As a fan of so-called ‘progressive’ rock, this idea of music belonging to a certain time, place and circumstance – and concomitant suspicion of anything with the whiff of postmodernism – is particularly pertinent. Can you borrow a 40-years-old blueprint for a style of popular music and call it progressive?

‘Postmodern’ has long been considered nearly as passe as ‘Modern’, which is positively old-fashioned, though the irritating prefix, ‘post’ lingers on in unlikely places. Post-rock and rock seem to co-exist perfectly well, thankyou very much; the former having no more banished the latter than punk kicking prog to the kerb. And if you want to know why boardrooms are still 95% male and 1/3 of females can still expect to experience sexual violence it’s probably not wise to ask a post-feminist. Rubbish prefix, post. Likwise ‘nu’, particularly when prefacing ‘Metal’. In fact, the problem with genre tags is two-fold; not only are they oxymoronic or nonsensical as above, they are doubly meaningless out of  context. Prog, Punk, New Romantic, Rave: all these words immediately summon up images of certain times, attitudes, politics. Recycling the nomenclature of the past, appending and prefixing here and there is a great shortcut to describing a sound. But there is more to these musical ‘movements’ (as much as one must concede that they only appear to be movements in retrospect) than sound alone.

What qualities did the old-school proggers share? ‘Borrowing’ from other musical styles – mostly but not exclusively Jazz and Classical. Utilising new musical – and on occasion, non-musical – technology. Transcending the conventional 7″ single format.  Classical-style Symphonic ‘suites’, Jazz-style improv, ‘storytelling’ in a folk tradition. These seemed like novel ideas in a pop context back in the ’60s: now everyone’s at it.

The industry of Western pop has shamelessly and superficially plundered it’s own historical riches in a manner which has long been considered cringeworthy where the musics of other cultures are concerned. ‘World Music’, anyone?

Artists of integrity who wish their work to be perceived and sold honestly and free of pretension eschew such tags, anyway. That’s why the likes of Zappa, Tim Smith (Cardiacs) and Radiohead vehemently opposed the ‘progressive’ tag, though their music is manifestly just that. Lesser purveyors ramble on about being their own person, free of affiliations to this or that scene before describing their songs as post-X, A meets B, Y taking a stroll into Z’s boudoir with a sassy twist of A … yadayada.

Conclusion – ‘prog’ today is a tag to look out for if you want music that avoids innovation like the plague. Long-in-the-tooth West country prog rockers Pendragon have upped the ante further by using the form as a vehicle to the kind of right-wing sloganeering and drippy nostalgia beloved of The Daily Mail:;_ylt=A7x9QXs4fpROEysAfP1XNyoA?p=pendragon%20green%20and%20pleasant%20land&fr2=sb-top&fr=ush-mailn

Reactionary rock anyone?

2 responses »

  1. Great read. I am a big fan of the prog genre(and the post- also), mainly at the metal end of the spectrum. I have often wondered the same thing myself, these labels make no sense. Hearing the word progressive would mean hearing something unlike anything else, but in the end all these bands have many similarities even though they are supposed to be something new and progressive. Listen to Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, and Opeth, while it is very easy to discern the big differences, they are essentially doing the same thing. Compared to the standard, yes they are more progressive, but on the grand scale, not a whole lot new going on, just mixing some metal in with what was already there. In the end the tag Prog gets the point across as when you hear it nowadays you think of something bigger than what the standard is. I guess bands-that-write-marathon-songs-and-tend-to-compose-multiple-movement-concept-albums-rock/metal would be a bit of a turn off for the general music fan.
    The whole post- thing is annoying to, wouldn’t the next movement from a genre be considered progressive? For post- bands I tend to prefer the term atmospheric because, well, that is what the real common factor that the bands have. Isis, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Sigur Ros, Neurosis, they are all about atmosphere and textures. I don’t get it. Then there’s post-hardcore… comment.
    BTW, that Pendragon band=Awesome-sauce. I dig ’em.

  2. Oh, I like Pendragon right enough – I just can’t help smiling at the irony of a ‘progressive’ band singing songs about how ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ 😉

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