The 50 Best Progressive Albums (#50-#41)
#50. Duke, Genesis: The one with Misunderstanding and Turn It On Again, and the one before they went all shit, led by Phil Collins proclivity towards schmaltz. This is the last truly great Genesis album and the last one to feature a concept, as it were. Duke is the perfect balance between prog and pop. Radio ignored the prog side (the Duke ‘suite’ at the end, Behind The Lines, etc) and focused, as they do, on the hits, but overall this is an excellent, accessible, album by one of the great bands.
#49. Animals, Pink Floyd: A controversial choice, maybe, because this is probably the most ‘punk’ the Floyd ever got, even though the songs are long and the subject matter (Animal Farm) defiantly progressive. Waters is at his most snarky and bitter here, but songs like Sheep, Dogs and Pigs (Three Different Ones) are amazing.
#48. Queen II, Queen: After the commercial and critical disappointment of Queen I (the band was being compared as Led Zeppelin Lite), the band regrouped and crafted an album that would set the stage for A Night At The Opera. Yes, it’s got ogres (Ogre Battle), and fairies, and black and white Queens, but there is a cohesion here that was lacking on the first album. And it had a hit, with the full version of Seven Seas Of Rhye!
#47. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, Neutral Milk Hotel: A marching band on acid, ITAOTS is one of the most realized records ever to come out of the Elephant 6 Collective. The songs are alternately sad and joyous, creepy and funny, acoustically gentle and bombastic. You’ll ever love it forever or you’ll listen once and never again. There’s no middle ground with this one.
#46. War Of The Worlds, Jeff Wayne: This is disco-cheese-prog at it’s finest. It’s even got a ‘cast’ of singers and narrators (chief among them: Richard Burton!). The music is comprised of long narrative suites chopped up to tell the oh-so familiar Wells story. Like the story itself, the music has its eerie moments, but underneath is a dance element. Certainly of its time, but a fun nostalgia trip nonetheless.
#45. OK Computer, Radiohead: There is no separation between an ‘art rock’ and a ‘prog rock’ album, there never has been as a matter of pure fact. OK Computer is not the best British album of all time (as the NME and other mags would have you believe), nor is it even the best British album of the last 20 years, but it is a fine, fine album. Yes, the Pink Floyd similarities are abundant, especially here, but the band was able to modernize it by adding creepy, futuristic overtones and a semi-coherent story line of man vs. technology. Paranoid Android still dazzles.
#44. A Farewell To Kings, RUSH: The 1st entry for RUSH. Sure, 2112 had the concept, but A Farewell To Kings, the next one, had a better overall set of songs. There were the epics (Xanadu and Cygnus X-1), but AFTK also contained a succinct pop single with Closer To The Heart. Madrigal and the title track are just beautiful.
#43. Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Stereolab: This is the first real left field choice for this list, but not the last. I told you I was going to tear down some perceptions here. This is the ‘Lab’s most complex and experimental record, but also, weirdly, their most commercially successful and accessible as well. Wonderful textures up the yin-yang, this is an album that somehow manages to straddle the line between nostalgia and the distant future. It is the sound of lounging in a space shuttle.
#42. Dusk At Cubist Castle, Olivia Tremor Control: A song cycle of what they call “The California Demise” (about an earthquake that finally sinks the Golden State, I assume?). But the music isn’t as lofty and pretentious as that; it’s White Album Beatles, pure and simple, with one exception: the “Green Typewriters” suite, which is weird and inaccessible. Other than that, this is one of the high water marks neo-prog psychedelia of the ‘90’s.
#41. The Liberty Of Norton Folgate, Madness: Who would have thunk it, that a ska band best remembered for pop hit Our House, would come back almost 30 years after that hit with a magnificent concept album, complete with a 10 minute title track? Sure it’s pop, but it is also the most ambitious song suite of their careers, and a highlight of this decade. Prog? Not in the truest sense, but as an extremely well crafted concept album, there ain’t no comparison. Plus the long title track makes it eligible.