The Mute Gods, Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth (InsideOut, 2017)
Tracks: Saltatio Mortis (1:57), Animal Army (5:00), We Can’t Carry On (5:11), The Dumbing of the Stupid (7:08), Early Warning (3:57), Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth (5:02), Window Onto the Sun (6:00), Lament (2:01), The Singing Fish of Batticaloa (8:25), The Andromeda Strain (2:57), Stranger than Fiction (4:23)
I’m going to catch hell for that title. I really don’t want to get political, but it seems that the regressive leftists are taking over this beloved genre we like to call prog. (I am, after all, the one who just last year wrote an article entitled, “Keep Your Politics Out of My Prog.”) Anyways, the first part of this article will be a subjective rant. The second half will be a relatively objective review. Both are neatly titled, in case you want to skip the rant part.
Nick Beggs is an incredibly talented bassist, but when it comes to politics, he is an incredibly angry and confused man. This anger has become rather vitriolic on his social media over the past couple of years (i.e. during the recent US election cycle). While he is certainly entitled to his opinion, his incessant sophomoric attacks against worldviews he appears to know very little about is getting rather old. And thus, I offer the following counter to Mr. Beggs.
I’d like to provide a little background on “conservatism” versus what we call “liberalism” or “progressivism.” What we call conservatism today, in the vein of Edmund Burke, America’s founding fathers, and Russell Kirk, isn’t really conservative at all by historical standards. You see, for thousands of years, conservative government usually meant tyrannical rule by an autocrat or monarch. Sometimes those rulers were just, and other times they were not. Following the Protestant Reformation and increasing during the Enlightenment, political thinkers began talking about personal rights and government by the consent of the governed. This ultimately led to democratically elected governments as seen in the early days of the United States. What I have just described is what, today, is generally called “conservatism,” although it is so much more than that. In their day, however, these ideas were remarkably radical and liberal. Indeed, during the nineteenth century, “liberalism” referred to a movement that called for free markets and personal rights and responsibility. Sometimes this movement is called “classical liberalism” in an effort to distinguish itself from both the Republican party (which isn’t all that conservative) and from those that call themselves “liberals.”
A funny thing happened around the turn of the 20th century: the “progressives” came to power. These progressives weren’t really progressive at all. Rather, they and their more radical counterparts, the Marxists (communists), were regressive in the sense that they wanted to return to the government controlled society of centuries past, the key difference being the utter disdain these so-called progressives had for Christianity. As the century wore on, the “progressives” took the term liberal, even though their beliefs were anything but liberal. Government control of the means of production is not a liberal idea – that is how the world was run for thousands of years before capitalism existed at the national level. The classical liberal ideas of personal rights and responsibility are truly liberal.
So, what does this lesson on political history have to do with the prog rock we listen to these days? Recently, I’ve noticed a large number of musicians within the prog genre bashing America, Americans, conservatism, Republicans, gun rights (i.e., the right to defend oneself from both government and other people), Brexit, Trump, and Christianity. However, I’ve yet to see a principled argument from any of these musicians against any of these things. Instead, it is all heated rhetoric, much like we see in the news media.
Lately, it seems like every single issue of Prog magazine, which I love to read, includes needless shots against Americans and Trump. Even in their 2016 readers poll, they listed both Trump and Brexit in their top ten list of biggest disappointments from the year. This felt really out of place and uncalled for. What good does it do to anybody to bring politics into those articles at all? Furthermore, Prog tries to diminish Christianity all too often. Every time they review a Neal Morse album, they treat his Christianity as if it is a problem that Morse needs to fix. It seems to me that Morse’s belief in Christ has done immeasurable good in his life.
I was reading the latest issue of Prog (74) last night, and two hours flew by before I even looked at the clock. I love the magazine – the articles are so well written and so informative. In that two hour span, though, at least twice I came across blatant Trump bashing that added absolutely nothing to the articles. It was clear that the authors were purposefully asking the musicians leading questions to get them to bash the American President. This is the sort of crap I expect from Rolling Stone (remember the Neil Peart article?), not from Prog. Go ahead and disagree with Trump, but don’t include Trump-bashing in an article in a magazine that has nothing to do with politics just because you don’t like the man. Such yellow journalism demeans the artists and their music.
To Prog’s credit, the article on The Mute Gods’ new album had to get political because the album is political. Beggs describes the album as angry, much angrier than last year’s Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, which I quite liked. This article was very enlightening because it shows Beggs for what he truly is – a man bitter about his past and angry at God. He talked about his past as a so-called Christian, but he made it abundantly clear that he does not truly understand the Christian faith. He denies that morality stems from God, saying that “Humanity has the ability to stand on its own two feet. We have a strong moral compass of our own. We don’t need God to give us that” (Prog 74, page 59). Where does he think that moral compass comes from? Man left to himself is completely fallen and incapable of any good deed. We absolutely need God to give us moral direction. Judaism and Christianity were the only ancient religions to say that sacrificing children to idols is wrong. Paganism didn’t say that. Left to himself, man is capable of the most despicable kinds of evil. The situation in the Middle East should prove that point quite nicely.
If Beggs had decided to share his beliefs like Marillion did last year with FEAR, maybe I could take it seriously. However, Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth, as well as the accompanying article in Prog, comes across like an angry CNN reporter crying about how Trump said mean things about them.
The Mute Gods really seems like a solo project for Nick Beggs rather than a “supergroup” made up of Beggs, Roger King, and Marco Minnemann. Indeed, the Prog article barely even mentions King and Minnemann. This band is definitely Beggs’ baby, and it is his way of getting his voice across to the music world. In his work with Steve Hackett and Steven Wilson, Beggs is just the bassist (and a very good one, at that). In The Mute Gods, he is songwriter and frontman. For the group’s first album, this arrangement worked out fairly well. While I didn’t like the whole album, I thought the first three songs were absolutely brilliant.
Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth is a completely different animal. If you liked Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, you won’t necessarily like this new album because it sounds so drastically different, and not in a good way. What is most noticeably annoying is the distortion used on Beggs vocals. It gets quite grating after a while. Vocally, Beggs is at his best during softer songs, which on this album is the song “Stranger than Fiction.”
The record begins with a short instrumental piece that is eerily reminiscent of Steve Hackett’s recent solo output: lots of symphony and Hackettesque guitar work. This isn’t particularly surprising considering both Beggs and King are in Hackett’s touring band. The rest of the album, though, sounds nothing like a Hackett production. The first song is simply a tease. The second song morphs into a harder Muse-type song, which continues for much of the album. When I say Muse, I mean that in more of a bombast sense than in a sonic sense. Tardigrades is very in-your-face. It grabs you by the lapels and doesn’t let go. It is kind of like a sidewalk doom-and-gloom preacher screaming at you about the end of the world.
Some of the proggiest moments come on the title track, which features King doing his best Rush impersonation on the keyboards. The lyrics are repetitive, but Beggs deepens his voice enough to make it palatable. This song is fairly catchy, and it is probably the most radio friendly song on the album. “Stranger than Fiction” is my favorite song from the album because it is calmer and more reflective, which the listener really needs after being shouted at for the previous eight songs (track 1 and “The Andromeda Strain” are instrumental). This song is the closest the album gets to the first Mute Gods album. While other songs aren’t particularly bad, such as “The Singing Fish of Batticaloa,” they are easily forgettable. I found that to be the case with much of the second half of The Mute Gods’ first album, as well. Here, the songs that aren’t preaching at you just end up being forgotten because they aren’t especially memorable.
Overall, Tardigrades falls short of its predecessor, Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me. Nick Beggs’ lyrics aren’t particularly enjoyable or profound. Indeed, he is no Steven Wilson in that department. Too often, the songs sound like an upset teenager whining about how mean the world is, which for a man of Beggs’ age is hardly becoming. The anti-conservative and anti-Christian overtones are particularly off-putting, for me anyways. I understand that my beliefs aren’t particularly popular in many circles, but what good does bashing them do if you don’t have a well-reasoned argument against it? Sit down with me, and we can cordially discuss politics and religion without anybody getting mad. Screaming about it in an album just creates music that gets old very quickly. Marillion’s FEAR manages to expound a leftist worldview in a way that is reasonable and mature. Tardigrades abandons reason for madness.
Final thoughts: Take a pass on Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth, and go listen to the first three songs off of The Mute Gods’ Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me instead.
13 thoughts on “Stupidity Will Inherit the Earth: The Regressive Arrogance of Nick Beggs”
Thanks for this courageous (boy are you going to “catch it” my friend) and spot-on review of this angry and polemical album. I really appreciate your honesty…and your faith. God bless you. – – Jay
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Thanks, Jay. I really appreciate the support!
Thanks much for your thoughts, Bryan. I would add that Andy Tillison does an amazing job of mixing cultural criticism into his music. He’s a leftist, but his critique comes across as immensely reasonable because it is more cultural than it is political. I think this is what makes Marillion acceptable, too. Though, I think Marillion failed rather miserably with “Gaza.” Yet, they generally do a great job with touchy subjects. I’ve not listened to The Mute Gods–this album or the last. I do know, however, that a lot of our good English friends think very highly of Beggs as a person. The problem with political outbursts–whether by Ted Nugent or some leftists–is mostly that they are political. If they were done artfully, they’d be wonderful. Politics lowers EVERYTHING to the pig sty.
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Yeah, Tillison is an example of political/cultural critique done exceptionally well (although, I’m not the biggest fan of “A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road” – comparing Brexit and Trump to Hitler horribly minimizes the atrocities committed against the Jewish people). If you do listen to anything Mute Gods, listen to the first 3 songs off their first album – they are Steven Wilson good. Skip everything else.
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That said, I watched a video recently of a guitarist I like immensely as a guitarist. He was wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt. As such, I will NEVER willingly listen or play a song by him again. Nor will I ever buy anything he produces or support him in anyway. I’m sure he has no idea how offensive the shirt is–especially for anyone of Cuban ancestry, but I’m not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt unless he publicly apologizes.
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Dear Mr. Morey,
despite considering myself a (far from ideologically rigorous) ‘leftist,’ I first of all want to thank you for the insights of both rant and review on this album. With the latter I can only agree, with the former (as you can probably imagine) not so much. But I appreciate the train of thought it affected in me which basically boils down to this simplified model: prog rock is characterized in part by its willingness to incorporate, rather than just appropriate, musical elements from all sorts of styles and cultural background (exhibit A, at least on paper: the upcoming Steve Hackett album). Meanwhile, recent political events like the Brexit or President Trump are strongly connoted with the right, (there is no such term as ‘rightist,’ is there?) nationalism, and by extent, exclusion in favor of inclusion. To me, there is a clear discrepancy between the values of prog, as outlined above, and those guiding the political events mentioned, resulting in a situation that forces some musicians to take, and declare, a political position, for better (FEAR) or for worse (Tardigrades). And in this very simple model I propose, it makes sense that this position should be on the left.
I’m not sure if I managed to elucidate my idea clearly, and I’m very sorry if I didn’t (if it’s an excuse: it’s half past two a.m. here and I spent the best part of the night so far mulling over your rant). But I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you see my point but disagree? Or reach a different conclusion? Propose a different explanation? None of the above?
In any case, looking forward to your answer.
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Max, thanks so much for your great comment. It means a lot that you took the time to read and consider my thoughts and then craft a response.
I don’t think there has to be a discrepancy between “rightist” views and the values of prog. At a minimum, I don’t think there’s a discrepancy between prog and classical liberal values (which are not necessarily the values of Trump and pro-Brexit folks – nationalism is a whole different side of what we call the right). For instance, look at bands like Genesis, Rush, or Jethro Tull. Genesis, in particular, was heavily influenced by both Christianity (“Supper’s Ready”) and T S Eliot (“The Cinema Show” and Selling England by the Pound in general), who I consider to be a member of the conservative tradition. With Rush, there’s the obvious libertarian influence upon Peart, and with Tull, there’s the influence of Christianity upon the music, as well as the reaction against organized religion. Even if these groups weren’t necessarily “conservative” politically, they weren’t talking about politics. They were addressing culture, which I think is a much much much much better thing to do with music. The best prog rock of today eschews political commentary in favor of cultural commentary (The Tangent, Big Big Train, etc.), much like the best music of the 70s did.
When it comes to contemporary musicians embracing leftist ideals, it seems like it is the European (ok, British) ones coming out most loudly against America and Brexit. Europe is certainly farther to the left than the US, so it makes sense why more musicians would be leftists. However, I also think part of it has to do with the fact that a unified Europe makes it much easier for them to tour without dealing with papers, visas, immigration, and all that. Thus, I think their anti-Brexit sentiment is more a practical and selfish one than it is a sentiment of acceptance for refugees of suspect origin.
I understand what you’re saying regarding prog musicians and their opposition to current political events, but I think it has more to do with the musicians and their background than it has to do with the genre. I think progressive rock is at its best when it is commenting on culture. I can think of very few good progressive rock albums that deal strictly with politics, with the few exceptions being Marillion’s FEAR and Pink Floyd’s Animals, The Wall, and The Final Cut. I also think it works well in Hackett’s upcoming album, which I’ve had a chance to listen to (forthcoming reviews from yours truly at the DPRP and here at Progarchy). While I find his opinions a tad naive, Hackett does it in such a tactful and mature way (unlike Mr. Beggs). Hackett also masterfully disguises it with historical and cultural themes, which is another excellent way of getting political in music. Make the listener work for your message; don’t scream it at them, Mr. Beggs.
Are we really going to remember Nick Beggs’ political whining on “Tardigrades” in 20 years? Doubt it. But, we will remember The Tangent’s “Le Sacre Du Travail” and Big Big Train’s “The Underfall Yard” because those albums get at something so much more meaningful than politics.
I hope that answers your comments (and probably so much more, ha), Max. Thanks again for your polite and well thought out response. I was ultimately trying, with my rant, to offer an alternative position to Prog mag’s liberalism, since I haven’t seen anybody else call them on it. I really would just like them to stop adding political shots in their articles for no reason – I think it demeans the artists they’re writing about. Wow this comment is long. I’ll shut up now. Ha.
Dear Bryan, please excuse my long response time. I was a little steamrolled by your enthusiasm for my response, and subsequently sort of forgot about it.
I completely agree with your first argument about how cultural critique makes for more compelling, listenable and enduring music. However, I would argue that at a fundamental level, cultural critique also translates into substantial political issues, due to the fact that politics shape the public discourse, and by extension culture. As you say, the bands (or even the songs) that have something to say about culture rather than politics have enduring appeal. Which in turn makes me wonder what you would make of a track like “Get ’em out by Friday” – is that cultural or political critique, and if it is the latter, how does it stand the test of time?
I’m not sure how to tackle your second paragraph. There’s a lot of points I have an extremely different take on, and I’m not sure to which extent Progarchy is the site for discussing these. I will limit myself to saying that it makes a lot of sense you mostly see British musicians’ statements about politics, but that a great number of musicians of all genres have outspoken opinions on politics, that would seem “leftist” to you, in Switzerland (where I live). As an aside on my part, if you are interested in discussing refugee politics, shoot me an email (as a contributor I assume you can see/access my mail address, otherwise ask me).
And on a final note, I have to agree with you that journalists writing and interviewing tendentiously in any direction can be a pain – especially if the writing goes against what one holds true. Conversely, I think that musicians – especially those whose music is lauded in terms of virtue and integrity, prominent example Greg Spawton – become role models beyond musical ability (I’m thinking in terms of virtue ethics here). In the music, you hear what you perceive to be integrity and project that onto the musicians, and accordingly want to know what else they do in their life, which brand of tea they brew and which party they vote for. From that angle, I see what PROG is trying to do, and personally think it is justified. But I still see where you’re coming from. Cheers!
“cultural critique also translates into substantial political issues, due to the fact that politics shape the public discourse, and by extension culture.”
I completely agree with this. I just think there are good ways of doing it (Marillion’s FEAR, Hackett’s The Night Siren) and bad ways (Tardigrades).
Because I’m really young compared to the typical Prog listener, I don’t have the best grasp of the political background to “Get ’em out by Friday.” I love classic Genesis and I listen to it a lot. I think their music sounds remarkably fresh even to this day, so in that respect, I think it fits under cultural critique. I think people will be listening to those albums 100 years from now.
You’re spot on about Greg Spawton. I love how Big Big Train have taken an historical approach to their lyrics. It is almost like they are commenting on political issues of centuries past without taking a side. I think I understand what you’re saying about the listener wanting to know more about their favorite artists (resulting in Prog asking leading questions), but I’ve found that I sometimes prefer to know little about an artist. Take Steven Wilson, for example. He is incredibly private about his personal life, and there is something almost mysterious about that. I like that I can listen to his music and connect with him through his look into the human condition. I feel like if I knew more about him, I would find something I don’t like, which may impact how I see or enjoy the music.
Often, as a conservative, I find that when I hear leftist artists I like going off about politics outside of their music, it makes me enjoy their music less. Obviously that is my own problem that I’m learning to deal with. If the music is still excellent, it is easier to deal with. (Example – Roger Waters and his complete ignorance about basically everything he ever opens his mouth about concerning politics – yet I still love Pink Floyd). Sometimes a little mystery surrounding these artists is a very good thing, especially in this age of social media. I think it would improve Prog magazine’s journalistic credentials if they stuck to just the music, only addressing politics if the artist brings it up. Purposefully asking political questions when the rest of the interview has had nothing to do with politics is just lame (I’m thinking specifically of the Mastodon article in a recent issue). They could at least try and be funny about it, like when Progression magazine’s editor endorsed Tony Levin for president last year. That article was funny.
Anyways, thanks again Max for your insights. In this day of angry comments across the internet, it is refreshing to have a cordial discussion like this.
Bryan – I was sent a snippet of your article by someone and I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of Nick Beggs’ current work. It is so sad to see him become another casualty of gutter-mind leftism and to abandon his Christian faith without any intelligent reason. It’s like Luke Skywalker switching to the darkside all of a sudden.
I also read a bit of his political interview and it was sickening. Equating “hate preachers” in America with ISIS…do we even have to go into how stupid that is?
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I found your essay thoughtful and heartening but – and this gives me no joy to point out – a bit depressing in its naivete.
We have not yet BEGUN to see/feel the anti-prog hate campaign put into effect but…. simply from the number of times I’ve overheard the overwhelming whiteness of its practitioners pointed out, and derisively….it’s clearly coming. (You can cite Hendrix and Miles and about a million Japanese and South American contributors to the music’s wide and glorious history until you’re blue in the face, but I think we both know by now – given the tone and tenor of the times we live in – all of that is simply is going to be explained away, brushed aside or ignored altogether in the great ski-masked NO TO YES campaign awaiting us.)
The funny thing is I have always accepted a leftist/humanist viewpoint as built into the design of most art forms (art being no more or less than humans struggling with the questions of being human to greater or lesser extent), but then I also believe that the key to human happiness is the balancing of the extremes in our own natures; thus there is a time and place for liberal humanism just as there are moments and situations that call for rigid orthodoxy. (Although the complete mouth-foaming mania with which the millenial Communists we call the “Regressive Left” conduct their various campaigns to dismantle Western Civilization is the most potent proof possible of the dangers of clinging to rigid orthodoxy.)
Tell you what – give it 12 months. If music “journalism” (such as it is) hasn’t been assaulted, with mounting hysteria, with hysterical prog-is-racist screeds poisoning our cultural bloodstream, I’ll pop for a steak dinner.
This is one bet I’ll be very much pleased to lose.
S D Joe, thanks for your thoughts. Your comment is a perfect update to my article, since a lot has happened in America since I originally wrote it in March. I’m disgusted by what I see going on in the world. The whole idea that we can just erase history or culture just because white people were involved with it is absolutely despicable.
I think you may find that your own views align more with classical liberalism and Christian humanism, which holds that there is dignity in every human life because we are created in God’s image. More and more, leftism is showing that it does not care about human life, culture, or even diversity. True diversity has nothing to do with race and everything to do with ideas.
I certainly hope you lose that bet. With Spotify now banning music it deems offensive (and the particular artists they are banning right now may very well be offensive), we have started down a very distressing path.
Hi Bryan – I just read this article (very late obviously) but was connected to it via the news about Lifeson playing on this guy’s new album. I then read about him, his thoughts etc. As a Christian, obviously I don’t agree with many of his views but of course respect his opinion. Your point about Prog magazine connected with me as have been a Classic Rock subscriber for 15 yrs and the anti-Christian, anti Trump/Bush, etc view is the same there. How many times on the last page of the magazine where they do a one pager with an artist and they ask their thoughts on God and virtually all of them rag on God, Christianity etc BUT NEVER offer an explanation of how any of “it” all started?? How did the universe come to be, etc etc – I would love for a simple followup question to be: If not, how to think we all came to be, etc ?
Anyway, very similar to your thought is that none of them ever offer any thought out, reasoned view. As a lifelong Rush fan, I became very disappointed how the latter albums dumped on Christianity, religion etc. I always wished Peart would leave that outside of the music, but obviously he didn’t. Anyway, enjoyed your article!
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