Dealing with Neo-Prog – Perhaps once and for all - Part 3

Jerry Lucky Commentary April 2008

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2008 All Rights Reserved


So if you thought there were only a few conflicting misconceptions when it comes to identifying what some would call

“Neo-Progressive Rock” you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Here’s another five.


·       Misconception #6 – Neo-Prog is influenced mostly by early Genesis

This one is kind of interesting because many critics can’t seem to use the term Neo-Prog without some kind of passing reference to the Genesis influence. You rarely hear of Neo-Prog bands being influenced by Yes or Van der Graaf Generator which begs the question of course, if they were, would they still be considered Neo-Prog?


Many will point to early Marillion as the root of this reference and there is no denying that Genesis was indeed an influence on the band. In point of fact, Genesis was instrumental in laying the foundation for the Progressive Rock tradition. And yet, in the case of early Marillion, if one were to actually take the time to go back and listen carefully you would not only find the Genesis influence but also that of Pink Floyd and even the Doors. So what point is really being made by using the Genesis reference in this manner?


It’s also possible to listen to a band such as Italy’s Locanda della Fate and hear Genesis all over it. Their album Forse Le Lucciole Non So Amino Pui which came out in 1977 has Wind and Wuthering (released that same year), written all over it in terms of compositional structure and specific instrumentation. But does that take away from its strength? Absolutely not. Do we label Locanda as Neo-Prog because of the Genesis influence? I dare say no! They’re both symphonic and just because they both have that similarity doesn’t demean one over the other. Similarly, bands today who continue to be influenced by Genesis or for that matter Locanda della Fate are by no means simply cheap imitations deserving of the Neo-Prog branding.


·       Misconception #7 – Neo-Prog is more accessible, mainstream and popular

I guess the obvious question here is; more accessible to whom? Even a band such as Jadis who many would say are less about complexity and more about songs with certain Progressive Rock embellishments would have a hard time making inroads in mainstream media. Let’s not forget many of those prog bands from the Seventies wound up playing huge stadiums. Which of the so called, more popular, more accessible or more mainstream Neo-Prog bands have done this? In fact, none of them have. In the advertising media world I exist in, we have an expression that describes individuals who essentially live in the bubble of their own passion, whatever that may be. When you’re inside the bottle, it’s impossible to read the label. Meaning that if you live in a bottle where prog is a musical passion, it is pointless to compare that to the mainstream world, outside the bottle where prog isn’t even on the radar. So the idea that Neo-Prog is by its very nature more accessible seems at odds with whom it’s actually created for and who’s actually buying it. The last time I looked those Pendragon CD’s weren’t flying off the local chain store shelves with the general record buying public. Obviously, for someone whose main listening fare includes complex Prog fusion, RIO and Zeuhl or early Gentle Giant then much of the Symphonic genre is going to sound a little tame. On the other hand if you were to play even the tamest of Symphonic Prog for your non-prog friends, what do you think their reaction would be? Clearly there is no way possible to accurately describe Neo-Prog bands as more accessible, mainstream or popular.


·       Misconception #8 – Neo-Prog is identified by the digital keyboard sounds

Of all the misconceptions outlined here, this has to be one of the weakest when it comes to singling out a group of bands. From the very beginnings of rock and roll, technology has played a part in forming the sound of each era. This was true of guitar technology during the sixties and keyboard technology of the seventies. The sounds musicians make are a reflection of the day. Every era has had its distinct signature sounds in some respect. Fact was in the mid-Eighties everyone, in every musical genre was using the mother of all digital synthesizers, the Yamaha DX-7. It had only recently come on the market and the temptation to use its new sounds was so very tempting. So to single out a few prog bands that were also using these new digital sounds seems picayune beyond comprehension. Are we now placing some arbitrary “higher” standard on prog artists and their choice of instruments? Who is it that is entitled to impose this “higher” standard? Just as Rick Wakeman incorporated new technology side by side with old (Moog synthesizer with the Hammond organ), so too these bands were incorporating the new with the old (digital with analog.) Regardless of the sounds ultimately created, the use of new technology is very much an integral part of Progressive Rock and certainly no reason to marginalize those who do so. 


·       Misconception #9 – Neo-Prog never attainted the popularity of prog in the Seventies

One of the misconceptions that certain aficionados will point to, in some sense of self-justification is that Neo-Prog never attained the popularity of prog in the Seventies. They may be referring to the popularity with the masses or perhaps the popularity within the prog community. While this may or may not be true it has more to do with the changing nature of the business rather than the music itself. Just for the record, the original bands from the Seventies are no where near as popular with the mass population today as they used to be simply because they have been extricated from the radio and television. I remember talking about the YES CD Magnification to a manager at work and his response was an incredulous, “they’re still together?” And he was a big YES fan. The point is that many of those so-called popular prog bands of the Seventies suffer in obscurity today. To suggest that because Neo-Prog failed to win the popularity vote somehow seems to me to be at odds with a previous misconception that Neo-Prog is more accessible, more popular and more mainstream. Which is it?


·       Misconception #10 – Neo-Prog is lacking in originality

The history of music is replete with critics who failed to recognize true talent standing in their midst. This may not be a great example but its worth considering that many of Beethoven’s compositions were panned by the critics of his day. When confronted about this, Beethoven is claimed to have said “Oh, those are not for you, but for a later age.” Now before you get your panties in a bunch, I’m certainly not comparing Beethoven with Neo-Prog. I understand that Beethoven was forging a new tradition while the so-called “Neo” bands are creating within an established tradition, that of Symphonic Progressive Rock. But what I am calling into question here is the suggestion that “it all lacks originality.” This is simply a gross overstatement that needs to be challenged.


I believe the criticism of lacking originality is an epithet far too easily and quickly hurled at Progressive Rock in general. We seem to be so caught up in a move to the future that we expect to see a relativistic originality displayed that is measured only by the critic’s arbitrary standards. Referring again to Pallas and IQ, both have taken their sound on each successive recording one step further on the creative process. There is nothing lacking in originality and we must always be cautious about confusing performance with preference. Just because we don’t like what we hear doesn’t necessarily mean our criticism of it is right. I’m reminded of something Albert Einstein said, “Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”  Neo-Prog isn’t so much about a lack of originality as it is about being tarred and feathered with a flawed brush.


Consider it more food for thought. Next month I’ll try and wrap this up and offer a few conclusions. I’m standing by for your comments.

Jerry Lucky (4/8/08)