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They Sound Like…

Jerry Lucky Commentary August 2009

Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2009 All Rights Reserved

 

Over the years I’ve commented on how the Progressive Rock genre stands alone as a style of music that welcomes sound

comparisons. I say “welcome” when it’s done in the proper sense. No other genre of music so readily takes a band’s musical

output and makes these sound-alike comparisons with some other established group’s output. As to why this is, one can only guess.

Some might say its because the music is more adventurous or complex…others may point to the general difficulty in trying to describe the

music at all…and still others may be taking the lazy way out. I don’t know why it started but I know why I do it. I do it (and I like it when others

do it in a positive sense) because it’s a way for me to know whether this is a band that is anywhere near my personal musical tastes at the time; after all my tastes have changed over the years.

 

Now there are times where we end up dealing with the “law of unintended consequences.” You know like genetic research, “Oops, hey I’m just the scientist, I don’t do morality.” In this particular case what we’d be talking about is where in an effort to describe a band, the describer will refer to the band as being a clone or bad-imitation of the original. This kind of comparison-shopping has always troubled me. For one thing it really serves no purpose other than to bad-mouth a band and their music. Even if they do sound like a “poor man’s Moody Blues” is that any reason to pull out the ridicule card? I think not; go and listen to something else!

 

Some year’s back I wrote about this tactic as it applied to the band Starcastle whose first albums were disparaged as sounding like Yes clones. In my writing I attempted to deconstruct Starcastle’s music to demonstrate just how different their music actually was. On the surface there may have been some obvious similarities but below that superficial observation was something that was totally unique to Starcastle. And yet I recently read a review on a well established website that continued to perpetuate this superficial approach.

 

This is on my mind, because some month’s back I started corresponding with a French-Canadian friend in Quebec, Canada, who’d recently rediscovered the progressive rock of his youth and like so many was totally unaware of the current state of prog and how much great music was out there. He had a lot of catching up to do. He kindly bought my books as refresher course and we’ve been corresponding on all sorts of musical matters. You should know that Jean is not a superficial kind of guy. You can tell by his correspondence he’s a thinker and so it’s not surprising that progressive rock music appeals to him. The other day he sent me his comments on an album most of us know really well…

 

“By the way, today (while it was raining cats and dogs for many hours... for a change), I took the time to listen closely to MARILLION's Misplaced Childhood. It's a very good album. And it has some refreshing raw energy.

 

Granted, the singer often sounds like Gabriel and the music does have similarity with that of GENESIS. But what ? I don't see the problem many raise when they talk about MARILLION. This band has taken one the greatest Prog Rock bands for a model. There's nothing wrong with that. On the contrary, it shows their good

taste and musical finesse. Also, the singer picks up where Gabriel left-off and the other members of the band pick up where GENESIS left for that dubious pop shit under Phil Collins.

 

That said, the lyrical content of MARILLION's songs is on the opposite side of what Gabriel used to write and sing. And, musically speaking, the structures, arrangements and time signatures of MARILLIONS's songs are quite different from GENESIS. Which brings me to state that, as far as Misplaced Childhood goes, the alleged similarity (some even talk about "cloning”!) between MARILLION and GENESIS lies only on the surface of things. Consequently, since the true nature and worth of any Prog Rock band does not lay on the surface of things, the musical core, the real originality of MARILLION stands out, even if the band owes some aspects of its sound to GENESIS.”

 

Well I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s easy to simply slag some band off by saying they’re just copying someone else. But that really fails to describe what the band is really accomplishing with the music they create. We all take our inspiration from some other place, be that writers, composers, artists of any sort. That inspiration will be most prominent at the beginning of a career and develop as the artist matures. Why must we be so shallow as to take the easy road? My electronics teacher used to say, “We take the path of least resistance.” That certainly seems to be true of writers who persist in taking the negative route disparaging the work of musicians by failing to really listen to what’s on the disc and instead trot out tired old hackneyed clichés such as “They sound like…”

 

At least that’s what I think.

Jerry Lucky

(8/1/09)