I have written a number of negative posts about things I dislike, such as golf, opera and Shakespeare. I think it’s about time I started to be a bit more positive and perhaps a little more self-indulgent; I aim to pepper my inane drivel with posts about things I truly love.
I will start with a music genre that you may or may not be familiar with: progressive rock.
What is progressive rock?
Progressive rock (or prog rock) is a subset of rock music where the normal accepted rules about what constitutes a song or the music are cast aside in favour of experimentation, key changes, lengthy masterpieces and fusions with other styles of music to elevate the pieces above the normal formulaic rock recipe.
Basically it is rock music without rules.
Progressive rock music tends to be experimental and the songs range in length for you normal four or five minutes up to 15 minutes, 20 minutes or more. The songs are full of key changes, time signature changes and are serious musical works of art in some case, comparable with classical music. Some songs I have even fused genres I’m not keen on into the mix, such as jazz and although I am not too keen on every experiment they try, for the most part the result is resounding success.
The very first single I ever bought was a progressive rock single by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. My favourite band is Rush, a progressive rock band that are approaching their 40th anniversary. My CD collection is full of albums by artists such as Rush, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd the true heavyweights of the genre in my view.
And these days, Muse are carrying the torch, producing commercially acceptable music but filling their albums with superb progressive songs.
I have mates who share a lot of my musical taste and we often go to rock gigs together. The overlap is significant and I have seen some phenomenal rock bands with them.
However, they draw the line at progressive rock and leave me alone in my love of the genre. I don’t like going to gigs on my own but have recently been forced to simply because I can’t persuade anyone to part with their cash to see a band who, in my opinion, is full of technically brilliant musical virtuosos.
“Why don’t you fancy going to see Dream Theater? “ I asked my mate two years ago.
“Because their songs last about 15 minutes and go on and on and on,” he replied. To him a song should last five minutes at most.
I can see his point but I disagree. When I listen to classical music, a symphony for example, I listen to a musical masterpiece that lasts for ages and carries me to a happy imaginary place.
Progressive rock does the same for me.
Of course, not all of their songs are that long. For example, these days, the average length of a Rush song is around five or six minutes. The problem is that these shorter songs are also technically stunning, intelligent songs that challenge the status quo in terms of acceptable music.
Detractors of progressive rock argue that the genre is self-indulgent, long-winded and pretentious. I know Mrs PM thinks so. To her and many others you should be able to dance to a song and it should be a short sharp bout of happiness. To her, progressive rock is all about fantasy, geekdom, weirdness, self-indulgent solos and nonsensical lyrics.
Her views are summed up in this entertaining little parody from Bill Bailey:
However, when I listen to prog, I have no desire to dance, mostly I simply want to sing, conduct or play the air guitar or drums or simply close my eyes and let the music take me on a long journey through my imagination. The lyrical content, particularly from Rush, is intelligent and well-crafted.
Music is more than little pop songs. It’s much, much deeper than that.
Here are some examples by my favourite progressive rock bands, that I think illustrate the diversity of the genre. If you are expecting a load of noise, rock guitars and heavy metal, then you will be surprised. Have a listen and see what you think. Don’t get me wrong, some output can be extremely heavy and noisy; the difference is that even the loudest and fastest songs are technically brilliant:
Muse – The Second Law: Isolated System
If you have seen World War Z then you will recognise this song as it was used as the main theme of that movie. This particular song is almost orchestral, extremely melodic and is a far cry from some of their more commercial output.
Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb
There are certain songs that bring a tear to my eyes and Comfortably Numb is one of them. Again, it is a wonderfully enchanting song with a beautiful orchestral feel to it, yet with a suggestion of malice as an undercurrent to the song.
Rush – Mystic Rhythms
Rush are one of those bands that have a loyal army of fans but only few people have heard of. I went to see Rush this year and when I told Mrs PM that the venue was the MEN Arena, Manchester’s biggest musical venue, played by people like Madonna, she simply couldn’t understand how they would manage to fill the place. They did and the concert was fantastic. The fans are loyal because Rush have been producing brilliant music since I was a teenager. Mystic Rhythms is the song I selected because it reminds me of a key moment in my life in 1985. I could write a book about my life with the music of Rush as the soundtrack.
Porcupine Tree – Arriving Somewhere, But Not Here
This song is an example of a relatively long song that is a classical masterpiece. I love songs that start off slowly and melodically, and then build up and up taking you along for the ride. It is a beautiful song and reaches a crescendo about half way through before drifting back to a soothing melodic conclusion. I love it.
Dream Theater – Bridges In The Sky
Dream Theater are classed in some quarters as progressive metal, that is, their music has a much harder edge to it. Furthermore, the average length of their songs is well over ten minutes, some of them approaching and exceeding twenty minutes. This is a typical example of a Dream Theater masterpiece, with throat singing at the start, a choir and an almost orchestral mix before the guitar kicks in and we find ourselves in heavy metal heaven. Dream Theater music is extremely complex and musically very challenging to play, I imagine. Yet at the same time, some of the band’s music is melodic and almost classical.
One of my favourite songs by Dream Theater is the 24 minute Octavarium and I recently found a symphonic version of the song covered by an orchestra. If you are a fan of classical music and have the stamina, listen to this masterpiece below and then look up the original Dream Theater version for comparison.
This sums up why progressive rock is magnificent and my favourite music genre. It is moderan classical music.
Over to you dear reader:
Have you heard of progressive rock?
Are you a fan of progressive rock? If so, who are your favourite bands?
Do you think progressive rock is a load of old pretentious crap?
As usual, if you disagree with me, let me know. I don't mind.