10 Best Prog Albums of 1983

Best Prog Albums of 1983

Continuing our hunt for the best records of the ‘80s by year (if you haven’t checked the previous posts, here they are: 1980, 1981, and 1982), here we come to the year 1983.

1983 is a year when bands such Marillion and IQ debuted with their albums, it has also brought quite a few excellent Jazz/Prog Rock releases and a couple of avant-prog albums.

Below is our selection of best 10 albums released in 1983.

10. Saga – Heads or Tales

While Saga began as a progressive rock band, increasing pop sensibilities put the group in a league with bands like the Fixx in the early ’80s. This album, which follows the excellent Worlds Apart, is nearly as good as its predecessor; Michael Sadler‘s commanding voice leads the way while the rest of the band punches up the fairly succinctly written songs with loads of texture and occasional instrumental fireworks. The guitar/keyboard interplay between Jim Gilmour and Ian Crichton alone is enough to get music geeks salivating. Producer Rupert Hine gives the material just enough production sheen to make it sizzle on the airwaves (“The Flyer” was a minor radio hit).

09. Asia – Alpha

Following an album with the monster standing was always going to be difficult for Asia. However, the band rose to the challenge and came up with a very credible follow-up album that on its own merits stands as a very good record. In the same vein of its predecessor it may have lost the novelty value of a new group and the songs may not be quite as good overall, but it’s a quality collection of songs nevertheless. Again its the driving rhythms and multi layered vocals with perfect musical execution that gets a strong thumbs up.

08. IQ – Tales from the Lush Attic

As progressive rock entered its revival stage in the early ’80s, IQ was right in the middle of it. Without any emphasis on one particular instrument, Tales From the Lush Attic is an album that offers a balanced portion of hurried guitar and enveloping keyboards. Specks of prog-era Genesis glisten with every note sung by lead singer Peter Nicholls, who sounds eerily like Peter Gabriel. Even the structure of some of the songs resemble bits of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, but there’s an air to this album that gathers attention, especially on the synth-ridden passages. Quick interchanges of 12-string guitar and Mellotron create an instrumental seesaw effect, peaking in the longer tracks like the 20-minute “Last Human Gateway” or “The Enemy Smacks.” Changes of tempo sneak up throughout the whole of the album, either head manned by dominant keyboard staccatos or winding electric string solos. The flow is energetic, never lagging, and the songs allot enough time to focus on what is being played. The layered synth pieces don’t fully overlap Mike Holmes‘ guitar playing, so that the music can be appreciated by way of isolation. IQ may have missed progressive rock’s glory days, but they hold their own on this release from early in their career.

07. Art Zoyd – Les Espaces Inquiets

The fifth album from a French band brought mixed reviews when it was released, but what this release does best is that with each listen it grows. Art Zoyd in this period show influences in everything from electronic music, to chamber music, prog, art and avant rock, while really not being very “rock” at all. Les Espaces Inquiets takes a more experimental tack but is essentially the same sort of affair as Phase IV, with polyrhythmic threads of various instruments weaving in and out of each other in seemingly formless hunks, all cut from one endless ramble.

06. Allan Holdsworth – Road Games

Road Games is a unique mix of great vocals with a more rocking, bluesy, and jazzy quasi-mainstream song-themed balladic thrust. This release showcases Allan Holdsworth playing less “out there.” The guitar is amazing: multi-voiced, fusion-fired, ethereally chorded, delightfully crystalline clear, note-flourished, and swooningly embellished. Add in the vocals of Jack Bruce for that Cream flashback or the I.O.U. band feel of Paul Williams‘ crooning, back to back with killer bass by Jeff Berlin and tastefully poised drums by Chad Wackerman, and you have fusion-rock bliss.

05. Brian Eno – Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks

Eno’s 1983 opus Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks is considered one of the finest of his discography, despite some unevenness that prevents it from being a classic.

A great deal of Apollo does its job perfectly. The production is warm and hardly sounds dated, in keeping with much of Eno’s discography. The emotional range is broad, from the dark and mysterious (“Under Stars,” “Matta”) to the relaxing and ethereal (“Stars”) to the downright euphoric (“An Ending (Ascent)”). There’s plenty of innovation to be considered here, too; the use of guitar on “Under Stars” and the almost animal-like sounds of “Matta” are particularly noteworthy. Among the best tracks here, there is variety, both of colour and texture, without sacrificing unity; there really is enough to keep one listening for hours, despite the minimalistic nature of the music. There are a good handful of very special successes here that should not be missed by fans of Eno’s other ambient albums.

04. Jean-Luc Ponty – Individual Choice

Here is Ponty‘s radical break with his past, one that further tightened his control over his craft while ironically liberating his muse. In laying out his attractive new music on synthesizers and sequencers, emphasizing revolving ostinato patterns, Ponty rejuvenated his melodic gift, and as a result, even in this controlled setting, his violin solos take on a new freshness and exuberance. Except for two tracks, Ponty does without a formal rhythm section—and on two other tracks, he goes it completely alone. Indeed, he does best of all when he has no one but himself to play with on “Computer Incantations for World Peace” and the lovely mood piece “Eulogy to Oscar Romero.” Guest interloper George Duke (a fellow refugee from Frank Zappa‘s band) contributes a Minimoog solo to “”In Spiritual Love,” where Ponty provides his own percussive backing on rhythm computer. Even if one grumbles on principle about the reduction of spontaneity in Ponty‘s music over the Atlantic years, the musical end here absolutely justifies the means.

03. Eskaton – Fiction

Fiction shows Eskaton dropping many of their overt Magma references and showing more experimentation with keyboards and especially synthesizer. The music is very cathartic and anthemic, with the vocalists taking each other to new heights. By this point it seemed that the band were moving more and more away from their roots into a distinct and original direction. Unfortunately, Fiction would be their last. After Gilles Rozenberg departed in 1984 (Paule Kleynnaert would double on keys from then on) the band would go on to record their fourth effort I Care in 1985. Unfortunately (besides a track on the cassette compilation Preludes and the track “La Lutte” which was included on Musea‘s Enneade compilation in 1986), the band would no longer see its music released, and eventually somewhat disbanded in the late 80′s. Although the musicians still keep in contact, there are no immediate plans for the future.

02. Marillion – Script for a Jester’s Tear

The band’s debut, Script for a Jester’s Tear, is excellent proof of a recognizable sound, and other than that, an often overlooked prog classic. The bands that had so inspired Marillion were all past their prime; Floyd had released their last classic The Wall on the doorstep to the ‘80s, Genesis was now steadily turning into a Collins-led pop rock band, and while King Crimson remained one of the most enduring and innovative acts of their era, even in the new decade, their dabbling into electronic guitaring with new front figure Adrian Belew was nothing like the sound that made a classic such as In The Court of the Crimson King possible. Enter Marillion: a band determined to revive the characteristic 70’s style of prog rock.

Noticing the artsy cover, it is already before listening that you’ll be able to see Script for a Jester’s Tear is something quite special. A grand achievement for such a young band, who managed to bend the laws of prog just enough to keep things interesting. It is no surprise the jester pictured on the cover is still iconic for the group. Marillion favours songwriting rather than showing off, and that makes this record unique in the genre. Nevertheless, you will be amazed by the virtuosity of especially the charismatic Fish, Rothery and Kelly. The title and art make this look like another of those over-the-top epic affairs. Rather, I would refer to Script as a restrained epic.

01. Swans – Filth

Nowhere in Filth is there any sign of recovery or a light at the end of a pitch-black tunnel. There is only impenetrable noise and audible terror. At first this noise seems inhuman but as you delve further and further it seems that these monstrous sounds are people at their most vulnerable and visceral. Gira is baring his soul and never before or since have I heard such an admission of raw and intense feeling through the medium of music. And when the nightmare is over one finds oneself in a euphoric state; you have left this death-town but in the back of your mind you know that you must sleep again.

This is a bold and unmitigated statement of individuality and originality and came at a time when these qualities were, and indeed still are, reviled and rejected by record companies and by popular opinion. It begs comparisons to bands such as The Velvet Underground, as they have both started their musical careers with uncompromising and often brutally punishing music. The Velvets, in their time were almost completely ignored and it is only in the last decade that they have shown to be the most important band of their time in terms of influence. This story ties in nicely with that of Swans. I can see the obvious influences that this record (and its follow up Cop) has had on contemporary Avante-Garde bands such as Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Neurosis and Godflesh. Filth today sounds as repulsive as it did back then. That is why it is important.

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