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Regarded as a prog metal classic, Dream Theater's Metropolis pt.2: Scenes from a Memory is now 20 years old

ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Feb 14 2016 08:04PM

It was Peter Gabriel’s 66th birthday yesterday and the twittersphere was replete with felicitations. Gabriel’s part in the pantheon of progressive rock is firmly cemented: lead vocalist with early Genesis; world music luminary; sonic innovator. I’d like to add that I believe his anti-apartheid stance and his concern for our treatment of the planet are also very prog; promoting environmental issues and equality are key progressive traits, born of late-60s idealism.


There are many more differences between the music on his first solo album Peter Gabriel (1977) and his collaborative previous release, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974) than there were between Trespass (1970) and The Lamb. Early Genesis followed a distinct trajectory from compositions that featured 12 string guitar and piano or organ in equal measure overlain by lyrics that were seeped in mythology and allegory, where Gabriel often comes across as vulnerable and tentative. On The Lamb, Gabriel oozes confidence, perhaps aided by the adoption of the Rael persona and the music is heavier, more muscular, involving more riffs than before even though it’s still very melodic. Banks’ use of synthesizer, absent on Foxtrot (1972) and debuting on Selling England by the Pound (1973) is predominantly used for angular runs (such as on In the Cage and Back in NYC.) On reflection, I suggest it’s primarily the synthesizer that’s responsible for the majority of motifs that I’ve detected forming a sonic bridge between Selling England and The Lamb.

The Lamb may be made up of short pieces but it does have an overriding linear narrative that puts it in the long-form category, Supper’s Ready was originally a series of musical ideas that were fitted together to make one piece, similar to Van der Graaf Generator’s A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (from Pawn Hearts, 1971) where sections are discrete but seamlessly segue into each other; as a distinct modern musical trope this idea was adopted by The Beatles for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), an idea that was mimicked by any number of proto-progressive acts and one that could be used to define the genre in its infancy. I believe that the Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed (1967), not fully formed prog by any means, is another good example of a well-defined full album-length concept comprised of disparate songs and this, rather than a nebulous concept like Dark Side of the Moon (1973) or the philosophical musings of Jon Anderson and Steve Howe on Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973), has more parallels with Rael’s journey of self-discovery.

The shorter songs on Peter Gabriel are not conceptually linked but all display thoughtfulness in their composition. This may have been Gabriel’s return to ‘the machinery’ after a hiatus but it was on his terms, informed in part by the years he’d spent in Genesis but reflecting other influences. I don’t think it conforms to the original definition of prog but it is undoubtedly progressive. It’s probably art-rock, with more immediacy and a more contemporary feel. It’s as though Rael showed Gabriel what he was able to become and I think the first solo effort has a New York vibe to it, even though it was recorded in Toronto and London! One similarity between The Lamb and Peter Gabriel is the humour in the rhyme, the use of couplets, half rhymes and rhymes within a single line (the rhyme is planned, dummies) evident, for instance on Moribund the Burgermeister “Bunderschaft, you going daft? Better seal off the castle grounds...” or Humdrum “I ride tandem with a random/Things don’t work out the way I planned them.” However, there’s a less obvious break with prog on Peter Gabriel that hits you the moment you take the album out from wherever you’ve stored it: the cover photo of Gabriel in the passenger seat of Storm Thorgerson’s Lancia Flavia.

It’s probably incidental but the album contains a couple of automobile references, in Excuse Me where Gabriel muses “who needs a Cadillac anyway” and a more technical, almost Ballardian reference to a “red hot magneto” on Modern Love. Despite Nick Mason’s association with motor racing and Rick Wakeman’s collection of cars in the mid 70s, cars don’t often make an appearance in prog rock songs. Is this surprising? Rock ‘n’ roll and the associated ‘live fast, die young’ ethos seem inextricably linked with motor cars and there have been hundreds of songs written about driving and automobiles. This is hardly astonishing as the development of the two aspects of (American) youth culture, music and driving, were contemporaneous; the end of post-war austerity and the invention of the American Dream issuing in a world of leisure and consumerism. Singing about driving could be rebellious but whatever the message, songs about cars pervade much of rock music from Chuck Berry’s No Particular Place to Go (1964) and The Beatles Drive My Car (1965) to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album (1975) and there’s a strong association, at least amongst British TV viewers, of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain (1977) and F1 racing. The movie Grease with its cod 50s rock ‘n’ roll appeared in 1978 and has become the most popular musical film of all time. There even seems to be a morbid glamour that has attached itself to automobile accidents, brilliantly explored in JG Ballard’s collection of related stories The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) and full length novel Crash (1973), epitomised by the death of James Dean in his Porsche 550 Spyder in 1955, the crash that killed Diana, Princess of Wales in Paris in 1997 and even the assassination of JFK in his open topped limousine in 1963 (partly the subject of Gabriel’s Family Snapshot (on Peter Gabriel III, Melt, 1980.)

The lyrics of Adrian Belew on Beat (1982) and Three of a Perfect Pair (1984), the second and third releases by the 1981 – 1984 incarnation of King Crimson are something of an exception when it comes to prog and cars. Beat was inspired by Jack Kerouac so road trip references abound in Neal and Jack and Me: “I’m wheels, I am moving wheels/I am a 1952 Studebaker coupe... ...I am a 1952 Starlite coupe”. Crimson journeyed into experimental industrial music on the second side (aka the Right side) of Three of a Perfect Pair, starting with homage to the scrapped car, Dig Me which calls to mind Christine (1983) the Bill Phillips film adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel and hints at Ballardian prose. I don’t suppose any of us should be shocked that tyre manufacturer Dunlop used a portion of 21st Century Schizoid Man for adverts in 1996...



A cosmic take on the idea of cruising along was released as a single and appeared on Rain Dances (1977) by Camel in the form of Highways of the Sun. It doesn’t matter if they’re in an old sedan that’s lost a wheel or a ship that’s got no sails, this is hardly the same vision as that visualised by heavy rockers Deep Purple, on Highway Star (from Machine Head, 1972) with its imagery of sexualised power. Hard rock seemed to go for this form of association, the video of ‘fast’ women, hot cars and hard guitars, apparently reinventing scenes of bikini-clad women draped over cars at a motor show for the MTV age... and critics called prog musicians dinosaurs! Even Roger Waters got in on the act with the cover artwork for The Pros and cons of Hitch Hiking (1984.)



One oddity is White Car from Drama (1980) by Yes. Lasting only 1’20” this song was allegedly brought to the band by newcomers Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. It’s likely to be seen as throw-away because of its brevity but in that time it opens out to reveal a cinematic scope, with nice keyboard orchestration and poignant percussion. I don’t know what the lyrics allude to but I think of a classic Rolls Royce on a road atop of Yorkshire or perhaps Devonshire moors. It’s dramatic, and maybe that’s where the album title comes from; it’s certainly not car as analogy for sex object!

By ProgBlog, Sep 6 2015 10:44AM

My introduction to King Crimson came towards the end of their 70s prime, between the releases of Starless and Bible Black and Red (both 1974.) At that time I could only delve into their past, their stunning debut In the Court of the Crimson King (1969) being next to entrance me, though their self-inflicted demise also yielded personal favourite USA (1975) and the retrospective compilation A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson (1976.) I can’t remember why I never bought a copy of Young Person’s but I assume it’s because brother Tony and I had already embarked upon getting hold of the original albums; I do remember being impressed with its brilliant cover (by Fergus Hall) though I wouldn’t get to see the booklet included with the double LP for another couple of years when Jim Knipe acquired a copy.

As far as getting to see them play live, I couldn’t imagine it ever happening. I managed to witness Fripp’s presence, as Dusty Rhodes, when I went to see Peter Gabriel during the tour for his first solo album at the Liverpool Empire, April 1977. Fripp’s continuing emergence from ‘retirement’ for David Bowie’s Heroes (1977) sparked some interest despite my disdain for Bowie material up to that point but as far as I was concerned his return to form was as producer and guitarist on Peter Gabriel II (Scratch, 1978) which included the excellent Exposure, subsequently re-recorded for his own solo album Exposure (1979.) This release wasn’t in the same league as Crimson but Breathless (which we christened ‘Green’) hinted at ’74 Crimson. Fripp’s residency in New York and his work with a number of the local artists seemed to influence his next move, the almost-punk League of Gentlemen that Jim and I saw at the LSE in November 1980.

Meanwhile, I’d been following the fortunes of Bill Bruford and though I didn’t start collecting albums that he’d graced as a guest drummer until a few years later, releases from his own band Bruford and the first UK album were must haves. The reunion of the 72-74 Crimson rhythm section was a cause for celebration and if the original line-up of UK had managed to stay together they might have prolonged the golden era of prog; the material on UK (1978) reflected progressive rock from three or four years earlier but sounded new and different, hinting at jazz rock rather than symphonic prog. Sadly, there was no hint that the Bruford- and Holdsworth-less incarnation would change direction so drastically for Danger Money (1979) where despite some excellent music the song structure included far too much uninspiring verse-chorus-verse chorus form. I went to see UK at Imperial College, London in March 1979 and saw Bruford, in a double-headliner along with Brand X at London’s Venue in May 1980.


It was an incredibly pleasant surprise to hear about the formation of Discipline, though I regarded the inclusion of two Americans with a degree of trepidation. I was well aware of the talents of Tony Levin but not at all acquainted with the pedigree of Adrian Belew. I needn’t have worried because Belew’s on stage antics fitted the feel of the music; joyful, fun, infectious and somewhat difficult to categorise. I found it difficult to figure out which guitar was doing what and some of the noises I’d have associated with Fripp’s guitar playing seemed to come from Belew. The fast circular picked style that featured in some of the League of Gentlemen material had been refined so that when the two guitarists played together it was like tying and then unravelling some highly complex knot – the logo that was to appear on the cover of Discipline (1981) by Steve Ball was very apt. The inclusion of some of the later 70s King Crimson music should have been a clear signal that this group was about to become the next Crimson. Theoretically, I didn’t get to see King Crimson until September 1982 when they performed at the Hammersmith Palais on the tour to promote Beat (1982.) Now used to the sound of this version of Crimson, the music seemed more accessible than on its predecessor but the final release from this Crimson, Three of a Perfect Pair (1984) contained more challenging and experimental pieces. Unfortunately, this material was not toured in the UK and the next time I got to see them was after their break-up and reformation at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1995.


I was fortunate to have an academic email account in the early 90s and was an avid reader of Elephant Talk, the King Crimson e-letter lovingly put together by Toby Howard. I’d pretty much given up on musical journals apart from the odd Q which had sufficient interesting content to make it worthwhile buying, so it was through ET that I picked up on Fripp’s work with David Sylvian, going to see them at the RAH in December 1993 where I found the music to have a very dreamlike quality, largely due to the very hi-fi nature of the soundscapes. Vrooom (1994), the EP love-letter from a new-look Crimson, signalled that progressive rock, or at least acts that were classed as prog, were no longer anathema. The Discipline-era band was augmented by Pat Mastelotto (drums) and Trey Gunn (stick), both of whom played with Sylvian and Fripp. This taster release from the so-called ‘double trio’ incorporated the best of the previous incarnations of the band; there were very strong hints of Red-era Crimson and the adult pop-funk that I apportion to the pen of Adrian Belew had matured very nicely. The full release, Thrak (1995), though making Vrooom almost redundant, did not disappoint and that live show, on Bill Bruford’s birthday, was one of the best gigs I’ve ever attended and my feelings were transmitted to the ET readership when I submitted a short review.

At this time I really couldn’t get enough Crimson and went off to see them when they took in London on their next tour at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in July 1996, the only UK date on the THRAKaTTaK tour. This was another great show in a not-so-good venue and where I picked up my copy of the just-released THRAKaTTaK live CD.


It seemed that tensions within the band may have been a little strained and perhaps members shouldn’t have read too many ET entries. In search of possible direction and allowing time for individuals to pursue other avenues the group divided up into different ProjeKcts. This was a fertile period for the band and for the Crimson imprint DGM, including the tight-knit Crimson community Epitaph and The Nightwatch playbacks that I attended in London in March and September 1997 respectively; I even provided a home-made date and walnut cake for the former. When the band reconvened for The ConstuKction of Light (2000) it was minus Bruford and had become somewhat heavier. This was quite evident during their performance at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on July 3rd 2000, a gig that I didn’t particularly enjoy, standing downstairs in a crush between the stage and the bar.


I think I’m right in saying that the current tour, with a line-up of Fripp, Levin, Mastelotto, Mel Collins, Jakko Jakszyk, Gavin Harrison and Bill Rieflin, will include the first UK dates since 2000 and will amount to the first UK tour since 1982. I’ve continued to collect bits and pieces from Crimson-related musicians since I last saw them, including Live at the Orpheum (2015) which serves as a brief introduction to this formation with its three drummers.

I’m really looking forward to Monday!

By ProgBlog, Jun 14 2015 09:43PM

Two recent family trips, on the face of it quite different, to Milan and Brighton featured common ground: the search for record stores. Regular readers will know this is something of a ProgBlog obsession but planned breaks, of whatever length, require a balanced approach to cater for all the requirements of the members of the party. This means that apart from some shared interests such as architecture and exploring historic and cultural influences, I have to drag family around record shops and, on the flip side, have to suffer antique shops and flea markets and boutiques selling trinkets though flea markets do in fact offer the possibility of finding suitable recorded music, either CDs or, more frequently original vinyl.

From arriving in London with a single Boots vinyl-coated record box in October 1978 I began to accumulate what I considered to be a worthy collection of essential progressive rock.

Though I’ve never lost interest in my records, the ubiquitous nature of the CD format and its less demanding storage requirements meant that I undertook a massive format conversion beginning in the early 90s when prog bands began to resurface with new releases and record companies worked out that they could make easy money from new format re-issues. The last new releases I ever bought as LPs included Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut, 90125 by Yes, Three of a Perfect Pair by King Crimson and probably last of all, A Momentary Lapse of Reason or Big Generator, none of which I would regard as classic prog apart from A Momentary Lapse; the 1981-84 incarnation of Crimson certainly wasn’t straightforward progressive rock. Peter Gabriel’s So was a leaving present from the NBTC in 1986. I did of course continue to buy second-hand vinyl during the genre’s lean years, when Croydon’s 101 Records was actually located at 101 George Street and picking up a somewhat battered Yessongs from a boot fair in Thornton Heath and a copy, even more battered, of Tempest’s eponymous first album from the Crystal Palace Antiques Market which is a warren-like flea market, just off Westow Hill. Much more recently I picked up a pristine copy of Anthony Phillip’s The Geese and the Ghost in a flea market in Lewes.

Stupidly, I also ditched some prized records as I replaced them with seductive bright, shiny compact discs. Out went Bedside Manners are Extra, In the Court of the Crimson King, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, Atom Heart Mother, Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here plus some not-so-loved material like England by Amazing Blondel, itself picked up second hand from somewhere. The value wasn’t really in the music itself because I’d invested in other versions, ‘definitive’ or 20th or 30th anniversary editions with extensive additional sleeve notes but without surface noise, it was the (mostly) gatefold sleeve packaging that facilitated a comprehensive sonic and visual experience. The main beneficiary of this clear-out was Beanos of Croydon who I believed would give me a fair price for my well cared for offerings. I find it funny discovering dog-eared copies of In the Court selling for £40 in some of the shops I now frequent.

On reflection, the whole listening experience of CDs was far poorer than listening to a 12 inch piece of vinyl on a record deck: the care taken when removing the LP from the inner jacket; lowering the stylus onto the run-in grooves; sitting in an armchair with legs draped over one of the arms... This behaviour made up the soundtrack of my youth and I afforded it time and effort. When the CD format came along I was in a relationship and had full-time employment so I didn’t have the same amount of time to dedicate to the process of listening to music; on a sociological-political level those two times were also very different and I think the compact disc stands as a symbol of burgeoning consumerism, when time was wasted if it wasn’t being used to generate money.

Finding record stores in other countries, and Milan and Bergamo were no exception, is not always straightforward. Google will provide a list with addresses but the information is not always up-to-date and the restrictive internet provision of some UK mobile service providers means you can’t always use your phone to get you to the door. Last year in Pisa, one of the shops listed had changed its name and was primarily an urban stylist, with records found in a back room behind the main retail space with its shoes, shirts and trousers; in Bergamo a couple of weeks ago, the record store had moved within the previous month and, as it was almost closing time when I turned up at the old address, I had no time to locate the new premises. However, Rossetti records and books wasn’t too difficult to find and I managed to get hold of some obscure progressivo Italiano including the self-titled release by Dedalus (which strays into jazz-rock territory); the experimental Il Giorno Sottile by Fabio Zuffanti project Quadraphonic; and symphonic prog Il Bianco Regno Di Dooah by Consorzio Acqua Potabile. This last example was me sticking to the idea of buying releases by local musicians.

The Lanes in Brighton may be inhabited by local hipsters and tourists but that’s hardly surprising when you find out what’s on offer. In Shoreditch-by-sea the cafés and boutiques are right-on and trendy and full of very nice things to eat or to kit out your Kemptown renovation (Brighton Architectural Reclamation.) There’s an incredible incidence of musical instrument shops; I bought a second-hand vintage style Flange pedal from Brighton Guitars (44 Sydney Street) after trying it out with the help of singer-songwriter (and very helpful sales person) Jack Pout. We chatted a bit about prog (he quite admired Long Distance Runaround) and suggested I listen to the band If.

There are a number of flea markets (I picked up The Steve Howe Album and Imaginary Voyage by Jean-Luc Ponty for £5 each in the North Laine Antique and Flea Market, 5 Upper Gardner Street) and some epic second-hand record stores where I really could have spent more time. Across the Tracks (110 Gloucester Road) has a dedicated prog section and some records I’ve not seen for a long, long time but I just came away with Spyglass Guest by Greenslade. The labyrinthine Wax Factor (24 Trafalgar Street) also sells books and there’s even a diner-style café in a back room. The selection here is immense but its arrangement, though logical, means you have to surf through the mundane to find the gems. I picked up Steve Hillage’s L on CD and Six Pieces by The Enid on vinyl.

The Brighton trip was a semi-retirement day off. Though our house needs a lot of decorating and some renovation, retirement should provide the impetus and finances to get it sorted, to be followed by an upgrade of the hi-fi and, with a bit of luck, more time to listen to vinyl.



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