Saturday, 28 March 2009

Prog Rock - Not Very Progressive

My first ever post for Chordstrike

Press Releases are always to be read with a degree of skepticism, but one I saw the other day set me off on a train of thought that I'm still trying to put the brakes on. It called a new band, who shall remain nameless, "prog rock innovators," likened them to prog rock giants like Pink Floyd and Yes, and described them with a barrage of prog rock key words: "abstract," "figurative," "intelligent," "conceptual." The album only had a handful of tracks but each were several minutes (and "stages") long, and the album even had a silly pretentious name. PRs are always full of dubious claims, but it seemed particularly odd to me that this band was being held up as "innovators" when they stuck to every prog rock cliche in the book.

So what does prog rock actually mean now? Is it intrinsically "innovative," even when it's formulaic? I don't think it can be. In the 70s, progressive rock was so-called because it involved high-minded ideas about what rock music could sound like with a little experimentation, and much of it was incredibly pioneering when compared to the rock scene of the time. But surely modern progressive rock must still be progressing, and its comparative rock scene must be today's -- 2009s -- not the early 70s? What we should now be talking about as modern progressive rock should be bands like Battles and Animal Collective, surely, neither of whom sound anything like Pink Floyd. Isn't that kinda the point of being "progressive"?

It seems to me that music which is in thrall to the early 70s is retro, and retro is the opposite of progressive.

But if the meaning of "prog rock" is stuck in a time capsule, that's no different from what's happened to "alternative rock" or "indie rock," genres which now don't seem to require the artists to be alternative or independent at all.

While you ruminate on those ramblings, why not improve your day by watching this clip of Pink Floyd performing "Time," from Dark Side of the Moon, in London in 1994.

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