Tag Archives: prog rock

194. Soft Machine – Third

Soft Machine - ThirdIt might seem a bit strange, but listening here to Soft Machine’s experimental leviathan album reminds me of “Game of Thrones”. Like the repeated threats that “Winter is Coming” that lurk as I binge-watch through the box sets of tits and dragons, the shadow of prog-rock has been beckoning here for a while. Yes, soon you, dear reader, will have to face up to Yes, Hawkwind, Genesis (sorry), and Jethro Tull, and while there’s some Floyd and Tubular Bells in the mix, that’s still a lot of Moog-mangling to fight through.

You might have picked up on my cynicism with that last paragraph, because, honestly, damn, “Third” was hard work. It’s an 85-minute long behemoth, though it starts with some intriguing electronic distortion and even the promise of some proto-ambience.

Still, despite its prog rock label, this is an album that leans a lot on jazz, and there’s more than a few hints of Miles Davis scattered here and there, certainly enough to give you the feeling there’s something to be reckoned with here.

It’s also an album that clearly harbours the seeds of ambient music, and surely Brian Eno would have been taking notes. From the 19-minute opener “Facelift”, that sounds like it could have come straight from “Bitches’ Brew” to the more mellow “Slightly all the Time” and the more tongue-in-cheek “Moon in June”, there’s a sense of the album enveloping you, and the final track, “Out-Bloody-Rageous” is music to float away to, even with its fair share of freaking out.

Out of the group, Robert Wyatt was the only one to later find solo success, and the album can be seen as a battle between his strange singing and the rest of the band’s jazzy wanderings. “Moon in June” was Wyatt’s last real contribution to the band, and, if not a highlight as such, is certainly the most prominent part of the album.

Wyatt was once quoted as saying “I work in a trance, don’t really know what I’m doing ’til it’s all done”, and that describes the sensation of this album well. Still, as ethereal as it is, there’s no real ‘grab’ moment and nothing that, for me at least, screams for revisiting any time soon.

168. King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King

King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson KingNow THAT’s how you start an album. It takes about 25 seconds before it kicks in, but when it gets going, the opening track, “21st Century Schizoid Man” explodes through the speakers, promising 44 minutes of sonic anarchy and experimentation. It’s thrilling and unexpected and grabs your attention immediately.

On my first listen though, that wake-up call faded fast as the album progressed, seemingly far more conventionally. It was only after a couple of listens that the album really gives up the gravy.

Perhaps it was the second track, the more sublime “I Talk to the Wind” that threw me off. It’s a far more relaxed affair after the gargantuan opening track, with a folksy ballad sound that doesn’t really feel quite in place, but it’s only on closer inspection that you realise that even that has some intricate soundscaping behind it. It’s as if Syd Barrett had a go at producing a Simon and Garfunkel album.

Still, it all gets proper interesting again with “Epitaph”, which somehow manages to be epic, ethereal and gentle at the same time, while “Moonchild” pushes the boundaries towards an ambient vibe, an idea which feels as anachronistic as a sudden appearance of Amen loops and Autotune.

The final track, “The Court of the Crimson King”, brings it all back home, sharing harmonies with the opening track and mixing it with gospel harmonies, flute and smugly overenthusiastic drumming. It’s thematically in keeping with the rest of the album but ends the album gently.

I’ve never been too trusting of prog rock, an irony given my Floyd obsession, and looking at the albums coming up soon on this list, that might be a hazard to deal with. Still, this first real delve into the prog quagmire (progmire?) isn’t an unpleasant experience, and looking at that haunting, stunning cover, I find myself dreaming of staring at that album artwork late at night in an apartment full of wicker, incense, cheap wine, fag ash and bean bags, listening through headphones and letting the world’s stresses go fuck themselves.