10 Best Prog Albums of 1985

Best Prog Albums of 1985

Continuing our journey through the ‘80s prog, and after previous coverages on 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1984, we reach to the year that saw new albums from David Sylvian, Rush, Supertramp, Present, and more.

See below which records released in 1985 in our opinion are the best releases of the year.

10. Robert Wyatt – Old Rottenhat

Robert Wyatt has been quoted as declaring that this record was “a conscious attempt to make un-misusable music,” i.e., music that couldn’t be appropriated by the right or broadcast on Voice of America. VOA doesn’t broadcast uncommercial music such as this in any case, but Wyatt did succeed in stating some of his political concerns—imperialism, the carnage in East Timor, the flaws of rigid political ideology—in an understated manner. He went back to writing his own material for this album, after having focused on eclectic “covers” in the early ’80s, with fair success. It’s perhaps an even moodier outing than usual for Wyatt, his melancholia amplified by the foggy, spooky keyboards. It was reissued on CD in 1990 as half of Compilation, which also includes the entirety of Nothing Can Stop Us. Somewhat confusingly, it was also reissued on CD as half of Mid-Eighties, an entirely different Gramavision release that adds eight tracks from assorted EPs, singles, and compilations of the time.

09. Supertramp – Brother Where You Bound

When vocalist-guitarist Roger Hodgson left Supertramp after 1982′s …famous last words…, few could have guessed that the band would continue and solidify its pop-oriented songcraft, let alone re-embrace its progressive-rock roots on 1985′s underrated Brother Where You Bound. With vocalist-keyboardist Rick Davies firmly in control—he wrote all the music and lyrics—the album examined tensions at the tail end of the Cold War. In a thematic sense, Brother Where You Bound is dated and hasn’t aged very well—Davies’ politically oriented lyrics are heavy-handed—but the music is a pleasure. The crystalline sound of the album, particularly Davies’ piano, is breathtaking; kudos to co-producers David Kershenbaum and Supertramp and engineer Norman Hall.

The hit single “Cannonball” is a jazz-rock delight, especially in full-length album form. Lyrically, it can be interpreted as Davies’ feelings of betrayal at Hodgson’s departure, but the piano, percussion and horns are superb. Saxophonist John A. Helliwell, bass guitarist Dougie Thomson, and drummer Bob Siebenberg all contribute vital parts, as does guest trombonist Doug Wintz. “No Inbetween” begins with a lovely, bittersweet percussion (or synthesizer?) and piano melody. “Better Days” is a rather bleak look at the unfulfilled promises of the “good life” in Western society; the dramatic music is highlighted by guest Scott Page‘s flute solos. The fantastic title track examines Cold War paranoia and clocks in at more than 16 minutes; after the creepy opening narration taken from George Orwell‘s 1984, the song becomes a composite of several complex prog-rock “movements.”

Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour contributes the searing, distorted guitar solos. Unfortunately, Brother Where You Bound never received the attention it deserved; it isn’t a perfect album, but it was a gutsy project for Supertramp to take on.

08. IQ – The Wake

When considering the “strict” period of neo-prog (i.e., the 1980s), The Wake is definitely a classic. Together with Marillion‘s first LPs, it helped define what neo-progressive was and generated dozens of sound-alike albums by as many bands in the U.K. and worldwide. While IQ would top The Wake with the 1997 two-CD set Subterranea (stronger compositions, stronger musicianship), the former remains the band’s true classic, a must-have for anyone remotely interested in progressive rock from the 1980s. The third album by the band, it took a more pop approach than Tales From the Lush Attic; there was no 20-minute epic track and songs were rather simple in terms of structure.

“The Thousand Days,” the title track, and “Corners” had single potential, especially the first of these, a stirring rock number. With its electronic drum track and medium-tempo feel, “Corners” is the weakest track of the set. These shorter songs are balanced out by strong longer tracks like “The Magic Roundabout,” “Headlong,” and mostly “Widow’s Peak.” On the latter two, IQ gets very close to Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, mostly thanks to Peter Nicholls‘ theatrical and emotional vocals. The rest of the band still feels “young” somehow. There are hesitations and questionable musical decisions (the first keyboard solo in “Headlong” is half-baked). But the emotion and grandeur are there, and all these elements, together with years of experience as musicians, would later coalesce for the recording of Subterranea. Since its release in 1985, The Wake has been reissued in various forms and with varying bonus tracks. The last commonly found edition is on Giant Electric Pea to the seven original tracks this release adds the B-side “Dans le Parc du Chateau Noir” (also available on J’Ai Pollette D’Arnu) and demo versions of “The Thousand Days” and “The Magic Roundabout.”

07. Allan Holdsworth – Metal Fatigue

Criminally unknown and underappreciated, Allan Holdsworth is one of the greatest musicians ever to pick up the electric guitar. Here, on 1985′s Metal Fatigue, everything finally comes together for him. For the majority of this record, Holdsworth is joined by bassist Jimmy Johnson and drummer Chad Wackerman, and these two musicians, virtuosos in their own right, complement Holdsworth beautifully (check out Johnson‘s wonderful part in “Home” and lovely solo on “Panic Station”). The leader is known for his extremely legato phrasing and rich harmonic vocabulary, both of which are on display in the solo and frantic fills of “Metal Fatigue.”

Anchored by Paul Williams‘ vocals, the song is marvelously constructed, with a strong verse melody supported by Holdsworth‘s upper-register guitar chords. The guitarist’s much-vaunted whammy bar work is also on full display here. Certain fills in “Metal Fatigue” are almost queasy sounding, as Holdsworth bends and slurs in impossible ways. His use of the tremolo bar comes out not only during his melodic playing, but also during his rhythm playing, where he allows his chords just a trace of shimmer, enough to lend body to his playing but not enough to blur the harmonies. The influence of Holdsworth‘s unique style is evident in the work of such rock guitarists as Eddie Van Halen and Alex Lifeson (listen to VH‘s “Drop Dead Legs” or Rush‘s “YYZ” for a taste of this connection), but the watered-down and otherwise assimilated adaptations of his style pale compared to the unadulterated stuff. One of the most important fusion records of the ’80s is also Holdsworth‘s best work. Absolutely essential for those who like their rock with a healthy dose of jazz.

06. Present – Le Poison Qui Rend Fou

Second Present album, Le Poison Qui Rend Fou, equals the sound of their debut, Triskaïdékaphobie, but with the guitar taking a much more dominant role in the music, mostly for texturing the tension and angst of the music. The arrangements are more tricky but with a more atmospheric mood than before. It’s actually a tad more accessible than Triskaidèkaphobie overall but still with the sinister and gloomy sound. Daniel Denis showcases some of his best drumming here but every musician provides some really superb playing throughout. Never a dull moment really, although the Rochette penned “Samana” tends to drag in places, but it’s still a very enjoyable track, although a bit different than the rest of the album. The group broke up after this one but yet after their reform Trigaux never really managed to capture the magic of Triskaidekaphobie and Le Poison Qui Rend Fou again. These albums stand out as some of the best in rock, although they both need some time to sink in on you.

05. Kenso – Kenso III

Between 1983 and 1985 Kenso appear to have gone through a transitional period. Very good news were that the band was eventually discovered by a major Japanese label, King Records, and signed a good contract. Moreover they seem to have started recording material for a third work with the line-up of Kenso II, but the majority of it was executed by a fresh line-up, without flutist Shiro Yajima and keyboardist Atsushi Makiuchi and with two new member joining on keyboards, Kenichi Oguchi and Toshihiko Sahashi. Kenso III was released in 1985 with guest members on keyboards, oboe, vocals and flute, most important figure among them was Hiroyuki Namba.

Music of Kenso starts seriously to be regarded as one of the most dominant and convincing Prog stylings during the ‘80s. They still deliver a hot, smoking Symphonic/Fusion with frenetic paces and incredible interplays, showered with nervous synthesizers and virtuosic guitar moves. What seems to be just amazing is that the group maintains a high level of quality music, no matter if it keeps constantly the foot on the gear. The music is basically all instrumental with links to compatriots Mr. Sirius, Ain Soph and KBB, featuring absolutely satisfying instrumentals with Jazz Rock-styled guitars, sudden tempo changes, shifting climates and complex arrangements. Their early Canterbury-inclined touches start to fade in the sake of a more powerful performance with a serious sense of melody among the complicated themes. Lots of symphonic keyboards and Classical-drenched textures along with a fair dose of melodic flute drives guarantee the deep symphonic content of the album. The jazzy and Fusion influences are more apparent during Shimizu‘s guitar pyrotechnics and the general structure of tracks, which are performed with technique.

04. David Sylvian – Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities

Recorded in Tokyo and London 1984-85 this project saw David Sylvian exploring themes and directions that first surfaced on the Brilliant Trees sessions. Entirely instrumental, it features a diverse range of talent including Jon Hassell, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Steve Jansen, Kenny Wheeler, Holger Czukay, and Robert Fripp among others.

This album literally takes you to higher state of consciousness, relaxation and wellbeing, keeping you completely engaged and enthralled whilst leading you on a spiritual journey, or more, a path of self discovery.

03. Kate Bush – Hounds of Love

Hounds of Love resolves the quandary which is central to Bush‘s art. On her first three albums she showed a keen ear for a pop song and was working, largely successfully to being able to use that medium without surrendering her own charms and personality to it. Equally, she understood the need to deconstruct and challenge the pop form and became and ambitious if not quite as successful art song peddler. The Dreaming, perhaps her best album, came nowhere close to getting the balance right, skewed as it was in favor of art and relying on cryptic charms to draw the listener in. Hounds of Love, however, leans to the pop side and works better as a whole for it. It may be a “better with honey than vinegar” approach, but it did make for a warm and distinctive album and Bush never at any moment sounds like anything but her own bad self.

02. Rush – Power Windows

As Rush continued to add more and more synthesizers to their music, they alienated many fans who were used to the lengthy songs of the group’s past. However, Rush also expanded their fanbase in many ways to people who would’ve never listened to a genre called “progressive rock” by turning into a synthesizer-based band. The group had been experimenting with synths for sometime, before finally making synths dominant in their sound with albums like Signals and Grace Under Pressure. In 1985, they released what is possibly their most “‘80s” album, Power Windows, complete with poppy melodies and an abundance of synthesizers. However, unlike with many bands during this period that had switched to synths (Yes and Genesis come to mind), Rush were doing what they were doing damn well.

When “The Big Money” begins, one notices an immediate change in style—the synths are not a supplement to the music anymore, they are completely dominant. Not to mention the style of the song, and really of most of the album, is very upbeat and even poppy at times. Yet even still, the use of synths is very tasteful, and many of these songs would not have worked as hard-rocking guitar-driven numbers. And if one listens closely, he can hear that this is still indeed a Rush album—the music, while often poppy and even danceable, is as complex as ever. Just because there are no twenty-minute songs to show off the complexity doesn’t mean it’s not there. Geddy plays complicated basslines in each song, especially in tracks like “The Big Money,” “Marathon,” and “Mystic Rhythms.” While Alex doesn’t play any heavy riffs like he did in the early days, he lays the foundation for many of the songs without being too present, like on “Territories.” And even though he isn’t as apparent on this album as he was on, say, A Farewell To Kings, his solos are as memorable and as strong as ever, with a few of the solos on here ranking among the best Rush solos of all-time. Neil Peart is still the goddamn professor—I don’t think he can play a drumbeat that’s not complicated. Everything he does on the kit seems like it was worked out mathematically before he did it. Peart‘s great drumming is a stable on every Rush album, yet on this one, he doesn’t go for anything show-offy. He only plays what’s necessary, and while it’s all still complex, Peart and his bandmates never get into “over-the-top” territory.

01. Marillion – Misplaced Childhood

After the album-tour-album cycle of Script for a Jester’s Tear, Fugazi, and the subsequent Euro-only release of Real to Reel, Marillion retreated to Berlin’s Hansa Ton Studios with Rolling Stones producer Chris Kimsey to work on their next opus. Armed with a handful of lyrics born out of a self-confessed acid trip, Fish came up with the elaborate concept for 1985′s Misplaced Childhood. Touching upon his early childhood experiences and his inability to deal with a slew of bad breakups exacerbated by a never-ending series of rock star-type “indulgences,” Misplaced Childhood would prove to be not only the band’s most accomplished release to date, but also its most streamlined. Initial record company skepticism over the band’s decision to forge ahead with a ’70s-style prog rock opus split into two halves (sides one and two) quickly evaporated as Marillion delivered its two most commercial singles ever: “Kayleigh” and “Lavender.”

With its lush production and punchy mix, the album went on to become the band’s greatest commercial triumph, especially in Europe where they would rise from theater attraction to bona fide stadium royalty. The subsequent U.S. success of “Kayleigh” would also see Marillion returning to the States for a difficult tour as Rush‘s support act. In 1999, EMI/Sanctuary re-released a remastered version of the album, featuring a bonus disc of oddities including live fave “Freaks,” the previously unreleased “Blue Angel,” alternate takes of “Kayleigh” and “Heart of Lothian,” and Misplaced Childhood‘s actual demos.

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