Deep Music Criticism #18 – Donald Fagen – I’m Not The Same Without You

So far in this series of music criticism posts, I’ve stuck to composers and songwriters working in a relatively simple format – pop, metal, mainstream progressive rock, etc. Rush and Frank Zappa are certainly adventurous by comparison with Katatonia and Katy Perry, but not compared to a band like Steely Dan. View all photos

Deep Music Criticism #17 – Yes – Survival

In one of my automated, web radio-driven music discovery jags I wound up on a string of songs from the early days of iconic English prog band Yes.

I took the opportunity to listen through their entire 1969 self-titled debut album. Most reviews correctly label it as the most significant album to bridge Beatles-esque melody of 60s pop with progressive tendencies to come in the 70s. View all photos

Deep Music Criticism #15 – Katy Perry/Tim Hewitt – Teenage Dream

I’m taking a new tack here – reviewing a cover song. Only because it shows what I’ve often said about pop acts these days: the songs (many of them, anyway) are well-written but HORRIBLY produced. Harmonically, melodically, lyrically – good pop songwriters these days are talented and working in the great tradition of Tin Pan Alley etc. 3-4 minutes of clever and carefully polished a songwriting is routinely coming at me over the radio. But the problem is the sonic pallete the producers choose these days, which is horrible. View all photos

Deep Music Criticism #14 – Frank Zappa’s My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama

Sorry folks – I’m just on a Zappa jag lately. I’m eating my own dogfood – fans are constantly comparing me to Zappa so I feel like I need to study his music in earnest to get the connection myself. I’m still convinced that my aesthetic and point of view is different than Frank’s, and I never was especially inspired by his musical ideas. Sure I have common threads in my music – jazz and fusion etc – but I admired and listened to the same artists Frank listened to. I didn’t absorb the influence second hand through him. View all photos

Deep Music Criticism #13 – Dream Theater’s Scenes from a Memory

In my quest to comprehend and appreciate the prog-metal warhorse of a band Dream Theater, I’ve been listening to their classic concept album Scenes from a Memory – also known by its more verbose title: Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory.

So far…meh. But read on.

There was a time in my life when I was a bit enthralled with concept albums. Rush’s 2112 was and still is endearing and brings back memories to when I first awakened to adventurous rock music. Queensrÿche’s Operation: Mindcrime was a smaller obsession a bit later. In a sense, every well-programmed and sequenced album of music should carry a concept and theme from start to finish, whether that be mood, musical element (like tempo, tonality), or whatever. But for an album to truly qualify as “concept”, there has to be a programmatic story – usually sung as lyrics, ala opera. View all photos

Deep Music Criticism #12 – King Crimson – Epitaph

My closest encounter with King Crimson before a few years ago was a Howard Stern bit that aired in 2000, pitting his motley pickup band The Losers against a non-music celebrity band. The bit was all about mocking actors and athletes who thought that they could pivot to a successful music career just on the strength of their non-music successes. Tina Yothers (remember her?) competed against Howard and The Losers in a Battle of the Bands performing a tortured but rocking version of In the Court of the Crimson King. The record label judges in the studio voted for Howard, surprise… View all photos

Deep Music Criticism #10 – Rush – Presto

Presto – Rush’s 13th studio album – was the first album they released after I became a fan when I was 14, in 1988. I remember it was released right before Christmas 1989. I bought it the morning that my Dad and I were to travel up to Vermont with a friend of his and his son to their ski condo on Okemo mountain. I persuaded the adults to pop the cassette in the player, to eat up the first hour of that 3 hour car ride. I remember how, by the time the player turned over Side B and was about to start the entire album over again, Rich (Dad’s friend) said in a mildly annoyed tone “Can we give it a rest now?” Rush is not for everyone… View all photos

Deep Music Criticism #9 – The Tea Club – Simon Magus

The Tea Club are a young Philadelphia-based progressive rock band that I interviewed in 2010 for my podcast site I’ve kept their 2 albums in slow rotation on my iphone ever since.

These guys have dutifully adopted (just as all the music marketing geniuses advise) a stylistic “brand” and elevator pitch description of their sound: “Pastoral post-rock blending into proper prog“. I’m guilty of this too – Ben Sommer’s “Edgy, political prog rock” was concocted by a cold, calculating focus group, not by any music journalist or fan group. But their description is as apt as any I could come up with.

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