The Quest for the Ultimate Prog Album
Jean Roby Commentary March 2015
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2015 All Rights Reserved
Is there such a thing as the ultimate Prog Album…an album that would include all that is quintessential to Prog…an album that would push the envelope so far that there would not be anything beyond it, and yet an album that would retain all the multi-faceted features that came to define the genre at its beginnings…an album that would weave lyrics and music with such artistry and grace and power that one could not say exactly where voices began and where instruments stopped…an album that would harmonize melody and dissonance, rhythm and silence, might and fineness, composition and improvisation, acoustic and electric, universal and ethnic…an album that would be hailed unanimously and judiciously by musicians and fans alike…an album that would rule them all, to paraphrase some famous writing?
I’m asking myself the question because it looks as if most – if not all – of us Prog fans are on a never-ending quest for that one-of-a-kind masterwork that would encompass all albums. When we think and feel that we have found the unique gem, we eagerly label it “the best there is”, “the top of the crop”, “the essential one”, “the absolute must”, and so on. And we also like to let others know about our discovery, which is only natural. We want – need even – to share our views and feelings about the album. At the same time, we are looking to be comforted by others – friends or more or less anonymous friends we meet at various forums – who will side with us in praising the album.
That said, it is also paradoxical because, when faced with the choice of others, many of us tend more often than not to discuss and dissect the merits and qualities of the said album, leading eventually to conclude with “But have you listened to that album by that other band?”
The paradox is even more obvious when we are confronted with someone’s list of Top 10 Albums or some compilation by critics and/or fans aiming to crown the Top XX Prog Albums (whether of the year, the decade, or the whole era from its origins up to now). Usually, most of us will not argue much about, let’s say, the Top 10 albums of a given poll… but, then most of us will nevertheless quibble over the rank awarded to this album compared to the rank of other albums. In other words, our individual selections tend to clash with selections resulting from a general and wide audience.
Thus, we keep on looking for that special album as if the proof of our love and devotion to Prog lies in finding that hypothetical crowning masterpiece… and then what?
Jerry Lucky adds his two-cents to the debate: Jean brings up some great points and poses many excellent questions. The challenge, as I see it, is that the question in and of itself revolves around a rather subjective area and perhaps makes the mistake of being – the wrong question to ask. Music is primarily a matter of personal taste or personal preference and each of us brings our unique tastes and preferences to the table. There will always be aspects and variables we will agree or disagree on. This aspect of taste or preference is something usually formed in our early twenties and tends to stay with us from that point on. Given the fact that we humans age and music changes with each passing year it becomes an ever moving target. As someone once said it’s a bit like trying to nail Jello to the wall. It simple can’t be done. Add to this the fact that music is more than anything experiential and that brings in yet another variable making the selection of “ultimate” that much more impossible to pin down. All of which leads me to suggest, rather than looking for the “Ultimate Prog Album” we might be better off proclaiming “Our Favorite Prog Album.”
So, is there an Ultimate Prog Album? Obviously, it has not been found yet… and I would go even further to state: I hope that the quest for it will go on as some song without end. If such an album was ever to be released, it would inevitably mean the end of Prog. Having reached its quintessential zenith, the genre would have nowhere else to go but downwards until it would eventually disappear into musical oblivion… which is not the fate I am that eager to be witness as of yet. There is still so much territory to chart, or revisit, to envision the demise of the genre in the near or not so-near future.
So, if you feel like it, go on, keep on searching… Be aware though that, if do you find what you think is The Ultimate Prog Album, there will be a whole lot of us who will want to listen to yours…and then we will surely want you to listen to ours!