Genesis. Yes. King Crimson. Gentle Giant. Camel. This is what you are gonna get in this special, comprised of five albums of enormous significance for progressive rock, but also for music in generally. Their significance is undoubted, and after 40 years it’s needless to say what these records did and still do for generations of musicians and listeners.
GENESIS – Nursery Crime (1971)
In 1971, Genesis release their first masterpiece, “Nursery Cryme”, an album that went down in history as one of the finest Symphonic Prog releases ever. After 40 years, the album has not lost any of it’s magic, and continues to stun new and old fans.
“Trespass”, the sophomore LP, gave a much more clear vision of how Genesis will become: it’s melodies, it’s atmosphere, were typical of the band’s style that is known today. But with “Nursery Cryme”, the maturity level is complete, giving a wonderful mix of atmospheric passages and beautiful, haunting melodies. What clearly improved compared to the sophomore LP is the musicianship, much more precise and detailed, without ever having any goofs. “Foxtrot”, the next album released the following year, will have some of the best and most original musicianship that has been heard in any piece of music, so it’s just wonderful knowing that “Nursery Cryme” Genesis have barely started in stunning the audiences. The slower passages are very present in the album, very frequently accompanied by Peter Gabriel’s intimate vocals, or some additional instrumentation such as flute or mellotron. These calmer moments are kind of a trademark for this album in particular: the enlivened moments are here, but they still have a somewhat similar feel to the slower ones.
“Nursery Cryme” might just be the most delicate, intimate, playful album Genesis have ever released: however, like it was previously mentioned, the maturity is here, so the innocence is exquisitely mixed with haunting, beautiful moments, that suggest quite the opposite, especially in the opening track “the Musical Box”, now regarded as one of the great tracks of the band. “Nursery Cryme” is a dare-to-open box of toys, that any child can open, but his innocence will be gravely endangered, as there is in it the adult world. It’s almost like a coming-of-age album: You will not be the same, when you have properly listened to this masterpiece.
The magic seems to never end in these 39 minutes, but they pass so quickly, you wish they were more. The ten minute opener “The Musical Box” is probably the most haunting, complete, and eclectic song off the entire album, featuring slow, mysterious moments, and bursts of guitars, keyboards, and intense drumming. It simply has it all, with an incredibly thought provoking structure. “The Return Of The Giant Hogweed” is the most theatrical song off the album, very brave, with enchanting melodies, and a gigantic sound as well,that will even terrify you in some moments. The shorter songs, from the interlude “For Absent Friends” to another perfect song, “Harold the Barrel” and the gentle “Harlequin”. “The Fountain Of Salmacis” and “Seven Stones” are other complex, seven minute songs that provoke and move at the same time, making both of them, like all the other songs here, priceless experiences.
The power of Progressive Rock is that an album itself can bring you to a fantastic, surreal world. The universe of “Nursery Cryme” is one of the most vivid and credible ones: one of the great albums of Symphonic Prog, a masterpiece that hasn’t aged a bit, and probably never will be.
YES – Relayer (1974)
Yes’ previous attempt in approaching the audience wasn’t as successful as they imagined; “Tales From Topographic Oceans” was their most controversial and difficult album to date, and was received averagely overall, even though it was successful chart-wise. At that point the band decided to return to the winning formula that brought “Close To The Edge” such high praises and use it again for their last album back in 1974, “Relayer”, which ended up being one of the best and most recognized albums by Yes.
“Relayer” has been considered “Close To The Edge”‘s evil twin, a more savage, wild, and ugly version of the magnum opus. If you like your Prog nice and calm with plenty of relaxing mellotron and flutes, a good chunk of “Relayer” won’t be for you: many moments here are almost obnoxiously loud and quirky, the instrumentation messy, the overall feel is quite unsettling, even the calmer moments have a strong tension to them that build up, anyhow, to loud bursts of chaos. The melodies will however make “Relayer” a typical Yes album, and they possibly could attract cacophony haters. Even the softer, more relaxing pieces, thanks to the extravagantly lush palette of new keyboardist Patrick Moraz, are of a high song writing level, and highly ambitious at the same time. “Relayer” is, indeed, an album that twists the canons of Symphonic Prog, and bends them towards organized disarray, a disarray that consists of chaotic moments cleverly mixed with unexpected soft moments, as said before, but the balance between the two, even though not always consistent, gives always a pretty strong impression to the attentive and dedicated listener. Because this is not a listen that is either easy or accessible, and it could possibly be a grower, like it was for myself.
The strong opener is possibly one of the highlights of Yes’ career: “The Gates Of Delirium”, an epic twenty one minute piece that brings the listener to a wild roller coaster ride amidst Symphonic bliss and sheer madness. One of the most majestically constructed tracks by the band ever recorded, it stands as the center piece of the album, even though “Sound Chaser” and “To Be Over” aren’t overshadowed by it: the second track is even more extravagant, with excellent musicianship and once again great songwriting. “To Be Over” is the final piece, mostly a calm, almost meditative song, as if the listener had already entered and exited “Relayer”‘s red zone with the previous two tracks, and now he finds himself to have come back from reality. Once again though the musicianship and the sounds are lush and ambitious, that make this track yet another wonder.
An album that has gone down in history as one of the most successful attempts of a band in repeating a formula already used for a previous, successful album. But “Relayer” is also the most unique LP of Yes’ discography, and one of it’s very best. Any Yes fan proudly keeps this within his heart, but you don’t have to necessarily be fan, if you’re simply into classic Prog Rock.
KING CRIMSON – Lizard (1970)
The third album by King Crimson is too many times underrated. “Lizard” was and still is one of the most overlooked albums released by the band, being once again victim of negative comparisons with the previous KC works.
“Lizard” happens to be one unique album, whether you like it or not: it is a sort of modest and humble release, where, I have to admit, there is nothing new brought to the table. However, it is a new direction for the band itself: the music is jazzier than ever, with more sax here than any release of theirs, even though ironically it is one of the most melodic and accessible LP’s from the band. There are still plenty of mellotron moments, which are always extremely either melancholy or mysterious, and it definitely still is a Progressive album, thanks also to other instruments such as flutes and a typical Progressive sound overall.
The atmospheres the band brings are almost magical and reminiscent of a fairy tale, of medieval times, of great castles, battles, fair ladies, and fantastic monsters. This setting is very credible at times, and truly brings you amidst these worlds. This is probably the best thing this album has going for, because, like it was mentioned, the melodies and the music itself in general are pretty standard for the genre, not being anything particularly innovating.
The first side of the album has four songs: a melancholy and mysterious, almost menacing at times piece (the mellotron-driven opener “Cirkus”), the much more light and cheerful duo “Indoor Games”, the better one, and “Happy Family”. The really pleasant acoustic interlude “Lady In The Water” is also worth mentioning. The heart of the album however lies in the second side, consisting solely of a more than twenty minute suite, the title track, which, even though not being at all as convincing and spectacular as other epics such as “Supper’s Ready”, “Close To The Edge” or “A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers”, it has some spectacular and haunting moments here and there that very effectively evoke those fantastic images.
“Lizard” is an experience that is essential for any King Crimson fan, and is always too underrated. The atmospheres and feelings of the album are so vivid and magical, despite not having amazing, groundbreaking melodies, and it’s a shame that people don’t recognize it.
CAMEL – Mirage (1974)
What a great album. Camel’s second album is most definitely one of the best symphonic prog albums ever. Let me start saying how this is a truly “classic” prog album, with all the elements that define the genre such as the presence of suites, very frequent keyboards, interesting song titles and consequently lyrics, and a very low number of songs in the album. The five songs that form this album are all beautiful, some have a stronger feeling, some have calmer moments.
” Freefall” is the opener. I usually tend to prefer the first song of the album, but this my least favorite, possibly because I’m not crazy about Latimer’s vocals in this particular piece, maybe because they sound kind of childish provocation. But it is still a good song,
” Supertwister” is a fantastic three minute piece based manly on flute, but the other instruments accompany it just as fine. Beautiful with a delicate melody( this sensation of fragility is given especially from the flute).
“Nimrodel” is the first of the two suites of the album. The first part is probably the best moment of the album, with a beautiful melody, too bad it ends almost immediately. There’s a quite moving part after that, played a lot faster than before. The part after that is another beautiful part, mainly based on vocals and acoustic guitar. Finally, an awesome synth part comes in, totally mind blowing if you ask me. Probably the best Camel song ever.
“Earthrise” is a very nice song, very pretty in so many moments, especially in the beginning. It then is more rockish kind of, thanks to fast guitars and fast rhythm.
“Lady Fantasy” is the song everybody loves. I too love it with all my heart, but I’m not sure it can beat Nimrodel. After the intro, there is a beautiful guitar riff, immediately followed by another keyboard riff. After it gets a lot faster, with a nice guitar part. Many fantastic moments, one of the best suites ever made, and also a great closer.
Let me say as a conclusion that I really think it’s a masterpiece of progressive rock,near perfection.
GENTLE GIANT – Acquiring the Taste (1971)
Rarely a band, especially a band such as Gentle Giant, is able to create an album that can truly change you. This second album of the band can be very easily considered one of the best prog rock album ever made, a masterpiece of rock music that is very, sadly underrated. In fact, “Acquiring The Taste” has to be in my opinion considered one of the greats of progressive, like “Dark Side Of The Moon”, Selling England By The Pound”, or “Close To The Edge”.
While the first, impressive debut was just a naïve, courageous but not too quirky attempt to approach to new musical horizons, this second album is a perfect definition of experimental music, a master work that has no defect whatsoever, and can be compared only to a few albums. Dark, strange, mysterious, bizarre, epic, triumphant, “Acquiring The Taste” has a much wider set of influences, much more than the debut; from classical music, Gregorian Chants, improvisation, jazz, to medieval folk music, hard rock tastes, blues feelings, experimental music, and even some orchestral approaches (especially in the ryhtmic section). This is all thanks to the musicians, who had already proven themselves even with the debut, reaching their highest peak here. Only in the semi masterpiece “In a Glass House”, or in “Free Hand”, the band will be this good.
“Acquiring The Taste” is a portrait of a small town, quiet, but unnervingly tensed, weakly illuminated by a dawn sun. A mystic, cerebral, poetic tale, where all the songs flow like the chapters of a book, each song telling thousands of stories, all equally fascinating and intriguing.
From “Pantagruel’s Nativity” to “Plain Truth”, all of them are unpredictable, fascinating and truly masterful. The creepy and eerie “Edge Of Twilight”, the alarmed “The House, The Street, The Room”, to then the furtive sounds of “Black Cat”, the calm, relaxed mellotron of “The Moon Is Down”, or the already mentioned “Pantagruel’s Nativity”, all of them an essential listening.
An album that rarely finds comparison, like I previously said, an absolute masterpiece that ought to have more recognition.