Deep Dive: Rush

Welcome to the fourth installment of Deep Dive, where I take an in-depth look at the studio discographies of some of the giants of progressive rock and progressive metal.

For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and that is an element often missed in a ranked list.

Rush is a band I’d always planned to eventually cover in this series. I’d made no firm plans as to when, exactly, but they were undoubtedly on the docket. Originally, this Deep Dive was slated to be a look at Genesis, but Neil Peart’s unfortunate passing earlier this year prompted me to push off the Genesis entry for a later date.

In the early 1970s, acts like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Atomic Rooster had demonstrated that trios could produce excellent progressive rock, but Rush pushed the capabilities of that limited format to its extreme with complex suites containing massive tonal variation. Even once Rush moved past their prog rock heyday, their music was mostly inventive, energetic, and—above all—distinct. Over the years, Rush became one of the best-known and most-successful rock acts of all time, particularly in their native Canada.

Subdivision I: The Early Years (1968-1974)

Rush formed in 1968 and originally consisted of guitarist Alex Lifeson (born Zivojinovich; “Lifeson” is an English translation of his Serbian name), bassist/vocalist Jeff Jones, and drummer John Rutsey. These early years saw a high degree of volatility in the band’s lineup, with Lifeson remaining the one constant. Jones left shortly after the band formed, soon replaced by Geddy Lee, and even Geddy was briefly out of the band in 1969. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Rush”

Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson

pt deep diveWelcome to the third installment of Deep Dive, where I take an in-depth look at the studio discographies of some of the giants of progressive rock and progressive metal.

For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this is an element often missed in a ranked list.

My first two entries in this series focused on some of the giants of progressive rock’s 1970s heyday. For this entry, I wanted to focus on something heavier, which means someone more modern. After weighing a few options and starting Deep Dive entries on a couple other artists, I settled on Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson.

Porcupine Tree covered a wide style of music until their disbandment in 2010, ranging from space rock to art pop to progressive metal. Wilson has maintained that experimental spirit in his solo career, covering similar ground across his five solo albums. The early-21st Century progressive rock renaissance we’re currently enjoying may not have happened at all, had it not been for the wide success of Porcupine Tree, which opened the door for many, many other acts.

As a disclaimer, this essay does not cover all of Steven Wilson’s myriad musical projects. The man is too prolific for me to reasonably address all those projects in this one essay. I am solely focusing on Porcupine Tree and his solo material. No-Man and Bass Communion don’t fit this site’s purview; and while Blackfield and Storm Corrosion may fall under the margins of progressive rock, I simply don’t like their output and would not enjoy reviewing them in-depth. I also do not plan to discuss his remastering work on classic prog albums. I do highly recommend his King Crimson remasters, though I’d avoid his work on Too Old to Rock n Roll: Too Young to Die!, as mentioned in my Jethro Tull Deep Dive. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson”

Deep Dive: Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull in concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK - 11 Feb 1977

Welcome to entry number two in my Deep Dive series, where I look at the full studio discographies and histories of some of the major names in progressive rock and progressive metal. It’s here that I highlight output beyond an act’s “classic” releases.

For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this is an element often missed in a ranked-list.

For this second entry, I’ve opted to cover Jethro Tull. Tull are best known for their pair of early ‘70s masterpieces, Aqualung and Thick as a Brick, as well as winning the inaugural Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Grammy over Metallica in 1989. But beyond those few common knowledge highlights, as well as the notable quirk of being the best-known rock act with a flautist, this band’s discography holds an impressive breadth of music, ranging from blues to folk to synthpop to world music.

I really love Jethro Tull. My love of Jethro Tull is so deep, in fact, that the first email address I ever made was a rather blatant reference to said fandom. (And that Yahoo address is still in use 14 years later, as well as a very similarly-named Hotmail account.) In high school, I made it my mission to collect a physical copy of every studio release from Jethro Tull. I still have all those CDs (including both the US and UK versions of Benefit), as well as several vinyl records, which I acquired both from my mom’s old record collection and from my own purchases. I also managed to see Jethro Tull in concert in 2011. Even then, Ian Anderson (plus Martin Barre and the other motley musicians) could still put on a hell of a show.

Despite my deep fondness for this group, I’ll do my best to be as objective as one can be when reviewing music. They did put out some crap albums, and I’ll be honest about other albums’ shortcomings. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Jethro Tull”

Deep Dive: Yes

band

Welcome to the first entry in my Deep Dive series, where I look at the full studio discographies and histories of some of the major names in progressive rock and progressive metal. I plan to highlight output beyond the “classic” releases. In fact, I plan on the discussion of a group’s classics to be quite brief.

For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, I’ve included a summary/TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this is an element often missed in a ranked-list.

For this inaugural entry, I’ve opted to look at one of the absolute biggest names in the genre: Yes. For many, this band is the band when it comes to progressive rock, and it’s clear why. They’re known for their album-side-covering suites, virtuosic musicianship, sci-fi-scenery-adorned album covers, and abundant pretension. Yes are practically metonymy for “progressive rock.” The band has a massive discography, stretching across 21 albums and six decades. This body of work features a great breadth of stylistic variation, as well as a wide range in quality.

Part I: Origins (1968-1970)

Yes were formed in London in 1968 by bassist Chris Squire, vocalist Jon Anderson, drummer Bill Bruford, and guitarist Peter Banks, with keyboardist Tony Kaye joining the band shortly thereafter. Like most bands of this era, they started off playing primarily covers of bands like The Beatles and Traffic, but they soon began writing and performing original compositions. (A Beatles cover (“Every Little Thing”) did make it onto their debut album.) Continue reading “Deep Dive: Yes”