Sunday, 10 July 2011

Toys In The Attic

In the world of pop and rock music it is probably safe to use the cliche that there is nothing new under the sun, everything has been done. Even in the mad world of RIO although there are bands who make some extremely interesting noises, they all wear their Faust/Magma/Henry Cow or whatever influences on their sleeves. Norwegian band Wobbler with their new album Rites At Dawn get round this irksome problem by throwing in the towel completely to create a parallel universe Yes album that could easily have been recorded between Fragile and Close To The Edge.

Reviewed with an admirable objective panache I rarely have the patience for by the much followed Raffaella Berry the album is a labour of love and also a slavish copy of the sound Yes created in the early seventies, right down to the self imposed restrictions of using ancient analogue equipment. The band make no qualms about their aims on their Myspace page, stating "a burning desire to create or perhaps recreate some of the musical expressions of the early seventies". Not exactly progressive then, eh?

Previous albums reference fellow Scandinavians Änglagård and Anekdoten, giving their sound an at least justifiable influence, and maybe some new direction, but the new album is something else entirely, musically relocated to England circa 1973, the singer even sounds like Jon Anderson, and his lyrics deal with the same concerns as the diminutive Lancastrian. I wonder if they had cardboard cows in the studio, or if the keyboard player has a predilection for takeaway curries, simply to authenticate the experience of course! As Raffaella says, it's not a bad album per se, but to my ears it sounds more like a musical archaeological dig than an exercise in making modern music.

In prog circles, particularly in the USA it seems, there is a big market for this kind of through a glass darkly sonic worship, but, like the Picture of Dorian Gray, I cannot see any good coming of it, either for the band or their audience, or the scene they doubtless feel part of but are actually helping to stifle. Two big prog festivals in the USA have had to be cancelled recently, at least partly I'm sure because these retro-fans would not support the newer bands playing their own new music, musics for the most part that truly are progressive (look the word up in the dictionary), not just a slavish recreation of something that was laid down forty years ago.

I'm a big fan of Porcupine Tree and all things Steven Wilson, and although PT are not the most original band in the world, at least they have carved out their own strongly identifiable sound, and are the sum and result of their influences, unlike Wobbler who just seem to be an auditory mirror. I do not negate Wobbler their right to make whatever music they so desire, but to me music is about being challenged by the new as much as it is replaying old classics. Maybe I'm lucky in that I'm old enough to recall prog the first time round (but unfortunatley just a few years too young to have seen those bands in their prime), so I have no need to listen to bands recreating something I heard first hand. While writing this I am listening to David Torn's Tripping Over God, released in 1995, and more "new" than anything Wobbler have come up with on their latest waxing. I know which album will last longest on the shelves chez moi, for sure.

In the pop world there was once a band formed with the intention of recreating the early Beatles sound, but being British, were possessed of enough of a sense of irony to realise it would only work if used as a comedy vehicle. Featuring Neil Innes of Bonzos fame, check out any videos you can find on YouTube of The Rutles, marvellously wacky pastiches that are genuinely toe-tapping. Unfortunately one cannot imagine how any band in the oh-so-serious prog scene could ever approach copying mid 70s Yes (or any other of the originals) with a sense of humour, God forbid!

This has been a missive from The Grumpy Old Git from the UK. Thank you and goodnight!

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