I Marked Your Essay on Prog and Give it an E-Minus

Sometimes you read something that makes you nostalgic for the really bad writing from student newspapers. The arch, bombastic style that can only come from a writer too young to have developed any sense of self-awareness. The way they don’t let little things like serious lack of knowledge of the subject get in the way of their enthusiasm.

To be over-critical of such things can feel like kicking a puppy.

But this article on Progressive Rock is still one of the worst pieces of music writing I’ve seen since Ian Gittins’ review of King Crimson.

Some examples.

Of course, The Beatles were and are unlikely to ever be labelled a “progressive rock band,” Portnoy was simply arguing that Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) was perhaps one of the first albums in western musical society to take rock music away from a fugacious bop-along catharsis and to begin an ascent towards higher musical artistry.

I’m not sure that “fugacious” is a word. But it gets worse:

Quickly, however, the First Wave of Prog faltered upon the rocks of punk and disco. Rebellious youth themes such as nihilism, violence, anarchy, and the macabre (not to mention pop music’s tendency towards love and dance), forced the philosophical themes of human transformation and utopian society back into niches within the rock. Excuse the puns.

Forget the puns. What about the hoary old clichés?

… a small list of rising acts who drove the Second Wave of Prog, more commonly known as neo-progressive rock. What separated these two waves was the greater influence that keyboards and synthesizers began to have on the music. Organs and Mellotrons became clunky and clichéd.

Reading lines like this I do begin to wonder exactly how much 70s or 80s progressive rock this lad has actually listened to.

But Goodwin had less success with these bands, managing to acquire only small iconoclastic audiences rather than a large countercultural movement such as the hippie, psychedelic phase that had inspired original prog. The Second Wave’s greatest creation was perhaps Marillion, who famously began the ‘pre-order’ initiative, through which they would fund an album’s writing, recording and production via the loyalty of their intense fanbase.

You use the word “iconoclastic”. I do not think you know what it means.

Through the rise of heavy metal bands Metallica and Iron Maiden, and the continued peripheral success of progressive rock bands such as Yes, Rush and Gentle Giant, the late 1980s and early ‘90s led to the Third Wave, a movement which exists today.

This is the point at which it completely loses contact with reality, and looks as though he’s throwing out names at random without doing the most rudimentary research on those bands’ histories. Gentle Giant split up in 1980. Rush have been filling arena-sized venues throughout the 80s and 90s, so could hardly be described as having “peripheral success” unless daytime radio is your only source of information.

It goes on like that. At one point he describes The Flower Kings as “vigilantly fantastical“, whatever that’s supposed to mean. I personally find The Flower Kings to be utterly dull, their formless music devoid of energy or tunes. It’s easy to imagine The Flower Kings as what those who cannot stand progressive rock believe all prog bands must sound like.

I can’t fault his enthusiasm, and progressive rock does need its younger ambassadors. He clearly enjoyed Spock’s Beard’s recent tour. But the quality of both the writing and the research here is just embarrassing. Reading it is like sitting through a Flower Kings set at the festival.

If this student submitted an essay as poorly-researched and written as this, he would not expect a good mark from the professor…

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3 Responses to I Marked Your Essay on Prog and Give it an E-Minus

  1. He lost me at “bop-along catharsis.”

  2. Tim Hall says:

    It’s easy to take the piss out of his prose style, but the factual errors and repeating of lazy and inaccurate clichés is the real problem.

  3. Synthetase says:

    I’d give it an E-minor (ba-doom tish!)

    Seriously, though, I’m actually reading your blog to procrastinate doing marking of my own. There are only so many logical disconnects, factual errors and unsourced statements I can put up with in succession.