Archive for the 'Music' Category

The Greatest Album Ever Made

What is not least remarkable about Yes’s Tales album is that it is the greatest album ever made despite some obvious and serious flaws.

First of all, the name of the album, Tales from Topographic Oceans, is formally erroneous. Oceans cannot be “topographic”. Tales of Oceanic Topography would have been correct, but of course useless for this purpose. (By the “oceans” is meant human minds, or parts of the one greater mind.) This error, however, has an interesting meaning, even a kind of value, in the context of the general understanding, in historical, cultural and sociological terms, of what progressive rock is.

Second, the title of the first song, or side, is, as Anderson later admitted, a mistake. The title should have been (and was, as I understand it, originally intended to be) simply The Revealing, corresponding to the title of the second side/song, The Remembering (note my comments on this song, on the album, and on Yes and progressive rock in general). This is not to say that the song is not about the “science” of God. In the conceptual structure of the album as explained by Anderson on the cover, where the four sides/songs seek to express the meaning of different categories of shastra, this one represents shruti.

The album is basically a hymnic expression of Vedic and universal spirituality.

Third, much legitimate criticism has been made of the first two thirds of the third song/side, The Ancient, and it should be added that there is what could be called a similar section in the fourth. They contrast sharply with the third third, which has, understandably, been performed separately, and then been given its own title, Leaves of Green, as was the final part of The Gates of Delirium, on Relayer, called Soon. Leaves of Green saves side three, which represents the puranas, and apart from the mentioned section, Ritual, representing the tantras, is a worthy conclusion of the unsurpassed masterpiece.

But the unsurpassedness rests primarily on side one, The Revealing, representing shruti, and side two, The Remembering, representing smriti. They are what makes this album the greatest of all time.

“Poesins egentliga namn är sång”

Ett utmärkt föredrag av Horace Engdahl igår i serien “Akademierna och musiken”:

Stora delar av talet skulle kunna ses som ett bra svar på mitt inlägg Dylan och akademien.

Inte så att de vederlägger mina poänger och gör dem ogiltiga, utan så att han här programmatiskt avvisar tendensen att se Dylans sångtexter som lyrik skild från hans musik. Det räckte inte, tyckte jag, att bara, som i motiveringen för Nobelpriset, nämna den “stora amerikanska sångtraditionen”, utan att i den vidare diskussionen också behandla Dylans musik som sådan i samband med sångtexterna.

Jag har inga som helst problem med hans beskrivning här av Bellman som “singer-songwriter”, som för honom – i förening med relevanta anmärkningar om romantiken och “popmusiken” – möjliggör ett nytt försvar, och det enda rätta, för Dylans Nobelpris.

Även om han inte heller här diskuterar Dylans musik, skulle han vidare kunna sägas bemöta mitt argument om de principfrågor om akademiens kompetens och uppgift som dock skulle följa av det bejakande av lyrikens och musikens enhet jag framhöll och Engdahl här på historiskt mycket välgrundat sätt godtar, genom att demonstrera avsevärda kvalifikationer som även, helt enkelt, musikkännare – kvalifikationer som man dock kanske inte kan förmoda att särskilt många andra av dagens akademiledamöter äger.

Slutligen kan talet delvis också ses som ett bidrag till den nya, fördjupade, allmänna debatt om den litterära kulturen som jag hoppades att detta Nobelpris skulle leda till.

Yes: Awaken

Live 1991. From their album Going for the One (1977).

The Question of Yes’s “Main Sequence”

The philosopher Bill Martin, in his book Music of Yes: Structure and Vision in Progressive Rock (1996), speaks of what he calls Yes’s “main sequence” of albums in the 70s. This is a necessary concept for a proper understanding of Yes. All of their best work is contained in this sequence. The Tales album is its artistic culmination, inasmuch as it represents the most complete development of their music, including a deepening of the worldview expressed in both the music and the lyrics.

Still, I am disinclined to say that the best songs on the other albums in the sequence do not reach the same high level. They are, I submit, Starship Trooper and Perpetual Change from The Yes Album, Heart of the Sunrise from Fragile, Close to the Edge from Close to the Edge, and, after Tales, the final part of The Gates of Delirium (Soon), from Relayer, and Awaken from Going for the One. These songs too are unsurpassed, after almost a half-century.

There is, however, one minor problem with the idea of a main sequence of Yes albums. One of the things that set Yes clearly apart from the second greatest band in prog, Genesis, is that, after the 80s (neoliberalism) destroyed everything of value in 70s prog, they almost attained again, on a few occasions in the 90s and early 00s, the level of the main sequence. This is so remarkable that it must be mentioned as a qualification in the discussion of the main sequence. Martin couldn’t do it in his book, since it happened after it was published.

The first instance of this is the studio material included on Keys to Ascension 1 & 2 – the main parts of which are live performances – and later compiled on Keystudio (2001), which, as Wakeman and Howe rightly insist, should be regarded as an album in its own right. It is not quite on the main sequence level. But this is only because Anderson’s lyrics have declined. By this time, they no longer consistently took the distinct and proper form of artistic expression, but were often reduced to a kind of preaching. The lyrical vision is thus too simplified, and increasingly involves, too explicitly, some typical, current moral and social concerns. But nothing else really separates Keystudio from the main sequence in qualitative terms. This is truly remarkable.

I would go so far as to suggest that in terms of the music, Keystudio is, as a whole, a better album than both Relayer and Going for the One, although there is nothing comparable to the mentioned masterpieces on those albums. In fact, both Relayer and Going for the One display distinct weaknesses (although very different ones) in comparison with the earlier albums in the main sequence. Even the beginning of the lyrical decline is discernible in a few places on the latter.

The second instance of Yes coming close to the main sequence – I mention the instances in order or importance – in this late period is the album Magnification, released the same year as Keystudio. This was the last real Yes album, since it was the last with Anderson. For those who have patience with the lyrics, it too must be said to be on the general level of Relayer and Going for the One, again with the exception of the latter’s Soon and Awaken respectively. On Give Love Each Day and We Agree, it is possible at least to understand that this is the band that once made the greatest album of all time; they are almost perfectly crafted yet not too complex songs, displaying Yes’s distinct melodic and structural-compositional elevation.

The third instance is the album The Ladder from 1999, a lighter, simplified, more easily accessible version of Yes for the pop ear, and with the same weak lyrics, but far superior to the abysmal, corporate, Trevor Rabin version of the 80s, and still very recognizably Yes.

These achievements, at this late stage, recovering from the calamity that was the 80s, are not paralleled by any of the other great prog bands from the 70s. The concept of the main sequence must be supplemented by their special mention.

Lustans Lakejer

Tom Wolgers har gått bort. Andres Lokko ägnar honom en krönika i SvD och framhåller hur han efter Lustans Lakejer “dröjde kvar i ett vackert 1980-tal”, i “en retrofuturistisk Stockholmskultur”, som flanör, som myt, och inte minst som stamgäst på PA & Co.

Lustans Lakejer förklarade provokativt att det var kläderna som var det viktiga, inte musiken. De uttalade sig inte exakt så, men det var innebörden.

Utan tvekan var kläderna viktiga. Men faktum är att just musiken var anmärkningsvärt bra, i denna genre – ofta bättre än de jämförbara nya engelska banden vid denna tid. Där uppnådde de den kalla elegans de eftersträvade. Över åtminstone de tre första skivorna upprätthöll de också en ganska konsekvent stilmässig enhetlighet.

Svagheten var texterna: nästan genomgående ett utstuderat laborerande med rena klichéer, ja blotta fraser, som, som sånglyrik, blir banala. Sångtitlarna var ibland hämtade från filmer och romaner, men texterna handlar inte om dessa. Johan Kindes röst och sångstil är på motsvarande, närmast programmatiska sätt uteslutande pose och maner, principiellt fria från något som helst “äkta” känslo-, tanke- eller erfarenhetsuttryck, ja egentligen också i stort sett från något annat uttryck. från varje mening.

Nu är det ju, som Oscar Wilde visste, ytligt att inte beakta ytan. Oerhört djup skulle ju i och för sig också kunna utvinnas ur gruppens själva namn (alla människor, utom några enstaka andligt mycket avancerade, är lustans lakejer). Men någon sådan avsikt finns inte. Kindes teatraliska ansträngning upplöser fiktionen av det kända och menade innehållet, och skapar bara en artificiell effekt, eller en effekt av artificialitet. Det hela kunde kanske i viss mån fungera som “icke-naiv” postmodernism vid denna tid. Men det blir för mycket, helt enkelt. Det här handlar om kläder, kläder, kläder. Innehållet är som kläderna. Det skulle bara förmedla – det var väl i alla fall ambitionen – den stämning som klädprogrammet motsvarade. Kläderna var inte viktigare än musiken, men de var viktigare än texterna.

Lustans var en del av new wave och synth som var på väg att växa fram, och stod sig i det sammanhanget alltså bra rent musikaliskt. Men de hämtade också inspiration från Ferry och Roxy. Det som främst skiljer dessa senare från Lustans är texternas kvalitet: hos dem är de normalt, åtminstone under större delen av 70-talet, mer genomtänkta och intelligenta; t.o.m. när också de laborerar “endast” med ytan har de ett ofta originellt, inte sällan delvis mångtydigt innehåll.

Mozart (Süßmayr): Requiem – Benedictus

Gundula Janowitz, Christa Ludwig, Peter Schreier, Walter Berry, Chor der Wiener Staatsoper

Wiener Symphoniker, Karl Böhm

1971

Yes: Perpetual Change

From their album The Yes Album (1971).

The Clash: I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.

From their debut album, The Clash (1977).

Radiohead: Karma Police

Live in Chicago 2016. From their album OK Computer (1997).

Roxy Music: The Battle of Britain

From their album Roxy Music (1972).

Franz Schubert: Ständchen

Aus dem Schwanengesang

Peter Schreier (1935-2019), Tenor, Rudolf Buchbinder, Klavier.

Marie Laforêt: Je voudrais tant que tu comprennes

1966

Brian Eno: China My China

Promo video. From his album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974).

Le Orme: Sguardo verso il cielo

From their album Collage (1971).

Genesis: Supper’s Ready

From their album Foxtrot (1972); Supper’s Ready.

This is considered by many of the best prog connoisseurs to be the greatest of all prog songs. The reason why I do not agree really has little to do with the qualities of the song itself, in its own category, and almost only with the very special factors that place Yes in a category of their own. That category is such that comparison with Genesis, beyond noting the general categorial differences, is seldom meaningful.

On my analysis, i.e., primarily in terms of the direction in which Yes were moving, nothing comes even close to what the philosopher and critic Bill Martin, the author of the best book on Yes, calls their “main sequence” of albums in the 1970s. Yes must simply be left out of most comparative discussions. But Genesis, in their corresponding main sequence, are very clearly the second greatest prog band. There is some considerable distance to the rest of the great prog bands, which, among themselves, are not quite as easily ranked. And it must be said that Supper’s Ready does have the structure of a major Yes song, in fact even the hymnic quality in the concluding section. If, despite what I just said, anything does come close to Yes, it is this.

Ranking of this kind does have a place in criticism, if done in a careful and serious way, but must never be exaggerated, never downplay uniqueness and a plurality that makes hierarchization irrelevant, and it must also avoid undue generalization of the kind that obscures the fact that individual songs of these last mentioned bands are sometimes on the same level as Genesis.

It seems to me we still await the further development of the genre of progressive rock, beyond what was achieved by these bands in the 70s – the further development, the further progression, which is what I am primarily interested in, because of the enormous artistic potential that has, in principle, already been revealed. Prog has of course developed, in a sense, but not, in my view, in the direction I always hoped for, i.e. further beyond rock, away from rock. Instead, there have in some cases been admixtures with the new problematic form of rock called “metal”. But I am not familiar with everything that has happened in prog in recent decades, and it is possible that I have missed things that match the criteria I have suggested.

Roxy Music: Triptych

From their album Country Life (1974).

Radiohead: Lucky

From their album OK Computer (1997).

Tito Schipa: Cercherò lontana terra

1932

10cc: Wall Street Shuffle

Live 1974. From their album Sheet Music (1974).

Audience: The House on the Hill

The title track of their 1971 album.

Bryan Ferry sings Aznavour’s “She”

Live at the opening of the Cannes film festival in 2009, with Aznavour singing along in the audience. They recorded a version of this song together for Aznavour’s album Duos the year before.

Andrea Schroeder: Helden

2014

Lucia Popp: Una donna a quindici anni

1971

Metro: Jade

From their album Metro (1977).

Gaetano Donizetti

Donizetti


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All original writing and photography © Jan Olof Bengtsson

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