Penk's Prog Odyssey: ELP

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PENK
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Penk's Prog Odyssey: ELP

Postby PENK » 26 Apr 2014, 20:53

I have very wide-ranging tastes. Maybe I'm a dilettante, maybe it's ADHD tendencies, I don't know. But one genre I've always been frustrated by is BCB's favourite dividing line: good old prog rock. I actually like the idea of prog, on paper. Epic songs? Intricate and intelligent compositions? Deep and fantastical themes? Sounds great! But the reality has often disappointed me. All the noodling and messing about.

I am willing, however, to concede that I've not given it a fair chance. There may well be prog records that, listened to closely and in depth, do reveal their joys and fascinations to me. I do, hand on heart, hope so; I'd love to discover something rewarding within the genre.

And so this is the thread where I listen to a selection of the Greatest Prog Albums of All Time and tell you what I think. And where you respond by telling me I have ears of the proverbial cloth, or that I am in fact damn right about everything ever. BCB is a nasty place at the moment, so I thought I'd try and steer us back on course by getting back to what this place is all about: discovering and discussing music. This will hopefully be a thread that runs for some time. I'm hoping to discover some wonderful new music, or at least some entertaining opportunities for sarcastic and offensive ways to criticise other people's favourite records. I won't be doing an album a day or anything - cue gags about prog albums lasting longer anyway - because I have, you know, a job and a family and friends and an XBox and all that, but I'll try to do a couple a week at least, which will help the thread stay current. I hope I get some responses, at least.

I shall start my odyssey - that just falls into place as the right word to use, doesn't it? - with a band I have often dismissed without ever really listening to very much. The band many people first think of when they hear the word prog, the band who are forever defined by their album art and by their keyboard player's onstage dining. Yes.

Image

I chose the album Fragile. There is some debate among Yes fans and critics about which is their finest work, but this is one of their apparent best, and marks the point at which Rick Wakeman took over on keyboards.

I didn't really know what to expect from Yes. I'd heard a few tracks and I always thought they had a surprisingly shiny, modern sound, a real sheen to the production. I also thought of them as one of the more tuneful prog outfits, as opposed to, say Van Der Graaf Generator. But if you asked me to really describe what a Yes song would sound like, I wouldn't know what to say. I know 'Starship Trooper' and like that, but nothing else had ever stayed put in my mind.

Fragile certainly starts very appealingly, the crescendoes and courtly acoustics that announce 'Roundabout' promising much. What happens next, though, is unfortunately only describable as a catastrophe. This shit is horrible. I can only assume that what happens is something to do with a bass guitar. But I'm at a loss to explain why anyone would do that to a bass. It's vile. And it's a real shame, because there are some nice things going on here. The drums do a good job, and Jon Anderson's voice, which I thought I'd read was a stumbling block for many people, is actually pretty appealing to me. But the bass - and, I have to say, the guitar too - is too much. This could only have happened in the early '70s.
I've not even mentioned the synths.
Look, I can hear the appeal of this. There are bits of this music that are interesting and attractive, but they're oases in a desert of terrible fucking production choices and, at times, pointless noodly sections. I know that criticising a prog song for having pointless noodly sections is kind of fish-in-a-barrel, but they're unavoidable and they're a problem. Maybe this whole enterprise is doomed to failure, because pointless noodly sections are what prog is all about and it's just a question of whether or not one likes them.

Luckily, 'Roundabout' is the nadir. I can't say I like the rest of the album: the Brahms thing that follows is surely a joke - not even Wakeman could consider 90 seconds of what sounds like the soundtrack to a dog running downstairs on a kitchen paper advert a serious musical statement - and they actually spend a bit too much time on pointless, annoying non-starter tracks like 'We Have Heaven' and 'Five Per Cent for Nothing'. But there are moments that work: 'South Side of the Sky' has some good crunchy guitar rock and a nice piano section, and although there are still things happening I'm not keen on, the track does work better as a whole. The small distractions - an unnecessarily strident backing vocal here, the threats of noodle there - are something one has to live with in these climes, I assume, but I can't really accept. I don't want to have to accept bad stuff in the middle of songs I like. Just cut the crap. It's also worth mentioning the surprisingly groovy, rubbery instrumental, 'The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)', a minor but enjoyable number slightly ruined by a completely superfluous vocal part, although I was less impressed by a crap '70s FM rock thing called 'Long Distance Runaround' that sounds like something Todd Rundgren would do on one of his off days.

'Heart of the Sunrise', the last song, is my favourite. This is much more what I want from prog. It follows on from three minutes of Steve Howe amusing himself with some cod-medieval/flamenco strumming that leaves me wondering why I'm not just listening to Jordi Savall instead of this nonsense. 'Sunrise' itself is enlivened by some twisty, intense guitar and stutteringly militant drumming, and has a vocal melody that's genuinely lovely and a guitar part that is, remarkably, almost understated. The band rein in their noodly instincts when they do surface, and the song is dramatic and memorable. If the entire album sounded like this, it'd be a hit. But the issue is, as ever, that they can't resist including all their ideas, no matter how stupid or pointless. Yes are far from the worst offenders, but there is still too much widdling and twatting around here. 'Heart of the Sunrise' and one or two other decent moments mean that this isn't an entirely inauspicious beginning to my journey into the realm of prog, but it's definitely served as a dire warning of the dangers and horrors that surely await.

I will return to Yes at some point, but next time it will be Jethro Tull.
Last edited by PENK on 18 May 2017, 20:21, edited 11 times in total.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby The Modernist » 26 Apr 2014, 21:06

penk wrote:BCB is a nasty place at the moment, so I thought I'd try and steer us back on course by getting back to what this place is all about: discovering and discussing music prog.
:D

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby the masked man » 26 Apr 2014, 21:10

I think you should give Van Der Graaf Generator another try. I find them more purposeful and less noodly than other prog, even if the songs are very long. Actually, Peter Hamill's solo work might be well up your street, particularly Nadir's Last Chance, which virtually anticipates post-punk (particularly Magazine).

I also think you'll enjoy Jethro Tull more, somehow.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby never/ever » 26 Apr 2014, 21:13

Sal Paradise wrote:
penk wrote:BCB is a nasty place at the moment, so I thought I'd try and steer us back on course by getting back to what this place is all about: discovering and discussing music prog.
:D


So far that is the only thing you got right. :lol:

If 'twatting around' isn't your idea of music, then Yes ain't your band.
Perhaps the codpiece-rock of Anderson will go down better.
Ever notice that anyone going slower than you is an idiot, but anyone going faster is a maniac?."

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby The Modernist » 26 Apr 2014, 21:15

What amazes me is the earnest desire to try and get into it on the board, so you get people who really aren't into it trying to find things to like about it. I can't really imagine it happening with any other genre.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby never/ever » 26 Apr 2014, 21:17

Perhaps prog does have a bit of respect around here?
Whodathunkit, eh?
Ever notice that anyone going slower than you is an idiot, but anyone going faster is a maniac?."

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby der nister » 26 Apr 2014, 21:19

nice writing penk
It's kinda depressing for a music forum to be proud of not knowing musicians.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby never/ever » 26 Apr 2014, 21:20

zphage wrote:nice writing penk


Seconded.
Ever notice that anyone going slower than you is an idiot, but anyone going faster is a maniac?."

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby Bungo the Mungo » 26 Apr 2014, 21:26

Sal Paradise wrote:What amazes me is the earnest desire to try and get into it on the board, so you get people who really aren't into it trying to find things to like about it. I can't really imagine it happening with any other genre.


Yes, because it's not immediately appealing. There's lots going on. Punk, say, doesn't have that complexity.

I agree with MM about VdGG, altho' there's still quite a bit of noodling.

Yes might be the most accessible of the major prog bands, but they're still a bit of a handful. I agree with what Ed said, in the main. I think he should give The Yes Album a(nother) go. It's pretty good.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby Carlsson » 26 Apr 2014, 21:35

Great thread and a great post penk-lad

I can't recall the last time you and I contributed to the same thread.

Fragile is an interesting choice

My bet would be that most 'fans' of the aforementioned band would go for either Close to the Edge or The Yes Album

Griff (I am not sure what he calls himself these days) loves the former.

For me, I adore the latter.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby der nister » 26 Apr 2014, 21:37

i think the debut is a wonderful late psych-early progressive fence sitter
It's kinda depressing for a music forum to be proud of not knowing musicians.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby Loki » 26 Apr 2014, 23:40

penk wrote:'Heart of the Sunrise', the last song, is my favourite. This is much more what I want from prog. It follows on from three minutes of Steve Howe amusing himself with some cod-medieval/flamenco strumming that leaves me wondering why I'm not just listening to Jordi Savall instead of this nonsense. 'Sunrise' itself is enlivened by some twisty, intense guitar and stutteringly militant drumming, and has a vocal melody that's genuinely lovely and a guitar part that is, remarkably, almost understated. The band rein in their noodly instincts when they do surface, and the song is dramatic and memorable.

It's also quite bass-driven - those are my favourite parts. Thirty seconds in the bass digs in, and lends lots of drama.





When you get thru the classics (you keeping it to Brit? Who's on your list?), you would do well to check in with Algroth - in last year's Prog Cup, he posted some really amazing Argentinian / South American material. Stellar stuff, much of it.
Last edited by Loki on 27 Apr 2014, 00:36, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby John_K » 26 Apr 2014, 23:48

Well done Ed! I struggle with the genre too at times, I'll enjoy this thread with a mug of coffee and some free time...
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby trans-chigley express » 27 Apr 2014, 00:04

Good review, penk. Very thoughtful and honest. I agree with you about some of the shorter pieces (Wakeman's is horrible, Bruford's pointless though I adore Anderson's vocal thing), but I love Squire's bass throughout and surprised that it you hate it so. On the whole Fragile is probably my 4th or 5th favourite Yes album with Close To The Edge, The Yes Album and Going For The One all ranked higher - possibly the debut too but that's quite a different thing altogether and not really Prog in the way the others clearly are.

Unlike others I'm not conviced that you will like Tull at all but will be interested to see how you go.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby C. » 27 Apr 2014, 00:11

I wish i could hear these albums again for the first time













& these are just the tip of the iceberg
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby algroth » 27 Apr 2014, 00:19

I can concede with many of your points in your Fragile review, and in reality, I think Yes are one of the worst offenders in the noodly front, not least because their noodling sounds often anemic and directionless compared to the likes of other bolder bands out there. Though the "Prog" moniker is debatable, a band like Mahavishnu Orchestra may actually feature a lot more soloing and technical display, but their sheer energy and inspiration keep these entertaining throughout, so that in the end I feel they tire one less in the long run.

What albums have you put on your odyssey, by the way? Maybe we could suggest some bands or albums to you, and suggest which ones might be best avoided.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby mentalist (slight return) » 27 Apr 2014, 02:39

So when do we get the Progressive Rock Odyssey?
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby PENK » 27 Apr 2014, 05:20

C wrote:Fragile is an interesting choice

My bet would be that most 'fans' of the aforementioned band would go for either Close to the Edge or The Yes Album


I chose it basically because it's in between those two and seemed to be one of the other most highly-rated albums. I'll be giving those others a listen at some point as well.

algroth wrote:What albums have you put on your odyssey, by the way? Maybe we could suggest some bands or albums to you, and suggest which ones might be best avoided.


I don't really have a plan, I'm just going to run through some of the big hitters and then start branching out, until I can't take it any more. I do already own and like a handful of things by King Crimson, Caravan and one or two others, so I can throw in some positive reviews for sure at some point, but I'm not sure how likely I am to start buying albums by Yes and people like that. I'm sure I'll find some songs I like, such as 'Heart of the Sunrise', and hopefully some of the lesser-known bands will surprise me eventually.
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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby trans-chigley express » 27 Apr 2014, 05:43

penk wrote:
C wrote:Fragile is an interesting choice

My bet would be that most 'fans' of the aforementioned band would go for either Close to the Edge or The Yes Album


I chose it basically because it's in between those two and seemed to be one of the other most highly-rated albums. I'll be giving those others a listen at some point as well.


Although it's not my favourite I do think it makes a good album to start with; it has a full range of what they do - good and bad - and the three big tracks are all top notch (though I note you're not too keen on Roundabout).

Rather than make suggestions (which we'd never agree on anyway) I'm happy to see you surprise us with your own choices.

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Re: Penk's Prog Odyssey

Postby algroth » 27 Apr 2014, 06:12

penk wrote:
C wrote:Fragile is an interesting choice

My bet would be that most 'fans' of the aforementioned band would go for either Close to the Edge or The Yes Album


I chose it basically because it's in between those two and seemed to be one of the other most highly-rated albums. I'll be giving those others a listen at some point as well.

algroth wrote:What albums have you put on your odyssey, by the way? Maybe we could suggest some bands or albums to you, and suggest which ones might be best avoided.


I don't really have a plan, I'm just going to run through some of the big hitters and then start branching out, until I can't take it any more. I do already own and like a handful of things by King Crimson, Caravan and one or two others, so I can throw in some positive reviews for sure at some point, but I'm not sure how likely I am to start buying albums by Yes and people like that. I'm sure I'll find some songs I like, such as 'Heart of the Sunrise', and hopefully some of the lesser-known bands will surprise me eventually.


Cool. If you're up for suggestions, I think you could try the first two Soft Machine albums at some point, and maybe some solo Robert Wyatt and Kevin Ayers. You might find a bit to like there.

I'd also be interested in hearing your thoughts of Van der Graaf Generator, Magma, Procol Harum, Invisible, Hatfield and the North and Bubu, if you get around to them. I can recommend them all at least, on a personal note.


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