A few weeks ago, somebody asked me why I enjoy listening to prog rock music. I found it slightly difficult to formulate an answer - how would you express reasons for liking or disliking particular genres of any artistic field? Oddly, it seems most of the aspects I can think of that I most appreciate about prog music, actually tend to be the same things which cause many other people to have an antipathy to it! It is variously described as "difficult", "showy", or "complex" and "time-consuming". Now if you'll allow me four minutes of your time, I'd like to use this song as an example for the discussion to follow:Toys (on YouTube)
It's by Frost* (who I've mentioned before
) and comes from their new album released late last year. It sounds very different from their first release Milliontown, for many reasons - not least that writer/producer Jem Godfrey consciously and deliberately wanted to do something different instead of repeating the style of his earlier record. I think of it less as a second album, than as the debut of a band who have reinvented themselves as a sort-of proggier version of Muse.
Anyway, the track. At first glance it appears too short to be prog - but prog's reputation for twenty minute epics is perhaps a little overstated! Many prog bands have indeed recorded some very long pieces but that is by no means the entire content of their repertoire.
Are the lyrics prog? Well I don't really understand what half of them are about, so that's probably a yes. Incidentally, the video - which is unofficial, made by a fan and publicised on the band's forum - contains a lot of in-jokes and references, some to the previous work of Frost or events on Jem's blog, but also some more directly to the lyrics of the song (which are a lot of fun, albeit embarrassingly literal on occasion... nonetheless I tip my hat to the sublime sequence around 2:10 of car, pet, hides, the gilt E, duster, weigh)
Did you notice the time signature of the song in the video? If you didn't pay attention it might have appeared very simple; in fact it shifts from 4/4 to 7/8, but does so so often and so easily that you hardly notice that it's happening - that is, until you try joining in or (heaven forbid) dancing to it. Some people think the best songs have three chords, and could be sung round a camp fire with an acoustic guitar. Maybe that is "good" on some scale but simplicity isn't something that I'm inspired by. We are complex creatures and I prefer complex music, with lots of unexpected chord changes, time signature changes, and all the rest. Most of my favourite bass lines are the ones that I can't play myself
(though through practice they are becoming reduced in number) - I want to listen to musicians that I can aspire to, rather than the stuff hitting the top 40 singles charts which I could have recorded myself. **
So is that, at the end of the day, why I listen to noisy music with weird chords, incomprehensible lyrics with a beat you can hardly follow, let alone dance to? It comes down to a personal preference. I like
the weird chords. I like
being unable to predict where the music will flow (at least, until I've heard it a couple of times). That's not to say I don't appreciate different styles - certainly for example, the songs that I play in church need to be relatively pedestrian and predictable *** because we expect a musically-untrained congregation of 300 people to join in and sing along; if they can't follow the tune then the song is a failure. Occasionally I feel guilty for not listening to more Christian music, but most of it (whilst not being bad per se) just isn't in the style that I personally most enjoy listening to.
* The asterisk is part of their name, and is not a reference to this footnote...
** NB recorded, not written. I'd love to learn the skill to write, but at the moment I'm yet to come up with an original sequence that still seemed like a good idea after more than eight bars or so. Mind you, I'll bet that's probably true for most of the top 40 "artists" as well.
*** I shall never make a good preacher, since I was unable to find a third appropriate adjective beginning with the same letter.