Shine On New Crazy Diamonds
Proving once again that no matter how unfashionable a musical style becomes ultimately, like Haley’s Comet, it will pop it’s head back above the horizon, and such is the case with 'prog' - and let’s not beat around the bush here, progressive rock was about as welcome in the UK music press after the great punk wars of 1977 as one half of a dead cockroach in a ‘not-quite-with-it-yet’ early morning crispy bacon roll. Legions of new young fans, bored to death with reality show pop star creations and the non stop avalanche of cover version chart fodder are succumbing to the lure of ludicrously long, convoluted tracks, blissfully unaware that back in the day it was screamingly un-cool to like Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Yes, Genesis and King Crimson.
Of course prog didn’t disappear altogether in the ‘80s and ‘90s, like most musical styles suffering at the whim of the fickle fate of fashion it simply retreated to the margins to await new disciples (although it actually flourished in parts of northern Europe and Italy – indeed Germany’s prog scene, which included such class acts as Tangerine Dream, Amon Düül, Ash Ra Temple and Cluster continued to be held by many in very high regard throughout the fallow years) as die-hard fans appetites were satiated by bands like The Flower Kings, Porcupine Tree, Dream Theatre, Spocks Beard, Echolyn, Clepsydra and the astonishingly successful cottage industry that is Ozric Tentacles.
By the late ‘90s Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor, whilst not owning up to the label, were making mad overblown prog rock in everything but name leaving the door open for a second commercial wave of prog - although long term prog fans will insist it is now the fourth or fifth wave, commercial be damned - and bands like Mew, Oceansize and the Mars Volta entered the fray prompting many new converts to go digging in the crates for albums by ELP, Brand X, Rush and Marillion (eek!).
The Mars Volta and Mew have recently taken things a step further by releasing, that most dreaded of projects to music fans of a certain age, the ‘concept album’, although when quizzed Mew’s Johan Wohlert insisted “we never really talked about making a concept album but then again what is a concept album? Every album has some sort of idea behind it.” likewise Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez balked at the label. "How can any project that takes up most of your life for a year not have a concept? Prog? How can any innovative, forward-thinking art or music not be progressive?
This is slightly disingenuous as Mew have freely admitted that they initially wanted their album to be a single track affair dealing with life and fear and the Mars Volta insist that that their album is based upon the entries found in a discarded diary and boasts a running order so confusing most computers flatly refuse to list the tracks correctly. But regardless of the labels applied (and we do love a label in the UK) both Mew’s And The Glass Handed Kites and the Mars Volta’s Frances The Mute - and indeed Oceansize’s Everyone Into Position – are incredibly accomplished albums that succesfully marry fine songwriting skills, goosebump inducing pyrotechnics, top notch musical chops and anyone over the age of thirty put off by the new prog label is missing out on some great new music and three of this years best albums.