In this book, the glory days of progressive rock are relived in a series of insightful essays about the key bands, songwriters and songs that made prog-rock such an innovative style.
Apparently the reason why you should like prog rock is not because of how it makes you feel or how you use it in your life, but rather because a bunch of toffie-nosed academics got together and went through this music in a tediously drawn out technical manner, and they have decided that it is good for you. These writers do all they can to formally wrap the topic in an impenetrable web of music theory babblespeak that acts as if this was classical music, not rock music. There is page after page of in-depth technical analysis and specialized language that will not appeal to most audiences. This is like reading a bunch of term papers intended to impress a music professor.
And it is indeed awful to see a group of politically correct eggheads apologize over and over in their essays for how prog rock is too white, too European, too priviliged, too upper middle class, too male, too elitist, etc. But there is a level of p.c. identity politics nonsense here the likes of which is truly ridiculous. One contributor claims in her essay to give the lesbian perspective on Yes. Apparently music is perceived differently by homosexuals seems to be the message. Another author gives an account of a gay man's reaction to Yes's "Close to the Edge," and even concludes his chapter by stating what kind of man he likes. Ouch!
The authors take the old line that prog rock hit the skids not because of anything it was doing, but rather because evil punk and new wave forced them out. This is the same negative "it-was-all-over-by-the-1980's" thinking that pervades many a music text. Prog rock and punk/new wave did not necessarily share the same audience base(s), so it was not as if suddenly music buyers decided to no longer go for prog rock in favor of punk. Prog rock cannot blame others for its own drawbacks. There were many truly bad front-rank prog rock albums released in the late 1970's and 1980's that hurt the genre more than anything punk rock did. Go out and buy any Gentle Giant album from the 1975-1980 period and you'll see what I mean.
So why one star? Editor Kevin Holm-Hudson contributes the only decently written chapter, looking at the late 1960's U.S. experimental band the United States of America. This chapter is well done, informative, and covers an area of prog rock (a U.S. band, not a U.K. one) that needs and deserves such coverage. If only the books other contributors had risen to this standard. Also, as usual there are profuse notes and bibliography, but no photos.
Avoid this book!
This is especially true in Australia, where one consistently sees progressive rock albums listed as being "the worst albums ever" in entertainment guides (I recall "Nursery Cryme" being described in that way by Melbourne newspaper The Age - I cannot myself judge having never heard a note of it or related works), and artists who weren't progressive rock are maligned and distorted if their music failed to conform with the critics' party line of simple, stripped down rock - Australia is perhaps the most prog-phobic of major rock markets.
The book attempts to outline why progressive rock is different from the simpler styles of rock that dominated in the sixties. It contrasts progressive rock with earlier styles in terms of orientation (to body or mind), social status (working or middle class), lyrics (fastasy or romance & fun); and the song structures (extended suites such as "Echoes" or "Supper's Ready" in place of simple verse-bridge-chorus songwriting).
The amin focus, sensibly, is on the "true" progressive rock bands, where the emphasis was on flashy solos rather than, as in the case of numerous other artists of the era, improvisation. However, the book, I feel, ought to define progressive rock much more clearly than it does - and explain these definitions too. Often, especially in a prog-phobic country like Australia, there was never a great deal of care in this process. Moreover, those artists lumped in with progressive rockers (whether by punks or musicologists is irrelevant) were often as radically different from each other as they are from "true" progressive rock bands.
Most of the book deals with song structures of various pieces by such bands as Yes, explaining key musical points in their songs to show how progressive rock evolved. The later part of the book focuses on the piece "2112" by Rush (based on a work by Ayn Rand) and on "math rock", a little-known genre of rock in which unorthodox time signatures and shifting rhythms are used constantly rather than as occassional changes in rhythm. This is very interesting for someone interested in music theory, but it is not done by any means thoroughly so that everything is clear to the less knowledgeable. Rather, only a few tiny fragements are given attention.
Moreover, in the latter part of the book, unauthenticated calims are made that certain critically acclaimed bands in the 1990s (like Sonic Youth, generally classed as experimental rock - a genre which in some ways is an odd point between progressive rock and punk) have been influenced by progressive rock - and if we do, it does not seem to me to be very well done even though I am not knowledgeable about the bands concerned.
However, this is a most interesting read nonetheless.