Saturday, June 11, 2011

Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era [5CD Box set] - Impressions on this boxset then and now.

Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era [5CD Box set]
Impressions on this boxset then and now.

When I was first getting heavily into 70s Prog at the utter beginning of the 2000s, I'd just been on the internet for about a year and it still wasn't the place of resource that it is now where you can sample, investigate and Download bands by the dozens a day. So having genre focused boxsets like this was of great benefit. And while I did get some good stuff out of this, at the time, I can't help but think now how this could have been so much better. Not saying that it was completely worthless, as there are plenty of gems here for the Prog initiate. I just think this boxet could have been of even greater utility to me and all those who might have used this as a stepping stone into Prog, had greater care gone into the project at hand. Thankfully I never actually bought this thing, it was one of the many boxsets in music library at KUNM (radio station I used to host shows at), and I borrowed it, made CD-R copies and photocopied all the inserts. Around this time, I had been familiarizing myself with the big names, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and barely started making my way towards that 2nd level of bands you discover once you started scratching beneath the surface, Gentle Giant, Can, VDGG, etc. So taking this boxset home and seeing all these obscure names that may just become some of your new favorite bands (and many did!) was exhilarating and a bit overwhelming. To be honest though at that time I wasn't completely blown away by all that I heard, and after listening to each of the 5CDs in full, only a few really stood out for me and those usually being the more blatantly technical or weirder sounding bands. It was actually the first time I really heard both ELP and Frank Zappa, those songs ("Karn Evil 9" + "Inca Roads") completely took my senses by storm and made me an instant fan of each! Also Henry Cow's tiny inclusion "War" caught my ear, it's quirky and catchy and I'd never quite heard music like it before. There were a few other highlights here and there but many of those bands would actually take a few years before I fully got into them, one song per band just wasn't going to be enough to win me over. You must understand that I was really branching out into a realm and era of music that I had little to no knowledge of but highly enthusiastic about, so some of this stuff took time to finally sink in and grow on me. Plus Progressive music is very challenging as well as being subtle and dense, so I shouldn't have expected many of these bands to immediately hit me. I also think flooding your eardrums and mind with so much great music at once, doesn't allow you to fully appreciate each band/song as they should be. Now, a decade later and thousands of hours of listening time and thought invested in Progressive Rock, I must bring this boxset under scrutiny and wonder if part of the reason why some of this music didn't resonate with me in the way that I had hoped for at the time was due to being a poorly put together compilation? Wondering if the songs choices were the best ones for each band? Also if some bands should have been left out while other more appropriate Prog bands been included to represent the vast and diverse genre and era of 70s Prog? One of the biggest shames of this project is how they were unable to secure songs by some quintessential Prog acts such as, King Crimson, Camel, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and many others. Ostensibly I can understand if there was some legal/licensing issues, but it seems like almost an embarrassment how they couldn't manage to get at least the mighty King Crimson, which is arguably THEE Prog band of the 70s. So going over this boxset compilation over a decade later I can't help but think that this project was a rush job and it has the feel of something haphazardly thrown together to get on the market. Also I call into question the compilers of this project, if they really were true fans of Prog, and if they were, why were some of these track choices so piss-poor and not very well representative of the band and the genre as a whole? The purpose of a good compilation is to provide a taste of many bands who all share a common theme or genre: in this case late-60s/early70s Prog. Sometimes one song just isn't enough so the song chosen should be a flagship song that embodies much of what that band is about. What I'm going to do is go down the line pick out each song and give my impression on two points; if the song not only is a good induction to this huge 5CD project on Progressive Rock, but also if its a song that well represents the band at hand.

CD 1: 67:18
(I like how they focused on this first CD making it mostly ProtoProg stuff from the 60s)

1. THE NICE: America (6:18)
(Might be their most well known track, but its also a cover song from Leonard Bernstein's, West Side Story. Something a little more individualistic for the band would have been better. You'll see a reoccurring trend towards these 'novelty tracks' throughout this if the compilers couldn't be bothered to take the time to listen to more tracks from these bands and choose a better songs.)

2. TRAFFIC: Paper Sun (4:18)
(This is a pretty good, psychedelic, jazzy little number. I'm still not super familiar with Traffic, but they definitely deserve mention for their contributions in those formative days of Prog and Psych)

3. PROCOL HARUM: Repent Walpurgis (5:10)
(Another key band from the earliest days of Prog and definitely deserve some space on this comp. A nice haunting little instrumental number. I personally would have preferred something more w/ more vocals but this song really does hit the spot.)

4. The PRETTY THINGS: Private Sorrow / Balloon Burning (7:39)
(Credited as making the first concept album, The Pretty Things as well as this segment of songs hailing from the album in question "S.F. Sorrow", is a perfect induction into this boxset, plenty of diversification here which puts the band in a good light.)

5. The MOODY BLUES: Legend Of A Mind (6:47)
(Another quintessential early Prog/Psych/Experimental Rock band, this song is the somewhat well known tribute to LSD icon Timothy Leary, I'd prefer more of a deeper cut from one of their albums, but it really does showcase the band at the top of their game, very atmospheric with a wide use of instrumentation, including an early use of the mellotron.)

6. RENAISSANCE: Kings & Queens (11:00)
(Now here is somewhat of an odd choice for this band, while it does show an early Prog band that was hugely inspired by classical music, and a very good song at that, it's not what most would consider "classic era" Renaissance, approx 1972 onwards when the beautiful vocal talents of Annie Haslam entered the fold, became center stage for the band and gave them what most would consider their distinct Renaissance sound. I'd be like having a compilation on Heavy Metal and including a song from one of the first 2 Iron Maiden albums, instead of anything from the Bruce era (with all due respect to Paul DiAnno.) Good song no less, but just a very odd choice.)

7. RARE BIRD: Sympathy (2:38)
(This was a minor hit overseas, and while its an okay melancholic 'peace and love' track, I personally feel that some of the better songs off Rare Bird's 1969's debut s/t album that would have been far greater, the grandiose "Gods of War" for one.)

8. PETER SINFIELD: Under The Sky (4:21)
(A very calming earthy tune from this cat who was part of King Crimson during their early years, very poetic stuff, but I wouldn't want to have too many songs of this light airy nature representing Prog, a few, like this one, is good for variety's sake.)

9. KLAUS SCHULZE: Searching (12:18)
(Another great song that adds to the variety here, early spacey ambient music by the master. A Tangerine Dream song would have also been appreciated.)

10. Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come: Sunrise (6:49)
(The compilers actually get a few bonus points here for including Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come, instead of the much more well known Crazy World of...and their iconic hit "Fire." This sad little song here showcases that eclectic, and wild vocal talents of Aurthur Brown, but it doesn't really show the humorous side of this band in which ought to have been represented here. Once again, many of these songs of low key nature, maybe just a few too many IMO. The next CD picks up that pace though.)

CD 2: 63:33
(Starting to get into Progressive Rock proper, and a nice variety of international bands start making their appearance.)

1. APHRODITE'S CHILD: The System/ Babylon (3:22)
(This is taken from the most well known, and best album "666" which is also a concept album that plays out like one long schizophrenic track. So it would have been hard to choose which song/segment to include here, they took the easy way out and just put the first part of this massive album. The album has a few truly freaky tracks that I would have chosen instead, but what we have here is a decent enough choice though.

2. ATOMIC ROOSTER: Death Walks Behind You (7:34)
(While its their most well known track, I can't imagine a better more representative song they could have chosen from this seminal Heavy Prog band. Most of their later stuff is geared in a more Hardrock/Boogie direction, but the album that bears the same song here is a mandatory listen for anyone interested in early Heavy Metal. Track is also good for variety to showcasing, heavier, bluesier side of Prog.)

3. ASH RA TEMPEL: Der Vierte Kuss (6:25)
(There are better tracks out there by this cosmic Krautrock jam band. This song here, is basically bluesy jamming that could have been seen at any bar during that time. Very boring and disappointing inclusion.)

4. Van Der Graaf Generator: Killer (8:20)
(Now we reach on of my personal favs, and a giant in the world of Prog. I also think this song is about as perfect a track you could chose to go on a Prog comp as well as showcasing what this band has to offer.)

5. CAN: Oh Yeah (7:23)
(Another one of my personal favs, and one of the farthest reaching bands in terms of influence in Underground Pop music history. Another perfect song choice for both the comp and the band.)

6. ELP: Knife-Edge (5:08)
(One of two tracks included here by the mighty ELP. And now for one of my biggest complaints here; why do we need 2 songs by ELP? ...together taking up almost 20 minutes of CD space in this boxset? Really, everyone ought to know ELP by now, and they should have made space for a couple more deserving lesser known bands. And while I admit this was the first time I heard ELP (even w/o this boxset I'm sure I would have heard them soon enough), one song would have been sufficient enough.)

7. CARAVAN: In The Land Of Grey And Pink (4:59)
(I love this little song! I think when I first heard this boxset this is one of the many that I probably passed up, being that it's a relatively simple, non-imposing little number. But hearing it now it makes perfect sense for it's inclusion as well as summing up much of what the band has to offer in one good song.)

8. CURVED AIR: It Happened Today (4:58)
(It's nice to show a few female fronted bands here, and show that Prog wasn't all a big sausage fest. (The opportunity could have also been had in showing some amazing female vocals with Renaissance, but they fucked that one up!) However the choice is so fucking basic; the first song off their first album. Wow, what little time they took in choosing this song, pathetic. A much better song could have been found off their "Phantasmagoria" album IMO, had they made a bit of effort.)

9. FOCUS: Hocus Pocus (6:44)
(Eh, what a lame choice. While it may be their most known song, is definitely a novelty hit. A song that can actually still be heard on classic rock radio now and then and I believed was also used for a car commercial. A much better cut could have been found off their bombastic fusion opus, "3", which would have shown this band at their absolute best.)

10. WIGWAM: Prophet/ Marvelry Skimmer (8:40)
(After a couple of flops this CD gets some redemption by including this good set of tracks, 4th album "Being". A nice balance of talent and originality, are displayed here, as well as being the only band from Finland included here!)

CD 3: 69:56

1. YES: Perpetual Change (8:57)
(You can't go wrong with anything from Yes, circa 1971-1977, and this song is as good as any to showcase the brilliance of this important band. But once again, like the treatment of ELP in this boxset, Yes get 2 songs! Once again, if your into Prog, or getting into Prog, you're going to know Yes, regardless. So why take up so much space with the big names, while there are literally hundreds of other lesser known Prog bands that could have and should have been included.)

2. ARGENT: Lothlorien (7:54)
(I'm still not even sure who this band is, but this song is pretty darn good. It starts off bring that medieval sounding edge that's synonymous with Prog as well as leading into a jazzy side that keeps it all together, that last part of the song get a little to jammy and solo oriented for me. But a decent enough song none the less. I'll have to investigate further.)

3. ROXY MUSIC: Ladytron (4:24)
(It's good to show a bit of the Glam side of things, and Roxy Music is about the best band to do it. Song choice is decent enough, but there are other Roxy Music songs that might have been better. It would have also been nice to include some of the works off the early Brian Eno albums, which IMO, are milestones in the world of progressive and experimental rock/pop music.)

4. SUPERSISTER: Radio (4:02)
(This band doesn't even get enough praise and its nice to see them included here. Very quirky and talented band. Kind of like Caravan meets The Mothers. Decent enough song here that shows, a few sides of the band.)

5. SAVAGE ROSE: Dear Little Mother (4:25)
(Another, who the fuck is this band? Haha! A charming little number, and also bonus points for it having a female singer. But there are definitely better bands out there that should have been included.)

6. GENESIS: Musical Box (10:31)
(Genesis are about the greatest band that ever existed, but again, a big name band getting 2 lengthy songs included in this boxset is just a no-no. 20 minutes for Genesis could have been trimmed down to 5 or 10 mins, and another 2 or 3 bands been included in this set. It seems pretty lazy if you ask me.

7. ELO: Roll Over Beethoven (8:11)
(Yet another fucking novelty track, and a bad one at that. ELO might be a talented band, but one must question why they are even on this comp to begin with? Perhaps some of their earlier albums could be considered more progressive, but there are so many more deserving bands, yet they throw ELO on here with their goofiest novelty hit, it's just plain silly.)

8. The STRAWBS: New World (4:16)
(This band definitely deserves a place in a boxset on Prog, decent enough track that shows the band in a good light, but hark! what do I see below? another track from The Strabs, grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!)

9. PFM: Celebration (3:53)
(Once again, they go with the novelty cut, proving that the compilers aren't as familiar with the music as they'd lead you to believe. PFM are the most popular band amongst the greater Rock Progressivo Italiano world, and its shame they couldn't have culled a more appropriate song to represent both the band and Italy's huge 70s Prog scene.)

10. ELP: Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Pts. 1 & 2 (13:22)
(The 2nd ELP track, while this is 2 parts of their magnum opus, it doesn't need to be here considering they already had a song.)

CD 4: 63:10

1. GENESIS: Dancing With The Moonlit Knight (8:02)
(Brilliant song!, but like ELP, one Genesis song should have been enough.)

2. YES: Siberian Khatru (9:23)
(Brilliant song!, but like ELP and Genesis, one Yes song should have been enough.)

3. ROXY MUSIC: Virginia Plain (3:02)
(WHAT!??! Another Roxy Music song? Fuck these compilers are now even lazier than I thought!!!. boooo!!!)

4. WISHBONE ASH: Warrior (5:57)
(This a great song, from a great album. Everyone into Prog as well as early Heavy Metal should own this album, "Argus". Also one of the earliest bands to use the dual guitar method who in turn was one of the biggest influences on Iron Maiden. Glad they included this.)

5. LARD FREE: Warinobaril (3:53)
(Here is a cool little induction of this Krautrock band that hails from France. Once again though this seems like it was handled with little care. First song off the first album which actually noticeably cuts at the end here because its just the first part of a side long piece, how fucking useless. Actually it's an okay part, one of the more abrasive songs on in this entire boxset, but their next 2 albums, are even weirder and more adventurous and would have made for a better song choice.)

6. AMON DÜÜL II: Mozambique (7:42)
(A pretty good spacey track, also has female vocals. Would have chosen something from one of their earlier albums like Phallus Dei or Yeti. Could have been better but not a horrible choice either.)

7. STRAWBS: Round And Round (4:44)
(Fuckin hell, Out of all the bands here why do The Strawbs get to have 2 songs as well? This should have been a very democratic endeavor: one song per band. Boooo! again!)

8. NEKTAR: Questions And Answers (5:07)
(Seminal band here that definitely deserves inclusion. The song is actually a clever segment taken for the larger "Remember the Future" concept album. )

9. ANGE: Fils De Lumiere (3:59)
(Small cut for a band as huge as Ange. But whatever I don't expect more from this comp at this point. Its a good track, french lyrics, full on mellotron, and nice melodic instrumenting ending. )

10. Le ORME: Ritorno Al Nulla (3:36)
(I love this track! But its an instrumental track, why not include one with the distinct vocal talents of Aldo Tagliapietra? Another great Italian Prog band that's under-represented. Again with the fail.)

11. CLEARLIGHT: Without Words (7:45)
(Another good French band, this time in the instrumental symphonic/fusion style. A lot of talent on display here, and therefor lot's of shred going on. Good individual song, that adds nice diversity to this boxset.)

CD 5: 62:04
(This CD I think was supposed to offer some of the most eccentric bands of the genre, but as you will see there is some severe missteps with this one.)

1. SEVENTH WAVE: Star Palace Of The Sombre Warrior (6:34)
(Heavy use of synths here by this lesser known British psych band. Very melodramatic, and cheesy and kind of reminds me of Eloy (who should have been on this comp as well) I think it was a good choice for the band as well as to show off the more super sci-fi synthy side of Progressive Rock.)

2. GONG: Perfect Mystery (2:29)
(This song is way too small for such a monolith band as Gong. While it is a good song with plenty to show for within its 2 and a half minutes, I just believe Gong should have at least gotten more space on this compilation. It's almost a bit of a snub or an off-handed choice by made without much care or respect for the band involved.)

3. GENTLE GIANT: Free Hand (6:17)
(Good song from these Prog legends. Bit of an easy choice, but its a well written tune that shows off much of the complex wizardry which GG puts in their songs.)

4. HENRY COW: War (2:27)
(Now I like this song, its quirky, somewhat angry and awkward. It's also the song that got me into Henry Cow, but having 10+ years now with Henry Cow, I feel that this might have actually misrepresented the band. As Henry Cow is an institution in progressive and experimental music, and the members went on to perform in so many, many, MANY more projects. You cant get very far in the world of Avant-Garde music and not run into a branch that somehow leads back to Henry Cow. They are also the fathers of the subgenre of Prog known as 'Rock In Opposition', and to see that style of Prog so highly lacking in this comp is sinful.)

5. SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA: Andra Satsen (5:41)
(Pretty good track choice here from this eclectic Swedish Fusion band Nothing negative to say here.)

6. HATFIELD & THE NORTH: Let's Eat (3:17)
(Well, no Soft Machine, no Camel, no Matching Mole, no Egg, etc, but at least we have Hatfield & the North being one of the very few here to represent the prolific Canterbury scene.)

7. BANCO: Traccia II (2:45)
(3rd Italian band in the boxset and its strike 3! for the compilers in regard to Rock Progressivo Italiano! They basically put an outro track for Banco's 3rd album "IO SONO NATO LIBERO." It's evident that there was absolutely no care in choosing this song for Banco. A 2 and a half minute instrumental outro song...what a fucking disgrace! And to no take into consideration the charismatic vocal talents of Francesco Di Giacomo is just pathetic.)

8. MAGMA: Tröller Tanz (3:40)
(And now for what I consider he biggest fuck up of the entire boxset! Magma being my absolute favorite band has been totally underrepresented here with the cut 'Tröller Tanz', off their "Üdü Ẁüdü" album. This song is basically a segue song in the middle of side one of the LP. One of the greatest identifying elements in Magma vast toolbox of sound is the polyrhythmic choral vocal chants. None of which is on display here in this song. Just a very minimal sung part by Klaus Blasquiz during the middle of the track. By itself its awkward, but makes more sense in the context and flow of the album, but makes no sense in having this piece stand alone in representing the godlike musical force which is Magma. It's almost like they purposefully chose this song that didn't have the vocal chants, cause they thought it was cheesy (because the compilers are no Prog fans themselves anyway) and assumed everyone else would think the same as their Nirvana-istheendallbeallofmusic, loving asses. (with all due respect to Nirvana, hehe.) But I know the type and this just shows the true colors of the compilers of this boxset in all their musically myopic shame.)

9. FAUST: It's A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl (7:30)
(I like this song an awful lot, it's a great nod towards the Velvet Underground. But Faust is very musically diverse and has an everything including the kitchen sink approach to creating music. I think one of their snipit, potpourri tape cut recordings would have been more representative of what the band is about.)

10. QUIET SUN: Mummy Was An Asteroid, Daddy Was A Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil (6:10)
(Now this was a great inclusion to this boxset. Queit Sun were of the Canterbury jazzrock scene but only had one great energetic album, which also featured Brian Eno. Charles Hayward the drummer, also went on to form the farseeing band This Heat, which IMO is one of the greatest and most groundbreaking experimental rock bands of all time. But of course they aren't featured in this comp cause the people who put his together aren't cool enough to know about This Heat, and if they do they probably don't consider This Heat to be Prog, but Post-Punk, cause Prog is just so inherently uncool. BTW, after This Heat, Hayward went on into the equally impressive Camberwell Now, which can be considered a more Proggy version of This Heat.)

11. GOLDEN EARRING: Radar Love (6:28)
(Upon seeing this one might say, WTF? As I did when I came across this song when I first listened to this boxset. To be honest though Golden Earring does have a progressive side and even this song, when listened to in the context of the whole album adventurous album of "Moontan" it makes much more sense and doesn't sound half bad. But really, one again I point the bone at the compilers at taking the easy way out and choosing the hit that is a mainstay on classic rock radio. Who hasn't heard this song? Not as big of a fuck up as the ELP choice but if they were going to include Golden Earring at all, then why not use on of their more progressive sounding songs?)

12. FRANK ZAPPA: The Inca Roads (8:46)
(One of the more well known Zappa songs, but its a complete circle of a song, that showcases much of what Zappa was about; humor, talent, and total musical discipline.)

Whew! There it is, my lowdown of every track presented in this boxset. As you can see my enthusiasm for this comp dwindles towards the end. Just thinking about how flippant they were about putting this together enrages me. Also noticing how transparent the compilers are in their, not only lack of knowledge on the genre but each individual band, and how callow some of these song choices really were. I'm going to attest that most of these people at Rhino Records, or whom ever the hell these compilers are, weren't really fans of Prog to begin with. And it becomes all so evident during my searches while writing up this entry into my blog I cam across a review with this Steve Hochman dude who wrote up the liner notes in the book let here....
Read that and tell me how much of a fan of Prog this guy really is? What a fucking joke! Not only is he a fly by night fan of the genre, but he also seems embarrassed that he was asked to write up the silly essay in the booklet. Really, they could have found just about anyone who writes reviews for the Prog-Archives to write up a more enthusiastic and well informed entry to the booklet than this Steve Hochman character. It's like asking some egghead who does music reviews for the NY Times to write up a booklet that comes with a boxset on early 90s Black Metal....Am I right? The dude is so detached from the genre he writes about it's a total fallacy. He makes a round about statement that "Prog" structures in comparison to Beethoven are simplistic. Maybe so, but does that mean no can write any sort of rock music that displays any sort of complexity beyond a 4/4, 3/4 time? No one is allowed to inject any sort of intellect or sophistication in a rock song beyond the primal thump of a blues rock chord cause that's the act of pretension? Highly syncopated and densely structured passages are only reserved for jazz music or white haired classical composers? Lyrically it all has to be about falling on hard times, raging against the man, or pleading with your girlfriend for it to be 'real?' Music with utopic and transcendental ideals or cerebral science fiction themes have no meaning? As I've stated before, and my go to defense for the tired old "pretentious" crap people like to fling towards any kind of Progressive and/or Technical music: if you have a musical vision, and the chops to deliver on that vision, then there is no act of 'pretension' taking place. So what if Prog isn't on the same level as Bela Bartok? I like Prog for what it is, Rock music, for crying out loud!...not classical. I've listened to my share of classical, (Renaissance, Baroque, Contemporary, etc) and while I enjoy and appreciate much of it, it still doesn't speak to me in the way Prog does (or Black Metal, and other musics mind you.) Perhaps I'm just an unschooled blockhead when it comes to music, but I like the idea of 3,4,5 guys getting together and creating ambitious 'Rock' compositions with basically guitar, voice and drums (and perhaps a few more instruments.) It's very 'blue-collar' process to me, no more or less DIY than Punk or Folk. The dude likes to use phrases like 'this holds up' or 'that doesn't hold up', insinuating there is a dated quality to the music in question. That's such a dinosaur mentality, when the fact of the matter is music like King Crimson, Genesis and Yes will live on forever and continue to draw new fans by the day thanks to the democratic nature of the Internet, where music critics and centralized music outlets are a dying breed and people have more access to music then ever before and can make up their own mind on what they want to listen to. Seeing so many young folks out there picking up on said bands and allowing themselves to be blown away by the sheer power of the music is a timeless process that I don't see being broken any time in he near future. Is Yes, (the band), past their prime?...probably. But does "Close to the Edge" remain a timeless piece of art that becomes someones new favorite album just about every day?...damn straight! The sad thing is this boxset remains the biggest the Prog genre has going for it. And in this day of highspeed Internet and DLs where you can hear and sample just about every band to have ever existent, there probably will never be a project like this in the works to ever surface again.

If interested you can DL the entire boxset here


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