Citizens of Hope and Glory. The Story of Progressive Rock written by Stephen Lambe
Review by Scott Montgomery
This is an enjoyable read that saunters through the chronology and culture of progressive rock. In the introduction (p. 9), Lambe states “This book is a straightforward chronological history of the genre, written for the general reader rather than the expert.” So, he notes the intent of a general overview, but also a straight chronology, as opposed to a topical study. But, there are topical chapters – chapter 3 on technology; chapter 5 on live performance; chapter 7 on art and cover design; chapter 9 on words – these are interspersed between the chapters (1, 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10) that cover the chronological history. So, while it offers a relatively straightforward chronology, as the author states, it attempts even more – providing both a chronological overview and a series of topical investigations – a nicely interwoven arrangement. The subcategories work well and the alternation between the chronological narrative and the topical discussions flow.
This is one of the few books on progressive rock that overtly treats it as a dynamic, ongoing contemporary phenomenon, addressing festivals, publications, newer bands, and provides recent images of performances by newer and older bands. This purview is one of the real strengths of the book in that it addresses progressive rock as a culture as well as a musical genre. For this alone, the book is a worthy read – an up-to-date examination of the state of the prog world in 2011. If only this were coupled with a more thorough (read “longer”) discussion and analysis of the historical arc of prog, it would be one of the most important books on the subject. But, in so ecumenically addressing the various facets of the contemporary prog world, Lambe’s book deserves a place on the shelf of contributions to the study of progressive rock. To-be-sure, Paul Hegerty’s recent book also addresses more contemporary prog – and in a much more thorough manner – but its focus remains on the music itself and not the larger environment of prog today. Lambe’s book is probably the best (certainly most up-to-date) source that covers the contemporary prog scene – from festivals such as NEARFest and High Voltage, to the rise of distributors such as Greg Walker and Malcolm Parker, to the rise of publications such as Prog and Progression magazines, to the inclusion of bands such as Big Big Train, Thieves’ Kitchen and Anathema, all of which were receiving considerable attention just as the book was being completed (not to mention the June 2011 photo of Dream Theater playing at Loreley). It may be that the push to be up-to-date caused the endeavor to be a bit rushed. In short, it is an impressively up-to-date book. But, one would also wish for a more thorough and analytical perspective.
Frequently, the sections and subsections are so brief that there is a jumpy quality, as we seem to race from point to point. The discussions of featured albums (rather well selected, one might note) are interesting, if all-too-brief. For example, examining the importance of Gentle Giant’s 1971 Acquiring the Taste is a laudable endeavor, but one can only scratch the surface in a single page. These short sections only leave one wishing for a more expanded book, because the author’s perspective is engaging and insightful enough to leave us wanting more. The book has a rather relaxed, anecdotal, and conversational quality, in contrast to the more formal, even academic approach taken recently by Hegarty (Beyond and Before). As such, the two books make a good pair – together offering a variety of approaches and styles of writing. Lambe’s is a brief and accessibly-written book, with a refreshing anecdotal quality as it occasionally traces his own journey through discovery and rediscovery of prog – one that doubtless parallels the experiences of many readers. It concentrates on more general description, listing, and personal anecdote, rather than any sort of scholarly analysis. There are no footnotes or in-depth investigation. Its intent seems somewhat different. There is an honesty of personal narrative of discovery that runs through it and this is a nice touch. The author’s introduction is honest and gracious, with candor and transparence regarding the intermixing of fact and opinion.
In the acknowledgements, Lambe notes a leaning toward emphasizing symphonic prog, but the book does venture beyond that. Also, Lambe notes an emphasis on English manifestations of prog, but he also acknowledges the essentially global phenomenon of prog, particularly highlighting Italy, Germany, and Scandinavia. Despite his averred preferences, Lambe does an admirable job in presenting an impressively ecumenical survey. Though his rationale for his minimal emphasis on Pink Floyd - because he feels that he “does not believe that the world needs another plod through the history of Pink Floyd” (p. 8) – is reasonable (and probably a kindness to the reader), it is odd to de-emphasize the centrality of one of the genre’s most successful and influential practitioners. They are mentioned here and there, but are oddly under-emphasized in the larger discussion.
Interestingly, both covers show photos of current and somewhat new acts. The front cover sports a photo of Izz while Magenta appear on the back cover. In making this choice, and not using images of the iconic, big, classic bands, Lambe subtly asserts the idea of prog as something vital, and not retrospectively locked. This fits the intent of the book, and the visual suggestion of modernity is balanced by the title’s textual reference to the “classic” era. Of course, the back flap notes that Lambe is “heavily involved” with Magenta, and this doubtless prompted their prominent inclusion. This is, of course, the author’s prerogative, as it seems that he is using Magenta as a poster child of contemporary prog – both vital and retrospective. Lambe is also involved with the Summer’s End Festival, and subsequently brings additional insider’s perspective on the vibrant contemporary prog scene – one of the more interesting aspects of the book.
The almost exclusive use of previously unpublished photos makes this a genuinely new contribution in the visual history of prog. Photos of musicians are nicely interspersed with some album imagery. At times the two are cleverly combined, such as the photo of Paul Whitehead with his Tresspass and Nursery Cryme cover art (a photo taken at NEARFest, it seems). There is a respectable emphasis placed on the visual aspects of prog, not only in the felicitous inclusion of an entire chapter on artwork (Chapter 7), but also in the goodly number of illustrations of classic prog artwork. Lambe astutely notes that “cover art was a vital factor in the success of the progressive rock movement” (p. 76). I would go so far as to say that progressive rock both embraced and was forwarded by visual, and genuinely artistic, concerns more than most other genres of rock. Major works from the 70s such as Roger Dean’s gatefold for Close to the Edge (Yes), Barry Godber’s In the Court of the Crimson King (King Crimson), Paul Whitehead’s Foxtrot (Genesis), William Neal’s Tarkus (ELP) and Giger’s Brain Salad Surgery (ELP) are illustrated and mentioned. The ongoing creation of prog visuals is covered as well, including Mark Wilkinson’s Misplaced Childhood (Marillion), Ed Unitsky’s The Music that Died Alone (The Tangent) and recent album covers for Echolyn, Solstice, Magenta, and others. Curiously, a cursory perusal of the selection of both old and new cover art would seem to reveal a diminishment in artistic quality and intent in the more recent cover art. Nothing is shown that rivals the abovementioned iconic images, though this is somewhat inherent with the transition from the larger-format album cover to the miniscule CD insert to the entirely non-visual manifestations of downloadable music. However, excellent cover art is still being produced – particularly in prog which has always more strongly embraced visual elements and artistry. Lambe notes the visual effectiveness of the larger LP format in regard to the expansive cover art, offering the (incontrovertible) assessment of Jon Anderson’s splendid Olias of Sunhillow (1976) that “the gatefold sleeve is so stunning that it demands you seek out a vinyl copy…” (p. 77).
There are some very important (and often overlooked) points made throughout the book. One of the most laudable is the acknowledgement of the early appearance of Gentle Giant and their seminal role in prog’s origins. Equally, the trifecta of Italian symphonic prog – Banco, PFM, and Le Orme – are given some due in terms of their role in developing classic symphonic prog sensibilities. As with many overviews of progressive rock (including Will Romano’s and Paul Hegarty’s recent books), the important role played by Frank Zappa is given only cursory nod. This near omission seems to stem from both the authors’ befuddlement at how to treat the huge body of Zappa’s work and also in that it is less aligned with the relatively genteel veneer of prog than it is with the unpredictable and confrontational nature of the Avant Guard. But, for each omission, there are at least three felicitous inclusions. Let us examine each chapter.
Chapter 1 (Evolution) treats the pre-history and embryonic development of progressive rock. It rather abruptly jumps right in, briefly addressing the music-industry and the rise of progressive leanings particularly from the Beatles’ sonically and conceptually expansive masterpiece 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to King Crimson’s epochal prog watershed - 1969 In the Court of the Crimson King. The early importance of The Moody Blues, The Nice, Procol Harum, Yes, and Gentle Giant are also noted. It is nice to see Peter Sinfield acknowledged for his important role not only as lyricist, but also as lighting designer. This could be too fast and cursory for the reader less familiar with the history of rock and especially progressive rock. Nonetheless, considering its brief eight pages length, it succeeds in setting the stage reasonably well.
Chapter 2 (1969-1975: The Way Up) focuses on what is generally regarded as the classic hey-day of progressive rock. At forty pages, this is by far the longest chapter of the book. And rightly so, as this chapter covers the establishment and full-fledged flowering of a variety of prog genres – mostly symphonic, but also briefly touching on Magma, space rock, folk prog, and the early Italian greats. This is a lot of ground to cover, even for forty pages. As such, there is a bit of a fast-and-furious feeling. Beginning with a discussion of the important advent of the LP, and the benevolent and visionary patronage of Ahmet Ertegun, Lambe also astutely highlights the fact that the rosy-colored mythology of early halcyon days of complete artistic freedom is not altogether accurate. From here, the chapter moves chronologically, highlighting a number of watershed releases, beginning in with the 1969 release of King Crimson’s mighty In the Court of the Crimson King – arguably the first full-fledged and unabashed progressive rock album. The early emergence of very progressive leanings of ELP, Pink Floyd, Van der Graaf Generator, Gentle Giant, Caravan, Curved Air and others is noted as important to the genre’s development. Interestingly, Lambe selects Genesis’ Trespass as the poster-child for 1970, arguing that it essentially set the template for both symphonic prog and neo-prog. While this may be a slight stretch, Lambe effectively forwards his agenda for prog’s current vitality by placing Trespass at the beginning of a long line running through Marillion and IQ all the way up to Agents of Mercy and Credo. I agree with Lambe that this is an underrated album, but I feel that, other than the incendiary closer “The Knife,” its influence lies more in the pastoral side of prog than in the full-fledged dynamism of grandiose symphonic prog that will follow. While proglodytes could bemoan the exclusion of this or that beloved album, it needs to be acknowledged that Lambe is both insightful and judicious in his selection.
1971 is introduced as “the most important and creative year in progressive rock” (p. 26) – a claim that has much going for it in the perspective of forty-years hindsight. While much is to be said in regard to it being a pivotal and fecund year, it is more a matter of 1971 initiating the “classic era” of five or so important and creative years that constitutes prog’s pinnacle and the height of its popularity. To illustrate the plethora of monumental releases of 1971, Lambe focuses on The Yes Album (Yes), In the Land of Grey and Pink (Caravan), Tarkus (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), Acquiring the Taste (Gentle Giant), Pawn Hearts (Van der Graaf Generator), and Moving Waves (Focus). The inclusion of Focus illustrates one of Lambe’s best points – that progressive rock was from the near-get-go a more pan-European genre, and not just an English phenomenon than is frequently acknowledged. (Again, it is this more ecumenical approach that distinguishes Lambe’s book). While other albums could have been selected, these six are successfully used to illustrate the development of complex, multi-part composition, virtuoso performance and rich textural variation – essentially the primary ingredients of symphonic progressive rock.
1972 is introduced via Yes’ masterpiece Close to the Edge, which Lambe (insightfully) describes as “arguably the finest statement that the progressive rock movement made.” (p. 35). Similarly, Jethro Tull’s monumental Thick as a Brick is argued as the moment that the band “hit the peak of their creativity” (p. 38). While Lambe is honest about his interjection of opinion in such assessments, one can hardly argue with him. It is a pleasant surprise to see Gentle Giant’s splendid Octopus given due respect. It is at this point in the narrative that Lambe expands the discussion to the European mainland, first with Italy. Appropriately, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Premiata Forneria Marconi, and Le Orme are highlighted as the major Italian groups. While this is the perfect place to introduce the Italians, one must bear in mind that Le Orme’s watershed Collage album was released in 1971 – the same year as The Yes Album. A minor point this would seem, but it illustrates how progressive rock in Italy was already extant before the now-famous 1972 tours by Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator that are often implied as the point of inspiration for Rock Progressivo Italiano. Still, Lambe obliquely makes the point about the early flourishing of the genre in Italy, and this is itself an important inclusion in a proper history of progressive rock. After surprisingly brief notice of the German (Eloy) and French (Ange) scenes, Lambe switches gears to discuss Magma – a welcome inclusion that demonstrates a more ecumenical perspective on the varied sub-genres of progressive rock.
From this point on, Lambe does not so distinctly feature specific years. While the rest of his discussion runs more-or-less chronologically, he seems to follow the (very reasonable) argument that after 1972 it was less a matter of priority than expansion, as he traces the expanding popularity and broader geographic spread of prog. Though he does not belabor the point, Lambe implies that after 1972, progressive rock had reached and was well into its apogee. Over a mere forty pages, Lambe surveys quite a lot of ground – essentially the maturation and flowering of progressive rock - in a dizzying flurry. What is impressive is that he actually is able to provide a thoughtful and insightful overview of this particularly fecund period. Reminder of the immense popularity of progressive music at the time – the domination of the rock charts by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, and note of the December 1973 charts being topped by Yes and ELP in the number 1 and 2 slots respectively - sets up discussions of three additional monuments of progressive ambition in 1973 – Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound, ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery, and Yes’ Tales from Topographic Oceans. Unfortunately, Lambe focuses too much attention on the (seemingly-canonical) criticism of the latter as the poster child for prog’s excesses and shortcomings, though he is balanced in noting the minority opinion of the album’s excellence. I, for one, hold Tales from Topographic Oceans to be one of the most aspirant moments in rock (and not just progressive rock). Contested? Yes. Flawed? I think not. Perhaps it was just a bit too challenging for most. Two substantial releases of 1974 are very cursorily treated – Genesis’ monumental The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Yes’ Relayer, though King Crimson return to prominence in the discussion of the angular intensity of Red. Balancing this, Lambe focuses attention on developments in electronica (Vangelis and Tangerine Dream) as well as a quartet of stand-out (“Second Wave”) albums from 1975 – Camel’s magnum opus The Snow Goose (thankfully shown due appreciation), Renaissance’s lush Scheherezade, Hatfield and the North’s delightful Rotter’s Club and Barclay James Harvest’s Everyone is Everybody Else (a curious inclusion, but a fine album). The chapter closes with a reminder of prog’s influence on other popular genres of rock, noting in particular the complexity and ambition of Queen’s 1975 blockbuster A Night at the Opera, as evidence of prog’s contribution to broader rock manifestations. While ones’ favorite album might be overlooked or slighted in Lambe’s wind-sprint overview, his selection is judicious and his discussion provides an effective introductory overview to the halcyon years of progressive rock. It may not “explain” prog terribly thoroughly, but it does introduce its principal chronology and major players.
Chapter 3 (Machine Messiah: Technology and progressive rock) introduces the important role played by developments in recording techniques, PA systems, and instruments (Mellotron anyone?) in facilitating the advent of progressive rock. It is an interesting idea for a chapter, but it comes off a bit like a whirlwind tour of new instruments (and their contemporary replacements or simulators). While his frequent reference to how it can be done “now” is in keeping with his overall agenda of maintaining a contemporary discussion, at times these asides seem unnecessary distractions. One might want a somewhat meatier discussion with more detailed examination of the uses of instruments, as considerably more could be done with this rather slight chapter. But Lambe is to be credited with at least trying to focus attention on the technical (and technological) aspects that inform the creative process of making progressive music.
Chapter 4 (1976-1980: The Way Down) chronicles what is frequently seen as the descent of prog into either oblivion or cheesy pop-simplicity, the result of the (myopically) punk-gaga music press as well as the increasing popularity of more simplistic dance music. But, as Lambe notes, prog was still quite vibrant in the second half of the 1970s. He illustrates his point by featuring a number of all-too-often overlooked releases such as Van der Graaf Generator’s Godbluff (1975), Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow (1976), The Enid’s In the Region of Summer Stars (1976), Pink Floyd’s Animals (1977), UK’s eponymous first album (1978), Steve Hackett’s Spectral Mornings (1979), Bill Bruford’s One of a Kind (1979), and the onset of prog in the US with Kansas’ Point of Know Return (1977) and Yezda Urfa’s Sacred Baboon (1976) – this last one a particularly surprising and felicitous inclusion of an obscure gem. Like Genesis’ later 1970s incarnation, this period is rightfully explored as a continuation of prog’s halcyon days before the onset of punk and the music press’s near-universal jumping onto that bandwagon while vilifying the old darling - progressive rock. The music industry’s push toward commercialization forced many less-famous groups to fold and many established bands to retool their sound to more simple and pithy song formats. Yes’ Drama (1980) is, I think appropriately, considered the last “major progressive rock album” of the 1970s (p. 90). An odd little coda on “The Strange Solo Career of Mr. Richard Wakeman” rounds out the chapter. Wakeman is discussed (though not always entirely positively) as the quintessential prog musician – essentially an archetypal poster child for the genre in all its virtuosity and unabashed excess. While the varied history of prog rock’s caped crusader is a worthy focus (see Wakeman’s own books), one wonders if a discussion of Pink Floyd’s grandiose The Wall might have more suitably rounded out this chapter in a manner in line with the author’s larger agenda of addressing prog’s enduring vitality and legacy (particularly given Roger Waters’ monumental 2011 restaging of one of rock’s most grandiose spectacles – a photo of which is reproduced without discussion). Not to mention, it would serve as an excellent tie-in to the following chapter on prog rock performance.
Chapter 5 (Coming to You Live: progressive rock on Stage) is a short chapter, but one that touches on some important elements of prog – live visuals. From the significance of the big keyboard rig to lavish staging by Yes and IQ, and on to the rise of contemporary prog festivals, Lambe all-too-briefly surveys (and glosses over) this potentially rich topic. Curiously, of the four illustrations, two are close-ups of musicians (Keith Emerson and two-thirds of Rush) and two are of crowds (NEARFest and High Voltage). What does this really say about prog live? Not much. There is a nice photo of Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans staging in the color section. But, I think it would be worth illustrating some more of the lavish staging of spectacular ventures such as Yes’ Relayer tour, Genesis’ theatrics and sense of spectacle from the early seventies through the adventurous Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour, or any number of Pink Floyd performances (from Pompeii to flying pigs). Peter Gabriel’s fox and flower masks are dismissed as “a bit silly” (p. 94). One might further explore the link between prog performance and theatrical traditions and innovations. Over half of the chapter is dedicated to a, granted very interesting, discussion of contemporary prog festivals. Given the author’s inside perspective, this is actually one of the more in-depth and contributory parts of the book. But, it seems a bit unfortunate that this is at the expense of so much of the theatrical visuality of progressive rock which is given more cursory treatment. And what of film? Prog was involved in some key early rock movies, such as the Pink Floyd: Live at Pompei (1972), ELP’s Rock and Roll Your Eyes (1973 – later released as Pictures at an Exhibition), Yessongs (1975), and of course eventually, The Wall (1982). While a bit disappointing in its brevity and emphasis, it is still quite laudable that such a chapter is even included.
Chapter 6 (The 1980s: A Short-Lived Revival) traces the mutations and popularizations of progressive rock in what is often seen as the nadir of prog. Covering both the sophisticated, progressive art-pop music of Kate Bush, XTC, and Peter Gabriel, and the neo-prog revival (Marillion, Twelfth Night, Pallas, and IQ in particular), this chapter also devotes some attention to the ongoing endeavors of stalwarts such as Rush. At times the definition of progressive rock seems stretched a bit, but it is an interesting (and important) chapter to illustrate the ongoing influence as well as dilution of many musical ideas stemming from prog rock. At over twenty pages, it is surprising that this period of pop simplification and occasionally derivative revival is afforded over half as much space as the chapter on the more influential 1970s. Again, the emphasis on neo-prog fits with Lambe’s stated, tenable, and laudable goal of demonstrating the on-going vitality of progressive rock, while also reminding prog-heads that the 1980s was not a complete musical wasteland. But it just seems odd to see Tears for Fears given such attention, while the likes of Gong and Hawkwind are invisible in the chapter on the seventies. Regarding more traditional notions of prog rock, the genuinely progressive return of King Crimson with Discipline is noted, but perhaps the rise of the Rock in Opposition movement and continental European progressions, such as Belgium’s remarkable Univers Zero, could be addressed as part of the ongoing presence of progressive rock during the so-called progressive low-point (UZ is only mentioned in passing in chapter 10’s discussion of contemporary prog). This would only further Lambe’s excellent case that innovative music was still made in the 80s.
Chapter 7 (Art and Illustration: Cover Art and Design) is a lamentably short chapter (a mere seven pages, including illustrations) on an insightfully-included, important, and huge topic. But, the inclusion of a chapter on prog visuals is in itself laudable (and necessary) in filling out the picture. Extremely brief sections are devoted to the major visual players – Roger Dean, Paul Whitehead, Hipgnosis (particularly Storm Thorgerson), and Mark Wilkinson. Despite the chapter’s extreme brevity, Lambe is to be credited for calling attention to design trends outside the cannon of these “heavy hitters,” as well as including more recent designer Ed Unitsky (I would have liked to see Per Nordin included as well). Dean’s monumental role is rightfully noted and his brilliant gatefold design for Yes’ Close to the Edge is held up as an example of the visual impact of the LP. Lambe notes the recurrence of use of Roger Dean designs by Yes as a means of asserting a return to “classic” form. This is a great point that warrants additional attention in that it highlights notions of visual identity in prog. The brief coda on vinyl labels is an impressive and insightful inclusion in terms of all-too-often overlooked aspects of rock visuality. As with the chapter on concert performance (chapter 5), this is a tantalizing chapter that ultimately disappoints in its cursory nature and brushed-upon potential.
Chapter 8 (The 1990s: Signs of Life) cleverly begins by discussing that most key element in the eventual reemergence of prog – the emergence of mail-order (and ultimately Internet-based) distribution vehicles, such as Syn-Phonic. Lambe rightfully treats this as the factor that allowed a popularly-eclipsed niche market to find its diffuse center. From here, the emergence of major bands in the 90s revival is surveyed – Arena, Echolyn, Spock’s Beard, and the rise of progressive metal (Dream Theater), and the potent Scandinavian presence in the prog revival – Anglagård, Anekdoten, White Willow, and of course the Flower Kings. I share Lambe’s assessment of Radiohead and its supposed magnum opus OK Computer as important and laudable in the contemporary mainstream with progressive tendencies, but as ultimately not terribly inspiring.
Chapter 9 (The Voice and the Words) addresses two less-discussed aspects of progressive rock – the qualities of singing and lyrics. Interestingly, these areas are often the most prominent and touted aspects of most rock and pop music in general. Lambe’s inclusion obliquely highlights one of the (many) differences between prog and much of the rest of rock. In the chapter’s penultimate sentence, Lambe observes that “this chapter can only scratch the surface of importance of lyrics in progressive rock” (p. 157). Indeed, and that might be said of every chapter of the book. To be fair, Lambe’s intention seems not to be comprehensive discussion rather than introduction to larger themes. In this he is successful. Some interesting points are made, particularly in regard to lyrics. Lambe refreshingly serves as an apologist for the all-too-often ridiculed lyrics of Jon Anderson, contextualizing them in terms of Anderson’s interest in pure sonic expression of language. The singing and influence of Anderson and especially Peter Gabriel are addressed, noting in particular the lasting influence of Gabriel (and Peter Hammill, dubbed “the Bob Dylan of progressive rock”) on the more dramatic, theatrical aspects of lyric delivery. Also refreshing is Lambe’s insightful inclusion of the power and romanticism brought to the table by many Italian singers, as well as a brief note regarding gender politics in prog. A thought-provoking, albeit brief, excursis on the relatively “clean living” of many prog musicians (certainly in comparison with the famous excesses of more mainstream rock acts - indeed, it might be terribly difficult to play such complex, orchestrated music whilst tripping) could be worth further exploration in terms of more fully analyzing the greater culture of progressive rock. While he touches on fantasy themes (though in a rather deriding, Tolken-snarking manner typical of the mainstream rock press), I would like to have seen Lambe more fully pursue an examination of the varying themes, concepts, and influences on prog composition and performance. But, then again, this is my general feeling at the end of reading every chapter.
Chapter 10 (Into the New Millennium: The Internet and a Thriving Niche) brings us up to the very present, examining the current state of prog and the internet’s facilitation of this prog renaissance. Porcupine Tree’s prominence and popularity are duly noted, as is its influence on later work – from Riverside to Pendragon. The global expansion is alluded to through the note of the thriving Eastern Europe scene (how nice to see Isildur’s Bane and After Crying mentioned). The powerful resurgence of retro-prog, exemplified by Transatlantic, Magenta, and The Tangent, is covered, demonstrating why I prefer the term retro-symphonic prog. The return/continuation of neo-prog bands (IQ, Pendragon, Pallas), heritage band reunions/variations (such as most of Yes’ career in the twenty-first century; and the seemingly ever-shifting reconfigurations of King Crimson), and cover bands is next considered. The latter is a very interesting and insightful inclusion, as is the note regarding tribute bands. The all-too-brief musings on what is essentially an appropriative post-modernity, are thought-provoking and again make one wish for elaboration. Reissues and downloads brings Lambe’s discussion into something of the contemporary practices of prog aficionados, again making his book insightfully contemporary regarding cultural practices. The epilogue (Darlings of the Press at Last?) is a brief (essentially one page) note of how prog is creating its own press mediation as it solidifies as a “specialist genre.” Given that discussion of the current state of prog is a strength of the book, one again wishes that this were more fully developed. Still, I like the optimistic closing line – “see you in another forty years” (p. 184). Lambe certainly makes a good case for this likelihood. I sure hope he is right.
In suggesting changes or adding points of criticism, I don’t mean to sound as though I am reviewing the book that Lambe did not write or the book that I wished that he had written. These comments are largely due to the fact that the book is enjoyable enough to make me wish that there were more to it, that it were beefed up to perhaps more than double its size. One gets the sense that Lambe has much more to say and more insight to add in discussing the rich history of progressive rock. But, this is not an attempt at a comprehensive discussion or in-depth analysis. Rather, it is designed as a short introduction and general overview, seasoned with some incisive and focused topical discussions. In this it is successful. There is a good and up-to-date, if rather limited, bibliographic list for additional reading. For those who have already digested the more substantial books by Stump, Martin, Hegerty, and Powell, there might be a sense of redundancy, but I would argue that Lambe’s book warrants reading by both novices (as an introduction) as well as by the prognoscienti (as a pithy overview with an insightful take on the current history and state of the genre). It is a worthy read – full of both familiar and new perspectives. It can be a bit chatty and fragmented – a phenomenon facilitated by the chapters being broken up into numerous short sub-chapters. Perhaps it is just the inevitable result of any attempt to cover so much material in so few pages. This could be a bit confusing or overwhelming for the newcomer to the genre, who might feel assaulted by a prog kitchen sink. At times one wonders who Lambe is targeting as his ideal audience. His recommendations for listening are frequently directed at relative newcomers to prog and together they form a solid overview to the genre’s development – like a very good progressive rock Primer. A curious little book this one, but one that warrants attention and respect. It is an enjoyable, and often informative, read.