Posts Tagged ‘prog’

Selling Alderaan By The Pound

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

My new favourite blog is, sadly, no longer being updated, but there is plenty of archived stuff there to dig into. Going back to the urban legend beloved of stoned students in the 90s, namely that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon was a sort of secret soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz, this is “one nerd’s attempt to find an album that synchs up with Star Wars”. Here’s an article in which the gentleman in question looks back on the “experiment”, and doesn’t even attempt to justify it. None needed. Anything that brings together my two favourite things, Star Wars and (in the case of the album referenced in the above title) “moody prog rock” is bound to get my approval.

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The Prophets are probably happy

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Hooray. Yes, of course it’s good that America (and the world) now has a Democrat in the White House. And it’s a no brainer that a young black guy is most likely going to have a more progressive outlook than an old white guy. But the best thing is that there’s now a president who sounds like a character from Deep Space Nine.

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Gig Review: Marillion, Leeds Met 13 Nov 2008

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

I don’t go to a lot of gigs these days, for a number of reasons. The ever present credit crunch notwithstanding, it’s mostly the fact that I generally hate people. However I do always go to see Marillion when they’re on tour. It’s a very blokey thing to do, follow a particular band through thick and thin. In Chuck Klosterman’s excellent Fargo Rock City he talks about the fact that he buys every Motley Crue album even though he knows, these days at least, they’ll invariably be rubbish. It’s the same impulse that drives men to support crap football teams I suppose. Marillion’s fans are so devoted that they actually pay for the albums before the things are recorded.

That’s not to say I’m joylessly following a hopeless band, as Marillion have been going through a particularly rich creative spell for a number of years now, and the new album Happiness Is The Road is superb, melodic, mature and inventive. Not sexy, fashionable terms I’ll grant you, but it’s a bunch of guys who have been playing music since the late 70s, not some bunch of 19 year old haircuts from East Twattington.

Weirdly enough though, back when he first joined the band Q Magazine described vocalist Steve Hogarth as a “leather jacketed sex bomb”, and mentioned his “shaggy dreamboat good looks”. He’s a bit more grizzled these days. In fact he seems like a weird eccentric little dude who should be running a second hand shop in a sitcom with limited appeal on BBC2. Mind you, I’m sure he makes women of a certain age wet.

I’ve actually lost track of the amount of times I’ve seen Marillion live now, and with their best songs, not to mention their musical abilities they don’t have any problems putting on a great show.

Marillion, honest

Some brilliant photography by me

They could do with varying their setlist a bit though. They’ve been playing emotional, stirring versions of songs like The Great Escape and Afraid of Sunlight for so long that they could do it in their sleep, but I would rather they give those songs a rest and play something a little more surprising. The highlight for me was The Invisible Man from 2004’s Marbles album, a performance so dramatic and atmospheric that I think my mouth was hanging open like a particularly stupid whale shark for the duration.

Whatever. The probelm with writing about stuff you genuinely like is that you tend to come off sounding like a bit of a dickhead. It’s far easier (and more fun) to slag stuff off, or be sarcastic. And so to Razorlight.

One suspects that if the record company support dried up, Johnny Borrell’s boys wouldn’t be able to rely on a fanbase as committed as Marillion’s. They’d have to get proper jobs. Professional gits, probably.

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I still draw

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

 

Some Dude

Some Dude

 

Just to reiterate that I still actually draw stuff, here is some concept art for a character that appears in a later issue of Hope for the Future. That is, if I ever get round to writing and drawing it. If I do, consider this a spoiler alert. For now it’s appearing in my fantastic online gallery in an attempt to get me some work.

Incidentally, this guy is inspired by both Michael Giles and Jamie Muir of King Crimson. But different versions of King Crimson, obviously. Obviously all those documentaries about progressive rock on BBC4 have left their mark.

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They’re all resting down in Springfield

Friday, March 20th, 2009

I recently saw The Simpsons episode Girls Just Wanna Have SumsIn it, Lisa realises that the girls aren’t being taught very much in the newly sex segregated Springfield Elementary, and masquerades as a boy so she can attend the boys’ school and actually learn something important (ie. doing a “Yentl“).

At the end of the episode the buffoonish and fey Martin Prince appears, in typically daft Rennaissance Fayre garb, playing a flute and singing Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick. The song then plays out over the end credits.

This is not just a Family Guy style non sequiter. An episode about a bogus educational system failing a generation of schoolchildren seems an ideal venue to reference what Wikipedia describes as “a poem by an intelligent English boy about the trials of growing up”.

Maybe I am reading far too much into this, but of all the Simpsons characters, Martin does resemble none other than Brick ”co writer” Gerald Bostock himself.

Martin & Gerald

Martin & Gerald

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The Hazards of Love

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Revenge

It’s not very often I hear any new music that really excites me, partly because I don’t go out of my way to find it, and partly because there’s just too much of it. But I was recently introduced to The DecemberistsThe Hazards of Love album, and it completely knocked my socks off. I’ve long been a fan of creepy, creaky acid folk (since I heard the Lammas Night Laments CD series), and was certainly not expecting to hear anything new in that admittedly narrow genre. Well, not since The Eighteenth Day of May knocked it on the head, anyway.

The Hazards of Love has been compared to the music of hoary old long in the tooth prog folk rockers Jethro Tull, and I can hear that, but only in a couple of lurching moments of guitar and organ interplay. The thing is, a folk rock concept album (!) about a fair maiden, her shapeshifting lover (!!), infanticide(!!!) and a fairy queen (!!!!) is exactly the sort of thing people think the Tull got up to. However, they never did, and even in their explicit folk rock period of the late 70s, their songs were shot through with a sardonic air that never really took traditional music at face value.

Having said that, The Decemberists’ album is a fantastic piece of work, variously subtle, thrilling, and melancholic. Taking a look at their website I noticed that they have a “Fan Art” section, (which is a rather charming idea – I bet Buckcherry haven’t got one. Come to think of it, that’s probably a good thing). So I was sufficiently inspired to illustrate (this may be considered a spoiler) the spookiest bit of the record.  A fanboy I may be, but if there’s an opportunity to draw some dead children, I say go for it.

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FNM = FTW!

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Faith No More are Back Back Back and frankly it’s like they’ve never been gone. Performing at The Download Festival over the weekend, on a stage set that made them look like the house band in The Black Lodge from Twin Peaks, they delivered a storming run through their back catalogue, allaying all fears that their comeback would be nothing more than a cash fuelled disappointment (particularly when you consider how tired and bored they sounded on their last tour, in 1998).

FNM

Never a massive commercial success  – Amazingly they are considered to be a 1 hit wonder in the US. Like Sparks, with whom they briefly collaborated, they were much more appreciated in Europe than in their home country, undoubtedly for their similarly wonky sense of humour. Nevertheless they managed to influence a handful of great bands, like Incubus and System of a Down, along with a great many more crappy ones (throw a rock into the air during the late 90s Nu Metal era and you’d hit some half assed rap rocker). When they broke through in 1989 with The Real Thing (and specifically the single Epic) they were described as “Funk Metal” and lumped in with The Red Hot Chili Peppers, but this was never really an adequate description. By the time they released their next album in 1992 , the world was well and truly ruled by grunge, and long haired scruffy bastards were the order of the day, but Angel Dust was not only unlike anything else in the charts, but also such a weird amalgam of musical styles that it was difficult to ascertain any primary influence on the band.

Even now their songs have a baffling quality to them, which I always equated to Progressive Rock, but they always combined a sense of humour – not to mention real melodies – with their experimental impulses. Their best stuff has a wide eyed drama to it. Ashes To Ashes and Just a Man are the sort of songs that you can imagine The Silver Surfer listening to as he rides the cosmic winds, while Land of Sunshine and A Small Victory sound even weirder 17 years on. Now that I have heard more music I realise how bizarre they really were.

So are they still relevant? I’m not even sure what that means but as they were always so individual they never fit into any particular scene or genre so they don’t sound dated. And We Care A Lot specifically parodies plenty of late 80s trash culture – so with Michael Bay’s pretentiously named Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots fest in cinemas, even “ver kids” will get the reference to Transformers, although the shout out to The Garbage Pail Kids may prove a little more obtuse.


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Young Man Blues

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

I have come to the realisation that all of my favourite music is immature. Prog, metal, glam and folk all have an inexorable appeal to dopey fourteen year old boys.

Prog is all explosive time signature changes and wonky surrealism, songs about cyborg armadillos and severed heads on croquet lawns. Metal is men with long hair and spiky guitars shrieking angrily about the devil, war, and psychopaths (or preferably all three). Glam rock falls broadly into blokes in make up being all weird and arty, blokes in makeup being intentionally daft (both of which are British bands in the 70s), and blokes in makeup singing about shagging strippers while riding Harleys up Sunset Boulevard (American bands in the 80s). Folk music aficionados will object that it’s a genre characterised by a will to continue an important cultural tradition, and its lack of pretension and image, therefore being sufficiently “grown up”, but  I only listen to folk music because 85% of it is songs about witches.

Even indieish types, hailed as brilliant songwriters, like Jarvis Cocker and Ben Folds have written a lot of songs about not growing up and feeling awkward in the face of responsibility.

We live in a world where it’s perfectly acceptable for a grown man to buy himself toys (uh… collectables) and video games (er… they’re a rapidly developing media), and that’s fine by me (although I don’t really think my Dad would understand or approve), and gigs and music festivals the world over are crammed with people in their 30s and 40s who are desperate to prove they are still “down” with Little Boots and Black Kids (delete/replace with more current talking point as applicable).*

So what is “mature” music? Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan? I could never get into either of them. I actually think the most mature music I listen to is Marillion. Now say that name to most people and they’ll just look at you blankly or assume you are trying to say “Marilyn Manson” with a cleft palate). But those that remember them will no doubt sneer, scoff and guffaw, pointing out that they are the most emotionally retarded of bands, with their album covers featuring sad jesters, clunkier version of the standard prog rock widdly widdly instrumental style,  ridiculously verbose lyrics and murky concepts (1982’s Grendel was an 18 minute epic that would at least have found favour with Otto the bus driver, as it was from the monster’s point of view).

However, there’s the rub. Most people haven’t heard (or heard of) the If My Heart Were A Ball It Would Roll Uphill hitmakers since the 80s. Their more recent stuff rejects the histrionic and is sombre, melodic and heart on sleeve emotional. To me it sounds, I dunno, mature.

* I originally wrote Bat For Lashes, but I have checked wikipedia and deemed her not contemporary enough. Not only was she born in the 70s, but her first record was released in 2006! I might as well namecheck Status Quo!

Bat For Lashes and Black Kids
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Why music reached perfection in 1974

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Go to see a band play live and chances are you’ll get pretty much the same thing every time. A few songs from the new album, a few old favourites, and encores of the biggest hits. Occasionally you might get a cover, if you’re lucky. As a devotee of all things prog, and indeed ressive, I’ve recently become fascinated by Jethro Tull bootlegs from the early 70s, as it seems they were determined to be different.


1972’s Thick as a Brick was already a pretty left field proposition as an album. Ian Anderson now claims it’s a parody of overblown prog rock concept albums, but I’m not sure I’m convinced. Much of their work from that period revolves around the themes of religion, education, class and hypocrisy, and TAAB seems to be an examination of at least some of those themes, as one, album long song.

On stage, the band played (nearly) all of the album, interspersed with a few solos and (fairly interminable) jam sections (seemingly de rigeur for bands of that era that came out of the British blues scene). In addition to this there were interruptions by telephone calls, roadies in costume, musical commentary (suspiciously similar to a section of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells which followed a year later) and a news and weather report (which related to the original album cover, a parody of a local newspaper). The influence of Monty Python lies heavy on all this stuff, and the band were definitely going for a “look at us wacky English eccentrics” vibe (as you can see…)

It’s not that Thick As A Brick has a story that needed to be acted out (like say, Genesis’ prog rock magnum opus surrealist mindfuck  The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) but it clearly needed something other than a standard rock gig, just as the album had been packaged in a non standard cover. The follow up album A Passion Play is even more opaque, ostensibly following the deceased “Ronnie Pilgrim” through a peculiarly bureaucratic afterlife.

This time, they played the whole thing, start to finish, with less dicking around, but with a couple of films shown to augment the performance, including this amazing piece of creepy, none-more-English whimsy…

Yes famously ditched half of Tales From Topographic Oceans partway into the tour for that album, as audiences were (understandably) finding the unbroken string of lengthy pieces a bit indigestible. Similarly, later on the A Passion Play Tour, the Tull inserted an older song into the middle of the piece, My God from 1971’s Aqualung. Maybe this was to grab the attention of the audience whose interest may have been flagging in the middle of a long, unfamiliar piece, but another reason may have been that, as postulated here, My God was already conceptually linked to A Passion Play, so it became a legitimate part of the longer piece. They even played some unreleased songs such as No Rehearsal and Left Right which were lyrically connected to the concept, as they had been originally written for the album.

I like the idea of that. Plenty of bands have played specific albums in their entirety, (more recently many have done so as special, nostalgic or anniversary shows), but to put a concert together where every element plays into the concept seems to be a pretty rare occurrence. Take That may have an album called The Circus, and adorn their concerts with acrobats and fire eaters, but they’re still bashing out Relight My Fire and Shine, neither of which, to my knowledge, are about sad clowns or evil ringmasters. And how much cooler would it be if they were?

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