Thursday 28 February 2013

2112 (Rush, 1976)

Here's a very old question: can you do prog rock without a single keyboard? Well, Rush did. And they even played an entire suite, a 20 minutes, seven-part composition. Balancing hard rock and very quiet moments, this wonderful piece of work also features space rock athmospheres and lyrical ballads, in a series of musical surprises, so that you don't even perceive time passing by. The lyrics are about a future in which music is forbidden by a repressive theocracy ruling the galaxy. But one fine day a man finds out a forgotten guitar... and a real civil war begins.
A promo advertising for 2112.
The story is based on a novel titled Anthem, written by Ayn Rand, an American novelist. The three members of Rush are at their heights here: Alex Lifeson's guitars interwine with Neil Peart's drums and Geddy Lee's bass guitar in a thick wall of sound and Geddy's squeaky voice hits the peaks of sorrow, gets down to a peaceful stillness, then rises once again. Believe me, this is not just one more track, this is one of the deepest and strongest emotional experiences prog rock can provide.

Sunday 24 February 2013

On Reflection (Gentle Giant, 1975)

As always, Roberto Rizzi reads my mind and delights me. This track, taken from Gentle Giant's "Free Hand" album, is one of my favourites ever. A dreaming jewel, I daresay quoting a famous novel by Theodore Sturgeon. Thank you once more, Roberto (and thank you Giants, of course!).

“On reflection” is a wonderful tune from Gentle Giant. It begins with a flute riff, accompanied by violin, violoncello and xylophone. It's also a reference to classical music and Gentle Giant does it very well. The instruments follow one another in a very intricated way and this type of composition is the signature of the group. At the end of the riff, Gentle Giant start to sing and no instruments are involved. The Shulman brothers, Minnear and Green sing in a peculiar way, because they do not sing the same vocal line, but, as in the overture riff, every voice sings a singular tune, setting up a wonderful atmosphere. The track is reminiscent the way Genesis played their 12 strings: same sounds, but played differently.
Richard Evans' cover reminds me something about the Addams Family...

After this splendid virtuosism, the flute riff is repeated with more typical rock instruments: electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. Then, on this riff, Gentle Giant sing the vocal line, previously played without instruments. With “On riflection”, Gentle Giant show great musical talent once again. Another pearl of the progressive rock!
Roberto Rizzi

Thursday 21 February 2013

Smallcreep's Day (Mike Rutherford, 1980)

This 24'38'' suite by Genesis bassist (with a little help from Ant Phillips) is worth some preliminary notes. Its seven movements are often presented as stand-alone songs as they certainly might be, but this is a suite for many reasons. Basically, each song depends on the previous and announces the next both in music and lyrics. That's not all: the story of Smallcreep, taken from an English novel, brings a special and cohesive mood to this work, inspiring a sense of wonder and surprise and melting down technology and sensibility to forge a pleasant but not commonplace listening.

Smallcreep discovering his factory on the album cover.

Beautiful melodies, instrumental passages and guitar solos enrich the suite, reminiscent of course of Genesis sound, but with a hint of the '80s new wave musical taste. This mixture will inspire many neo-prog bands. I'll never forget the infinite sweetness of "At The End of The Day". What about you?  

Sunday 17 February 2013

Dogs (Pink Floyd, 1977)

17 minutes of suburban prog, a long, heartbreaking dusk over chimneys and abandoned souls, a bitter view on human condition. Yes, I like this song, I like it very much, even if I don't feel good when I listen to it. Who cares? It's music at its heights. The gloomy athmosphere of "Dogs" describes the death of brotherhood and the rise of competition and disregard and Gilmour's guitar is a piercing scream melting with stray dogs' yelps. Even so, I find beauty in the dirt, flashes of truth in the night of perdition.

A pig flies over Battersea Power Station in London. Great cover!

There is greatness in Pink Floyd's pessimism and particularly here, in this disheartening song and in the album "Animals". That's because they dig in human soul, they dare to show up their most hidden fears. Our own fears. I'm grateful for this.

Friday 15 February 2013

Moon in June (Soft Machine, 1970)

Here's another song presented by Roberto Rizzi, excellent as usual... both the track and the reviewer, I mean. Enjoy.

Today I want to introduce a track I discovered when I was nineteen years old: “Moon In June”. This very long song is included in the Soft Machine album “Third”, but it was composed and played by the drummer and singer of the group, Robert Wyatt. “Moon In June” is a song totally different from the other ones included in this album. Soft Machine was a prog-jazz group and that's why “Moon In June” seems to be an intruder. And it is! Wyatt composed a song that it is difficult to classify.
Soft Machine's Third.

First of all, “Moon In June” starts with a deep piano note and a  Hammond organ on which the ethereal Wyatt voice sings in a kind way. The second part is a strange and rythmical swing, where Wyatt sings “[...]living is easy here in New York State […] and I wish that I were home again”. The third part is similar to the first, but it is a little bit distressing, thanks to the peculiar use of the sharp notes. The last part of the songs is closer to the Soft Machine style. Wyatt composed a 4/4 rythm, played in a jazzy way. The organ,  played I think by Mike Rutledge, concludes the song with a solo. An interesting thing is that Wyatt was a jazz-rock drummer, but in this song he chooses to use the drums in background, emphasizing them when the song needs that. This song transcends the concept of “song”. It is something more... that's magic. A kind of magic that was born from the delicate soul of Robert Wyatt.
Roberto Rizzi

Wednesday 13 February 2013

House with No Door (Van Der Graaf Generator, 1970)

Another selection from "H to He Who Am The Only One". This is the saddest and one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. I simply can't describe the cry of sorrow Peter Hammill's voice suggests here more than elsewhere. The claustrophobic lyrics, of course, accomplish this frustrating, dark and heartbreaking picture. So, I wonder, am I just a masochist listening again and again to such a depressing track? Well no, because I don't feel bad after the ordeal... on the contrary I reach an ecstatic mood and I'm grateful to the man that wrote this song. I even happen to remember Chateaubriand writing that the human heart expresses itself better in sadness than in joy.

Another Paul Whitehead's cover!

This is also the first VDGG's song I liked, so that I'm convinced that human heart is also specially suitable in identifying grief and this is also a common way to know we're all brothers and we share the same destiny. Now, if a song learned so much to me, should I stop listening to it?

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Neverland (Marillion, 2004)

This is a Hogarth's era Marillion track, a very beautiful one IMHO. I like it all... I like the music they wrote, the simple and profound lyrics, Hogarth's intense vocals, Rothery's guitar solo... all! This is one of those tracks you can listen to when you want ot leave the earthly condition and fly away. It's a fantastic trip in an ethereal dimension somewhere between the clouds and the stars, in the Neverland of your inner childhood. The song is taken from one of the best recent Marillion's records, "Marbles", and I highly recommend the whole album to your attention.
A Marillion's promo shot for "Marbles".
Of course, Marillion's songs are not all like this one, but when they actually forge such pearls I can't help wondering why they're not a worldwide sensation. But then... maybe I better like them to stay what they are: the best hidden jewel of the English Prog-Crown.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Epitaph (King Crimson, 1969)

According to many critics and handbooks, this is where it all began. Well, not the track itself, maybe, but its album, "In The Court of The Crimson King", the 1969 King Crimson's debut masterpiece, would be the first truly prog rock album. True or false, I always get a thrill when Greg Lake begins: "The wall on which the prophets wrote..."; his voice is still and sad, like a wise man without hope. The airy melody, the perfect dialogue between keyboards and guitar, the essential and clear percussions, the prophetic lyrics by Peter Sinfield... there's all I need to fall in love with a prog song.

Poor Barry Godber...
...and his cover art for King Crimson's debut album.

Two instrumental interludes called "March for No Reason" and "Tomorrow And Tomorrow" enrich the flavour of this tasty dish, but there is another special feature, that's the cover art, a milestone in prog rock history. I can't help staring at the schizoid man and also at the crimson king inside the gatefold cover. From this moment on, the greatest prog music will always be linked to its album art, but if I had to find the strongest connection, well, I'm sure I'd choose this record. Such a pity, the very young author of these drawings, Barry Godber, was going to die a year after the release of his masterpiece. So I daresay, this "Epitaph" is for him too.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Tubular Bells part 1 (Mike Oldfield, 1973)

One of the most controversial tracks in the whole rock history. Some say it's the prog masterpiece, some say it's just a pretentious, messy essay and not even prog at all. Really, I'll let the critics debate this topic, but there is an ascertained point: this suite is unique in its genre and still popular today. Oldfield's attempts to take advantage of this record for a series of sequels ("The Orchestral Tubular Bells", "Tubular Bells 2", "Tubular Bells 3"," The Millenium Bell", "Tubular Bells Remix", "Tubular Bells Re-recorded"...) annoyed many listeners, even so the original record is IMHO one of the finest fruits of its decade.

"Tubular bells" original cover art.

Not only the arrangements are amazing, but also the themes are well found and their rising succession still produces in me a growing feeling of expectation and wonder, reaching its climax when the bells finally ring. Another winning point is in all thos varied moods, from nostalgy to anger and from contry stillness to mystic tension. Strange? Pretentious? Who cares... I like it.

Thursday 7 February 2013

Sospesi nell'incredibile (Le Orme, 1973)

It's always difficult to extract a single track from a dense and cohesive concept album like Le Orme's "Felona e Sorona". Even so, "Sospesi nell'incredibile" is one of my favourite italian prog songs. Firstly, it's the opening track of the album, that's to say the gateway to another world, kind of a space opera focusing on the alternate fortunes of two twin planets... and it's a great overture! Secondly, it's a fine example of instrumental prog based on a powerful trio "à la E,L & P", in which you hardly regret the absence of a guitarist... and that's saying something.
Le Orme in their "powerful trio" era.
There's the whole taste of the '70s in this track: you'll find SF, space rock, proggy plots, falsetto, plenty of keyboards and so on... a real treat for connoisseurs. I highly recommend to turn off the lights and listen to this in the dark. Enjoy.

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Post War Saturday Echo (Quatermass, 1970)

As I promised (please read the blog's foot note) this blog is open to every prog fan. I'm very proud to present here the first and brave contributor, Roberto Rizzi, an old online friend of mine and - most of all - a real connoisseur of fine prog and an experienced though young moderator of the glorious italian Genesis Forum. The song he presents here is also one of my favourite ones. 

Cesare Rizzi, an italian reviewer, argues on his book “Progressive Rock & Underground” that Quatermass was better than the more famous Emerson, Lake & Palmer. At first sight, that could be a blasphemous sentence. But when I firstly heard “Post War Saturday Echo” (and obviously the entire Quatermass album) something made me think that Rizzi was (and still is) right.
Storm Thorgerson's wonderful art for Quatermass.
I always said that this song is a perfect synthesis of blues and progressive rock. “Post War...” starts with an epic Hammond riff and this opening flows in a quiet instrumental tune, which is the main theme, played by bass, drums and organ. The great voice of John Gustafson sings a vocal riff which is at the same time calm and nervous. But the song reaches its peak when it becomes much more powerful and the instruments create a perfect atmosphere on which Gustafson's voice can express its magnificent and suffering beauty. A piano solo introduces another explosion of power, with a massive Hammond organ. A great song from a great - but unfortunately unknown - band.
Roberto Rizzi


Sunday 3 February 2013

The Musical Box (Genesis, 1971)

This is the first prog song I ever listened to and I still adore it. I don't think there's someone out there who doesn't know this track by heart, so I'm not going to describe or explain it. I just mention it's the first track of the album "Nursery Cryme", a collection of great prog songs and an established standard in this genre. The strange lyrics of "The Musical Box" - somewhere between horror, nonsense and superatural - also inspire the well known album cover by Paul Whitehead. What about the music? There's everything here: melody and romance, rock and umpredictability and most of all a perfect balance... I had to listen ten times to understand and love this. Well, I'm not a clever guy...

Paul Whitehead's cover for "Nursery Cryme".

All the instruments have their proper space in this song, and you feel this is a group playing, not just five musicians. Not so common, you know. Finally, I just want to add this: "The Musical Box" taught me how deep emotions music can give to the listener and then I also learned how important is to spend some time in search of this kind of music.

Crying for Help IV (Arena, 1995)

When I first listened to Arena's debut album and its epic sounds I was strongly reminded of Indiana Jone's saga... and after all there are so many archeological and biblical names in "Songs from The Lions Cage"! Do you remember? Midas, Jericho, The Valley of The Kings, Solomon... but I adored this relatively short track, really I don't know why. Maybe it's John Carson's heartfelt's interpretation, or Steve Rothery's dreaming guitar, or - more simply - that beautiful melody. Anyway, I still listen to this song when I'm searching for inspiration... yes, I'm getting old!

Arena in a '90s shot.
Just a little more: this is the fourth part of a series. You'll find "Crying for Help" I, II, III and IV on "Songs from The Lions Cage", while the band's second album "Pride" features four more parts. They're all beautiful variations, most of them instrumental ones. Many fans liked them so much that in 1997 Arena decided to complete and collect the series in a separate album called "The Cry", where each part was given a new title and some were added or reinterpretated. That's the case with our track, called "Only Child" in the new version. Of course, Rothery was back for a new solo. 

Saturday 2 February 2013

They Get to Know Me (Kayak, 1974)

This dutch band always suggest mixed feelings: some say it's the most hidden treasure of the Netherlands, some argue it's just a pop band. I think they're really good: tue, they like melodies and also short songs, but is this a deadly sin? This 9 minute song, taken from their second self-titled album, shows how much fantasy they have both in composition and arrangements and how rich their palette is, filled with pastoral prog foggy nuances, sharp guitar flashes à la David Gilmour and - why not? - brilliant and catchy themes. That's why I like them and I still listen to this track.
An early '80s Kayak line up.
...But why sould you listen to this? Well, if you like bitter-sweet shiftings, romantic (but no pathetic) moods and well-built prog songs this is your cup of tea. Oh by the way, let me know what you think of those lyrics focusing on the end of adolescence.

Friday 1 February 2013

La luna nuova (Premiata Forneria Marconi, 1974)

I don't know if this is the most famous and celebrated PFM's song, but IMHO it perfectly represents the kind of music this group wanted to make back in the seventies. As you probably remember, an english version of this track, titled Four Holes in The Ground also exists, featuring Pete Sinfield's allegoric lyrics. What I always liked in this song is the mediterranean soul, a warm athmosphere resulting in the perfect depiction of a summer night. The rythm has something ethnic in it, but the vocal parts are sweety european and you could get four good songs with the musical ideas of this track.

This is the album cover of "L'isola di niente".
I'll certainly spend some more words on other tracks taken from "L'isola di niente", for now I warmly invite you to a careful listening of this song: each time you put it in your CD reader you'll find something new. And this is exactly what a prog song should do.