    You might not like this album immediately, as it needs some time to fall into place. But when it does, you'll be taken for a ride you'll never forget. Brave is a masterpiece. It's epic, stirring and strangely uplifting. If you have money for only one Marillion album, this is it.

    1995 - Afraid Of Sunlight
    * * * *


    Brave, despite it being universally considered a masterpiece, was a commercial failure. Also, it left the band completely drained. So it should be a bit of a surprise that only one year later the band would come up with another excellent album.
    Afraid of Sunlight is a bit of an oddity in Marillion's back catalog. It is, once again, vastly different from its predecessor. There are eight songs here, effectively dividing the album in two halves.
    The first half of the album see Marillion experimenting with their sound. For the first time, they are taking serious steps out of progressive rock. Gazpacho is a quirky pop song with great bass work from Pete Trewavas. Cannibal Surf Babe is a bit of a shocker; a funky surf-rock thing with a weird psychedelic streak. This track didn't go down too well with the fans! Beautiful is the obligatory ballad. Afraid Of Sunrise is the first highlight; a wonderful, laid-back chill out song with airy acoustic guitars and musing pianos.
    The second half rocks out in more traditional Marillion vein. Each and every one of these remaining four songs is a heavy symphonic masterpiece. Out Of This World and Beyond You are what Marillion do best; atmospheric, dynamic, highly emotional tracks that feature quiet verses and roaring climaxes. Afraid Of Sunlight and King have become concert staples; the latter is probably Marillion's hardest rocking track to date and often ends a show with a bang.
    Strangely, even though this is an album divided in two halves, the album does not come off as unbalanced. The experimental first half and symphonic second half work together remarkably well. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, so to speak. It is a remarkable feat that they could pull this off only one year after the release of Brave.

    Needless to say, I'm very fond of this period in Marillion's history. However, sales were declining, and the band were forced to leave their EMI label. They found a new home in a small record company called Castle, hoping that a smaller label would mean a more personal and helpful attitude. Things turned out quite different.

    To be continued...
  • Uninvited Guests: A beginner's guide to Marillion; Part 1: The Fish Years

    7. Jul. 2009, 13:15

    First, thanks to all who replied on my previous journal - you have all made some excellent points. I think we can all agree that what we like in our music transcends genre; we want to hear musicians who believe in what they're doing.

    And speaking of which; this is part one of my four-part article on the history of my favorite band in the world, ever: Marillion.

    Uninvited Guests: A beginner's guide to Marillion

    If any band in the idiom is sure to divide opinion among music lovers, it's Marillion. Marillion single-handedly revived the genre in the eighties, to mixed critical response. Marillion released a couple of albums that would become the blueprint of prog for years to come, to mixed critical response. Marillion went on and took their music in a completely different direction, to mixed critical response. Marillion devised revolutionary new ways of bringing their music to the audience, to mixed critical response. And of course, Marillion was subject to one of the most controversial changes of face in rock history, very much to mixed critical response.

    In this series, I will review all 15 albums of this legendary band. I will rate every album with a number of stars, five being the maximum.

    Part 1: The Fish Years



    If progressive rock was on its last legs in the late seventies, it was all but dead and buried in the early eighties, especially as far as the British music press was concerned. Enter Marillion, an eclectic young progressive rock band with an eclectic young Scottish front man. Even though they were widely ridiculed in the media, they quickly found themselves a dedicated fan base- after all, with all great prog bands from the seventies either disbanding or drifting in to mediocrity, where else where they to go? Thus began the long and windy career of Marillion, the band that spearheaded the second wave of progressive rock and went on to become one of the most unusual musical units of the past 30 years; 30 years of staunchly rowing upstream against "popular" opinion.

    1983 - Script For A Jester's Tear
    * * * *


    Marillion crashed upon the earth with this, immediately and firmly establishing their sound; compact progressive rock (most songs are around 8 minutes long) with modern synthesizers, soaring guitars and of course Fish, not so much singing as spewing out his over-the-top poetry, all over whoever would listen to a man in a jester suit.
    This is obviously their first record; the sound is often unbalanced and many songs are not quite as edgy as they were to become. Moreover, it hasn't stood the test of time all too well; The Web and Chelsea Monday sound more than a bit dated.
    Still, there is a lot to enjoy about Marillion's first. He Knows You Know is a punchy, snappy track that successfully combines the band's undeniable sense of melody with Fish' snarling. Forgotten Sons is particularly strong, with great guitars and a funky, groovy part in the middle. And the melancholic title track is a true gem; Script for a Jester's Tear is arguably the ultimate Marillion-with-Fish track, with great performances from all band members and an emotional delivery from Fish.
    "Script" is a milestone of progressive rock, but when getting into Marillion's back catalog, I suggest you start somewhere else (no pun intended). In 2009, this album is of particular interest mostly to the fans and the historically interested.

    1984 - Fugazi
    * * * *


    In many ways, Fugazi is the younger brother of Script. Marillion further elaborated their sound as established on their previous album. They sound more focused, more punchy, tighter and a whole lot catchier, and Fish is angry as ever. Keyboard player Mark Kelly frequently takes the spotlight with his dexterity and contemporary (for the eighties, anyway) sound. More than anyone, it was he who defined what became known as Neo-Prog (to the chagrin of any band thus named).
    Assassing and Punch & Judy are wonderfully rocking openers, Incubus and Fugazi are prime examples of Marillion's idea of prog. Emerald Lies is pretty overdone to my likings, changing time signature and melody about twenty times in five minutes, but it does showcase the talents of new drummer Ian Mosley - usually mister laid-back himself. And then there's Jigsaw, a true highlight; no progressive skulduggery but a beautiful ballad that shows Marillion's sense of dynamics, as well as the masterful emotional soloing of Steve Rothery.
    This is my favorite album from Marillion's early period, and a good place to start of you're getting into this period. It is even better than the first album, even though that one is also rated 4/5 because of its greater historical importance.

    1985 - Misplaced Childhood
    * *


    It is typical for Marillion that their most commercially successful album should also be their least interesting. But Misplaced Childhood is grotesquely overrated. It is a concept album about an aging rock star looking back at his youth. While this is all well and good, Misplaced Childhood does very little for me. If you should ever think Fish is a lyrical genius, I suggest you skip this record to track three and hear him sing "Lavenders green, dilly dilly lavenders blue, when you love me dilly dilly I will love you." Come on Derek, you can do better than this!
    This album also gives us Kayleigh - scoring a radio hit is the worst thing a prog rock band can do. The ghost of this song (well, I must admit I can't say it's bad) haunts Marillion fans to this day, always having to explain that this band is so much more than a one hit wonder from the eighties!
    Side one consists mostly of a sleek, polished, watered-down, dare I say commercial version of the old Marillion we know and love, mostly devoid of the anger and raw edge that made the previous albums so powerful.
    Fortunately side two picks up the pace again, with Waterhole and the mini-epic Blind Curve, as well as the beautiful Childhood's End, but two-and-a-half good songs can't save an album.
    Now, many people think Misplaced Childhood is the best album from the Fish era, or indeed Marillion's best album. Sure enough, there is much to enjoy; there are lots of Rothery solos and Kelly synths. And - apart from Lavender - the lyrics are top-notch. But overall, I must say that I think the other Fish-era albums are much better.

    1987 - Clutching At Straws
    * * * * *


    Clutching at Straws has a special place in my heart - I got it for my eighth birthday and played it a lot. As far as I'm concerned, it is the absolute highlight of the Fish years, so this review won't be objective. Nevertheless, let's take a look at it.
    Marillion perfected their sound in 1987. This album has everything good about early Marillion and then some. Mark Kelly's playing is becoming more and more subtle, but hasn't lost its eighties sound just yet - Just for the Record and Incommunicado see him playing his ass off. Steve Rothery and Pete Trewavas are brilliant as ever. Fish delivers some of the best work of his career - his voice would decline dramatically in years to come, but he's at his prime here, showing the full scope of his versatility. Angry, sad, cheerful, desperate, guilty and melancholic, screaming, snarling but also gentle and moving, he can do it all.
    Highlights are numerous, such as White Russian, Slainte Mhath, Torch Song and Sugar Mice. And that Warm Wet Circles didn't become three times the hit Kayleigh ever was just baffles me.
    This is the creative highlight of Marillion with the tall Scot and probably the best prog album of the eighties. Still, it would soon become apparent that the relationship between Fish and his band was ending...

    Fish was struggling with love, drugs, alcohol and life on the road. Tensions were rising in the group, and Fish finally left, angry as ever, in 1988, with half a new album finished. It was the end of a short but fertile collaboration that was Marillion Mark I. But it wasn't the end of Marillion. Far from it.

    To be continued...
  • Progressive Rock and tagging

    29. Jun. 2009, 22:35

    I plan on doing a series of articles on Marillion shortly, as this year happens to be their unofficial 30th anniversary (making them half again as old as me). It will follow the same basic format as a series on Genesis written by my main man Clayton Walnum a couple of years ago. You can find them here, here and here, and I found them very helpful in getting to know this great band, as well as highly amusing. Clay is probably not reading this, but if he is: you rock. And you are totally an old fart.

    With that out of the way; let's talk about Progressive Rock for a bit. It turns out that this is a term with a pretty big stigma attached to it. It has to be, because many artists seem to avoid being called this like the devil. Many prominent prog bands like Porcupine Tree, The Mars Volta, Muse, Jethro Tull, and, notably, Marillion have at one point clearly stated: We Are Not A Prog Band! Even Pink Floyd (!) have distanced themselves from the tag. Moreover, lots of fans also don't want their band labeled as prog, either.

    So, on lastFM, where tags are especially important, it seems relevant to get into the question: what, exactly, is wrong with Prog?

    Turns out: quite a lot.

    I recently had a disagreement with somebody about whether or not Frank Zappa was prog. I think he was (if also quite a lot more), the other guy obviously didn't. He was making a good point (as opposed to many who leave their shout on the Zappa page): Zappa although complex, was anti-pomp, anti-establishment, and didn't require you to take him seriously "like Rush and Pink Floyd (sic)".

    There are some central points here on what this guy considers prog and why it sucks:

    -Prog is complex.
    Not many people will argue with this. It also isn't a bad thing by any means, but it does mean you will have to put some effort in it in order to appreciate it. That's ok, I wouldn't settle for less.

    -Prog is pompous.
    As in pretentious, bombastic, self-indulgent. I'm going to have to agree with the basic premise here, even though it doesn't go for all prog bands. Gentle Giant were more playful than pompous, Porcupine Tree often takes a very subdued, almost minimalistic approach, and Marillion's great strength lies in a very subtle understanding of dynamics rather than going all out.
    Still, there's all the classic prog bands: King Crimson, Genesis, Rush and of course Yes to prove that this point stands. Today's great prog bands (save the ones I just mentioned) do no better in proving the point wrong, with Dream Theater, Spock's Beard and Ayreon running around.
    Point taken, Prog is -often- pompous. Incidentally, I love almost all bands I just mentioned. So this must mean that, despite the possible reservations, this still isn't necessarily a bad thing. Also, many other genres have pompousness to spare: Metal is much "worse" in this respect. And how many metal bands mind being tagged ?

    -Prog belongs to the establishment.
    Buh-what? Today, of course, prog is a rather underground genre. There are a few exceptions of course, but overall we're confined to limited space.
    This point is mostly historical, as in the late seventies the anti-establishment revolution came and took prog as its prime target. Now, think of punk what you will, but they were kind of right, in a way.
    You see, I have read pieces from a music encyclopedia from 1976, praising the huge efforts of Mike Oldfield and the likes. The general feeling at the time was that music was kind of at a dead end. After all, when we've had all these prog bands taking music to inconceivable heights, what else was there to come? Hadn't we reached the creative peak of musical capabilities? Asking the question is answering it.
    So, then these grubby garage boys came in and screwed it all up. It wasn't pretty, but I'm inclined to believe it was necessary at the time. Punk gave us , which in turn gave us , and as we speak, Green Day have just released their second concept album.
    So, all in all, while prog might have belonged to the establishment at one point, today it's much more of an alternative rock thing.

    -Prog requires you to take it seriously.
    Ah! That is were you're wrong, my friend. Just look at the video for Genesis' Land of Confusion. And it doesn't stop there. Rush (despite Neil Peart's grumpy face when he's drumming) are a bunch of jokers, always interspacing their shows with funny cartoons (recently a South Park toon). Today's prog revivalists Spock's Beard and The Flower Kings are well known for bringing humor back to music.
    Unfortunate exeptions: Pink Floyd and Yes. They were pretty serious. But that was the exception rather than the rule.
    Prog doesn't require you to take it seriously any more than other kinds of music do. It, like any other kind of music, requires you to go with it. And if there's going to be big musical ideas, there's bound to be big emotions involved. Not many artists, Frank Zappa is one of the very few who can, can be funny all the time and get away with it.

    Now, not all above points have been completely debunked, and I can see why many people would have a problem with the tag. Apart from the whole "personal taste" thing, I have a few things to say about this.

    Progressive Rock is so much more than a near-dead genre from the distant seventies. At its heart, it is about daring. It's about knowing the rules and breaking them. It's about boldly transcending the borders of known genres, including "progressive rock" itself. Naturally, some pretentiousness is bound to come with this. After all, you're doing something that you believe in, something that matters. Classic prog basically took elements of and music and turned into a daring new brand of rock. True prog today should be about reinventing the idiom, sometimes against the wind.

    Of course, there is the matter of bands trying to emulate the sound of classic prog bands such as Yes and Genesis. The Watch and Glass Hammer are good examples, as well as, to a lesser extent, Spock's Beard and The Flower Kings. While this is absolutely fine, there's not much progressiveness to that, is there? I suggest we tag these bands instead to make a clear distinction. Easy, innit?

    This way, becomes a genre. One you can like or not. I happen to like it.

    Progressive rock, on the other hand, becomes a philosophy. A philosophy carried out in the past by King Crimson, Genesis and Frank Zappa. A philosophy carried out now by the likes of Porcupine Tree, Mogwai, Pure Reason Revolution, The Mars Volta, and, indeed, Marillion.

    So no band should back away from the tag. If anything, it is a compliment, and should be worn and carried out proudly. You are today's heroes, here to save rock 'n roll.

    \m/ Rock On.


    PS
    If you know any bands broadening the definition of progressive rock, please let me know. I'm sure I have left out many new prog bands that deserve attention, and I'm always eager to learn new music.
  • Getting into Prog: The classics

    26. Jun. 2009, 18:14

    Five years ago, I got into progressive rock through Marillion, Genesis and The Flower Kings. Of course, in discovering your new favorite brand of music, you should know your classics. So here are what I consider to be some of the finest albums from the Golden Age of Progressive Rock - From the breakthrough of King Crimson in 1969 until punk screwed it all up in 1977.

    10 - Camel - Mirage - 1974
    Camel is an easy-going folky prog group from England, led by guitar virtuoso, vocalist and flautist Andy Latimer. Their trademark is a brand of accessible, beautiful and mostly instrumental symphonic pop. Just don't look for any rock, though. They are the Bach of prog rock; unlikely to offend anybody.

    The Song: Lady Fantasy. The closest Camel ever got to making something not only beautiful, but actually exiting. The beginning is brilliant.

    9 - Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery - 1973
    In contrast, ELP might be one of the least accessible of the classic prog bands. This is mostly due to Emerson's keyboard sound: very loud, very quirky and very obnoxious. They made a number of highly influential but slightly unbalanced records in the early seventies, consisting of original compositions, brutal butcherings of traditional songs and classical pieces, random silliness, and completely over-the-top epics. BSS may be their most interesting, along with 1972's Tarkus. Also, the H. R. Giger artwork is something else.

    The Song: Karn Evil 9. The show that never ends. It is overlong, loud, obnoxious and self-indulgent. But do I ever love it.

    8 - Focus - Moving Waves - 1971
    Prog has a reputation of taking itself very seriously. While this is true for bands like Pink Floyd and Yes (more on them later), Focus will have none of this. Thijs van Leer cheerfully yodels his way through "Hocus Pocus", a lovably silly but seriously rocking ditty that became the band's best known song. The rest of Focus' sophomore release is more downbeat, very much in Camel vein. Most of it is instrumental, the only song with lyrics (the title track) happens to be the weakest tune. Focus has a knack for writing beautiful and accessible melodies, and retains its wonderful sense of musical humor and quirkiness throughout. They have resurfaced some ten years ago and continue playing in their unique style as if the 27-year gap in their career never happened.

    The Song: Eruption. A side filler, Eruption lacks the bite of a true epic but is a very smooth and relaxing piece with lots of virtuoso guitar and Hammond playing.

    7 - Frank Zappa - Over Nite Sensation / Apostrophe' - 1973/1974
    Talk about a sense of humor? Now, it may be a bit of a stretch to include Frank Zappa on this list. But hell, anything that defies categorization will end up in the Progressive Rock category eventually - it's a fact of life. Frank has made a lot of different kinds of music, all presented with an uncanny sense of dry, absurdist and at times controversial humor. These two albums, released within a year, are both rather short and make references to another. They have been released together on one CD. Musically, it goes all over the place, from blues to prog to proto-metal to pop rock to funk to to jazz fusion. Frank's verbal and musical virtuosity is omnipresent, and still has me laughing my ass of after some twenty listens. But it demands a lot of attention.

    The Song: Camarillo Brillo. A very catchy rock song, almost easy listening compared to Frank's usual shenanigans.

    6 - Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here - 1974
    Pink Floyd is probably the biggest band ever to receive the Progressive Rock moniker. But I actually find them to be a bit overrated. Many of their songs just crawl along at the same pace for too long, with not a whole lot happening. At the same time, they certainly know how to build up an album. Wish You Were Here is the artistic highlight of their career (Dark Side Of The Moon fans: bring it on). Apart from the legendary, epic two-part Shine On You Crazy Diamond (the most interesting of the Floyd epics, along with Dogs) it features three shorter songs that aren't even half bad. The title track is one of the most stunning rock ballads I know.

    The Song: Shine on You Crazy Diamond. You may know it.

    5 - Gentle Giant - Octopus - 1972
    I've only recently gotten into Gentle Giant, and they've quickly found their way to my LastFM top ten. They are a unique band, as they literally sound like nothing I ever heard before. They are a bit of a cult band, but have had a pretty big influence on the current Third Wave of prog. They excel in compact but incredibly clever songs full of odd time signatures, eccentric melodies, multi-layered vocals, unusual instrumentation and an almost medieval feel. "Octopus" is their standout album for me, if only for the intriguing artwork. All eight songs here have something going for them, but the standout track would be "Knots". It features an a-capella arrangement to put Bohemian Rhapsody to shame, a xylophone solo, lyrics put together like an abstract poem, and a hell of a chorus. This actually works.

    The Song: Knots. It has to be heard to be believed.

    4 - Yes - Close to the Edge - 1972
    Let me get one thing out of the way here: I think Yes is the worst band in the world. While this is a bit of an overstatement, Yes embodies everything that's bad about prog. Overly pompous, serious and self-indulgent, unintelligible spiritual lyrics, a freak for a singer and a most horrible sense of fashion. Having said all this, it is completely impossible not to love Close to the Edge. The title song is so majestic, challenging, put together extremely well and absolutely gorgeous. What's really surprising is that, at nineteen minutes long, it is a coherent whole (unlike Genesis' Supper's Ready, for one) and doesn't get boring for a second. Also, the ending is fabulous. The two other songs on the album (both ten minutes) are nearly as good. This album is so awesome, it almost makes up for the rest of Yes' career.

    The Song: Close to the Edge. Probably the ultimate prog epic.

    3 - Rush - A Farewell to Kings - 1977
    Now we're getting to the really good ones. Rush is one of the very few 70's prog heroes who are still out there and rocking out as ever. Virtually all Rush albums are good (save for a few from the early nineties), but this is a highlight album from their highlight period. Rush single-handedly redefined prog in the late seventies by emphasizing the ROCK part of Progressive Rock. Man, do these three boys rock. As a lyricist, Neil Peart might not be all he's cracked up to be, but he is definitely the best drummer ever. Along with the next band, Rush helped define the edgier, ballsier side of prog.

    The Song: Xanadu. All qualities of Rush crammed into eleven minutes. Gotta love the church bells.

    2 - King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King - 1969
    Now, what we have here is possibly the most influential prog rock record of all time - for one thing, it's considered to be the first. I have only recently discovered it, and I must say that even without its monumental impact on music it is simply a brilliant album in its own right. It is creative, melodic, tight, brutal, bombastic and subtle all at once. Each song brings out a different side of the King. I could have done without the ten minute improvisation on "Moonchild", but for the rest this is an extremely tightly played, well composed and truly progressive effort - in any sense of the word, in which the whole is considerably more than the sum of its parts. Get over the hideous cover; you need this. Incidentally, vocalist Greg Lake (who later formed ELP) is the only person to appear twice on this list.

    The Song: 21st Century Schizoid Man. Up to that point the most brutal song ever. Rancid sax, freaky guitars, distorted vocals and a killer riff. It stood the test of time.

    1 - Genesis - Selling England by the Pound - 1973
    Genesis is, to me, the quintessential prog band. I had the pleasure of joining them on their 2007 comeback tour, and loved every bit of it (with the notable exception of "hold on my heart", at which point I went to pee). But the absolute artistic peak of their career, the music of the seventies and indeed the whole progressive rock movement, was in 1973, when Selling England By The Pound came out. From the a-capella opening lines of "Moonlit Knight" via the baffling keyboard and guitar workouts of "Firth of Fifth" through the Peter Gabriel vaudeville show of "Epping Forest" to the reprise of the first song in "Asile of Plenty" - I love book-structured albums - it takes you through all the marvels of prog rock without being overtly pretentious or boring for even a second. One of the greatest goosebumps moments I know is around the 7:00 mark of "Cinema Show", when grumpy ol' Tony Banks plays this positively delightful theme on the ARP soloist... only to reprise it seconds later with TONS of Mellotron added.

    The Song: The Cinema Show. This is what heaven sounds like.
  • Background?

    29. Mär. 2009, 18:39

    So, I've been using this cute little Internet service for quite a while now, but I still have rather few plays... This past year and a half or so, I have only listened to some two thousand songs (almost four hundred of which were Marillion's). For a self-proclaimed HUGE music lover, that seems a bit disappointing.

    If, for instance, I would spend three hours at home on average which can be spent listening to music, and one can listen to ten songs in one hour (I'm a prog lover, so my songs tend to be on the long side), that would be 30 plays per day, approximately 27,000 plays per year. So statistically, I should be somewhere around 40,000 plays by now.

    You see, I can't really listen to any kind of music and do anything else at the same time. This includes (but isn't limited to) writing, reading, studying, playing video games, sleeping, talking to people, having sex, eating and just plain old thinking. It also includes watching films and playing my own music, obviously.

    Seems like I love music so much that it consumes all of my attention. Music is a very active engagement for me, and to me there is no such thing as "background music".

    Maybe I have a one-tracked mind. Maybe I have such a hilariously intellectual elitist taste in music that anything I listen to simply demands attention. Or maybe I'm right, and as such one of the few people who actually respect music.

    Either way, it's kind of a handicap. I listen to music mostly on the train, anyway.