Dealing with Neo-Prog – Perhaps once and for all - Part 4 - The End

Jerry Lucky Commentary May 2008

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2008 All Rights Reserved


So to bring this extended rant to a conclusion here are the last three misconceptions and some closing comments.


·      Misconception 11 – Neo-Prog is by definition limiting in musical scope

I suppose if all you listened to were three or four Neo-Prog bands you might come to such a conclusion, but given the continued growth of the Symphonic prog genre (which I maintain includes Neo-Prog) there is no way to substantiate this claim. Within the Symphonic musical framework, you have bands constantly pulling in outside sources and incorporating these new musical ideas into an ever expanding musical catalog. Not only are the traditional sources of jazz, folk and classical still explored, but so are ethnic influences as well as other non-traditional rock musical categories such as electronic and ambient. If you look at the many bands identified as Neo-Prog, you will quickly see that far from their musical approach being “limited in musical scope” you find there is a wealth of variety and diversity in their compositions. To my mind, all of this avoids the central issue, and that is that Neo-Prog as part of the entire Symphonic genre continues to draw on probably a larger spectrum of influences than many other progressive genres.


·       Misconception 12 – Neo-Prog is less competent musically

In a world where the latest pop or rock star can hit the charts with a raft of studio trickery it seems disingenuous to haul out the “less competent musically” card. By and large musicians who are interested in prog are interested in it because of the musicianship. This is one of the reasons they get into this genre above the usual stuff they hear on the radio. It is obvious that every musician will be coming into the music creation process with their skills developed to varying degrees. Some will have formal training from their early years others will not. Even a band like Jadis who many consider the epitome of Neo-Prog display a tremendous amount of musicianship when compared to so much of what is played by mainstream radio these days. Each of us may be able to point to a band that we feel suffers from a lack of musicianship but it is a gross generalization to suggest bands considered to be Neo-Prog in general suffer from a lack of skills. Certainly, there may be some whose skills are not as developed just as would be the case in any musical endeavour, but to suggest that bands classed as Neo-Prog are generally less competent musically is painfully dishonest.


·       Misconception 13 – Neo-Prog is a universally accepted term.

There is a common misconception that the term Neo-Prog is somehow universally accepted and this is far from the truth. If there are some who don’t accept the term, me for example, it is by definition in no way universal. It is by and large a term that has been cultivated by certain critics and spread through internet use to other parts of the world. It is still a term that finds limited acceptance in many parts of the prog community. This is evidenced by the number of individuals outside the still select group of prog aficionados who have little or no understanding of its meaning. This is a term that not only spreads confusion but is itself wrapped in confusion by virtue of the inability to clearly identify what it stands for and support an argument that decisively defines what Neo-Prog actually is to the listener. Neo-Prog as a term is itself an assertion with no justifiable support. Neo-Prog as a sub-genre of Symphonic Prog cannot be logically supported by argument. I suggest therefore that it is a term of no value.



Now some will want to take 2 or 3 of the above misconceptions and apply them to a piece of music or a band which they feel qualifies as being described as Neo-Prog. Setting aside the important point that the same band may be described as Symphonic elsewhere, the idea of using a few of these misconceptions to try to make the point misses the mark since each of the above misconceptions fails to prove it’s point. In fact you could take all 13 and apply them and you would still miss the mark since all 13 are either self-defeating or built on faulty premises. The process of defining something called Neo-Prog fails.


It’s inevitable that some will still have a problem with this and may argue that there is definitely something specific they’re hearing in the band’s style that they feel warrants the Neo-Prog label. It may be something as “it just sounds too simple to be compared to some other prog bands” or as one of the sites says in their definition it, “lacks the sophistication of the truly symphonic progressive bands.” And this seems to be the point where so many confuse preference over performance. It is true that some bands create Symphonic Prog that is simpler than others are. There is no arguing that point. It has always been that way. From the very beginnings of Progressive Rock there have been bands performing at all levels of complexity, which to reiterate my point, in no way should qualify them for the Neo-Prog label. This incessant obsessing over complexity in no way brings one any closer to a more authentic Progressive Rock style because Progressive Rock music is about more than just complexity. All one need do is refer back to the defining characteristics that have built the established prog tradition. While complexity is part of the process it is not THE defining element.

I have on many occasions challenged readers of my on-line editorials to demonstrate to me how exactly Neo-Prog is different or distinct from Symphonic Prog and to date this challenge has not been met. It hasn’t been met because I believe it cannot be for the very reasons outlined above. All music that might be considered Neo-Prog is in some way really a version of Symphonic Prog and should rightly be called that. It defies understanding why some would call bands such as Spock’s Beard or Glass Hammer Neo-Prog and some would not. Even a casual listener will hear the symphonic structure in the music and this is obviously true of so many other bands.


There are some who profess to use the term Neo-Prog, not in any negative sense but purely for descriptive purposes. And while this is laudable, I fear it is almost impossible to do consistently since so many of the descriptives attributed to the term come from a negative standpoint. I fail to see how you can use the negative in this case to describe something in a positive way. The logic fails me. Because of the negative connotation one runs the risk of not implying a negative, but a negative being inferred. It is for all these reasons that I believe it is time we stop using a term that is in virtually every aspect, wrong.


There are others who intentionally use the term as a pejorative as a means to ward off unsuspecting potential followers. These individuals make no mistake about their dislike of Neo-Prog. They feel in no uncertain terms that this style of music is simply inferior. And they seem to take great pleasure in using the term to reinforce stereotypes of supposed inferiority. These critics seem to think this music can’t be good simply because so many people like it. It is this sense of elitism that drives the anti-Neo-Prog movement. How absurd that once again, preference takes precedence over performance.


This nebulous scale is yet another good reason to do away with the term. These individuals would never describe bands as Neo-RIO or Neo-Zeuhl or even Neo-Canterbury. To take it even further there is no such thing as Neo-Reggae or Neo-Country and probably for the same reason new movies made in the Film Noir style are not referred to as Neo-Film Noir. Their use of the Neo-Prog term is in my opinion nothing more than lazy writing stemming from lazy listening.


The only question you really need to ask is this: What stands to be lost if we were to stop using the term Neo-Prog? I would suggest we lose nothing other than the term Neo-Prog that as I hope I’ve demonstrated is totally flawed. The term should in my view be replaced with Symphonic Prog, a term that is at once descriptive and knowable to everyone. And what then do we gain? We gain a more accurate description of the music being created by all these bands. And just in case it needs to be said again, all Neo-Prog is first and foremost Symphonic in nature anyway, so why not. To my mind, that says it all.


Jerry Lucky