Stump's The Music Is All That Matters, attempts to describe exactly how Progressive rock in England evolved from its psychadelic beginnings in the late 1960's to its current cult-like status. While highly opinionated, it mostly succeeds in this effort. However, I find it to be the least essential of the books on Progressive Rock that I have read. This is because Stump's writing style is somewhat taxing, and I don't find myself gaining a deeper understanding of the music, or discovering new bands to listen too.
I wanted to briefly address some of the comments made by some of the other insightful reviewers.
1-I do believe that Stump thoroughly enjoys progressive rock. He just likes Robert Wyatt, (he sounds like the only person I have ever heard that has actually listened to EVERY Soft Machine album), Henry Cow and The Enid more than Yes, Pink Floyd and ELP. He does present with the bias that somehow if you became popular the music was no longer valid. Now this did happen to the most popular progressive bands as the 70's wore on, but he is also highly critical of the most successful progressive bands better work as well. However, I take his criticism to be that of an insider, one of us. It is like family making fun of each other, its ok when it is with each other. With that said, I question does he really think ELP covered Pictures at an Exhibition because they thought it would make them international pop stars? It was about the music baby (at least in the beginning and I think among the current prog groups). I found myself wanting to apologize to Bradley Smith (Billboard's Guide to Progressive Music) for saying in an Amazon Review that his writing was preachy, cause by comparison, Stump is MUCH more highly opinionated, and much more direct in his presentation that HE knows what is the really good and essential music. (Hey, Ant Phillips seems like a great guy, and Trespass is my favorite Genesis album, but a whole section devoted to him? Some of those Private Parts albums are about as exciting as listening to someone tune their guitar!! That said, go buy Phillip's The Geese and the Ghost- it is a fantastic, sensitive progressive work).
2. Stump's writing is, as other's have pointed out, often difficult. (Who were you trying to impress Stumpy?). I mean, progsters are often educated folk, but only a few of us are actually Professors of literature. It is interesting that Stump has also written a book on Roxy Music because a friend of mine used to say that Brian Ferry sounded like he was singing to hear himself sing/amuse himself. Sometimes I felt like this book was written solely to amuse the author. I found myself comparing the writing to music and coming up with the two following analogies.
1-At times the writing is like those dissonant bits in Henry Cow, you know the ones where you know it has some significance, but you really just keep listening to see if you are strong enough to take it.
2-The best album I could think of to compare the writing to was ELP's Works. Self-indulgent (nothing wrong with some self-indulgence on occassion), bombastic and "clodhopping" in its attempt to be more than it is. Also, so obvious in its attempt to be clever that it at times becomes self-parody. None the less, it is still something I drag out on occassion and thoroughly enjoy bits of.
And that is what I thought of this book. It was often too much work. While there are some amusing thoughts on prog and some prog albums, (some of his criticism of the most popular progressive rock albums is actually fairly humoruous) overall, it isn't an essential read on the subject. But, most progster like to collect things, so you are probably going to buy this anyways. I did.