This week's 'DAZE OUT' took me to CHICHESTER, on one of those SOUTHERN RAIL adventures (the 'adventure' being that you never know if and when there's going to be another train or not!). I spent a fun couple of hours browsing the many charity shops, taking in the splendour and majesty of the Cathedral and following a 'Wall Walk' to enjoy the Autumn colours..."PROG" IS NOT PROGRESSIVE (cont.)
There is a band from Chile called AISLES, who come highly acclaimed (at least by those who acclaim things that call themselves 'PROG'). For a limited time, they have made their latest album free to download from Bandcamp. Naturally, I downloaded it, on the non-committal basis of "WELL IT'S FREE, WHY NOT GIVE THEM A GO?". Well, it IS 'prog', but it is certainly NOT 'progressive'. In fact, it is the ultimate 'RETROG' album. It is very good at being what it is and it gives its audience exactly what it wants. Every musical idea, every phrase, every riff on the album has been done before by Yes or Genesis or Marillion or Floyd or even (shudder!) Queen. It is COMFORT LISTENING, free of challenge, for people who like something incongruously called 'traditional prog'. People who have a firm definition of what 'prog' is and don't want to hear anything that upsets that. People who pay good money to hear a surrogate Yes churn out the epics "just like the records" or to see a tour clumsily titled "Genesis Revisited With Classic Hackett". It is the sort of music that fills the hours on daytime PROGZILLA RADIO, which seems to me a hipper version of Radio 2. Don't get me wrong, I LIKE a bit of the old 'prog' nostalgia, speaking as one who has just coughed up twenty-five quid for a bigger better version of "Tales From Topographic Oceans"...
...but any music that claims to be PROGRESSIVE should HURT the first time you hear it. It should shake you from your comfort zone and only with repeated listening will the artist's intentions become clear. I've picked up a couple of PETER HAMMILL solo albums from the secondhand bins in the last week or so. On first hearing, I found them VERY hard going indeed. If you've ever heard Peter Hammill AT ALL, you'll know what I mean. His music screams "I DON'T CARE WHAT ANYONE ELSE THINKS, THIS IS ME, WARTS AND ALL!". It is not meant to be comfortable listening, nor is it comforting. But after a few plays, some strange process of OSMOSIS takes place. You start to 'GET IT'. The weird, harsh, random, rambling music takes on a shape and INNER LOGIC of its own. Something of great beauty emerges, music which DESERVES your close attention and REWARDS your patience. Good jazz is like that too. (By the way, I've heard bits of the new VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR album on the radio and I haven't been that impressed. But give me a few years...)
'Progressive' is supposed to mean that there are no rules. There should be surprises. 'Progressive' means moving forwards, to build or improve on what has gone before. Modern 'Prog' doesn't do that. I would say that, nowadays, a lot of so-called 'WORLD MUSIC' artists are FAR more progressive than are the current crop of BANDS THAT CALL THEMSELVES 'PROG'. They seem a lot more open to thinking outside the cultural box and are not afraid to fuse disparate musical styles to form exotic new ones. It is they who picked up the torch of creativity passed on by the original progressive rock bands of the seventies, not the soundalike RETROGs.
Of course, if I were to make a list like that today, I would probably expand the 'best' category to include some choice 45s by JAPAN, THE CURE, THE SMITHS, 10,000 MANIACS, R.E.M. or RADIOHEAD (all have been consummate singles bands, in my opinion). On the other hand, I would feel it my duty to draw attention to several further atrocities by PAUL McCARTNEY. But, if truth be told, I've not taken very much notice of singles since my later student days, when I would habitually snap up the latest wax by the likes of NEW ORDER or FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. Since that list was scribbled, several decades-worth of ephemeral 'chart hits' have come and gone. Thankfully, in most cases, I never hear them, nor would I. I can't help noticing that most of them end up in unloved heaps on the shelves of charity shops. Nuff said.THE VERY BEST SINGLES EVER - Timeless artifacts of perfect pop
1. "Alone Again Or" - Love
2. "Video Killed The Radio Star" - The Buggles
3. "25 Or 6 To 4" - Chicago
4. "I Saw The Light" - Todd Rundgren
5. "Atmosphere" - Joy Division
THE VERY WORST SINGLES EVER - Each guaranteed to send me screaming from a room
1. "Bohemian Rhapsody" - Queen
2. "Hey Jude" - The Beatles
3. "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" - Elton John & Kiki Dee
4. "Mama" - Genesis
5. "Grandad" - Clive Dunn