Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’: Even Better Than You Thought It Was (Revisited)

Whatever one’s feelings about progressive rock, Jethro Tull’s Aqualung is a rare album that remains at once part of, and above, the fray. It is, to be certain, a cornerstone of the then-nascent prog-rock canon, but it did—and does—exist wholly on its own terms as a great rock album, period.

One of the many reasons prog-rock is controversial, and taken less-than-seriously by the so-called serious critics, is because fairly or not it frequently gets associated with sci-fi and fantasy. Matters of musical proficiency aside, it is true to suggest that little of the material holds up especially well, lyrically speaking (of course that is true of most rock music—a topic for another time). This is not a sufficient—or necessarily legitimate—cause to dismiss it as is usually the case, but defenders can only get so much mileage discussing the unparalleled chops of, say, ELP, Yes, Rush, et al.

Jethro Tull is in the unfortunate, yet ultimately enviable position of circumventing easy identification. Certainly they are known as a crucial part of the prog-rock movement, as they should be, but their career preceded it and has continued long after its heyday. Aside from their accessibility, relatively speaking of course, Tull also sold enough units to be considered a significant act in its own regard. Tull, in other words, suffers if compared to the critically reviled acts of this time. In terms of their influence, longevity and versatility, they really are a unique entity in rock music.

More than anything else, Ian Anderson’s lyrics are many degrees better than those of his prog brethren. More to the point, his lyrics are many degrees better than rock songwriters in any era. The list of rock musicians whose lyrics can be considered apart from the music and appraised as poetry is small, but Anderson is at the top of the list. In terms of output alone, his work necessarily ranks about Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel, two of rock’s better wordsmiths. The fact that he was only 23 when Aqualung was recorded is remarkable enough; the fact that the themes and words in many ways remain relevant today is sufficient evidence of his genius.

By 1971, Anderson had dealt with the past (Stand Up) and the present (Benefit); his burgeoning confidence would prompt him to combine those elements in an attempt to grind some axes that probed quite a bit deeper than the typical sociopolitical commentary on offer (then, now). For Tull’s first proper “concept album” (despite Anderson’s ongoing protestations regarding this label), the songwriter turns a lacerating eye on the institution of organized religion. While the first side of the original LP concerns itself with, for lack of a better cliché, man’s inhumanity to man, the second side takes on religion with a righteous indignation that has scarcely—if ever—been improved upon by other mainstream acts.

Everyone knows the epic title track (forever and somewhat unfortunately associated with the iconic cover art, which renders the eponymous tramp into a caricature of Ian Anderson who, not a little ironically, casual fans thought—and think?—is Jethro Tull), and then there is the concert anthem “Locomotive Breath” as well as the ones you used to hear on the radio when we used to listen to the radio, “Hymn 43” and “Cross-Eyed Mary”. Four decades on, it happens to be the lesser known tracks that represent the key to the work’s endurance. If you only know the “hits” you are selling the album, and yourself, more than a little short. In between the heavy, huge classic tracks are quiet pieces that, while softer, pack their own subtle punch. The acoustic couplet of “Cheap Day Return” and “Wond’ring Aloud” are archetypes of a sort; the kind of whimsical British folk that Tull perfected all through the ‘70s. The songs seem straightforward and pleasant enough (and they are; Anderson’s voice, always striking, is conveying new levels of expressiveness and emotion, particularly during the slower tunes) but are cut by their topical, occasionally unsettling lyrical import.

Succinct delivery with maximum impact is Anderson’s calling card, and nowhere is it on better display than the one-minute and 24 seconds of perfection entitled “Cheap Day Return”. In quick yet extraordinary fashion he deals with his own alienation, offers a sardonic appraisal of his budding super-stardom (What a laugh!), and his father’s imminent death, all in a song that sounds as innocuous as a nursery rhyme. On “Wond’ring Aloud” Anderson, sounding plaintive but optimistic, turns a seemingly simple love song into a meditation on mortality (Will the years treat us well?), ending on a line that underscores the album’s central theme: It’s only the giving that makes you what you are.

This sentiment is a respite from the unflinching social commentary that comes before and after: the aforementioned “Cross-Eyed Mary” concerns itself with a prostitute, and there is no judgment offered unless it is on the conditions that made the oldest profession possible, then and still conceivable, today. “Mother Goose”, also a deceptively upbeat number, describes a surreal tour through the London underground with an unsavory cast of characters disarmingly depicted as fairy tale characters. When, mid-way through the number, Martin Barre’s electric guitar growl punctuates the proceedings, it becomes clear that the people and places being discussed are in various states of distress and despair.

Where “Cross-Eyed Mary” might be considered a contemporary Mary Magdalene, the titular character—inspired by a series of photographs Anderson’s wife Jennie took—could be Christ himself, embodying the least of our brothers. “Aqualung’s” riff is so urgent and unforgettable, the initial verse and chorus so forceful and familiar, it’s possible that the significance of this overplayed radio standard has slipped under the collective radar. Put another way, while correctly heralded as an essential moment in classic rock history, it is more than that; a point of departure for a new type of music, both for Jethro Tull and the progressive era.

It remains tantalizing to imagine the augmented critical—and street—cred the album would receive if it had only been named after almost any of the other ten songs, especially “Wind Up” or “My God”. And if, as Anderson claims he preferred, the cover had featured the actual tramp from the Thames Embankment who inspired the song (“Aqualung” referring to the gurgling sound of the man’s chronic bronchitis), it would make the lyrics about the real human being inexorably more vivid and disturbing.

The song persists as a confrontational movie that directs itself: a shot that pans a city beside the river; quiet men bundled in rags, huddled together under a bridge, “drying in the cold sun”. Finally the camera zooms in on one individual, whose rasping cough makes him difficult to ignore (“snot is running down his nose/greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes). First, a tracking shot follows him (“an old man wandering lonely”) as he goes about his daily routine (“taking time the only way he knows”): picking up used cigarette butts, taking refuge in a public toilet to warm his feet, queuing up for a daily dose of charity (“Salvation a la mode and a cup of tea”). Then, the guitar solo. The other two immortal solos from this (early ‘70s) era, David Gilmour on “Time” and Jimmy Page on “Stairway to Heaven” (coincidentally recorded in the same studio at the same time) are like Technicolor bursts of inevitability. Martin Barre’s less celebrated solo is a strictly black-and-white affair, sooty, unvarnished, irrefutable: it is the bitter breath of a broken down old man spitting out pieces of his broken luck. Finally, the reprise: we might see or at least imagine multiple Aqualungs (“and you snatch your rattling last breaths with deep -sea diver sounds”) in multiple cities—the nameless people we make it our business to ignore, the people we must walk by because it’s bad for business to do otherwise. Or so we tell ourselves. And the flowers bloom like madness in the Spring…

Side Two is a remarkably ambitious attempt to examine the racket organized religion has degenerated into (or was it always thus?). On “My God” gets some licks in on the clergy, then turns both barrels on the men and women who have set about the self-serving task of recreating God in their image. Acrimony like this, at least in rock music, generally fails to rise above sophomoric ranting, but Anderson’s words retain all of their power and perspicacity if for no other reason than the cynicism and spiritual charade he targets has only become more prevalent. Musically, the song is cheekily experimental, shifting from an acoustic tour de force (Anderson, who is rightly celebrated for elevating flute into a lead instrument as opposed to sideshow embellishment, does not get nearly enough attention for his superlative guitar playing ability) to an arena-ready workhorse, with Barre’s larger-than-life chords. Then, in the extended middle section, we are treated to a credible approximation and/or parody of a religious hymn, complete with multi-tracked chanting and echoed flute effects: it is an audacious act of musical vandalism, at once amusing and eerie. It also serves to function as a soundtrack of sorts for the irreverent image inside the double-sleeve gatefold, which depicts the band having broken into a cathedral for some impromptu merriment.

For “Hymn 43” Anderson sets his sights on the U.S.A. and in quick order sets about decimating the hypocrisy and myth-making of religion and the new religion, entertainment. It still sounds brazen today, but it was downright defiant to pen tunes in 1971 with incendiary couplets like this “If Jesus saves, he better save himself/From the gory glory seekers who’ll use his name in death.” For a postmodern twist Anderson could not have anticipated, the not-so-holy-ghost in the trinity occurred when religion and entertainment got packaged together as part of the anti-science, anti-intellectual politics we see camera-ready charlatans practicing daily on our television sets.

In just one minute on “Slipstream” Anderson captures the opportunistic shamelessness of the materially rich but spiritually fallow weekend warriors who compensate (figuratively) for their nagging consciences in the confessional or the collection basket (“And you press on God’s waiter your last dime/As he hands you the bill”). On the literal levels these are the people we all know: our peers, parents and especially our politicians, whom Anderson contemptuously nails to their crosses of gold. In an era of too-big-too-fail and the wealthiest .001%, it’s difficult to conclude that Anderson was not predicting the future of a world totally off the tracks in “Locomotive Breath” (“no way to slow down”).

Anderson saves his best for last when, in “Wind Up” he recalls being shipped off to church, eventually concluding that God is “not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays”. It brings full circle the concerns, both material and spiritual, that any sensitive—or sentient—person must grapple with, or make sense of. “In your pomp and all your glory you’re a poorer man than me/As you lick the boots of death born out of fear”, he snarls, assailing the fake humility and the appropriation of the holy for personal, earthly gains, et cetera.

And here we are, 40 years later where a great album gets even better. First, we have the new stereo mix masterminded by the indefatigable Steven Wilson, who has become a champion for prog rock remastering. His recent work on the King Crimson catalog managed the improbable by creating indispensable copies of oft-remastered works (ones which sounded fairly spectacular in the first place). Aqualung, on the other hand, has always suffered from shoddy production and/or mastering. Even the obligatory reissues over the years have been lackluster, amplifying the hiss and burying the subtlety in the mix. What Wilson has done with the master tapes is spectacular bordering on unbelievable: the songs do not merely sound improved, they sound different, albeit in ways that do not encroach upon or overwhelm the versions we have grown so fond of over the decades. Now, each instrument (especially the bass and John Evan’s omnipresent piano) gets released from the murkiness of the earlier mixes. Anderson’s vocals are crystalline and each note from the acoustic guitar is a room-filling revelation.

For Tull aficionados the real treats are contained on the second disc: previously unreleased material(!). In addition to remixed and remastered versions of familiar favorites from the ’71 sessions (such as “Life Is a Long Song”, “Nursie” and “From Later”), we get early versions of “My God” (rough around the edges and alternate lyrics familiar to those who have heard live recordings from this era) and “Wind Up” (previously available on the last Aqualung remaster). The newly released songs are the real eye-openers: there is an early run of “Wond’ring Aloud” and initial takes of “Slipstream” and “Up the ‘Pool”. The one that is worth the proverbial price of admission is the alternate take of “Wond’ring Aloud, Again” which combines an early version of “Wond’ring Aloud” and the working draft of “Wond’ring Again” which turned up on the Living in the Past collection. Listening to this take, I found myself fantasizing that the existing (master) take of “Wond’ring Aloud” had simply segued into “Wond’ring Again” (one of the better lyrical and musical numbers from ’71) and the latter had replaced the worthy but not as essential “Up to Me”; if we had the same running order with “Wond’ring Again” instead of “Up to Me” concluding Side One we would have an even more perfect album, if that is possible. As is always the case, it’s fantastic to have this long-discarded material made available; it is imperative for fans and might help newcomers better appreciate why an album made 40 years ago can inspire so much enthusiasm.

Share

Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’: Even Better Than You Thought It Was

Whatever one’s feelings about progressive rock, Jethro Tull’s Aqualung is a rare album that remains at once part of, and above, the fray. It is, to be certain, a cornerstone of the then-nascent prog-rock canon, but it did—and does—exist wholly on its own terms as a great rock album, period.

One of the many reasons prog-rock is controversial, and taken less-than-seriously by the so-called serious critics, is because fairly or not it frequently gets associated with sci-fi and fantasy. Matters of musical proficiency aside, it is true to suggest that little of the material holds up especially well, lyrically speaking (of course that is true of most rock music—a topic for another time). This is not a sufficient—or necessarily legitimate—cause to dismiss it as is usually the case, but defenders can only get so much mileage discussing the unparalleled chops of, say, ELP, Yes, Rush, et al.

Jethro Tull is in the unfortunate, yet ultimately enviable position of circumventing easy identification. Certainly they are known as a crucial part of the prog-rock movement, as they should be, but their career preceded it and has continued long after its heyday. Aside from their accessibility, relatively speaking of course, Tull also sold enough units to be considered a significant act in its own regard. Tull, in other words, suffers if compared to the critically reviled acts of this time. In terms of their influence, longevity and versatility, they really are a unique entity in rock music.

More than anything else, Ian Anderson’s lyrics are many degrees better than those of his prog brethren. More to the point, his lyrics are many degrees better than rock songwriters in any era. The list of rock musicians whose lyrics can be considered apart from the music and appraised as poetry is small, but Anderson is at the top of the list. In terms of output alone, his work necessarily ranks about Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel, two of rock’s better wordsmiths. The fact that he was only 23 when Aqualung was recorded is remarkable enough; the fact that the themes and words in many ways remain relevant today is sufficient evidence of his genius.

By 1971, Anderson had dealt with the past (Stand Up) and the present (Benefit); his burgeoning confidence would prompt him to combine those elements in an attempt to grind some axes that probed quite a bit deeper than the typical sociopolitical commentary on offer (then, now). For Tull’s first proper “concept album” (despite Anderson’s ongoing protestations regarding this label), the songwriter turns a lacerating eye on the institution of organized religion. While the first side of the original LP concerns itself with, for lack of a better cliché, man’s inhumanity to man, the second side takes on religion with a righteous indignation that has scarcely—if ever—been improved upon by other mainstream acts.

Everyone knows the epic title track (forever and somewhat unfortunately associated with the iconic cover art, which renders the eponymous tramp into a caricature of Ian Anderson who, not a little ironically, casual fans thought—and think?—is Jethro Tull), and then there is the concert anthem “Locomotive Breath” as well as the ones you used to hear on the radio when we used to listen to the radio, “Hymn 43” and “Cross-Eyed Mary”. Four decades on, it happens to be the lesser known tracks that represent the key to the work’s endurance. If you only know the “hits” you are selling the album, and yourself, more than a little short. In between the heavy, huge classic tracks are quiet pieces that, while softer, pack their own subtle punch. The acoustic couplet of “Cheap Day Return” and “Wond’ring Aloud” are archetypes of a sort; the kind of whimsical British folk that Tull perfected all through the ‘70s. The songs seem straightforward and pleasant enough (and they are; Anderson’s voice, always striking, is conveying new levels of expressiveness and emotion, particularly during the slower tunes) but are cut by their topical, occasionally unsettling lyrical import.

Succinct delivery with maximum impact is Anderson’s calling card, and nowhere is it on better display than the one-minute and 24 seconds of perfection entitled “Cheap Day Return”. In quick yet extraordinary fashion he deals with his own alienation, offers a sardonic appraisal of his budding super-stardom (What a laugh!), and his father’s imminent death, all in a song that sounds as innocuous as a nursery rhyme. On “Wond’ring Aloud” Anderson, sounding plaintive but optimistic, turns a seemingly simple love song into a meditation on mortality (Will the years treat us well?), ending on a line that underscores the album’s central theme: It’s only the giving that makes you what you are.

This sentiment is a respite from the unflinching social commentary that comes before and after: the aforementioned “Cross-Eyed Mary” concerns itself with a prostitute, and there is no judgment offered unless it is on the conditions that made the oldest profession possible, then and still conceivable, today. “Mother Goose”, also a deceptively upbeat number, describes a surreal tour through the London underground with an unsavory cast of characters disarmingly depicted as fairy tale characters. When, mid-way through the number, Martin Barre’s electric guitar growl punctuates the proceedings, it becomes clear that the people and places being discussed are in various states of distress and despair.

Where “Cross-Eyed Mary” might be considered a contemporary Mary Magdalene, the titular character—inspired by a series of photographs Anderson’s wife Jennie took—could be Christ himself, embodying the least of our brothers. “Aqualung’s” riff is so urgent and unforgettable, the initial verse and chorus so forceful and familiar, it’s possible that the significance of this overplayed radio standard has slipped under the collective radar. Put another way, while correctly heralded as an essential moment in classic rock history, it is more than that; a point of departure for a new type of music, both for Jethro Tull and the progressive era.

It remains tantalizing to imagine the augmented critical—and street—cred the album would receive if it had only been named after almost any of the other ten songs, especially “Wind Up” or “My God”. And if, as Anderson claims he preferred, the cover had featured the actual tramp from the Thames Embankment who inspired the song (“Aqualung” referring to the gurgling sound of the man’s chronic bronchitis), it would make the lyrics about the real human being inexorably more vivid and disturbing.

The song persists as a confrontational movie that directs itself: a shot that pans a city beside the river; quiet men bundled in rags, huddled together under a bridge, “drying in the cold sun”. Finally the camera zooms in on one individual, whose rasping cough makes him difficult to ignore (“snot is running down his nose/greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes). First, a tracking shot follows him (“an old man wandering lonely”) as he goes about his daily routine (“taking time the only way he knows”): picking up used cigarette butts, taking refuge in a public toilet to warm his feet, queuing up for a daily dose of charity (“Salvation a la mode and a cup of tea”). Then, the guitar solo. The other two immortal solos from this (early ‘70s) era, David Gilmour on “Time” and Jimmy Page on “Stairway to Heaven” (coincidentally recorded in the same studio at the same time) are like Technicolor bursts of inevitability. Martin Barre’s less celebrated solo is a strictly black-and-white affair, sooty, unvarnished, irrefutable: it is the bitter breath of a broken down old man spitting out pieces of his broken luck. Finally, the reprise: we might see or at least imagine multiple Aqualungs (“and you snatch your rattling last breaths with deep -sea diver sounds”) in multiple cities—the nameless people we make it our business to ignore, the people we must walk by because it’s bad for business to do otherwise. Or so we tell ourselves. And the flowers bloom like madness in the Spring…

Side Two is a remarkably ambitious attempt to examine the racket organized religion has degenerated into (or was it always thus?). On “My God” gets some licks in on the clergy, then turns both barrels on the men and women who have set about the self-serving task of recreating God in their image. Acrimony like this, at least in rock music, generally fails to rise above sophomoric ranting, but Anderson’s words retain all of their power and perspicacity if for no other reason than the cynicism and spiritual charade he targets has only become more prevalent. Musically, the song is cheekily experimental, shifting from an acoustic tour de force (Anderson, who is rightly celebrated for elevating flute into a lead instrument as opposed to sideshow embellishment, does not get nearly enough attention for his superlative guitar playing ability) to an arena-ready workhorse, with Barre’s larger-than-life chords. Then, in the extended middle section, we are treated to a credible approximation and/or parody of a religious hymn, complete with multi-tracked chanting and echoed flute effects: it is an audacious act of musical vandalism, at once amusing and eerie. It also serves to function as a soundtrack of sorts for the irreverent image inside the double-sleeve gatefold, which depicts the band having broken into a cathedral for some impromptu merriment.

For “Hymn 43” Anderson sets his sights on the U.S.A. and in quick order sets about decimating the hypocrisy and myth-making of religion and the new religion, entertainment. It still sounds brazen today, but it was downright defiant to pen tunes in 1971 with incendiary couplets like this “If Jesus saves, he better save himself/From the gory glory seekers who’ll use his name in death.” For a postmodern twist Anderson could not have anticipated, the not-so-holy-ghost in the trinity occurred when religion and entertainment got packaged together as part of the anti-science, anti-intellectual politics we see camera-ready charlatans practicing daily on our television sets.

In just one minute on “Slipstream” Anderson captures the opportunistic shamelessness of the materially rich but spiritually fallow weekend warriors who compensate (figuratively) for their nagging consciences in the confessional or the collection basket (“And you press on God’s waiter your last dime/As he hands you the bill”). On the literal levels these are the people we all know: our peers, parents and especially our politicians, whom Anderson contemptuously nails to their crosses of gold. In an era of too-big-too-fail and the wealthiest .001%, it’s difficult to conclude that Anderson was not predicting the future of a world totally off the tracks in “Locomotive Breath” (“no way to slow down”).

Anderson saves his best for last when, in “Wind Up” he recalls being shipped off to church, eventually concluding that God is “not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays”. It brings full circle the concerns, both material and spiritual, that any sensitive—or sentient—person must grapple with, or make sense of. “In your pomp and all your glory you’re a poorer man than me/As you lick the boots of death born out of fear”, he snarls, assailing the fake humility and the appropriation of the holy for personal, earthly gains, et cetera.

And here we are, 40 years later where a great album gets even better. First, we have the new stereo mix masterminded by the indefatigable Steven Wilson, who has become a champion for prog rock remastering. His recent work on the King Crimson catalog managed the improbable by creating indispensable copies of oft-remastered works (ones which sounded fairly spectacular in the first place). Aqualung, on the other hand, has always suffered from shoddy production and/or mastering. Even the obligatory reissues over the years have been lackluster, amplifying the hiss and burying the subtlety in the mix. What Wilson has done with the master tapes is spectacular bordering on unbelievable: the songs do not merely sound improved, they sound different, albeit in ways that do not encroach upon or overwhelm the versions we have grown so fond of over the decades. Now, each instrument (especially the bass and John Evan’s omnipresent piano) gets released from the murkiness of the earlier mixes. Anderson’s vocals are crystalline and each note from the acoustic guitar is a room-filling revelation.

For Tull aficionados the real treats are contained on the second disc: previously unreleased material(!). In addition to remixed and remastered versions of familiar favorites from the ’71 sessions (such as “Life Is a Long Song”, “Nursie” and “From Later”), we get early versions of “My God” (rough around the edges and alternate lyrics familiar to those who have heard live recordings from this era) and “Wind Up” (previously available on the last Aqualung remaster). The newly released songs are the real eye-openers: there is an early run of “Wond’ring Aloud” and initial takes of “Slipstream” and “Up the ‘Pool”. The one that is worth the proverbial price of admission is the alternate take of “Wond’ring Aloud, Again” which combines an early version of “Wond’ring Aloud” and the working draft of “Wond’ring Again” which turned up on the Living in the Past collection. Listening to this take, I found myself fantasizing that the existing (master) take of “Wond’ring Aloud” had simply segued into “Wond’ring Again” (one of the better lyrical and musical numbers from ’71) and the latter had replaced the worthy but not as essential “Up to Me”; if we had the same running order with “Wond’ring Again” instead of “Up to Me” concluding Side One we would have an even more perfect album, if that is possible. As is always the case, it’s fantastic to have this long-discarded material made available; it is imperative for fans and might help newcomers better appreciate why an album made 40 years ago can inspire so much enthusiasm.

Share

Sony Walkman R.I.P. or, My Mix-Tape Confession

Anyone who was born before Y2K cannot be unmoved by the announcement that Sony has ceased production of the beloved Walkman (Begging the question: they were still making them? I admit rocking mine into the late ’90s past the point where I was getting ridiculed by senior citizens on airplanes; teenagers just looked at me like I had been transported from a time machine, or in character for a movie about the bad old days). Let me stand up and be counted: if I wasn’t the last American to get an iPod, I was definitely closer to the end than front of that long line. I love my iPod; in fact I’m listening to it right now (so there).

So I’m not preparing to deliver an impassioned screed about how much better everything used to be. I endorse old school on many levels, but I’m on record (recently) advocating the inevitable –and often welcome– advancements technology are providing us in terms of the toys we love and the content they provide. Here is an excerpt from a recent, two-part piece taking Steven Wilson (a musician and thinker I greatly admire) to task for what I consider to be his intractable, more than slightly myopic stance on progress:

We can—and should—linger long on the myriad advantages and benefits CE has brought us over this past decade. E-mail and e-books alone have already saved entire forests, not to mention being environmentally-friendly upgrades over costly and inconvenient manufacturing and transportation processes. Remember when portable music meant a portable cassette or CD player that ran on short-lasting and expensive batteries? Now we have tiny, rechargeable devices where we can stores thousands of songs that are available wherever we roam. There are literally dozens of other examples, and not many of us would savor reverting back to the way it used to be.

Still, the Sony Walkman, that clunky, battery-ingesting, cassette-devouring monstrosity; we hardly knew ye!

I mean, can I get a witness?

A confession or, rather, a declaration: God I miss mixed tapes.

(Which begs the question: Is it mixed tape, mix tape or mixtape? I say all of the above, and shall use them interchangeably.)

I know this is an old school skill that everyone boasts about; people have even written books about it: some of the stories are successful, some are very good novels that were inevitably made into very mediocre movies.

You can, of course, approximate the experience via iPod and playlists. Anyone can do that. And that’s the problem: anyone can do it. It’s too easy. It might even be easier to create superior product, because when the entire world is your library (also called iTunes), there are no limitations a quick download can’t conquer. But a mixed tape, aside from being an art unto itself (which songs would, assembled in the appropriate order, come as close as humanly possible to 45 minutes per side, often requiring a calculator and album credits to ensure individual song lengths), demanded effort and considerable deliberation, all based on songs already available to the mix-maker. Thus, it was truly a reflection of one’s personality; these were songs the individual had cared about enough to own the album (or, ahem, the CD) in the first place.

By the way, this is a tote bag!

For a mix of one specific band, it was a wonderfully excruciating exercise in mixology; the methodology was distinctly Darwinian: only the strongest would survive. Therefore, if you were making a 90-minute mix for, say, Led Zeppelin or The Doors, you had to necessarily eschew some of the longer (and better) tracks to ensure maximum bang for the proverbial buck. Not much point in taking up half of one precious side to ensure that “When The Music’s Over” and “The End” made the cut; or, while it’s hard to argue that “In My Time of Dying” and “Tea For One” don’t belong on any Zep mix, you could fit in “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, “That’s The Way”, “Down By The Seaside” and “For Your Life” in the same space. Of course, mixes for the ’70s prog supergroups were difficult, (think Genesis or King Crimson), to impossible, (think Yes or Pink Floyd.) Sometimes, you simply had to get creative: for a semi-encompassing summation of Rush’s oeuvre (understanding that at minimum two tapes were necessary: one for their first decade and one for their second), you had to cut and paste the old fashioned way. Can’t fit 2112 on, but it has to be included, so perhaps you just put in “Discovery” or “Oracle: The Dream”, or (like I did) just do a several minute pastiche of all the guitar solos from the entire opus. With Pink Floyd, you had to have the epic side-long suites represented in some fashion, so you just took the magisterial opening section from “Atom Heart Mother” or perhaps Part One of “Dogs” (or perhaps Part Two) and, obviously, you had to use your best judgment regarding “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” It goes without saying that the type of band mix differed depending on the target audience: if it was for personal use, anything was allowed. For friends, particularly ones uninitiated with the artist in question, it was incumbent upon the mix-maker to ensure all the essential tracks (i.e., the ones that did or would show up on a greatest hits album) were chosen (whereas those invariably didn’t make it onto the personal mixes, for a variety of functional and aesthetic reasons). Mix, play repeat: Practice made perfect.

The primary M.O. for mix tapes, of course, was for the intrigue they added to relationships. A mixed tape was de rigueur for establishing, assessing and understanding the various levels of any serious romance. The first mix was as important, in its way, as the first kiss: too early and you could blow it; too late and you may have missed an opportunity to send the right signal at the right time. This ground has been covered ad nauseam and everyone who ever gave or received a mixed tape will recall the rules of engagement. If you remember mixed tapes you received without the slightest pang of remorse, enthrallment or unforced sentimentality, either the relationship or the tape sucked. Probably both. (My condolences.) I know I ended up missing some of the mix tape miracles I gave away more than I missed the women I made them for (which is not necessarily a commentary on the enthralling women who tolerated me for any amount of time so much as an unapologetic appraisal of the one thing I always got right –the music).

Forward progress, particularly in technological terms, is seldom an unfortunate scenario. Letters are almost instinct now that we have e-mail, canned vegetables have mercifully been supplanted by aisles of organic goodness, clunky video cassettes have been replaced by online pirating, I mean DVDs. Even big, energy inefficient monstrosities (cars, as well as TVs) that once signalled American predominance are quickly becoming cuckoos of the 21st Century. These are all welcome and overdue advancements.

And yet…

Not to get all Ray Davies or anything, but the old ways ain’t ever coming back. So it’s seems respectful and perhaps more than a little necessary to let out a little howl for the way we used to roll. What we’re left with now when it comes to mixmanship is, by default, an exercise in onanism: we make playlists for ourselves. The sound quality and song selection are unquestionably superior, but the impetus for creativity and the urgency of the interaction is lacking. A playlist listened to with headphones on the morning commute can never compare with the indelible memories an effective mixed tape could inspire. It was always a fundamentally human exchange: it was an unspoken act of love. Giving was often as good as receiving. There was a specific message that only a mixed tape was capable of conveying, and once we lost that, we all lost a small but irretrievable portion of our souls.

Share

Steven Wilson: The Gentleman Doth Protest Too Much (Part Two, The Fury)

Many of Steven Wilson’s mostly accurate, but increasingly tedious denunciations of inferior audio can be attributed to genuine motivations. He really does despise digital downloads and looks askance at those who would abuse their ears (and his art) by listening to them. You can usually ascertain if someone’s agenda is disingenuous by the amount of money they stand to make; in Wilson’s case, sniffily censuring consumers for their philistine proclivities is certainly not going to line his pockets. Bully for him; his browbeating-bordering-on-bullishness comes from an uncorrupted heart. Still, fans that are sufficiently removed from the sullied means of production and procurement Wilson whines about might hope he can avoid becoming known more for his crankiness than his musical proficiency.  

It’s not that he’s a snob, these fans could claim; it’s that he really cares about music. (His already notable street cred as a proponent of progressive rock was augmented by his recent undertaking to remaster–for the umpteenth time, it might be noted–the (brilliant) back catalog of King Crimson; suffice it to say, this is not a task the merely passionate producer assumes, this is an obsessive labor of love.)  

So what are we to make of Wilson’s latest jeremiad in Electronic Musician, “In The Mix: Everyone’s A Critic?” A knee-jerk analysis might be that the self-appointed physician who would ameliorate all that ails us might want to turn some of that attention inward. It is by now abundantly clear that Wilson would prefer that more people shared his opinion on how music is made, received and enjoyed. (An exalted regard of his own judgment includes Wilson in an artistic community that is neither exclusive nor in danger of diminishing its numbers.) What is striking –and slightly unsettling– about his new piece is the implication that Wilson might prefer that a great many people have no opinions at all.  

Check it out: in an observation only slight more earth-shattering than the proposition that digital files suck, Wilson rues the reality of our Internets allowing every yahoo to have a voice. Once again, Wilson’s essential position is incontrovertible: there are a disconcerting number of uninformed, semi-literate, sensationalistic folks out there blogging, tweeting and e-scribbling their two cents. It long ago ceased being news (if indeed it ever was) that anyone with web access can become a critic, and anyone who happens on their site, however unintentionally, might become, however briefly, an audience. It’s not unlike the blowhard at every dinner party over the course of several centuries, multiplied by the speed of Google.  

So…what is Wilson actually saying? Well, he spins himself back down the years to the (good old) days of our youth and name-checks the estimable Lester Bangs. (One wonders aloud what Bangs would have made of Porcupine Tree, and if perchance an unkind appraisal from Mr. Carburetor Dung might complicate Wilson’s nostalgic approbation.) Great music journalism, Wilson asserts, “reaches out beyond the music to the core of the human condition, just like the music it is about.” (One also wonders what Bangs would make of that sentence, and that sentiment.)  

As is the case with honest music reproduced on machines designed to authentically transmit it, there is little to quibble with here. An LP (or CD) played on a receiver through decent speakers is the real deal, and even the most recalcitrant hipster would likely hold his Pabst Blue Ribbon aloft in solidarity to this sentiment. Quality music journalism, like quality literature (or quality music for that matter) is always something to savor, and there is seldom an overabundance of it. The only thing worth noting is that this has always been the case (indeed, one could easily make a compelling case that the sheer volume of words being written in 2010 means that there is, pound for pound, better music journalism than at any other time in our history; of course there is many times more crapola); hence the proposition that opinions are like arseholes: everybody’s got one. The Internet, naturally (or, perhaps more to Wilson’s putative point, unnaturally) has enabled every a-hole with web access to let those opinions pollute the public spaces. So what?  

Paraphrasing won’t do it justice, so let’s smell what Wilson’s stepping in:  

Albums are praised one minute as an artist’s best, then trashed a minute later by someone else as the worst—both opinions expressed as irrefutable truth. The quality of writing rarely rises above comparisons to other bands and liberally applied superlatives. Only now, these so-called reviews are broadcast the world over, giving influence to their authors no matter how narrow their frame of reference or biased their agenda.  

Really? You mean unlike the halcyon days when artistic assessments were reached by consensus? (Or do we even want to fantasize about a fascistic purgatory where only the anointed Wise Ones determined what made the cut? We’ve read that book before, and it had something to do with Atlas Shrugging while Orwell imagined a dystopia that Ayn Rand appropriated and Neil Peart wrote a concept album about. Or something.)  

Wilson’s (somewhat surprising, considering his band’s underground origins and the semi-cult status it still retains) despair at the millions of uncultivated impressions exposes an aloofness he is perfectly entitled to possess. Unfortunately, it discounts a rather serious underlying issue: until fairly recently, the same hegemony that governed the music industry also controlled the publishing world –including, and especially, magazines. As such, there were only a relative handful of “legit” voices allowed (e.g., able) to opine, and set the agenda. If history is written by the victors, the present is written by those with entree. Often –too often– these insider types were influenced by personal relationships with bands, and integrity was just as often tossed into the paper bag with the vials and the Quaaludes.  

Does Wilson fail to see even a little bit of irony in the fact that Led Zeppelin, a band now generally regarded as golden gods, was largely reviled by the rock establishment throughout the ’70s? Ditto Black Sabbath and Rush. How many times, for that matter, was King Crimson on the cover of Rolling Stone? A conservative estimate: about 7,000 times less than U2 has been. (If you think the reason U2 has graced that exalted space so often  is because the editors genuinely believe they are the best band around, and not because Jann Wenner gets wood every time he can converse with St. Bono, I’ve got booth space at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I’d like to sell you. Check that: the editors at Rolling Stone probably do think U2 is the best band around.)  

Obviously, our Internets have allowed every self-proclaimed prophet to shout from the highest rooftop, even if that rooftop is in their mother’s basement. But the cream generally rises, as it did even in the days when Cream made music and CREEM wrote about it. What Wilson, bizarrely, seems to overlook (and this complements his intransigence on the many positive aspects of digital technology) is that what is going on in the publishing world right now is very similar to what went down, a little over a decade ago (and is, of course, still unfolding) in the music industry. For all the shoddily crafted or hysterical hyping (and/or bashing) blogging empowers, the web is also a vehicle for dedicated, deadly serious endeavors that would have been all but inconceivable a generation ago. And for every imbecile who doesn’t think twice about submitting one-star reviews at Amazon or dismisses a particular album with unoriginal and spell check-free snark, there are music aficionados who are taking the time (and making no money) to promote the discovery of unheralded acts.   

(Speaking of blogs, it would seem remiss to not make brief mention of the fact that the haughty dismissal of these independent and/or underground ventures –however forgettable many of them may well be– calls to mind a similar, much more grave phenomenon. It’s hard to not think about the ongoing, albeit increasingly less credible grousing from the mainstream media regarding blogs and various other unsanctioned sources of news and opinion, particularly as it relates to international and political affairs. Reading Wilson’s piece, his superciliousness sounds distressingly congruent with the Bad Old Boys club of inside-the-Beltway elitism that has sought to marginalize the voices that dare dissent from the already-established narrative. These interloping hordes of “non-traditional” media types have only augmented their collective credibility as we see how supine and/or asleep our ostensible watchdogs have been for far too long.

These recalcitrant –and often unpaid– reporters and bloggers were roundly dismissed –and ridiculed– as shrill Chicken Littles by those same sober and serious denizens of the D.C. dinner party circuit. Those same well-placed (and remunerated) stenographers who breathlessly informed us of the WMDs, the trivial costs –in financial and human terms– of our imminent international adventures and the revised political and religious aligments (which anyone with a modicum of knowledge concerning the long and extensively documented history of the Middle East sniffed out on sight) that would fall neatly into place like so many shocked and awed dominoes, and turned out to be wrong, about everything.)

Would Wilson really want to roll the dice and insert himself back in a time when the prospects were a hell of a lot less salubrious for unorthodox and unsigned bands? Today, there are illimitable sources of opinion, and taste making is as democratic as it’s ever been, in part because of the abundance of voices and agency. On balance, this is undeniably a good thing, for artists and audiences. If it’s easy to get buried in this blizzard of evaluations, it’s pretty painless to seek out consistent and respected sources of guidance. The bile and disposable flame-fodder quickly dissipate into the ether, dragged down by their own ineptitude; kind of the way calculated chart-seeking detritus slinks quietly into the slipstream.

The reason bands find an audience is because they offer something of substance, something that speaks to a disparate crowd who may have little else in common. The way a writer attracts a readership is by engaging honestly and intelligently with the material at hand, respecting the intelligence and integrity of the artists who create and the people who support them. In the better tomorrow we’re always working toward, tolerant and receptive minds will eventually; inevitably find each other –either in the real world or the electronic one.

Share

Steven Wilson: The Gentleman Doth Protest Too Much (Part One, The Sound)

This Machine Kills iPods

Take a gifted and successful musician; add a cup of elan, a dash of pomposity, some shoulder chips for spice, ambition and sensitivity to taste, bring to a boil then let simmer and…voila, you have Steven Wilson.

First, I should –and will– quite happily point to being on record as a vocal and enthusiastic advocate for Wilson’s work, here and here.

Who, you might ask, is Steven Wilson?

Here is what I had to say, about the man and his band, Porcupine Tree, in early 2009:

Steven Wilson, in short, has been one of the better kept secrets in the industry for some time…(and) for anyone who suspects prog rock is (for better or worse) dead and buried, I offer only two words: Porcupine Tree. Led by the indefatigable Wilson, the band made strides –and accumulated a larger audience– with each successive album, culminating in what is (thus far) their masterpiece, Fear of a Blank Planet.

Here are some thoughts (also from early ’09) about what, at the time, seemed a rather quirky and refreshingly eccentric advocacy of “good sound”:

Wilson very refreshingly marches to his own beat, and his audiophile obsessions are likely to antagonize some of the folks who might otherwise become ardent fans. Their loss. Part of his promotional efforts for the new album included his systematic destruction of several iPods, an attempt to illustrate his contempt for the woeful sound quality of MP3s, and how the current generation has already grown accustomed to dodgy fidelity. He is not a fanatic, however.

I could appreciate, and even endorse his unashamedly sentimental but aesthetically sound stance on quality audio –and the associated commentary (both implicit and explicit) on contemporary laziness, lack of standards, and the less-than-joyful noise our digital files produce. And there is undeniably something quaint, if rather unoriginal, in  his nostalgia for a not-so-distant time when things weren’t so crassly commercialized. Nevermind the fact that this position, no matter how genuine or thoughtfully conveyed, is still a blend of crankiness and cliche, the familiar lamentation certain types express regarding each successive generation.

Some perspective would be required at this point, and it is necessary in order to contextualize Wilson’s monomania (pun intended). As it relates to consumer electronics (our toys), we must keep in mind that technology is perpetually in some state of transition. Movies, for instance, were silent, then shown on public screens, then available on private screens (TVs), and now they can be viewed on PCs and smartphones. Music went from vinyl to reel-to-reel to digital, with the hardware constantly becoming smaller to the point where a device holding thousands of songs can now fit snugly in your front pocket. Games have followed a similar course: from cardboard table-sized offerings to free wireless programs that can be played simultaneously by people in different area codes. (An associated observation that scarcely needs mentioning is that, in each of these instances, appalled old-timers shrieked about how advancements such as movies with sound or music on discs represented, paradoxically, a backward step for the art form in question.)

We can—and should—linger long on the myriad advantages and benefits CE has brought us over this past decade. E-mail and e-books alone have already saved entire forests, not to mention being environmentally-friendly upgrades over costly and inconvenient manufacturing and transportation processes. Remember when portable music meant a portable cassette or CD player that ran on short-lasting and expensive batteries? Now we have tiny, rechargeable devices where we can stores thousands of songs that are available wherever we roam. There are literally dozens of other examples, and not many of us would savor reverting back to the way it used to be.

And speaking of the halcyon days of yesteryear, would Wilson (or anyone) want to step backward into the rigged game we’ve only recently escaped from? With the benefit of hindsight, everyone now knows that the music industry, by taking so long to see the writing on the wall, squandered valuable time to adapt and innovate. The incredibly successful and occasionally sordid history of how records got made and sold too often enriched the labels and disenfranchised the artists.(Let’s underscore this very relevant development: artists are –or, if they are smart, stand to– make more money and consumers are paying less; the only people generally being left out of the equation are the greedy middlemen who run the labels and used to own the means of production and distribution.) Certainly, great strides have been made in the last decade and they are all consistent with the notion of a truly unfettered marketplace that has served to empower musicians– and, by extension, their audience. As a result the benefits are manifold for artists and audience: the entertainment is delivered at a lower cost while greater profits are possible for the people who actually create the content. It is, in short, democracy in effect and yet another illustration of innovation improving an imperfect situation.

Earlier this summer I came across a piece Wilson wrote for Electronic Musician titled “In The Mix: Compression Blues”. In it, Wilson reiterates his withering disdain for cheap (see: free) files that are so easily obtained online. To be certain Wilson is an aficionado of sound and his street cred (as a musician, producer and thinker) is unassailable. Indeed, his work on behalf of music the way it should be heard is useful and even more than a little noble. He makes a compelling case that his cause is not merely a matter of optimal sound so much as a deterioration of the relationship we have with art –and artists. In his opinion, back in better days, we had no choice but to cough up money for a new album (or, for the subsequent generation(s), compact disc) and experience it. It was an investment, in other words, not only involving money, but time. And being obliged to familiarize oneself with the work, Wilson argues, involved a seriousness and awareness that seems to be missing today.

That’s fair enough, as far as it goes –and a little goes a long way. At this point, it seems safe to suggest, Wilson runs the risk of being viewed as a bit out-of-touch (at best) and a crank (at worst). To paraphrase Shakespeare, “the gentleman doth protest too much”. His impassioned diatribes, however legitimate and genuine, ultimately convey the less-than-open mind of a curmudgeon who can’t –or won’t– accept the inexorable forward progress that time and technology impels. For better or worse, this is reality, and it is our job –as artists, consumers and critics alike– to recognize trends and turning points and “roll with the changes” (to paraphrase R.E.O. Speedwagon). 

Put another way, the question I am more interested in grappling with is how (or can) we balance the extremes so that good music, properly recorded and distributed, can garner a more fair allotment of our love and attention. This is not a trivial issue with the current ubiquity of digital content, much of it free via pirated or shared file exchanges. Put yet another way: is there room in our scared new world for a more old-school equanimity?  

The long back story can be succinctly summarized by acknowledging that the battle for shelf space and wallet share was determined this past decade as soon as consumers committed to video, rather than audio upgrades. Flat panel displays, along with digital audio, comprised a one-two punch that knocked the wind out of home audio. Given the choice of upgrading their (increasingly irrelevant) CD players or investing in a high definition flat panel, the vast majority of American consumers chose with their eyes over their ears. In the meantime, the ease and affordability of digital files played on an MP3 player or a PC became the new normal. For the better part of a century, home audio was at the vanguard for all manner of music enjoyment; now it was in danger of becoming obsolete.

Or perhaps it wasn’t. We have seen a minor resurgence of LP sales (and record players!) and most importantly, high-end receivers have begun to incorporate MP3-player capability. As it happens, the digital music revolution may ultimately be seen as an ironic and unexpected gateway to a home audio revival.

Back to the future: will anyone buy CD players or speakers anymore? Even if those types of upgrades are unlikely for the foreseeable future, receiver sales should make steady progress and even yesterday’s home speakers will channel better sound quality than most docking stations. The other important consideration is that of saturation: now that almost everyone has upgraded their video, it is very probable that people will begin to refocus on their audio equipment. Certainly with the advent of 3DTV technology it makes sense to conjecture that dramatically improved visual capabilities will compel more sophisticated audio accompaniment.

The balance may never be restored (certainly not to Steven Wilson and audiophiles’ satisfaction) but it stands to reason that more music fans will be faced with the shock of recognition remembering how good things used to sound in the bad old days. Old school has its charms, but as we see time and again, technology compels convenient and attractive alternatives to give consumers more choices and harmonize the way things used to be with the way they will be tomorrow.

Share

2000-2009: Let’s Break it Down (Epilogue)

 

So, the recent discussion of the Top 50 albums of the last decade was supposed to end, as it began, with a sampling of songs. The introductory entry covered 2000-2004; this one will tackle 2005-2009.

(Incidentally, back in December while wisely avoiding shopping malls and ordering my Xmas gifts from the North Pole also known as amazon.com, I spent entirely too much time on this list. Unbelievably, and idiotically, I also compiled a list of the best jazz albums of the decade as well as the best movies –a list that started at twenty, grew to thirty, and ended at forty. My idea was to roll them all out in the early weeks of the new year, but I was quickly disabused of that fantasy by the rather humbling acknowledgment that the day job, sleep, meals and some semblance of a social life would make that impossible. More on that later, possibly even sooner.)

The list will end (as it began) with a bunch of songs –in no particular order, other than somewhat chronological– that rose above the fray and made life a whole lot more worth living.

Sufjan Stevens, “The World’s Columbian Exposition/Carl Sandburg Visits Me In A Dream” (2005):

 

Sleater-Kinney, “Everything” (2005):

 

Tool, “Vicarious” (2006):

Easy Star All-Stars, “The Tourist” (2006):

The Black Keys, “My Mind Is Rambling” (2006):

Iron and Wine, “Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car” (2007):

Amy Winehouse, “Me and Mr. Jones” (2007):

The Breeders, “Night of Joy” (2008):

Fleet Foxes, “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” (2008):

Mastodon, “Oblivion” (2009):

Steven Wilson, “Harmony Korine” (2009):

Dan Auerbach, “When The Night Comes” (2009):

Share

Steven Wilson: Appetite for Construction

To point out the superhuman scale Steven Wilson operates on is like pondering whether Donald Trump’s hair is for real. Wilson, whose name you may not know, nevertheless recorded a new album in the time it took me to type this sentence. Actually, that’s impossible; not because he couldn’t do it (I certainly wouldn’t put it past him) but because he is probably in the studio producing another of the myriad bands he is associated with. Steven Wilson, in short, has been one of the better kept secrets in the industry for some time, and with any luck (for him, for us) that is about to change.

He has recently issued his first solo album, and reviews have generally been positive. Many fans are probably pinching themselves at the prospect of another great product so soon after Porcupine Tree, the band Wilson fronts, dropped the acclaimed  album Fear of a Blank Planet (2007). The new album is quite appropriately entitled Insurgentes. Wilson very refreshingly marches to his own beat, and his audiophile obsessions are likely to antagonize some of the folks who might otherwise become ardent fans. Their loss. Part of his promotional efforts for the new album included his systematic destruction of several iPods, an attempt to illustrate his contempt for the woeful sound quality of MP3s, and how the current generation has already grown accustomed to dodgy fidelity. He is not a fanatic, however. As with virtually every topic he addresses, he acquits himself as a reasonable, erudite, sensitive individual:

Technology isn’t the enemy of the album. If anything, the opposite is true. Widespread broadband, cheaper hard drives and better compression formats allow listeners to access files that sound as good as CDs. The top two online stores—iTunes and Amazon—have found success selling high-quality files, proving that sound quality matters.

That is quoted from a recent editorial Wilson penned, here.

For an outstanding introduction to Wilson’s voracious appetite for construction, check out Stephen Humphries’ superlative feature from today’s PopMatters, here.

Some highlights include Wilson’s thoughts on the topics currently occupying his mind.

On iPods:

I’m not trying to say that the iPod is inherently bad. There are some great things about iPods and download culture. The fact that people are arguably listening to more music than ever now, and probably more wide ranging in terms of what they’re listening to than before. And the convenience aspect is wonderful.

On his much-discussed work ethic:

It really doesn’t seem like work to me. I think, in a sense, it’s such an honor and a privilege to be able to do this and make a kind of a living from it. To be able to say, “this is my job”, seems like a dream. So, because it doesn’t seem like work to me, the idea of “time off”, doesn’t really come into it. I love so many different kinds of music that it’s always been important to me to be able to explore those different kinds of music if I wanted to. Some days I wake up and want to make drone music. Some days I wake up and want to make pop music. Some days I wake up and want to make progressive music or heavy metal. Maybe that’s the reason I’ve had to be so prolific. Because, unlike many musicians who are quite content to mine one particular seam in style terms, I’ve never been happy to do that. I’ve had to be prolific to express the different sides of my character.

On how he engages with the world and vice versa:

Noise is not something relates to. Pure noise is something that some people don’t even think of as music. I’ve always loved pure sound. I never made a distinction, really, between music and sound. Let me explain what I mean by that. I grew up near to a train station and the sound of the trains became a very important part of my world. It was a very musical sound to me. And when I hear that kind of a sound, the sound of a train, it sets off all kinds of feelings in me. Nostalgic feelings. Is that not what music does?

On the possibility that the next Porcupine Tree album might be one long continuous tune:

It’s kind of a brave or a stupid thing to do. But, you know what? I think the climate is better now than ever to make those kind of gestures because singles, radio, video are more and more irrelevant as every month goes by. If bands are going to make ridiculous/ambitious/pretentious pomp—whatever you want to call it—we’re in an era when you can do that now again. It’s not just about radio and creating these pop songs anymore. That, in a way, is a return to the ’70s and I’m very happy about that.

Insurgent, indeed. The music scene desperately needs Steven Wilson right now, and fortunately for everyone, he seems more than equal to the task. Aside from a few more iPods that may need dealing with, it’s difficult to imagine many outside distractions interfering with his mission. There’s nothing more to be said, except: Rock on.

Share