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Guilty Pleasures: Progressive Rock

Rob Brunner on the musical ambition of Yes, King Crimson, and Caravan

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Music snobs may disdain prog rock, but they can kiss my mellotron-loving butt. I listen to Yes, King Crimson, Caravan, even Utopia — the gurgling synthesizers, the 17-minute neoclassical song structures, the lyrics about wizards and unicorns, the whole deal. I admire now-obscure ’70s bands with names like Premiata Forneria Marconi and Atomic Rooster. I’ve gotten goose bumps from a flute solo. Beat me over the head with Beck CDs all you want — I’ll still defend the non-ironic (though sometimes misguided) musical ambition of even the most pompous progsters. After all, any schmo can write a song about alienation, broken hearts, and hating the Man, but just try composing a magnum opus about ”The Revealing Science of God,” as Yes once did (”The future poised with the splendor just begun/The light we were as one/And crowded through the curtains of liquid into sun”). Now, that’s impressive.

And I’m not alone. Prog-leaning albums from the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and Radiohead have topped critics’ lists in recent years, and even hipster film director Vincent Gallo made brilliantly unexpected use of Yes and King Crimson in Buffalo 66. So if you happen upon that ELP record in my apartment, instead of chuckling derisively why not join me for a rousing sing-along to ”Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression”? You’ll be glad you did.

Guilt-o-meter: 5