Thursday, July 10, 2008

6:00 On A Christmas Morning…

So is it just me, or has this week been interminably long? It seems like I’ve been here at work for the last 314 days straight. I’m sure it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact I’m going on vacation next week… Speaking of things that seemingly go on forever driving one to madness, I’m currently listening to some Dream Theater (Hence, the name of the post). Now I know what you’re thinking, ‘but OCK, I never pictured you as a prog-rock geek… Do you have long flowing hair and posters of unicorns on your bedroom walls?’ I’m sorry to disappoint, but the answer to both those questions is sadly no… Cruise Ship Director Julie has instituted a ‘no unicorn’ zone in the inner sanctum, and besides, you don’t have to obsess over which incarnation of Thor is closest to the original Nordic myth to enjoy progressive rock. (BTW, It's the one to the right, if you're still debating...) Prog-rock can be for everybody, at least everybody with a good amount of patience and a minimum of 12 minutes to devote to each song…

I feel it is my duty as an unknown Internet babbler and lover of all things Prog to convince ‘mainstream’ music listeners that you don’t have to play D&D in your mom’s basement to enjoy the likes of Yes, Dream Theater, Genesis, Spock’s Beard, King Crimson, Liquid Tension Experiment, etc. You too could make Prog-rock the music for ‘cool kids’ all you have to do is find the RIGHT prog-rock. I’m the first to tell you, if you pick up a random mid 70’s Yes album, say Tales From Topographic Oceans, the first thing you’ll notice is the Tolkienesque scripting on the album cover. I can totally understand that you may very well want to drop the album immediately and run for the nearest television showing a sporting event before your shirt spontaneously starts sprouting the words ‘Live At Budokan’ across the back… First and foremost, I highly suggest you don’t judge an album by it’s cover. Secondly, if you are not heavily into prog-rock already, I suggest you avoid TFTO the same way a beginning reader would want to avoid War and Peace. Accept the fact that you may NEVER want to listen to a 20 minute track entitled The Revealing Science of God - Dance of the Dawn. That’s OK, contrary to popular belief, one can enjoy SOME prog-rock, without enjoying ALL prog-rock… Instead, start with one of these 5 albums, you’ll be glad you did, and maybe, just maybe you’ll pick up a new musical obsession… Maybe you’ll grow out your hair, maybe you’ll decide to start your own witches coven, or perhaps build your own Viking ship… More likely, you’ll just add some additional great music to your large and varied collection.

1. Genesis- The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
If you are like me, and I know I am, you probably enjoy both music, AND movies… I’d go so far as to say that if you DIDN’T enjoy both music, AND movies, you probably wouldn’t be reading this right now… I don’t mean to take liberties with your personal tastes, but I feel this is a limb I can safely go out on. If I have overstepped my bounds, I would apologize, but since you’re on the other end of a computer, it’s not like you’d hear my anyway.

For those who ARE willing to admit that they enjoy music, AND movies, why not listen to an album that plays like both music AND a movie? That’s an easy question to answer, there’s absolutely NO reason not to, not a single one… Except, maybe you don’t have an hour and a half to devote to an album the way you would to watching Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo for the 12th time… If that’s the case, I can’t help you, but I can suggest a couple of great stand alone tracks to throw on your next iPod mix that may get you in the mood to give this full album a listen so you can fully experience the tale of New York born Rael on his quest to save his brother, and himself from a lifetime of captivity in a strange new world…

· The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway- The album’s title track has been covered many, many times throughout prog-rock history, but the original Peter Gabriel vocal stylings just can’t be reproduced. Aside from being the best for stand alone listening, this track also gives you a good intro to what the rest of the album is all about, and it’s under 5 minutes, that’s shorter than most prog-rock Moog solos…

· In The Cage- So when you think Genesis, you may think of soft-pop ballads like Invisible Touch, Hold On My Heart, or Taking It All Too Hard. While you wouldn’t be totally wrong, there was a time in which Genesis was more rock than pop, and that time was called the 70’s… Few tracks capture this hard edge quite like In The Cage. Think more organ and guitar that synthesizer and tambourine on this one…

· The Colony of Slippermen: The Arrival/A Visit to the Doktor/The Raven- At some point, if you’re going to give prog-rock a shot, you’re going to have to listen to a epic story song broken into multiple parts. You could go with Jethro Tull’s 45 minute long Thick as a Brick, or you could stick with Pete and the boys and enjoy 8 minutes learning about the land of the Slippermen… Your reaction will likely lie someplace between ‘vaguely rockin’ and ‘man those dudes were high’. Either, and both are appropriate responses, and a pretty good summary of what prog-rock is all about.

2. Dream Theater- A Change Of Seasons
Now that you’ve been baptized into prog-rock glory, maybe you’re thinking ‘I’m all about living in the past, but that album is like, 33 years old… Isn’t there something just a LITTLE bit newer out there?’ Yes, yes Internet, there is most certainly something just a little bit newer out there. 20 years newer to be exact. 1995 brought us a prime textbook example of prog-rock greatness in the form of Dream Theater’s A Change of Seasons. Don’t believe me? Let’s just say the album is over an hour long, but only contains 5 tracks…

A Change Of Seasons- The opening title track is a seven part medley that clocks in at roughly 23 minutes, but don’t be intimidated, it breaks up nicely for listening, and there is no Iron Butterfly-esque 15 minute guitar solo or 3 minute long drum interlude to be found. The All Music Guide Review calls this track ‘one of the most impressive pieces of music ever written in the progressive metal vein.’ I personally feel that might be a bit overstated, but if you’re going to pass judgement on prog-rock one way or the other, you should give this track a listen. If you enjoy it, you’re probably going to enjoy a good number of other prog-rock tunes. If you don’t enjoy it, this is not the genre for you…

The other 4 tracks on the album are progged-up cover tunes of 70’s standards that in many ways are superior to the originals, if nothing else, because they blend together so well with other era hits. The Big Medley is a welcome addition to any classic-rock themed iTunes playlist, as long as you’re not loathe to include modern cover tunes in with classic originals. I’m of two minds on this topic. For the most part I avoid modern covers like a zombie plague, but I make a few exceptions, and one of them is for Dream Theater.

3. Pink Floyd- The Wall
People who like Pink Floyd, but do not like Yes tend to refuse to accept that Pink Floyd is prog-rock. People who like Yes and do not like Pink Floyd tend to agree. People who fall into either of these categories are hopelessly wrong. I fully agree that Pink Floyd and Yes are not the same band… I would go so far as to say if Yes opened for Pink Floyd, they may get beer bottles tossed at them until they stop just 6 minutes into Roundabout and are forced to leave the stage. Just like modern rock fans can enjoy The Killers and find The Strokes too studio enhanced and ‘posery’, prog-rock fans can enjoy the hard edged sulk of Pink Floyd’s epic coming of age in repressive Britain tale so succinctly captured in The Wall without owning your very own Lonely Heart.

If you’re not familiar with The Wall, I suggest changing that through the album, rather than the film. There’s nothing wrong with the film per-se, but I feel the imagery and magnified story telling for someone who has not already formed their own opinions about the music tends to push people into a particular direction that may not be the same as they direction they would naturally gravitate to with just the music alone. This belief is not specific to this album, or even to the genre of music vs. film. I tend to think the same is true of film adaptations of books. If nothing else, give the original media a chance to take hold before seeing what someone else’s vision is of it…

4. Side 2 of Abbey Road- The Beatles
By invoking the spirit of Floyd I came dangerously close to losing my ‘Prog-Rock Fan’ membership card, by bringing up The Beatles final recording, I’ve more or less set it on fire. I chose Abbey Road not as a means of labeling The Beatles a Prog-Rock band, but as an educational tool to show where the idea for an epic storied prog-rock album came from. The second side of Abbey Road has been cited by a litany of artists as influential musical story telling and was in my opinion a necessary step toward the prog-rock albums of the 70’s and beyond.

From Because through Her Majesty, The Beatles intertwine 9 separate tracks without a break in the music. In addition to the tracks running together, the same chords and tunes pop up throughout the ensemble, and even characters cross from one song to the next (we first meet Polythene Pam half way through Mean Mr. Mustard). Had this album been released during the prog-rock heyday of the mid 70’s, these individual songs likely would have been billed as one track, or course had this album not been released in 1969, prog-rock as we know it likely would have never existed… Just keep in mind, if you find yourself coming to the end of She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, gearing up for Ringo’s only drum solo committed to an album, you’re more than just a Beatles fan, you’re a prog-rock fan, like it or not.

5. LTE I- Liquid Tension Experiment
Whilst prog-purists are furiously typing away slanderous comments right now, threatening to avenge my soul with their 15th level Dwarves for sullying the beauty of their commercially disasterous rock genre by acknowledging the existence of The Beatles on the prog-rock timeline, other, less… ummm… passionate readers are probably thinking to themselves ‘hey, maybe this guy has a point… Maybe prog-rock isn’t just for those who like extended synth solos and hair-metal inspired guitar work taken seriously. I might just be a prog-rock fan afterall!’

If you’re a former, type away… no press is bad press. If you’re a latter, here’s your litmus test. Liquid Tension Experiment is a prog-rock supergroup made up of John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy, long time members of Dream Theater, Jordan Rudess, a newer DT denizen, and prog-rock giant Tony Levin known mostly for his work with King Crimson… The kicker is, it’s also all instrumental.

I’m a big fan of lyrics. I tend to enjoy music based more on the substance of the lyrics than the quality of the music behind them… Case in point, currently playing on my iPod is Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes, and I’m not enjoying it because of the synth-clap background of the non-threatening drum line laid ever so quietly in the background to keep Kim on point… I’m enjoying it because all the boys think she’s a spy… ‘cause she’s got Bette Davis eyes…

LTE hits on a specific point in my brain however that is usually reserved for especially well crafted movie soundtracks. The musical coagulation formed by replacing Kevin James LaBrie’s vocals with Levin’s bass lines makes me imagine the original Star Wars trilogy, only Han Solo is played by Shaft’s Richard Roundtree and Luke Skywalker’s character is replaced by Rudy Ray Moore’s Dolemite… ‘When I see a Storm Trooper, I cut the mutha fucka…’

If this doesn’t make you want to rush out and purchased a horned helmet and head for the enchanted lands of the Nordic gods, that I don’t know what will… Just remember, prog-rock is NOT a gateway to life as a jobless slacker in a cheez-whiz stained Porcupine Tree tour shirt, unless you want it to be… Keep on rockin’ for at least 20 minutes…

2 comments:

Gary Hoggatt said...

That's an aweful lot of D&D bashing for a soon-to-be-DM.

Also, the second side of Abbey Road is excellent.

OCKerouac said...

There's a world of difference between killing time with an online D&D game and dressing like a hobbit in your mom's basement... Besides, I don't need to explain myself to you, or anybody,... I'm not a geek... Really...

shutup...