The Patch

March 17, 2009

I Don’t Like Mondays: Yes, Tales From Topographic Oceans

Filed under: and begin to slit throats.,I Don't Like Mondays,Music & Film — freshlysqueezedcynic @ 11:38 pm

Dear sweet Jesus.

I was prepared to defend prog rock, you know. Well, not exactly defend, but explain that it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be. One of the big founding myths of punk was the early-70s-as-cultural-wasteland. Pop music, in the guise of “prog rock” had become flabby, flaccid, stale, too disgustingly arty and impure, filled with pretention and masturbatory attempts at marrying jazz style improvisation with classical pomp, detached from a world which seemed to be in decline, more interested in dragons, feudal Merrie England and Tolkienesque pastiches than the social situation in 1977. Something had to be done to destroy this, just tear it down, go back to basics with just three chords and a lot of rage and anger and bring the whole edifice of rock crumbling down. A new rock revolution.

This is, to say the least, an overstatement. The early-70’s-as-cultural-wasteland theory only holds up if you ignore the collection of personalities and bands that existed, fairly successfully, in an off-kilter sort of way; Lou Reed, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Roxy Music, all trying to do something interesting with music in a way that the more bloated prog rockers weren’t. And more than a few punks had early 70’s influences, especially the more experimental end; when Johnny Rotten stopped being a cartoon and became John Lydon again (helped by a legal injunction by Malcolm McLaren who insisted that he owned the name and the rights to use of the name) he waxed lyrical about his love of bands like Captain Beefheart, Can, King Crimson, and Van der Graaf Generator, many of which had a decidedly proggy lilt to them, not to mention Lou Reed and David Bowie come across as the original art-rockers. When the time came, once punk had stopped its’ useful function in tearing down and became a parody of itself, once bands had to make a self-conscious decision about building a new music and punk fragmented into new genres and new possibilities, there were certainly lots of bands that decided to make music just as self-aware and self-consciously art-rock as the prog rockers that were supposedly the enemy. Except this time you could usually dance to it.

Of course, just because it’s a myth doesn’t mean it’s not also true, in a way, and oh god, does Tales From Topographic Oceans make you realise how utterly awful prog rock could be at its most corpulent. This is an awful, awful album, utterly sure of its own artistic merit, which is non-existent. There are only 4 songs in what was a double album, each song taking up a whole side of vinyl. The songs (which are meant to be based upon Shastric scriptures; yeah, that’s obvious, isn’t it) continually change tack, moving on to different arrangements in what is obviously meant to be an attempt to do classical music for the late 20th century, all sparkling arpeggios and emotional heft. But since none of these fuckers are Mozart, it’s just pish. The arpeggios just become noodly, organ-grinding melanges, doing a lot and saying little, glorified church organ pieces. There is no emotional heft, especially when anything remotely interesting gets sidetracked by another twat trying to show off his virtuoso improvisation skills. They’re not Miles Davis either, so again, it’s pish. I can’t believe someone could try this hard to be self-consciously arty and come up with something that, at heart, says nothing. It screams “trying too hard”. It just goes on and on and on, saying bugger all about anything until the rocks have been worn away by the oceans and the universe has contracted into nothingness. It’s just boring. And really, that’s a cardinal sin.

I mean, for fuck’s sake, if Rick Fucking Wakeman thinks it’s a bit excessive, then you’ve got a fucking problem.

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