The prog's bollock
There was a time when prog was very much a four-letter word, but Mark Robertson reckons things are looking up with bands like Tool around.
There was a time, a long time ago in what feels like a galaxy far, far away that capes, revolving stages, endless drum solos and high-falutin’ concept albums were not just the norm but were positively encouraged. Then a bunch of snot nosed, gobby kids appeared, armed with a few New York Dolls riffs held together with safety pins, and the whole gig was resolutely fucked. Punk didn’t so much kill progressive rock in the 70s - these guys were way too big to be killed off, no matter how strong the movement was - these odd creatures just retreated until the 80s when they could reconvene for arena tours and triple albums, once music had become suitably anodyne and toothless again.
Thirty years down the line, everything and anything is up for grabs musically and prog, like punk, post-punk, baggy, rave, heavy metal, C86 indie, have all been reconvened into new (well, newish) shapes, designs and colours. The parps and farts of the Klaxons may signal the party of 1989 being reconvened by a bunch of tarts who were sitting watching Thundercats while it all happened first time round and, similarly, prog has been taken up by people who know Rick Wakeman as the funny old guy they saw once on Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
The fun thing is that prog has now been combined with the very phenomenon that crippled it in the 70s: punk. Incredible bands like Kling Klang (who play this issue, see Hitlist, right), Mystery Jets, Secret Machines, The Cooper Temple Clause, Mew, Pure Reason Revolution, Oceansize, Mastodon, Amplifier, The Decembrists, The Mars Volta, Muse and even home-grown beasts rock like Moniack, Desalvo, Lapsus Linguae, Laeto and Dananananaykroyd all seem concerned with pushing the musical envelope out of the Libertines-shaped straitjacket into new head space. Much of this has been facilitated by two bands: Radiohead and Tool. The indie kids get in via the former and the metallers via the latter and the next thing you know - splat! - sub-Clash strums and faux heroin habits are abandoned in favour of 9/8 time signatures and ferocious dynamism. The best thing to come out of all this is that there are bands who are unashamed to play really well. They sound phenomenal and trade on the aural qualities of the music rather than the appealing hues of the vomit encrusted on their leather jackets.
Tool are easily one of the most innovative bands of the last 20 years, standing alongside Rage Against The Machine, Faith No More and Jane’s Addiction as acts who’ve genuinely shifted the goalposts in rock music while shifting serious units. Theirs is a brutal volumous sound, four (almost overly) talented players smelting prog’s original over-blown intentions into a giant, fluid, monster, struggling in it’s own skin, one moment ghostly, the next crushingly heavy.
This month’s show at the SECC heralds their latest album 10,000 Days, a dark and complex 70-minuter, meditating on the fetid stench emanating from the American dream, but still finding space to cleanse old bones with uncompromising riffs, making a truly special live experience. And not a cape in sight.
SECC, Glasgow, Sat 25 Nov.