Saturday, 26 November 2011

Ranting Roger - Part Six

Somebody once said "Opinions are like assholes, everyone's got one" and this critique is wholly subjective, and no attempt has been made to reasonable. So there!

Music comes in many forms, but essentially boils down to the Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent, and what one person considers "bad" might well rock another's boat, and thereby self-defeating arguments will disappear into the cosmos.

I will freely admit to being a music snob (and a beer snob, but that's another story) with an intense dislike of lowest common denominator X-Factor type shite, epitomised by any "singer" who has not paid his or her dues and expects fame and fortune to fall into their shopping-mall-clad laps as a result of a half-baked Karaoke performance on national TV, and who has had any vestige of individuality ironed out of his or her voice by that godawful voice cleaning software, said voice then applied to a generic inspiration-free R&B backing. Ah, I remember R&B, it used to mean ballsy blues-rock like the Stones or The Yardbirds, or later the likes of Dr Feelgood, but now it's synonymous with hideous aural wallpaper played in hairdressers' salons, supermarkets and malls all over the Western World and is bought by the bucketload by the clueless.

...errm, where was I...oh yeah...Way back in the mists of time when a mobile phone meant your telephone cord was long enough to enable you to sssttttrrreeetttccch down the hallway and open the front door to a caller while still on the blower, I like most of my peers was into all the usual heavy bands of the day, your Sabs and Purps and Zeps, along with the major league prog bands, Genesis being numero uno. Pop music back then was for girls, although I had hidden liking for Wizzard and Slade.

My best friend at the time had a cousin who was a few years older than us and into all the underground sounds of the day. Albums by the likes of Man, Caravan, Hawkwind, Amon Duul II, etc would find their way to my mate and we would marvel at the weirdness therein. And there began my journey into the dark backwaters of musical adventurism which carries on to this day.

One of the musical alleyways to snobbery is that much abused and misused term "prog rock." Take the term "prog"....please, just take it..."What does the word "prog" mean?" is one of those endless circular debates I made allusions to above before the ranting took over. The term "prog" is a shortened form of the word progressive, which , to use one of many dictionary definitions, means "Moving forward; proceeding onward; advancing; evincing progress...." Unfortunately an awful lot of what many class as "prog rock" these days is an awful long way from that definition, and there are many bands that seem to have an almost slavish obsession with recreating sounds made 35 or more years ago. A website I write for coined the term "regressive rock" to describe these groups and if there is a more fitting and objective term then I cannot think what it might be.

Wobbler's new bass player revealed!
Falling into this handy little niche are bands like Wobbler, Karmakanic, Arena, Glass Hammer, and many others, who to varying degrees probably all wish it was 1973 again, apart from Arena who come from 1980. Some bands like the aforementioned Wobbler make no bones about the fact and even use phrases like "(We have) a burning desire to create or perhaps recreate some of the musical expressions of the early seventies" which is fair enough as at least you know what to expect. Their last album, Fragility At The Edge....err, hang on...Rites At Dawn does in fact sound like a missing link between two Yes albums, and if you're into a bit of musical archaeology then this will certainly get your inner Piltdown Man cutting a rug. However, like that cunning ruse, I reckon that Rites At Dawn is also a bit of a hoax. Why listen to what some musical museum curators would love to have been the album that never was between Fragile and Close To The Edge when you can play the real thing? I just don't see the appeal, or the point.

The other bands I mentioned while drawing on classic prog sounds have not gone completely down the slavish copybook route and have at least carved out their own sound, but to these well-travelled lugholes, it all seems so flat, so unadventurous. I will admit that Glass Hammer are actually very good at what they do and obviously have lavished great care on their latest waxing, but the original Yes have already done it, so why bother? As we're into missing links between ancient Yes albums, they would seem to fit between Relayer and Going For The One, and their singer falls somewhere between Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, and he's even called Jon, although I strongly suspect his real name is John. As for Arena, another highly popular act (Gawd knows why) a more unimaginitive rehashing of 80s AOR, a genre that was as dull as dishwater first time round, I have yet to hear, and judging by what I've seen on YouTube at least two of their number seem to possess egos the size of Birmingham. I would rather listen to paint drying or stick pins in my ears. If you're a fan of any of those bands then fair enough, but don't try and kid me or anyone else that they are "progressive" in any shape or form. The likes of Muse (who I cannot abide by the way) and Radiohead and Kate Bush have more progressive ideas in their pinkies than any of that lot.

Other artists like Steven Wilson, and Opeth to a lesser degree, have managed to take the 70s template on their most recent works and created something that is rooted in the now and displays progression in its true guise, but maybe Wilson is a rare talent in a sea of mediocrity? One wonders if Wilson would have dared issue something like Grace For Drowning if Porcupine Tree had not already made the breakthrough?

The problem is an awful lot of "prog" fans would rather pay to see those regressive bands and buy their albums than actually take a risk on something that does stretch boundaries and is actually trying to take music forward, like Ske or Herd Of Instinct or Memories Of Machines for instance, to name three very different bands who are all highly progressive in their own way. The fans' desire to follow the tried and tested at the expense of new and in my opinion, far more interesting bands has already lead to internecine internet wars in that hotbed of conservatism the USA, and directly resulted in the demise of one its longest running "prog" festivals. New bands and indeed even established bands who don't fit into the copyist or trad prog bag tend to find it a real struggle over there, and with the demise of one of the best live showcases it can only get worse.

Over here in the UK we have only relatively recently got into staging prog festivals, as for a long time the potential audience here simply wasn't big enough, but one look at the line up of this year's Summer's End festival left me, as a progressive rather than prog music fan, somewhat underwhelmed. Where's the advenure in that line up, Lazuli apart? Why not get Il Tempio Delle Clessidre or Ske over, they've only got to come from Italy, it ain't that far! Mind you I suppose the sheer uncommerciality of the bands I'd pay to see make the wish impossible, and the promoters definitely deserve credit for putting on any kind of prog festival, which has to be underpinned by crowd pleasers to survive. It's just not for me, that's all.

Essentially prog fans are mostly a very conservative bunch who baulk at anything too weird, or dare I say it progressive, and far too often the two "p" words are mutually exclusive!

I make no apologies for this, and today, by pure coincidence a fellow reviewer sent all his colleagues the link to the restaurant critic speech from Ratatouille, and all us "prog" critics should take on board its sentiments, especially "...but there are times when a critic truly risks something, that is in the discovery and defence of the new..." Words we should all remember methinks.

1 comment:

  1. Of course I agree with you 100%, but then you already knew that, didn't you :P? Great write-up as usual!


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