Yes is a band that went through many lineup iterations. Although they found success in all variants, few Yes fans will dispute Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe and Squire as being the group’s most creative, most talented, most progressive lineup. 1971’s “Fragile“, the third album from Yes, was the debut from that combination of talent. It’s follow-up, “Close to the Edge”, was released in ’72 and carried on with the embodiment of rhythmic complexity and instrumental virtuosity.
I’ve read that unlike with its predecessor, there were a lot of creative conflicts going on during the recording sessions for “Close to the Edge”, which explains drummer Bill Bruford’s departure after its completion. This is an album that exasperates a multitude of conflicting ideas being brought together. At times, it feels as if it is going to fall apart in a heap of chaotic discords. But the multitude of ideas are somehow tied together with a cohesive beauty that make it one of the most significant records from the classic age of vinyl and one of the staples of progressive rock.
“Close to the Edge” is a landmark album in every sense of the word.
I can’t believe the difference in sound between Lucifer’s Friend’s 1970 eponymous debut and their fourth album, 1974’s “Banquet”. It’s hard to realize it’s actually the same band. Gone is the metal crunch of the overdriven guitars and Hammond B3 organ that put them in league with Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Black Sabbath. Those sounds are replaced here with more rounded guitar tones and a Fender Rhodes electric piano. Oh, and don’t forget the full horn section. All that, along with the free-flowing extended solos, leaves “Banquet” having much more in common with the progressive, jazz-rock fusion sounds of Traffic, early Chicago, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and ELP than it does with any metal band. About the only things consistent between this and Lucifer’s Friend’s debut album is the incredible musicianship and John Lawton’s amazing voice.
Then again Lucifer’s Friend was a band that seemed to strive to sound different on every new album. I think the diversity in their sound from one album to the next is a big reason they had a hard time gaining popular traction outside of their native Germany. Their fans never knew what to expect from them from one album to the next. The thing was, that’s what I admired about them.
“Won’t you welcome please, a most distinguished group from England: The Nice.”
And so begins side 2 of the third album by the band where Keith Emerson earned his reputation as one of the greatest keyboardists in rock and roll. At this early stage in his career, Emerson had yet to begin his pioneering work using the Moog synthesizer. That would come a couple of years later in the supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer. So here, his talents are limited to just organ and piano. That is, if you could ever refer to Emerson’s playing as limited. Listening to “Nice” you can’t help but feel that it’s the instruments themselves that are limited in Emerson’s hands.
It’s easy to tell here how influential Keith Emerson was to ELP – and not just because both The Nice and ELP had keyboards as the main lead instrument. Like ELP, the songs on “Nice” integrate rock and roll with heavier doses of classical and jazz than do the psychedelic musings of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and the dark, moody prog of King Crimson, Carl Palmer’s and Greg Lake’s respective bands prior to ELP. Then there’s the many pieces of Nice songs that were incorporated into later ELP tracks.
The standout track however, at least to me, is the live track “Rondo ’69”, which was based on the polyrhythmic “Blue Rondo à la Turk” by jazz master Dave Brubeck, from his 1959 classic “Time Out“. “Rondo” became a keyboard showcase at Emerson Lake and Palmer concerts in the years to come.
I hate to admit it, but until the 1980s, when I started to expand my musical appreciations, I thought Rondo was an ELP original. Yeah, not even close. It’s pure Brubeck; the song is merely reinterpreted by Keith Emerson and the other members of The Nice. But I give them credit for the improvisational midsection. It was very…Nice.
The Pineapple Thief is a band I had heard and read a lot about before finally buying an album by them. I bought their 11th record mainly because Gavin Harrison, one of my favorite drummers, had been brought into their fold. I never realized why I liked Gavin Harrison’s drumming so much until I listened to The Pineapple Thief’s 12th album, “Dissolution”. I can not stop listening to this record. A good part of that reason I discovered, is Harrison’s influence.
It is rare for a drummer to be as intricately involved in the songs he plays on as Gavin Harrison is. There was such a shift from the “The Wilderness” to “Dissolution”, that I had to read through the liner notes to see what had changed. It was immediately obvious. Gavin Harrison co-wrote all but two songs with The Pineapple Thief’s founder, Bruce Soord. The shift was as noticeable as when Porcupine Tree founder Steven Wilson brought Harrison into their fold in 2002. Coincidence? I think not.
Although I am not yet familiar with The Pineapple Thief’s earlier work, I am willing to bet that adding Gavin Harrison to the line-up, is one of the best decisions Bruce Swoord has ever made.
Still, that doesn’t mean I’m not eager to check out their other earlier albums.
Eddie Jobson is an amazing musician. Case in point: his role in the British progressive rock band U.K. Not only could he play keyboards to a level that would make even Mozart smile, he was even more so a virtuoso on violin.
After their debut album, the prog rock supergroup lost its original drummer, Bill Bruford and lead guitarist extraordinaire Alan Holdsworth over creative differences. For their second album, “Danger Money”, U.K. replaced Bruford with the equally talented Terry Bozzio. The band decided to replace Holdsworth with…well, nobody. They instead placed more emphasis on Eddie Jobson’s keyboards and electric violin for the solos. Jobson was more than up to the challenge with their newer songs.
But what about playing the older songs live, on tour?
“Night After Night” answered that question in true evocation of Holdsworth’s talent. It’s on Alan Holdsworth’s solos where Eddie Jobson proves how amazing he is. He not only switches from keys to violin flawlessly but also adopts Holdsworth’s complex jazz infused solos perfectly to the violin without so much as flinching. If this was the album where you first heard U.K. you would swear the solos were written for electric violin.
Come to think of it, this is the album where I first heard U.K.
Well then, there you go.
Two eclecticly creative talents. One creatively eclectic album.
I knew I was in for something different when I picked up this 1973 album by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno, but sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind.
Filled with often atmospheric soundscapes, “No Pussyfooting” is an album intended to subdue and entrance. Two extended songs performed solely on guitar and synthesizer. No drums or bass, no vocals, no outside musicians. This is an album that is intended to take your mind on a journey, painting pictures with sound. It could easily be the soundtrack to an avant-garde movie that was never made or a backdrop for deep meditation.
“No Pussyfooting” is a true original classic that sits far outside the mainstream. Then again, what else would you expect from the minds of the main creative forces in King Crimson and early Roxy Music?
When most people think of rock and roll instruments, they think of the guitar. probably because most rock bands used guitar as the main lead instrument. Most, but not all.
Even though Greg Lake from Emerson Lake and Palmer did occasionally pick up a guitar, it was not his primary instrument. Greg Lake was first and foremost a bassist. When he left King Crimson to join forces with Keith Emerson, keyboardist from The Move, and Carl Palmer, drummer from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, to form the supergroup Emerson Lake and Palmer, guitar was a secondary thought. “Trilogy”, ELP’s third album, was proof that rock bands didn’t need to be all about the guitar.
The only significant guitar work on “Trilogy” is on “From the Beginning”, the only single released from the album. While only a fool would deny that it is impressively beautiful guitar work, it’s still the synthesizer work at the end of the song that steals the show. And stealing the show is what “Trilogy” seems to focus on; not just for Keith Emerson’s keys, but equally for Greg Lake’s ripping bass lines and Carl Palmer’s powerful, yet intricate percussion.
“Trilogy” was an album that was a team effort for ELP. It is an album that focuses on the virtuosity of all three members, not just one. That is what made ELP such a fantastic band. Each of the members was such a master of their individual instrument that a band could have been formed around each of them alone; but to have them all in one band together, focusing on their trilogy of talent was amazing.
Emerson Lake and Palmer released a couple of good albums before “Trilogy”, but this is the record where everything first fell perfectly into place for them. This was the album where Emerson Lake and Palmer stopped being former members of other bands and became a collectively combined force of three great musicians – a trilogy…in which guitar was not the primary instrument.
“The sum is greater than the parts” is a truism that is perfectly evidenced by the band Bad Company. How much greater that sum can be was immediately evident on their debut album.
All of the members of Bad Company were accomplished players in successful bands before forming the band. Singer Paul Rodgers and Drummer Simon Kirke had been in the band Free. Mick Ralphs was the guitarist for Mott the Hoople, and Boz Burrell played bass for King Crimson. As great as each of them was individually as parts of those bands, it was no comparison to the success they would accomplish when they came together in 1974 to form one of the most successful supergroups of all time.
Bad Company’s synonymous eponymous debut topped the Billboard album chart and remains one of the most successful debut albums in rock and roll. That success was not short-lived either, for the band or the album. “Bad Co” was the first of three albums by Bad Company to reach the top five position in the Billboard charts and the start of an 11 album run to break Billboard’s top 200. Several of the songs off the album are still played regularly on classic rock radio stations today.
Perhaps one of the most unusual artists to gain popular success in the eighties was Laurie Anderson. “Mr. Heartbreak” is her second album. Like its predecessor, “Mister Heartbreak” is a combination of musical experimentation spun together with a combination of spoken word and sung lyrics.
It may take some people a couple listens to fully appreciate “Mister Heartbreak”, or any of Laurie Anderson’s music for that matter. The interplay of the words and sounds is unlike any album that had come before it.
With as different as “Mister Heartbreak” is, I am actually surprised the album did as well as it did, hitting number 60 on the Billboard top 200 album chart in 1984. Certainly, Adrian Belew (King Crimson) on guitar and Peter Gabriel (Genesis) appearing on a couple of songs didn’t hurt it having a broader appeal to some people, making them want to give it a listen. I am glad I was one of them.
Even though I had never heard anything by The Pineapple Thief, I had been wanting to pick up something by them for a while. I had read some good things about them and they were referenced a lot by other bands I liked. But the clincher that got me to pick up “Your Wilderness”, was Gavin Harrison jumping on board as their drummer.
Gavin Harrison is one of those rare drummers who plays the drums not to merely rhythmically hold songs together, but like my other favorite drummers, Harrison approaches the drums as another instrument that adds to the composition – not just underlying, but overlaying the architecture of the music. Although he is not as well-known, I hold Gavin Harrison in the same league as Bill Bruford of Yes and Neal Peart of Rush.
This album takes influences from numerous bands that are notoriously unique. If I had to pick three that most prominently shined through, it would be The Flaming Lips, Porcupine Tree, and early Radiohead. There are elements of many others, which should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with those bands since rec of them are masters at combining a diverse combination of musical influences into something totally original.
I love albums that focus around a central theme. Maybe that’s why I liked this album so much on the first listen. All of the songs seem to revolve around losing that one special love in your life and not realizing that it was your own shortcomings that tore things apart until it was too late. It’s a theme encapsulated in the lyrics in the opening track, “In Exile”: “Don’t be afraid to miss me / Don’t be afraid to hate me”. It’s also a sentiment that is sadly and romantically reminisced in “Where We Stood” the song that brings the whole emotional tug-of-war of this album to its inevitable open closure: “I don’t remember if we stood up there / I don’t remember if we stood”. This is a somber album and for the most part the music fits that mood. In all honesty, the playing is much more laid back than I expected, only breaking out a with some serious jamming on a couple rare occasions. But then, this is an album that is all about composition and song structure and making the listener feel this is a personal story. Their own personal story.
“Your Wilderness” is everything I had hoped for based on what I had heard about The Pineapple Thief. It is definitely a progressive rock album. But it is not one founded only on early prog. In a true progressive tradition, “Your Wilderness” is a musical collection built upon the influences of post-progressive rock bands that were influenced by the original prog rockers – an end result that is as inspiring and impressionable as the music that inpired and made an impression on it.