Prog spin-off mag, Classic Rock Presents Prog issue no. 1, is in the shops now (well, if the shops are WH Smiths). It comes with a free “Prognosis” (groan) sampler CD, although at £7.99, you might be better-advised to view it as a mid-priced compilation album with a free magazine attached. That’s twelve helpings of bangin’ widdly-widdly hardcore goodness…uh no, wait, these are all modern ‘prog’ bands so not very prog(ressive) at all.
For ‘modern prog’, read ‘generic rock with a few clever bits’. Bill Bruford reckons the genre became creatively bankrupt somewhere around 1974, and there’s precious little on Prognosis to disprove this thesis. The new prog consensus is that guitars must sound “metallic”, drums must be thunderous and synthesisers, which theoretically can sound like anything you care to imagine, must sound emphatically like synths, preferably 80s ones. The production will be clear and crisp with absolutely no suggestion of proferring a unique or identifiable sound. The playing will be technically accomplished and stylistically appropriate but will not betray any comprehension of why anything is being played; ex-session musicians make ideal prog instrumentalists. And the singer must be fearfully earnest about whatever nonsense they’re trilling.
Here’s a rundown of some typical Classic Rock-sampler bands:
- The Reasoning
Female-fronted Welsh band carrying a vague whiff of All About Eve. The lead vocalist is undeniably easy on the eye, but she’d have to be Aphrodite to make up for the rest of the band. Not that they’re gruesome, but they look like Asia before the stylists turned up. Yeah yeah, I know; it’s a collective endeavour, it’s about the music not the image and you don’t want to focus on one individual (nice album cover, btw). The overall impression is a bit jarring though.
- Panic Room
Female-fronted rock act with allegedly “experimental” leanings. Have a track called “Apocalypstick” (groan), which is often described by fans as “arabesque” under the illusion that it means “of an Arabian nature”, which tells you a little about Panic Room and a lot about current prog fans. And no, it hasn’t been a terribly original or clever influence since the Stones did it. (Admittedly, it’s a decent track though.)
Female-fronted, Celtic-tinged rock band, bit like an angrier Clannad, that split up several years ago, spinning off members who formed the above two bands and seemingly countless others of a similar hue (think of the broomsticks in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice … which is not a bad name for one of these bands either). Then reformed with a new lineup after their audience had evaporated.
Female-fronted Welsh band … hang on, let me check I’ve got the right one … nope … yep … specialising in shrill “commercial” songs (that get nowhere) and longer, prog-oriented “epics”.
- Mostly Autumn
Female-fronted … look, I think we get the idea, eh?
CRPP (oh, good acronym…) helpfully includes an article about women in prog to drive home how the music is no longer the sole sexist preserve of men. It focuses almost entirely on the lead singers of the above bands, and is dominated by a full length picture of Magenta’s Christina Booth with nipples prominently to the fore, alongside Mostly Autumn’s Heather Findlay and Olivia Sparnnen apparently sharing an Osmonds moment. Don’t cause a stampede down at Smiths now. The not entirely subtle hint is that if you want to present this indigestible garbage to the public, you’d better stick a bit of totty upfront. And the same goes for the bands.
You can learn a lot about bands like these, what their appeal might be, and precisely to whom, from reviews on Amazon and some of the prog sites bravely “keeping the flame burning” all over the net. Here’s a guide to translation:
|“melodic”, “soaring”, “searing”, “sizzling”, “soundscape”||Synonyms for, respectively, dull, dull, dull, dull and dull.|
|“heavy”||Very loud synths, very thick drum sound.|
|Prog-metal||Half a dozen guitar riffs in unusual time signatures played very fast in random order for ten minutes. Let’s cross one creatively-bankrupt genre with another creatively-bankrupt one. Yeah, that’ll work. Step forward, Dream Theater.|
|Symphonic Metal||Death metal band with female co-vocalist and orchestra, leading to either a superb operatic performance being ruined by what sounds like someone gargling with glass, or a great rock band being spoilt by some warbling chick, depending on which style you prefer. Video will inevitably involve orc makeup, long boats and mountains; just as well all the bands are from north east Europe. (Honorary mention for “Bye bye beautiful” by Nightwish, which looks like the best wet dream any fourteen year old boy ever had.)|
|“rock guitar”||The sound that an electric guitar plugged into an amp makes. Apparently some sort of sonic revelation on the road to Proggy Damascus.|
|“romantic ballad”||Piano-led slow song. What the skip button was invented for. Unless your hands are busy.|
|“Floyd-like”||Slow meter under a guitar solo consisting entirely of sustained notes with feedback and tremolo, as if Pink Floyd’s entire oeuvre can be summed up by the last three minutes of Comfortably Numb; i.e. Gilmour-atmospherics rather than Waters-bile.|
|“Yes-like”||More than one vocalist singing incomprehensible lyrics at a time.|
|“traditional”||Hammond organ, mellotron, flute - pick two.|
|“intelligent”||I can understand intelligence in the context of, say, King Crimson, but I have no idea what it means here. I’m betting it stands for “Not Britney Spears”. And even then, the validity is debatable.|
|“great lyrics”||Doubtless we’ll be “running through the night”, “towards the light” because “there’s a fire that burns deep inside”. Apparently, spontaneous internal combustion is a widespread problem in AOR world.|
|“sonorous symphonic romanticism”||Bwahahahaha!!! That’s a direct quote from an album press release, btw.|