Tuesday 27 November 2012

Jordrök (Änglagård, 1992)

This is actually a jewel, one of the best prog songs of the '90s, IMHO. It's an instrumental track, full of nostalgy and with a scent of Trespass era Genesis. The folk influence is present (the title itself is the name of a spontaneous plant, the "fumaria" or fumitory in English), melt with all the 70s sound you can desire. The winning point is the perfect balance of acoustic and electric instruments, producing a sweet but not sweetish athmosphere. And it's not an useless replica of the golden era songs: the volume and tempo changes give its own character to the track, along with that northern, crepuscular touch.

Änglagård in their '90s lineup.

All the "Hybris" album is a gem, to say the truth, and this track is maybe its most representative one, summing up all the best qualities of the group. A never compromising but always enjoyable progressive rock song.

Sunday 18 November 2012

Lady Fantasy (Camel, 1974)

Taken from the album "Mirage", this long and beautiful song features all the main ingredients of prog: tempo changes, very good melodies, instrumental passages, guitar/keyboard dialogues and solos, imaginative arrangements. Of course, Andrew Latimer's dreaming guitar is the winning card of this play, but "Lady Fantasy" is a well-balanced song, where all the instruments share the stage. As always in Camel's tracks, the sound is agreeable, like a journey in a pleasant country, but you also find here some heavier moments, perfectly fit into the big picture.
The beautiful cover of "Mirage".

The lyrics, where an ideal woman is compared with a real one, lie somewhere between the earth and the sky, just like a mirage, especially when Latimer enters...

Think of Me with Kindness (Gentle Giant, 1972)

I like this song very much. The melody is so well found and the sweetness of the scoustic arrangement is powered by the softness of Ray Shulman's vocals. Just a simple ballad, "kept simple to retain the essentially intimate mood of the piece", as the group say in their liner notes. The "Octopus" album features more structured and also well known songs, but this one's a little and bright jewel, IMHO.

Gentle Giant at their best.

Now, the lyrics. The song is about a fading away love, and I never read such a tender text. When a love comes to an end, there's still so much to remember and so many reasons to think of the other "with kindness". Prog meets love song.

Saturday 17 November 2012

The Last Man on Earth (Pendragon, 1993)

Definitely one of my favourite songs by Nick Barrett's group. This gentle little suite is about death and separation, but also about the links that never end between those who die and those still alive. Like many other Pendragon's songs, you can find this a little mincing, but just listen twice and you'll see there's nothing less than sincere. It's a touching musical portrait of two worlds, and a very british one, too. The delicate athmosphere is somentimes broken by uptempo passages, but the general impression is one of lightness and peace.
Pendragon in concert. 
In about 15 minutes, the two main themes intertwine and create here and now spaces where for guitar and keyboard to go solo. When the track is over, I always stay there a little longer and think over. A good reason to listen to it once again.

Shine on You Crazy Diamond (Pink Floyd, 1975)

Should I say anything on this suite? Who doesn't know the David Gilmour's famous 4 guitar notes on part 2? And what about Rick Wright's cosmic chords on part 1? I had the priviledge to hear them spreading in the open space two times in concert. I'll never forget those moments, never. I prefer the first half of the suite (parts I-V), and I'm sure I'm not the only one, but all parts are very good, full of athmosphere and sense of wonder. "Shine on" is now a standard counting hundreds of followers. I'll just remember Dick Parry's sax adding human warmth to the fresco and the lyrics... they always touch me.
Abbey Road Studios
Some say old friend Syd Barrett came to Abbey Road's studios to pay a visit during "Wish You Were Here" album sessions. I don't know if it's true, but I just like the idea of a momentary reunion giving the final touch to this nusic. I don't even try to discuss here whether Pink Floyd are or aren't prog. It doesn't matter to me: they're part of the '70s "shoot down the walls" experience. So they're in.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Killer (Van Der Graaf Generator, 1970)

How strange this song was to me the first time I listened to it! Based on warm and rough sax riffs, a pulsing bass guitar and keyboard waves swarming around, the track features an intense vocal performance by Peter Hammill, the prince of sorrow singing his despair. The lyrics are very strong: the song is about a strange and murderous fish (the "killer") living in the deepest waters, destined to live alone ad feared by anyone else. Solitude, pain, darkness: these will be the trademarks of VDGG career and find here one of their greatest moments.

VDGG in the early '70s

Prog rock makes miracles. Even if the "killer" is a vicious predator, the listener ends up being sorry for him and recognising in the murder's life a bit of our common destiny. Cheer up!

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Starless (King Crimson, 1974)

This long and cosmic ballad is one of my favs in King Crimson's production. Dark and moving, featuring a Robert Fripp's heartbreaking solo guitar, this track is the living proof that sobriety and romance can get along very well. I admit this is not a song for downhearted people, but the lyrics are fascinating, sung by John Wetton's wonderful and imperturbable voice.

King Crimson in concert during the '70s

When I need a pint of sweet melancholy, I turn off the lights and put on "Starless". And I see planets rolling in a doom universe... and I like it.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Script for A Jester's Tear (Marillion, 1983)

This is the first track post-70s I talk about in my blog, and it's another important one in my listener's experience. I like Marillion very much, I must confess, both Fish and Hogarth eras and I know they released better songs than this one in terms of coherence, track building and lyrics. Nonetheless, this old song, the title track of  the group's first album, still moves me and digs in my deeper self. The winning point here is the sincerity I perceive in Fish's performance: he is the jester, his heart is bleeding, his tears are flowing. This in not common, especially in prog rock songs.

Mark Wilikinson's cover for the album. 

I also like the three part structure of the song, kind of a mini-suite with a strong coherence both in music and lyrics. It also sounds very scottish (well, Fish always does), full of darkness and smoky, but with an underlying strenght, a smell of ancient nobility and a smell of fierce sorrow. As in the best progressive rock tradition, please enjoy this song with the beautiful and suited Mark Wilkinson's cover art before your eyes. You won't regret it.

Monday 12 November 2012

My God (Jethro Tull, 1971)

This represents a standard in Jethro Tull's music, Ian Anderson at his best, that's to say. I think "My God" represents prog rock in its primary features. You'll find here tempo changes, long instrumental passages (flute, of course, but also acoustic guitar), intriguing lyrics and a cross-style approach. The strong accusation Anderson moves against the Church in the lyrics is supported by a powerful music and the voice's variations between anger and murmur.

Ian Anderson and his flute in a 1971 concert.

I like the successful mix of rock, folk and classical music in one song, and the flute kills me. I completely changed my opinion on this instrument after "My God": it's not only a rock flute, it's kind of a machine gun, riddling the ears and the heart of the listener. Ian Anderson rules here, adding a warm acoustic guitar to the strength of his flute and voice.

So, after this, how could you tell prog rock is just about elves and romance?

Close to The Edge (Yes, 1972)

The title track of Yes' fifth album is another long song (some 17 minutes) and - IMHO - another masterpiece. As usual, I don't even try to "explain" the track - lyrics nor music -  I just write down my feelings. I still remember my first listening, a very hard try. The first 2 or 3 minutes of the suite were a real challenge, an apparently messy wall of sound that knocked me out. I gave up and put on an Abba record instead!

The album's inside drawing illustrating the song.

Later, I tried again and won the big prize. I saw the song building up before my eyes (yes, eyes, not only ears...) and the messy sounds getting more and more solid. The song evolved like a living being, passing through different phases: rock ballad, heavy, sacred hymn, and back to rock'n'roll. Epic, this was the word (...and still is).

Being the incurable romantic I am, the Rick Wakeman's solo at the pipe organ will always be my favourite passage of "Close to The Edge", but I like the whole lot, a perfect clockwork mechanism. More recently (English is not my mother tongue) I focused on the lyrics. I know... Yes' lyrics are usually considered too pretentious, anyway I like these ones. They fit into the music admirably. I'm not a philosopher, but I see a spiritual journey from darkness and confusion to light and order, and the words are carefully chosen to strengthen the song's musical impact. Last but not least, Jon Anderson's voice always moves me.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Supper's Ready (Genesis, 1972)

Let's begin, then. They sometimes ask me which is my favourite song ever. Of course, it is impossible to choose one single track, but if ever I were obliged to answer such a question, I'd probably say: "Supper's Ready", the 23 minute 'suite' from Genesis' album "Foxtrot". 

Peter Gabriel singing "Supper's Ready"
This is where it all began, many years ago, this is the first time I experienced that kick inside me, the one you feel when you fall in love. Even today, when I'm specially tired or depressed, this is the music I listen to... and I'm in Wonderland again. Why is that? I found three main reasons: 1) The musical themes and ideas are all strong and perfectly found, they'e all so different and still they work together like a winner team; 2) The architecture of the song, a musical cathedral, where the transition from one theme to another is always surprising and the themes themselves come back whenever you don't expect so; 3) The lyrics are mysterious, sometimes puzzling, but full of powerful characters (do you remember Narcissus?), intriguing cross-references and mixed feelings.
Someone told me he adored "Supper's Ready" because it was such a strange thing, but it was actually rock'n'roll, another one pretended this suite was the prog itself and a very young progfan admitted he discovered this song's beauty via Peter Gabriel's fancy dresses... well, I don't know and I'm sure every listener has his own good reasons to like this song, these are mine, tell me yours...

Why on Earth another prog rock blog?

There's no reason, of course. No reason but one: I like it and I'm not the only one. Progressive rock is a world of his own and each prog fan is different. Yes, we're strange... we don't even know what prog rock actually is, but we can spend  hours and hours listening to an album and this is the (little) place where I'm going to talk about some of the songs I like. And if ever you come across this blog, feel free to post your comments, suggestions, ideas: there's so much to find out about prog... let's play another record!