Prog is not a four-letter word. OK, I guess it is a four-letter word, but its not a dirty one. I think the average music fan’s aversion to progressive rock comes from the perception that it means endless wanking guitar solos, half-hour drum performance pieces, and high-pitched operatic vocals dealing in science fiction or vaguely New Age issues. Let’s face it, some of the biggest practitioners of the form didn’t help matters. Think of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Think of Yes with their “Tales from the Topographical Ocean”. Even think of Rush with some of their concept pieces.
It does get to be a bit much. I mean, after side-long songs, you reach a certain point where you just want the clarity of, say, Under the Boardwalk, or, heaven forbid, Rockin’ Robin.
Anyway, putting those notions aside, and taking a look at some of the modern purveyors of progressive rock, we find something truly remarkable. They’ve imbibed the lessons of their Prog progenitors, but have filtered through twenty-five years of underground music and they’ve come up with something wonderful.
One of the best bands mining these fields is England’s own Earthling Society. They’ve left behind the lighter side of Prog and instead take inspiration from such complex noise-mongers as Magma, Van Der Graff Generator, and King Crimson. Their previous album, “Albion”, was heralded by rock outsider, Julian Cope, on his Head Heritage website. The album was a true powerhouse. On their new album, “Plastic Jesus and the Third Eye Blind”, they’ve dug in even deeper and have come up with a winner.
Musically, they are dead on. This is not your father’s Prog.
Noisy, dense, and at times a bit “dubby”, this is head music, meant to be played loud and long. The two extended pieces, Kosmik Suite No. 1, and No. 2 have a bit of something for everyone, both musically and lyrically.
Speaking of lyrics, this album is packed with them. Appropriately though, vocalist Fred Laird, uses his voice more musically than didactically, and the messages are lost in a very interesting, but blurry, tonality. The album does, however, come with a lyric booklet and it seems that the lads of Earthling Society have a fair bit to say. From an outright rejection of organized religion (Plastic Jesus) to blistering condemnation of the governmental/corporate destruction of nature (Kosmik Suite No. 2), Earthling Society aren’t afraid of drawing lines in the sand and taking sides. One of the more powerful elements of these declarations is how they seem to come from a mystical or mythological zone. Earthling Society has drunk deeply from the pagan heritage of their native Britain, and by doing so, their complaints take on added authority and visionary truth.
“Plastic Jesus and the Third Eye Blind” is an unusual and challenging listen. The depth of the themes and lyrical content are a welcome departure from the typical and everyday. The excellent musicianship and creative song structures reveal a layered and complex work that rewards repeated listenings. A truly unique band and an incendiary piece of art.