Sunday 30 June 2013

Au-delà du délire (Ange, 1974)

The 9 minute title-track of Ange's album of 1974 is one of their finest moments, IMHO. The first part of the song is wrapped in a Middle Ages atmosphere and dominated by Christian Décamps' theatrical voice, the second section is a long and beautiful Jean-Michel Brézovar's guitar solo over a powerful background, maybe reminiscent of early King Crimson's work, driven by the keys, with the rythm section helping to build up an effective wall of sound.

Philippe Huart's iconic art for "Au-delà du délire".

The song is the final installment of a concept relating the incredible story of a poor peasant living in the 14th century. This man organizes a rebellion against his feudal lord, then is captured and killed, but his astral body survives and he comes back to Earth after mankind's destruction and restarts History. "Au-delà du délire" ("Beyond Delirium") is a well composed and arranged track that still charms me with its old fashioned sounds, naive lyrics and brilliant musical stunts. A trip in a far, enchanted contry.

Friday 28 June 2013

Bourée (Jethro Tull, 1969)

For the date of its release, the influence it had and the musical impact still strong after so many years, "Bourée" has a place in the inner circle of essential prog tracks. As anyone knows, this is a Ian Anderson loose arrangement of a Johan Sebastian Bach's composition, namely a "bourrée" (a kind of dance, correctly written with a double "r") being the fifth movement of a longer suite, numbered BWV 996 in the German composer's catalogue. Anderson chose this track for the album "Stand up", improved the rythm and added folk, jazz and rock elements to the track, giving one of the first examples of his explosive style in less than 4 minutes. 

The cover for the 7" single of "Bourée", b/w "Fat Man".

The first part of Jethro Tull's "Bourée" is an observant performance of Bach's theme, with the flute replacing the original lute. The central section is an apparently free improvisation on this theme, abandoning any classical measure with a strong jazzy approach. The final part resumes J.B. Bach's sheet music with two Anderson's overdubbed flutes. The group recorded many live versions of this anthemic song (a very long and good one is in "A Little Light Music", released in 1992) and also an alternative studio version in the "Jethro Tull's Christmas Album" (2003). Of course, the original "Stand up" version features in all the band's compilations. It's an amazing track, a very strong one, with an enthralling rythm and the wild flute performance that made a legend of Mr. Ian Anderson.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Suite: Dreams (Manning, 2003)

As you certainly know, Manning is the name the multi-instrumentalist Guy Manning (of The Tangent fame) gives to the band he gathers around himself on a regular basis to produce his own records. "Suite: Dreams" is by far ma favourite Manning's track. It's a beautifully written suite in 6 movements, exploring the world of dreams. It begins with a slow, very good melody and goes on through many different changes and many different genres, as usual for this artist. I especially like the recurring main theme variations and the wide range of instruments and musical solutions involved in this song.

You'll find this suite  in "The View from My Window" album.

There's a strong presence of wind instruments, thanks to Tim Moon - also proving himself on the fiddle - and they weave original plots with Manning's guitars and keys. Guy also has a beautiful voice, sounding like some American country singers and fitting so well in his eclectic music. He  knows very well how to balance electric and acoustic instruments, old fashioned sounds and modern samples and machineries... and he knows even better how to enchant an old prog lover like myself...

Wednesday 26 June 2013

750.000 anni fa... l'amore? (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, 1972)

When I first heard of this track - whose title means in English 750.000 years ago... love? - even before listening to it I was intrigued. A friend of mine told me this was about an impossible love story between a Neanderthal man and a Homo Sapiens woman. Well, it is unusual, isn't it? So I flew to my record shop (they weren't yet extinct then) and I bought the Banco's album "Darwin!". I was really impressed by this song: such a subject would sound ridiculous in every singer's mouth, but Francesco Di Giacomo is so natural, passionate and convincing that I actually saw that Neanderthal man peeing the Sapiens girl, I deeply felt his shame and his sorrow when blaming his simian body.

Francesco Di Giacomo and Vittorio Nocenzi in a 2013 shot.

And I also appreciated the wonderful melody by Vittorio Nocenzi, both powerful and sweet. Yes, this is one of my favourite italian prog songs ever and it still touches me every time I happen to listen to it, especially when Di Giacomo sings (forgive my terrible translation): If you were relly mine, I'd wear your breast of water drops, then under your feet I'd lay veils of wind and leaves. Pale body with wide hips, I'd take you in green fields and I'd dance under the moon, I'd dance with you. And when I read recently that some scientists are now convinced that Homo Sapiens has in his genetics some Neanderthal genes, well, I thought... who knows? Maybe this impossible love dream came true.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Pictures at An Exhibition (Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1971)

A real prog monument, this live suite is a loose re-interpretation of Mussorgsky's suite in ten movements (plus a recurring Promenade), originally composed in 1874. The ELP live version is also enriched by some new movements and occasional additions by the band. Recorded live at Newcastle City Hall on March, 26th 1971, the final 12 movements of the suite were never recorded in a studio: an abridged version in 6 movements was finally released in 1993 as a bonus track for the album "In The Hot Seat".  Even if several track could be listened to as individual tracks, we can't possibly break the suite's coherence and unity. I think this is the ELP's most influential and creative piece, capturing their live strength and technical skills at their best.

Fill those blank frames with the music!

Every moment of the suite is a pearl and the band uses Mussorgsky's music as a canvas on which they draw a whole world of variations, impovistations and interpolations. So rich is the final result that the listener soon loses his orientation ad abandons himself to the band's musical waves. As in the original composition, each movement describes a painting and the recurring promenade theme represents the visitor's route through the picture gallery. And what a route this is! Catching melodies, stunning performances, tempo and mood variations, all is there.If Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer tend to fasten the rythm, Greg Lake draws some pastoral and slow sketches I especially like. Everyone's got his favs in this suite; personally I'm fond of the first Promenade, The Sage  and The Grat Gate of Kiev. This is what I call... an exhibition!

Monday 24 June 2013

Exogenesis: Symphony Part I - II - III (Muse, 2009)

According to the critics, Muse belong to a dozen different rock and pop genres, but they certainly never hid a connction with the prog world. This very good 13 minute mini-suite is a living proof of this. I didn't believe my ears nor my eyes: how can it possibly be that in 2009 such a classic prog suite and its related album "The Resistance" sell so much worldwide? Well, there's no secret: Muse create good music, based on solid and wide melodies supported by an amazing production, meaning their sound is clear as crystal and absolutely modern.

A detail from the art illustrating "Exogenesis".

Let's explore "Exogenesis". The first part ("Overture") is an orchestral one, introducing an aerial theme and some romantic variations on which Matthew Bellamy's voice weave an almost operatic cantato opening the way to the group instruments, including a dreamy final guitar solo. The second part ("Cross-Pollination") is a piano based one, with a vocal interpretation reminiscent of Queen (well, with Muse that's not so strange, is it?). The third and last part of the suite ("Redemption") starts with a touching piano and orchestra theme growing richer and wider step by step with the addiction of the group up to a calm finale.  The lyrics, in the perfect style of the '70s, has a science fiction plot (and after all, the whole album was inspired by Orwell's 1984) about the end of our Earth and a new era for the surviving humanity. A limited edition single edition of the suite was also released for the "Record Store Day" in 2010. I really like this track, swinging between bombastic and thoughtful moments and proving that good ol' prog rock never dies.

Sunday 23 June 2013

Metaepitome (Overhead, 2005)

This is the title track of Finnish band Overhead's second album, released in 2005. It's a 19'40" suite well written and well performed by those five young musicians. Like many other similar bands, Overhead explore prog rock history and in "Metaepitome" suite you'll recognize Pink Floyd-like slide guitars, crimsonian Mellotron effects, rock flute à la Jethro Tull and so on. But you'll also find an original sound, made of nordic melancholy and a good mix of rock and folk roots. Also the vocal parts - both lead and choirs - are distinctive, with modern and classic nuances.

Here's the cover art for "Metaepitome".

Slow and fast sections, electric and acoustic instruments, complex and plain melodies, vocal and instrumental themes... all is very well arranged in the general architecture of the track. I was also impressed by some unpredictable changes, especially when the piano comes in or the first vocal theme comes back to close the suite. The lyrics are obscure and suggestive, describing a man's inner choice when facing war and death. In short, this is not a revolution in prog music, but you'll certainly appreciate Metaepitome for measure and moderation, two rare qualities in young bands: never too old or too modern, never too technical or too romantic, this suite will provide some 20 pleasant minutes to the listener. I'm enough old to value such a merit.

Saturday 22 June 2013

The Court of The Crimson King (King Crimson, 1969)

This song from King Crimson's debut album is now considered a cornerstone of the progressive rock building, so it's difficult to write about it: all has been said, all has been stated. Nonetheless, as this masterpiece Always inspires me, I have to add it here. A Mellotron driven song, "The Court" also includes in its 9'25" of length two delicious instrumental passages, called "The Return of The Fire Witch" and "The Dance of The Puppets".

King Crimson in 1969.

The magniloquent intro of each verse and the choral arrangements of the chorus make a delectable contrast with the soft interludes ang give to this track its well known musical affluence. Pete Sinfield's lyrics describe a medieval realm suspended in an alarming balance between ceremonial etiquette and inner sorrow. For these reasons and many Others "The Court" is one of the finest pearls of early prog era and, I daresay, of the whole rock history.

Friday 21 June 2013

Machine Messiah (Yes, 1980)

This is a song from "Drama", the most debated album based on a mixed line-up from classic Yes and pop duo Buggles. So, no Jon Anderson's angelic voice here, nor Rick Wakeman's spectacular keyboards. Having said that, "Machine Messiah" is great, IMHO. Chris Squire's bass explores tricky and unusual lines, with a little help from Alan White's drums, Steve Howe's guitar offers some edgy moments and the Buggles really do their best.

"Drama" features one of the best Roger Dean's covers.

But I especially like the track's architecture, where good melodies and rythmic sections follow one another, melting the typical Yes composition features and a somewhat more plastic shape. Ten minutes of enjoyable prog rock, amazing changes and top class performances. Should I ask for more?

Thursday 20 June 2013

Red Rain (Peter Gabriel, 1986)

If ever Peter Gabriel wrote a progressive rock song, in a profound and not necessarily formal way, this is the one. Featuring a fluctuating wall of sound and dominated by the deep and hoarse voice of Peter, "Red Rain" (from the album "So") is an intense and surprising emotional trip. The sound is maniacally laboured and yet the first impact is that of a natural, spontaneous rock song, growing up in volume and poignancy until the first emotional pitch, then going by a pair of tempo changes up to the ending largo. The 2012 remaster of "So" magnify this musical abundance.

Peter Gabriel during his "So" world tour (1986).

Maybe for the first time from his Genesis years, Peter expresses the wide range of feelings of his voice, abandoning for a while any electro-rock and ethno-rock experimentations and coming back to his roots. Also the lyrics, related to a Peter's recurring dream, concur with their sanguine imagery to the strength of this track. I really think this is one of the most moving songs I've ever heard in Peter Gabriel's production. And that's saying something!

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Dust in The Wind (Kansas, 1977)

Another wonderful short but intense song. Kansas included it in their album "Point of Know Return" and the song picked at n# 6 on the Billboard single charts. I don't need many words to describe such a famous song, nor to explain its presence here. Based on a beautiful melody and an essentially acoustic arrangement driven by Kerry Livgren's guitar. This song also features Robby Steinhardt's violin and viola, marking the airy instrumental passage, and Steve Walsh voice, as pure as a crystal.
The original cover for "Dust in The Wind" 7" single.
The lyrics about mortality as the common human destiny, reminds us how we all are but dust in the wind, whatever we do or say in our short existence. This melancholic meditation fits perfectly in Kerry Livgen's music, that's why all seems to be perfect in "Dust in The Wind". I don't know how many times I listened to this little shiny pearl, but I'm sure I'll do it again... till I'm dust in the wind.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Amico di ieri (Le Orme, 1975)

Oh, how I like this little, simple song! Le Orme released it in 1975, in an album called "Smogmagica" and also as a 7" single. The western american hints, blended with a nostalgic european sound, come from the sessions of "Smogmagica", recorded in Los Angeles and reminiscent of the West Coast musical atmosphere.

The original 7" cover of "Amico di ieri", b/w "Ora o mai più".
Please note the announcement in the round arrow: "recorded in Los Angeles".

Even the lyrics merge ecological contents and western images, such as covered wagons and dust storms. This ballad is calm and evocative, sweet and sad, reflecting the light of a distant sunset and carrying the wind of an ancient evening. The excellent melody of "Amico di ieri" will always be a significant part of my inner world, a bright souvenir of my youth.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Aqualung (Jethro Tull, 1971)

This is one of my firt progressive rock favs. It's a very strong opening track, in the best tradition of the '70s rock bands and a very influential one. Its mix of rock, folk, prog and stinging irony is simply perfect. Ian Anderson's vocal performance is aggressive and allusive, drawing a rock ballad with some sudden tempo changes.

                                                    Do you remember this filthy man?
The lyrics about a perverse homeless suggest a diffrent point of view over moral and social conventions, an unusual perspective and a satirical vein pervades the whole track. I really love the succession of rough sounds and more sophisticated arrangements, the simultaneous presence of energy and melody, something that will become a trademark of Jethro Tull. Long live Aqualung and his park bench...

Friday 14 June 2013

Radioactive Toy (Porcupine Tree, 1991)

Let me say first that an early version of this song was released by Steven Wilson and his Porcupine Tree in a limited edition demo cassette titled "Tarquin's Seaweed Farm" in 1989. But the 1991 version, taken from the band's first official album "On The Sunday of Life..." is kind of a new track, suffice to say that this new "Radioactive Toy" lasts more than 10 minutes, twice the 1989 song duration. It is an essential song in the long and difficult path leading to the prog rock revival of the '90s and I could define it so modern, so classic.

Cover art for "On The Sunday of Life..." (1991)

There's a bit of everything inside it: the floydian rarefaction, the crimsonian stateliness, a good deal of electronics and even a scent of proto-prog years. Yet, if this song is considered the first thorough specimen of Porcupine Tree's sound, this is because you don't even notice the inspiration sources of the song, but you admire in it the coherence and the musical innovation. I equally like the first sung part of the track with its soft rythm and muffled vocals and the long, beautiful and unpredictable instrumental second section. When I listen to this track, I can't help thinking this was created one year before the first Radiohead record and twenty-two years after King Crimson's debut. Incredibly, both could have written it.

Saturday 8 June 2013

Atom Heart Mother (Pink Floyd, 1970)

One of the most known group + orchestra suites and perhaps one of the most successful ones. This masterpiece of 24 minutes and six movements is more popular today than in 1970 and I think the main reason for this longevity resides in its unpredictable and unclassifiable structure. I won't waste many words to describe a song anyone knows, suffice to say that the whole track is an adventurous exploration of open musical spaces, from rock to jazz, from classical to prychedelia, from blues to electronics. Some acid sounds follow melodic passages and the guideline is provided by a visionary fantasy.

Do you remember Lulubelle III the cow?
Thank you, Storm Thorgerson!

The grand themes and the odd variations, the solos and the orchestral arrangements, the gloomy and the brightness, all is in there and - to say it with other Floydian words - all is in tune. All about this piece has become a legend, after all, from the cover art with no band's name nor album title to the newspaper article that provided the first inspiration for the suite. Recently, I had the chance to attend a public performance of this composition in a crowded arena near my town, set up by an orchestra and a good cover band and I saw so many youths enchanted by the mystery, the power and the intensity of "Atom Heart Mother". I was happy, but hardly surprised.

Thursday 6 June 2013

The Wishing Well (Pendragon, 2005)

"The Wishing Well" is the 22 minute and 4 part suite from the "Believe" album, released in 2005 and inspiring mixed feelings among the band's fans for a questionable lack of melodies. Be that as it may, this track is a prog treat, IMHO. Melodic and rock elements follow one another in a very natural way and each part is coherent with the whole lot, even if one could easily listen to each part as a song on its own. I specially like the main theme, wide and round as a tasty fruit and also the passages from the rockier to the softer sections.

A suggestive cover art for a much debated album.

As Always, Nick Barrett plays the leading role with his guitars and vocals, but all the instruments are there and Clive Nolan's keyboards are an essential point when it comes to create suspended atmospheres. Also the lyrics fit in the epic architecture of the track, reflecting upon human life crossroads. I couldn't choose one single part as my favourite, perhaps I specially like the first and the last movements. In short, an excellent piece of work, proving once again that neo-prog is just... prog!

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Out of This World (Marillion, 1995)

This is one of the finest songs from "Afraid of Sunlight", the last Marillion album for a major company, released in 1995. All the tracks in this CD are about celebrity and its risks and this one, in particular, was inspired by Donald Campbell's life. This british speed record breaker got both land and water records and died in 1967 while attempting another record on water with his Bluebird B7 vehicle. One could imagine a fast song for such a speed lover. Well, no, this is a down tempo track, a sad, profound and touching meditation on life and love mysteries, including kind of a last message from Campbell to his wife.

The recovery of the Bluebird wreck in 2001.
A photograph by Steve Rothery.
This musical trip is guided by a spectacular H's vocal performance and three beautiful, nostalgic themes. Being a prog song, some very good and dreamy instrumental passages enrich the song and when it's over... you'd like some more. And also the story of this song deserves some more information: after the fatal crash, Campbell's body wasn't found in the depth of Coniston Water, UK, and in the year 2000 Bill Smith, a diver inspired by this song ,decided to try and found both the body and the wreck. Those were recovered between May and September 2001 and Campbell was buried in Coniston. His funeral was attempted by his family and Mr. H who sang... guess which song?

Next song is number 100.

Just an announcement: next post will present the 100th song of my little prog place. I want to thank those of you who spend each day some of their time contacting, reading, liking to and even writing for this blog. I'll keep on suggesting good prog songs.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Octavarium (Dream Theater, 2005)

Many progfans found this suite - the titke track of 2005 Dream Theater album - a little too much derivative song. I think this is a wonderful tribute to progressive rock legacy. The band quote so many different sources and artists it's impossible to list them here, but they succeed in being themselves as usual. It's a much sweeter song than the average DT's production (that's why I like it), but in its 24 minutes many good surprises are waiting for the listener. Here's some of the finest moments: the floydian, atmospheric intro, the flute section, the second LaBrie's vocal theme (really, what a pure and mighty voice this guy has!), followed by Jordan Rudess' Wakeman-esque solo, then here comes a syncopated passage where Myung and Petrucci prove they came across Foxtrot in their youth.

And this music comes with a great cover art...

After this, the best section starts, in which all lnstruments accelerate and the song becomes a fast-forward festival, a ruthless war between guitars, keys, bass guitars, vocals and drums. They all win, of course. The final section seals the peace with a grand, fluid, melodic wall of sound, a flight above the oceans of sound, towards some far progressive sky. Well... something like that, I mean.

Monday 3 June 2013

Dance on A Volcano (Genesis, 1976)

When Peter Gabriel left the band in 1975, most of the fans and the critics really thought Genesis were at en end. The opening track of "A Trick of The Tail" proved this was a big, very big mistake. From the first note to the last, "Dance on A Volcano" is a festival of creativity, energy and pure progressive rock, a brilliant jewel added to the Genesis crown, one of the best tracks they ever wrote and performed. Yes, about this performance: Phil Collins sings and plays his drums with a renewed strength and he's worth three different ones: the singer, the drummer and the leader.

...And then there were... four!

And what about Steve Hackett's guitars? They're flamboyant, just like the lava the lyrics evocate and Tony Banks - as usual - creates the musical architecture on which such a vibrant song rises like a gothic cathedral. A special mention goes to Mike Rutherford's bass lines, perhaps never so strong and varied, colourful and enthralling. It's no use to push on this introduction: I want to listen to the song once again... and see if the volcano here outside my window keeps on sleeping...

Sunday 2 June 2013

Hocus Pocus (Focus, 1972)

The Dutch band Focus released many good songs, some of which are very intricate and serious ones. But when they add their trademark pinch of humour they definitely win. This is the case with the instrumental track "Hocus Pocus", maybe their best known song, taken from "Moving Waves" album. There's almost averything in there: a catchy guitar riff, a disney-like magic atmosphere, vocal harmonies, some flute à la Jethro Tull, a medieval scent, guitar vs keyboards battles, even a good imitation of an Alpine yodl.

Hocus Pocus was also released as a single.

It's a funny and intriguing track you can't help listening till the end end enjoying it each time a little more. The engaging rythm of "Hocus Pocus" is specially suitable for live performances, that's why this song was and still is a favourite in concert. It's a living proof that prog can be a joyful music.