The 50 Best Progressive Albums (#20-#11)
#20. Jordan: The Comeback, Prefab Sprout: A double album released in 1990, with 4 distinct parts dealing with different aspects of American History. The band brought back super producer Thomas Dolby, and the results are nothing less than stunning. This is an album that will take some time to grow on you, it’s not as immediate as, say, Steve McQueen is/was, but once you break through it will be hard to get it out of your stereo.
#19. Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, The ORB: The similarities between The Orb and Pink Floyd’s more atmospheric numbers are obvious, and this massive double album is very atmospheric, and it is able to sustain its mood over both disks. You know the song Little Fluffy Clouds, but the real standout is the 18+ minute A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Center Of The Ultraworld.
#18. Deserters Songs, Mercury Rev: The Rev was desperate when they made this. Once celebrated, they were, by this time, ignored by everyone and had nothing to lose. So they set their minds to making the most ambitious album of their careers, and even had the cajones to knock on their neighbor’s doors and ask them to lend their considerable talents to this slab of modern, space-rock Americana. Those neighbors were Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, late of The Band. This is the sound of Neil Young jamming in a canyon on Mars, my friends.
#17. Dazzle Ships, OMD: A cold war classic and a clear precursor to Radiohead’s Ok Computer. Everyone hated it when it first came out, and these electronic pioneers softened their sound and their experimental tendencies for the next one. But Dazzle Ships remains a remarkable oddity that still sounds fresh to my ears even today. Odd, jarring sound effects, giant and off the wall pop hits, oddball time signatures, the list goes on an on.
#16. Welcome To My Nightmare, Alice Cooper: The Coop, of course, went crap after he released this, because how do you follow up something like WTMN? It’s the Coop’s strongest set of songs since Billion Dollar Babies, and he even interjects a little metal-disco in here as well (the title track, especially). The story here is pretty coherent, dealing with madness, murder and…ahem…Donny Osmond in fun, unique and downright spooky ways.
#15. 90125, YES: Two words: Trevor Horn. Yes were irrelevant by the time of this release. Anderson had left, but when he got his mitts on the demos for these songs he wanted back in. Immediately. Owner Of A Lonely Heart is one of many immaculately produced, creative prog-pop gems that just litter this album, the first and last of it’s kind for these progressive pioneers.
#14. The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner, Ben Folds Five: What an amazing and brave album this is! Pretty much abandoning the cute songs for something altogether more ambitious and downright strange, Folds crafted an album of proggy epics (Narcolepsy, Don’t Change Your Plans, Regrets), and strange little experiments (Your Most Valuable Possession, an answering machine message left by his father), which sit along side more traditional Folds fare (Army, etc).
#13. Moon Safari, AIR: Like fellow countryman Jean Michel Jarre before them, with Moon Safari Air crafted an immaculate piece of space prog, albeit with more lounge influences, and considerably more humor, than the former. Opening up with the jazzy La Femme D’Argent, which leads right into the synthesized and very danceable Sexy Boy, the album is off and running and never lets up, even for an instant. A chill out album, then, but with heart and passion.
#12. sMile, The Beach Boys: Better than Wilson’s 2004 attempt, because it’s the real deal. This is by far the strangest and most beautiful record on this list. How can it not be with songs like Good Vibrations, Surf’s Up (you MUST hear the solo version!), Cabin Essence, Vegetables and the element suite. Worth the wait, I think.