Tuesday, August 14, 2012

SAY WHAT YOU WANT ABOUT ICARUS, BUT HE WAS MAKING AN INNOVATIVE USE OF WAX AND FEATHERS:  Slate political blogger Dave Weigel today begins a multipart series defending, and telling the history of, progressive rock, in a series titled The Ever-So-Brief Rise, and the Inevitable Fall, of the World's Most Hated Pop Music.


  1. This is a very good article about music I don't know much about.  It feels like a lost sub-chapter from Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise.

  2. Joseph Finn11:41 AM

    "Fall"?  Last I checked, Rush was still going strong. (Yes, yes, I know other bands have fallen by the wayside.  But the standard bearer for the genre is still there and producing new and excellent work so I reject the premise.)

  3. Standard-bearer?  The esteemed firm of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman & Howe would like to dispute your baseless assertion!

    Years of living with prog-rock roommates in college left me far, far too familiar with the genre.  Before that time, I had thought that the Salieri remix of Rock Me Amadeus was rather pompous and self-indulgent.  How little I understood! That sweet Austrian boy never told tales of topographic oceans, nor performed brain salad surgery; he just wanted to teach a little musical history.

    I still can't take a traffic circle without looking through the sunroof for purple wolfhounds.

  4. I thought the most hated band in the world remained the Insane Clown Posse.  (Waiting for Nathan Rabin's recap of the Gathering of the Juggalos.)

  5. Joseph Finn12:51 PM

    Now now, calling prog pompous because of Yes and their progeny would be like calling folk pompous because of Bob Dylan.

  6. Chuck2:00 PM

    I say this as a huge fan of Rush -- they haven't been "Prog" for a long time.  Sure, they are stuck with the label.  But other than being "good at their instruments," there isn't much Prog left.  How they survived/changed over time is undoubtedly part of the story, and decline, of Prog.  (Their latest album,  Clockwork Angels, is as close as they've come to Prog in a long time -- it has a couple of pretty long, instrumentally indulgent songs, and carries a loose narrative story.  But I'm betting Weigel pins the demise of prog at some point around the time Rush made it big with four minute rock songs like Spirit of Radio, Tom Sawyer, and Limelight -- songs that took the chops of Prog but got rid of (some of the) self-indulgence and length.  Moving Pictures (the album with Tom Sawyer and Limelight) had one extended song on it, The Camera Eye; they didn't have another song that long and proggy for at least twenty years.  Those "hits" (so to speak) by Rush came out just before Yes and ELP and King Crimson types formed Asia, another band that abandoned excess in favor of (very nice) prog-influenced rock/pop.   As to Yes itself, cf. Owner of a Lonely Heart.  I suppose another way to figure out when Rush stopped being prog is to figure out when they last appeared on stage in kimonos. 

  7. Chuck2:04 PM

    (I'm replying to my own post, I know.)  I think that Rush's continued change of sound textures over time, continued emphasis on skill, and unusual lyrical subjects (at least for a rock band), are part of the spirit of "progressive" concepts in rock music.  But I think the author is talking about Prog with a capital P, and that is, indeed, almost entirely gone. 

  8. isaac_spaceman6:11 PM

    Music is, of course, a spectrum, or more accurately a color wheel, and not a series of clearly defined boxes.  So I don't disagree that Rush isn't all the way into any kind of prog box.  But if I were putting them on the spectrum/color wheel somewhere, they would be closer to the part labeled "prog" than to any other part.  Sure, they're further off to the rock side than bands like King Crimson or Yes, but where else would you put them?  Even in the Tom Sawyer era, they were doing things with multiple time signatures, weird chords.  And what about the voice of Geddy Lee?  How did it get so high?  I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy.  It's a prog voice by virtue of its nonrockiness.  Also, they're a trio, but not a stripped-down power trio, and they had art school/soccer player haircuts.  Prog and prog, my friend. 

    As for pompousness, it's not that Yes proves that prog is pompous.  It's that every band ever associated with prog has been pompous in proportion to its progness.  Yes: pompous.  King Crimson:  supremely pompous.  ELP: pompous.  Rush: kind of pompous, but not very (also, kind of prog, but not very).  Foghat:  same as Rush.  The only exception I can think of is Jethro Tull, which I peg as very pompous but only halfway prog (the other half being folk-rock). 

  9. Adlai6:52 PM

    Re Geddy Lee: I've met him, and he does. 

  10. Benner7:54 PM

    A long-multipart series about an esoteric topic.  The fact that the subject is a meta-study of prog rock makes it self-referentially self-referrential.  

    I'm not sure who decided listening to mid-period Beatles albums that they needed less rockability but more sound experimentation, but that person was incorrect.

  11. Benner8:13 PM


    <span>"It appealed to some people a lot, but perhaps for the average person—if there is such a thing—it was too complex, too involved, too much to have to think about, too much to have to wrestle with. It’s much easier to have a three-minute song—you can sing the hook because you can remember it, and it’s done with. Bing, bang." -- Greg Lake, assuming both that his music says something and proving that he might not completely understand blues.</span>

  12. isaac_spaceman6:39 AM

    The Beatles decided that, and it turned out they were right.  It's all in the execution. 

  13. Battles, anyone?

  14. Or, maybe better Battles:
    N Necessarily SFW (YMMV)