Thursday 29 August 2013

Biko (Peter Gabriel, 1980)

Why "Biko" should be considered as aprog song? Tell me, why not? It's a highly experimental track, combining (sampled) Scottish pipes and (real) African choirs, offering some 7 minutes of distressing atmosphere and mysterious landscapes, and finally featuring clever and strong lyrics against Sourth-African apartheid. If you better like I file this under the label world music, well, I'll certainly do, but still I'll keep it here in my blog. "Biko" has the power to move me deeply each time I listen to it and I sincerely admire this deal of great musical ideas Peter gathered in one wonderful track.

Taken from the third Gabriel's album (also called "melted"),
Biko was released as a single in several different supports.
This one was a 12" vinyl single.

I can't decide what's the best one: the Scottish thing? The electronic drumming melting in the African background? The martial and sad verse? The strange and effective chorus Biko, Biko because Biko? The intense vocals? Name yours, I really can't tell, so, if you please, I take the whole lot. Thank you Peter, thank you so much and if you think a prog blog isn't your place, well, forgive me, but this is exactly what I call prog.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

La mente vola (Alphataurus, 1973)

This Italian band only released this self titled album before the recent (and welcome) reunion. This track ("La mente vola", "The Mind Flies", in English) is my favourite one and fully represents the fantasy and the rich flavour of such an underrated record. The song is roughly divided in two sections: the first one is a long instrumental intro, where the listener appreciates an excellent drumming and a clever structure, revealing the main theme step by step, so that one letterally sees the airy melody rising out from the pulsing rythmic background.

The artwork for "Alphataurus" by Adriano Marangoni.

The second part is a good and typical Italian prog song, with a piano intro and a stretched sung theme, whose verse is well performed by the lead singer. Even if the whole song is soaked by a '70s atmosphere and the relative keys paraphernalia, the final effect is as surprising and pleasant today as it was in 1973. So, it's no surprise if the album and this song are more popular today than ever before.

Monday 26 August 2013

The Ninth Wave (Kate Bush, 1985)

I don't think Kate Bush could be tagged as a prog artist, nor as part of any other novement. She's a world apart, a unique mix of feelings and skills. That said, this beautiful suite taken from the album "Hounds of Love" (1985) is probably her proggest release ever. Seven movements, deep folk roots, clever orchestral arrangements, spooky moods, electronic touches, the story about a drowning person, everything here suggests a personal research both in sounds and lyrics.

This is the Aivazovsky's masterpiece titled "The Ninth Wave",
painted in 1850, that inspired Kate Bush.

As usual, the excellent melodies are perfectly in tune with the concept and a wide range of special effects and samples add a theatrical touch to the track. Kate takes care of everything, each detail is meant to add something relevant to the big picture. The listener goes through irish jigs, gloomy choirs, bright tunes and electro-pop beats in a surprising and coloured soul journey, inspired by Ivan Aivazovsky's painting and transfigured by Kate Bush's wild sensitiveness. Such an experience is certainly worth some 25 minutes of your life.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Duel with The Devil (Transatlantic, 2001)

This epic, taken from "Bridge across Forever", the second album of the supergroup Transatlantic, is a five movement suite, probably one of their best compositions and performances and, IMHO, one of the best from any prog group of the 21th century. In a way, it's a very traditional prog epic, with all the most common ingredients of this genre in it: tempo changes, instrumental progressions, rock riffs, atmospheric ridges, epic lyrics, complex arrangements, returning melodies and so on. But it's a new and fresh song too, the real fruit of a cooperative work involving all the band members and full of joy, emotions, surprise and energy. That's why it can't possibly get old or trivial.

Transatlantic are, left to right, Pete Trewavas (Marillion & more),
Mike Portnoy (ex Dream Theater), Neal Morse (ex Spock's Beard)
and Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings, Kaipa & more).

As those musicians are among the best ones in the current prog rock scene, when they work together and they share so many good ideas as in this suite, the outcome is simply stunning. "Duel with the Devil" is a challenging piece of music, with slow and fast movements and ever changing moods, also open to some jamming-born passages. So, classically ruled tunes follow jazzy, wild sections and also the instrumentation is unusually rich for the band, with additional violin, viola and cello by Chris Carmichael, Keith Mears' sax and even the charming Elite female choir. An abundance that never becomes confusion or musical pastiche, a variety that prevents tiredness and boredom.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

The Moon Is down (Gentle Giant, 1971)

This track comes from "Acquiring The Taste" and is one of my favourites ever in the Giant's eclectic production. There's anything Giant-esque in it: the medieval choir arrangements, the risch and even unusual instrumentation, some sudden tempo changes, instrumental passages and so on. I like very much the sung theme, but I'm especially charmed, as usual, by the inexhaustible fantasy of this band.

A milestone in prog history: "Acquiring the Taste".

This song is like an ever changing water, including dozens of good ideas and never lingering on them. I bet many other artists could get ten good songs from this material, such it is abundant, but this was the most challenging phase in Gentle Giant's career, a real blast of creativeness and unpredictability. In a word, prog at its best.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

The Invisible Man (Marillion, 2004)

Marillion did a great work with their album "Marbles", released in 2004 and this opening track is one of the CD peaks. Starting with a pulsing rythm and a sad melody, it goes through many changes, so many and so strong that one could describe it like a rhapsody or a brief suite. The first tempo change is by far my favourite, when the pulse leaves place to a floydian atmosphere and Hogarth sings an excellent theme the way we all know, with his inner, almost painful feelings. And there is more than this. Next change, next big surprise.

"Marble" was also graced by this strange and effective artwork.

Now the rythm has some oriental smell and the singer keeps on charming the listener with a precious helping hand from Mark Kelly's keyboards and an increasing, distressing tempo. Then, third dramatic change and here's another world, no far from a soul ballad, with a penetrating electric guitar provided, of course, by Steve Rothery and a sweet piano. At the end of this section, the rythm increases once more and the cried out loud finale letterally runs over the listener. What else could I say? Just this: listen to this song if you're searching for a strong musical experience.

Sunday 18 August 2013

Prelude: Song of The Gulls (King Crimson, 1971)

I'm always charmed by this orchestral track I consider a masterpiece. The structure, the arrangement and the instrumentation are those of a classical composition, elegant, peaceful and admirably balanced between strings and wind instruments. Rock music seems completely absent here, but please don't forget progressive rock is a hybrid genre, living and growing up tearing down the walls we sometimes build up in our minds. So, this Robert Fripp's sweet and relaxing melody could have been a rock ballad or an acoustic guitar solo, and maybe it was at first. 

A fashionable Robert Fripp.

But it isn't now, of course, and Fripp offers us this crystal machinery, this delicate clockwork belonging to a higher and lighter world I get lost in. Last but not least, this song is a Prelude, introducing the title track of "Islands", another masterpiece you may read about in this blog, so that the suspended atmosphere and the pointed rythm of "Song of The Gulls" counter-balances the gloomy and inner following song. Once again, well done!

Saturday 17 August 2013

Le bal des Laze (Ange, 1982)

Taken from "A propos de...", an album of french cover versions, this song is by far the best of the whole lot. The original Michel Polnareff's song is fully transformed in a longer and more complex composition, including a beautiful, atmospheric 4 minute intro, two excellent instrumental sections and a guitar driven finale, all of them featuring good keys and guitars.

Not a great album, maybe, but with at least one excellent song.

The vocals are, of course, à la Ange, with all the theatrical and charming strenght of Christian Descamps. The lyrics are also appropriate to Ange, describing an outlaw's impossible love for an English noble girl and his thoughts the evening before his execution, while a grand gala takes place in his loved one's castle (Laze is her family name, so the song title sonds like "Lazes' Dance"). If ever a cover version has been a good prog track, this is the one and I finally decided to add it to my collection, even before other very good Ange's songs... just listen to the final guitar solo and you'll agree with me. Well, I hope so.

Friday 16 August 2013

Heavy Horses (Jethro Tull, 1978)

I have no doubt: "Heavy Horses" is one of the best songs by Jethro Tull. Its delicate intro and the following, beautiful Renaissance style verse, the rockier chorus... all is admirable IMHO. It's the title track of the Tull's 1978 album, lasting almost 9 minutes and strongly progressive in its structure and in its sound. The orchestra adds kind of an old fashioned scent, but never disturbs the grace and the folk oriented atmosphere of this track.

"Heavy Horses" was the second album of the so called JT's folk trylogy,
along with "Songs from the Wood" (1977) and "Stormwatch" (1979).

It is important to say that the live performances of "Heavy Horses", in spite of the lack of orchestra, are as good as the studio version, proving the merits of Ian Anderson's composition. This song also features Darryl Way's violin (do you remember him? He's a founding member of Curved Air), a further folky touch. I like the lyrics too, celebrating the horses, whose role in the English fields was declining in favour of the machines. One of the several tributes of the band to our friends of old, the animals.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Through Her Eyes (Dream Theater, 1992)

One of the most known and appreciated songs by Dream Theater, no doubt, nonetheless not one of their typical prog metal ones. This is an excellent ballad, taken from "Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from A Memory", the concept album developing the plot of a song , "Metropolis Part. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper", included in "Images and Words" album. I like this track for its good and relaxed melody, and also for its pleasant Western American influence. As I said, this song is part of a concept, so the lyrics deserve some explanations: the main character, Nicholas, discovers he was a woman in its previous life and here he finds out he (or she, more exactly) was innocently killed and sees all this trhough her eyes.
This beautiful song was also released as a CD single.
The sadness of this story is perfectly represented in the dreamy and almost suspended mood of the track, and most of all in James LaBrie vocal performance, apparently plain but so sensitive and sorrowful, one of his best ones, IMHO. "Through Her Eyes" proves that this band can give strong emotions to the listener even with no technical virtuosities and no intricate arrangements. That's when I best like them.

Wednesday 14 August 2013

Kung Bore (Änglagård, 1992)

Änglagård know very well how to revive and re-cook in Scandinavian sauce good Old Prog and they prove it in this wonderful "Kung Bore" ("King Winter" in English), taken from "Hybris". There's some Genesis inside it, of course, and a pinch of King Crimson too, even a teacup of Jethro Tull, but the final cake is like new, a folk based progressive song with a medieval scent and a stunning melancholy nursery song pace.
Give me a view Into the land of dreams,
only then will I be happy. (Kung Bore, 1992).

I think this is one of the best prog songs of the '90s and also one of Änglagård's best ones, a real treat for every progfans out there. And as we are all but children, I could compare this track to a perfect Christmas gift, equally welcome for its contents and its wrapping. Enough words, it's time to listen to "Kung Bore" once more.

Monday 12 August 2013

Fool's Overture (Supertramp, 1977)

Supertramp decided to close their 1977 album "Even in The Quietest Moments..." with this epic track and they did very well, IMHO. This is not only one of their best compositions, but it'a also an unpredictable, rich and well structured progressive rhapsody. The main instrumental theme and its two variations (let's say the slow melancholy one and the fast pop-rock one) are simply stunning and the sung theme is also very good, let alone the final sung version of the instrumental theme. A series of interludes (including some wonderful sax from John Halliwell) act as connections between those moments and enrich the whole lot.

A promo image for "Even in The Quietest Moments..." (1977).

I also like the sound samples, some of them are really unpredictable for a rock song, i.e. Sir Winston Churchill's House of Commons speech. After all, the lyrics exploit the opposite approaches of Churchill and Chamberlain on British implication in WWII to come to a final question about each man's destiny: What will be your last contribution? Roger Hodgson asks. Whatever the meaning, this is one of the finest examples of the so called pop-rock wing of progressive movement, an enjoyable but never trivial piece of music.

Sunday 11 August 2013

The Same River (Riverside, 2003)

I'm fond of the darker and nocturnal side of this Polish band, I think they have the right touch when it comes to explore our common inner fears and hidden feelings. This is exactly the case with the long and hypnotic "The Same River", taken from the album "Out of Myself" (2004) but originally issued in a 2003 promo, published in 300 copies, their first ever release. All guitars and drums are in the spotlight, while keyboards provide a light background and surface now and they with beautiful sour sonds.

This is where all began for Riverside.
A promo released at their own cost in 2003.

The vocals come in in the second part of the track, adding their own contribution to the oppressive mood of the song. This section, with its bass guitar à la Roger Waters is really good, but I like even more the next one, beginning with a chorus variation in a lower volume and leading to the beautiful final guitar solo. In short, a well composed and richly arranged song, with several different moments and moods, mostly dark but with some brighter and peaceful passages too. A perfect specimen of modern prog rock and a great outset for Riverside career.

Saturday 10 August 2013

Tow Sawyer (Rush, 1981)

This song amazes me. It comes from the album "Moving Pictures", released in 1981, and it's somewhere in between prog rock and mainstream rock. Somewhere doesn't mean a steady point, because this track is in perpetual change. From traditional rock measures to keyboard progressions, from a guitar solo to an electronic insertion, from Neil Peart's stunning drums (from 4/4 to 7/8, and even to 13/16 !) to Geddy Lee's double sided vocal performance.

"Tom Sawyer" was also released as a 7" single. This one.

As usual for them, Rush expand the real time and when you read this song only lasts 4:43 minutes you wonder how on earth they could put so many things in such a short duration. Well, they could. It's interesting to know that the lyrics for this song are a Lifeson's re-writing of the poem "Louis the Lawyer" by the Canadian lyricist Pye Dubois. They're about freedom and indepencence, that's why the titled changed in "Tom Sawyer" recalling the young hero from Mark Twain's book. A good song with a ton of good ideas in it, as you can see.

Friday 9 August 2013

Heart of The Sunrise (Yes, 1971)

This song, taken from "Fragile" album, is certainly one of the creative peaks of Yes, but IMHO is above all a rythmic tour-de-force. Chris Squire's bass and Bill Bruford's drums are simply incredible: they create and de-create tempos and rhytms, weave alaborate lines and open the track with a crackling firework. When Jon Anderson comes in with his splendid voice, the volume of the track drops down, but Chris and Bill never leave the stage. Wakeman's keys and Howe's guitar add some embroderies to the big picture and... this is it! Just the time for a tutti last section and some piano touches to top the cake.

One of the finest artworks by Roger Dean, IMHO.

Yes had an incredible potential (maybe they still have today), five men = five monster talents, and when, in addiction, they write some great music and some intriguing lyrics, like here, we can do nothing but acclaim.

Thursday 8 August 2013

The Fountain of Salmacis (Genesis, 1971)

The Genesis' musical version of the Greek myth of Salmacis the Nymph and the young Hermaphroditus is a progressive rock classic. Nonetheless, this track and its whole album, "Nursery Cryme" were almost ignored in 1971, their release year. It doesn't matter today, of course. The first verse of the song immediatly striked me when I first listened to it: a deep, intense vocal performance coming out from a misty and arcane intrumental intro, then an emotional crescendo and an unpredictable series of changes.

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus in a painting
by F.J. Navez (1787-1869).

I really was in Wonderland! But the most unusual thing about this song is that its magic never fades out for me: each time it's the same adventure in a musical magical world, each time Peter Gabriel sings From a dense forest of tall dark pinewood, Mount Ida rises like an island... and Phil Collins gently touches his cymbals I see the path leading to Salmacis' fountain and I breathe the moist air of Crete mountains. And I'm happy as only a child can be.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

2 am (Pendragon, 1988)

Coming from Pendragon, this is a very unusual song. Warm and lazy, sax driven, short and compact. Well, all the "Kowtow" album is a chapter apart in the band's career, but this is a very good song (alas, I couldn't say the same for all the tracks in this record...) and certainly deserves a presentation in this blog, for what it's worth. I don't know why, but "2 AM" has a hypnotic lure on me. Maybe it's because of its airy melody or the passionate vocals, or even the desperate lyrics. It doesn't matter to me.

Nick Barrett and Clive Nolan in concert.

For sure, if ever I listened to a great intimate prog song, this is the one. Its plain structure exalts one of the most important Nick Barrett's features: his feeling. That's why this track flies high above the genre and the period and lingers on in my memory and in my very heart.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Stratosfear (Tangerine Dream, 1976)

When Tangerine Dream recorded this track and the same named album in 1976, they were famous for their uncompromising and experimental music, just for the happy few. With "Stratosfear" they proved their songs could be original but also enjoyable for a larger public. "Stratosfear" is pure electronic pulse plus a well written melody and a number of variations. It's a wavering instrumental track, whose crescendos and calandos create a series of landscapes including space rock, symphonic rock, psychedelia and electronic krautrock.

"Stratosfear" really was a seminal record.
...and not just for Tangerine Dream.

If keyboards provide the main musical material, with its out of time atmosphere, an acid electric guitar also comes out now and then reminding us we're in the '70s, after all. One of the best electronic rock tracks, IMHO, 10 minutes of pleasure and discoveries, never boring, never too pretentious.

Monday 5 August 2013

Comfortably Numb (Pink Floyd, 1979)

This very popular  song comes from "The Wall" and it's a Gilmour / Waters one, based on a rough track David Gilmour composed for his first solo album and Waters completed with the lyrics and probably some chord changes. "Comfortably Numb" is part of the album concept, but also a free standing song, often performed bay the group itself in different tours and by David Gilmour and Roger Waters in their solo careers. Slow and airy, fluid and atmospheric, this track has a strongly stressed verse opening into a relaxed chorus and this contrast really strikes me, so that I think it's the main reason of the song's success.

London, Hyde Park 2005: Last time together...

Well, there is another reason at least, as we all know: two spectacular Gilmour's guitar solos. I'm a perfect ignorant when it comes to technical knowledge, so I can't judge how difficult or how original David's solos are, here or in any other Floyd's song, but there is one thing I certainly know: I could identify Gilmour's guitar among a million. After all, if in 2005 the band decided to perform this song as their last live performance ever during the Live 8 event, there must be some reason...

Friday 2 August 2013

There Are Many Sides to The Night (Steve Hackett, 1993)

"Guitar Noir" is one of favourite Steve Hackett's album, because of its coherence and also for this song, a sad and intriguing one, starting with the typical Hackett's dreaming electric guitar on a keyboard background and continuing with a softly spoken passage. Here the acoustic guitar comes in and the track warms up, introducing the beautiful sung chorus, performed twice.

A beautiful picture of Steve in concert.

The finale comes back to the misty and somewhat poastoral atmosphere Steve likes so much (and so do I). The lyrics depict a night in London and the singer coming across a tempting woman and the singer refusing her for his own love's sake. I really see and feel the scene and the night's sliding doors, the smells and the darkness, the cold air and the lamps, the woman's presence and the Thames flowing. Seven minutes of magic, a living slice of a night, of its many sides.

Thursday 1 August 2013

Dreams of The Ferryman (Shadowland, 1994)

Among the dozens of bands and musical projects Clive Nolan was involved in, Shadowland deserves a very special place. Not only because they produced three very good neoprog albums back in the '90s (not to mention their 2009 reunion), but also for the energy their performances suggested. This "Dreams of The Ferryman" is undoubtedly one of their best songs, taken from the group's second album "Through The Looking Glass".

A very good album, this was. And still is.

There's a perfect mix of tension and melody here, with a well balanced approach. This is a rock track, no doubt, but its strongest point is the beautiful chorus tune, returning in many variations during the almost 9 minutes of the song. Should I pick out the best moments, I'd choose the stretched instrumental intro, perfectly introducing the Clive's vocals and, of course, Karl Groom's first guitar solo, let alone the aforementioned chorus and the somewhat unsettling finale. What else? Well, just try it...