The Big Fall Prog (Plus) Preview, Part 2: Box Set Bonanza!

Since the initial installment of our fall preview, deluxe box set announcements are coming thick and fast. This article includes those mentioned in the preview, plus new announcements that may appeal to our readers. I’ve included approximate list prices in USA dollars (not including shipping), as well as lower-cost options for those who want to hear and support the music without breaking their personal bank. Links are to the ever-ready folks at Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

King Crimson, Complete 1969 Recordings: 20 CDs, 4 BluRays and 2 DVDs include every surviving note Crimson played in their first year — the seminal debut In the Court of the Crimson King plus the complete studio sessions, extant live bootlegs and BBC recordings. The crown jewels here are new stereo, surround and Dolby Atmos mixes of Court by Steven Wilson. Available October 23 ($210 – $240 list price, depending on your vendor); slimmed-down versions of In the Court on 2 CDs + BluRay (with the new stereo and surround mixes, alternate versions and additional material ; $40) or 2 LPs (with alternate versions and additional material; $35) are already available.

Joni Mitchell, Archives Vol. 1 – The Early Years (1963-1967): Nearly six hours of recordings from before Mitchell released her first album — home recordings, radio broadcasts, and live shows, including 29 songs not previously released with her singing them! Available from Mitchell’s website October 30 as follows: complete on 5 CDs ($65); Early Joni 1 LP (1963 radio broadcast; $25, black or clear vinyl) and Live at Canterbury House 1967 3 LPs (3 sets recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan; $60, black or white vinyl).

More from Porcupine Tree, Tangerine Dream, Tears for Fears and others after the jump!

Continue reading “The Big Fall Prog (Plus) Preview, Part 2: Box Set Bonanza!”

From White to Red: Ultravox, LAMENT (1984)

Review of Ultravox, LAMENT (Chrysalis, 1984).  Tracks: White China; One Small Day; Dancing With Tears in My Eyes; Lament; Man of Two Worlds; Heart of the Country; When the Time Comes; and A Friend I Call Desire.

The end of the quartet of excellence.

Though the album came out in 1984, Ultravox’s LAMENT is as relevant today–perhaps more so–than it was then, at least in terms of its themes.

Considering the position that China now occupies in the world, especially when compared with its third-world status 1984, it’s hard not to wonder if Midge Ure had more than a bit of the prophet in him.  From Pale to Pink, from White to Red, the road toward totalitarianism is a slippery one.  Though Ure was probably thinking of Margaret Thatcher’s horrific betrayal of the people of Hong Kong on the first track, “White China,” he might well have been writing about the Red Chinese, the Nationalist Chinese, or the Koreans of 2017.  Or, he might have been talking about Britain and America, wrapped in Asiatic imagery.  It was, after all, 1984 (que Orwell. . . .)

Continue reading “From White to Red: Ultravox, LAMENT (1984)”

Lyrics Matter: Ultravox and Literary Aspirations


When I was back in college, fellow progarchist and professional musician, Kevin McCormick, and I used to spend hours upon hours talking music, chord structures, album marketing strategies, and, especially, the meaning of lyrics.  For us, the lyrics of good rock and prog were akin to poetry.

And, frankly, as someone who studies literature for a living, I can state in hindsight that many of the lyrics written at the time by Peter Gabriel, Roger Waters, and, especially, Neil Peart and Mark Hollis warranted such praise.  At their highest, each lyricist reached toward the best modernist writers of the twentieth-century.

Some might argue that we could’ve and should’ve more wisely spent our time studying and doing our school work.

There’s much to argue against this, however.

First, our conversations solidified a life-long friendship.  Second, they fired our imaginations.  And, third, they allowed us to think it very direct ways about how art can influence society.  Indeed, all three of these things have not only been critical to my own intellectual and professional development, but also to my very source of happiness.


Sometime during our freshman year at the University of Notre Dame, Kevin introduced me to a band that had never reached my ears in my childhood in Kansas, the music of Ultravox.  Through Kevin, I became absolutely enamored with three of Ultravox’s albums: VIENNA; RAGE IN EDEN; and LAMENT.  I liked Quartet as well, but it seems the poppiest and shallowest of the three.  It had some catchy things, but it just simply couldn’t compare in depth to VIENNA, to RAGE IN EDEN, or to LAMENT.  The lyrics to VIENNA opened the world of Europe up to me.  RAGE IN EDEN struck me as literature, pure and simple.  LAMENT seemed an extraordinary comment on the sorrows of the world of the time (and, frankly, still).

We sit and watch these lifeless forms stark and petrified
The high suspense of an empty stage drawing, in clutching to its breast

With murmured words we sigh and focus on the main facade
Beyond the hard reluctant windows news from magazines

We wrote their names on books we’d borrowed as if to bring us closer still
And threw it all away to focus on the main facade
Rage in Eden jigsaw sequence, but no one could see the end

And they were the new gods and they shone on high
Their heavy perfume on the night sucked them down in red tide

–Rage in Eden

As probably many college students do, Kevin and I each had pretentions to a literary career.  Kevin had already become a rather accomplished poet, and his senior-year poem dealing with Arvo Part won the award for the best poem written by a college student in 1990.  Extraordinary!  I had no such skills, but I still wanted to be a writer.  I, however, had no desire to write poetry or fiction.  Instead, I wanted to write histories, biographies, and cultural criticism.


Regardless, what prompted this post was my relistening to Ultravox.  When Kevin first introduced me to RAGE IN EDEN, he told me to listen as carefully as possible to the lyrics.  He hoped, he claimed then, that he would one day write a book of cultural criticism using not only the titles of each song for the titles of his own chapters, respectively, but that he would base the ideas of his own book on the lyrics.

Kevin has pursued other interested in his professional career.

Still, it’s a great idea, and I hope he takes up his own challenge to himself, delivered to me in Cavanaugh Hall, thirty years ago this coming fall.

I can say with absolute certainty that I write about prog rock because I know that it inspired me in 1981, in 1986, in 1992, and continues to do so.  Indeed, there’s nothing I’ve published that hasn’t had a prog or rock soundtrack behind it.

Reading passages of ancient rhyme
Cut so deep, so old
Telling tales of travelers and mystery
Hearing spirits never far removed
Calling out aloud
When the time comes, they’ll talk to me

–Man of Two Worlds

Seizing Galahad: The 3 2014 EPs

Review of Galahad, the 2014 Trilogy of EPs: “Seize the Day”; “Guardian Angel”; and “Mein Herz Brennt.”

Birzer Rating for all three: 9/10.


Two caveats as I review these three EPs.  First, I’d not come upon Galahad as a band until being introduced to them just a few years ago by the first lady of prog, Alison Henderson.  When Galahad first emerged in the U.K., we Americans missed them for some reason.  I’m not sure why, and I think this is an American failing.  At the time Galahad came together as a band in the U.K., I was firmly listening to Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, and The Flat Earth.  But, this failing is now thirty years in the past.

Second, the moment I started listening to the band, I felt an immediate kinship.  I love these guys, and I love what they’re doing.  Exploring their back catalogue has been one of my sonic joys of the last several years.  

I hope they don’t mind the comparison, but they sound like the legitimate successors to the Midge Ure-era of Ultravox (pre-Uvox).  For me, this is not just a great thing, it’s a grand thing.  I loved the songwriting and flow of Vienna, Rage in Eden, and Lament.  Each moved me immensely, and I’ve always wondered why a band didn’t embrace the Ultravox sound and prog it up.  An album such is Rage in Eden is so full of ideas, it could easily have been three times as long as it was.  One could readily take Ultravox toward more electronica and minimalism, or one could beef the sound up, making the pop elements a part of the sound rather than the core of it.  Galahad is that second band–Ultravox on steroids, beefed up and presenting the music as a deep work of art, immersed in gravitas, and willing to be profoundly adventuresome.

I was happily surprised when Stu Nicholson announced that the band would spend 2014 focusing on just a few EPs rather than on a full album.  After the 2012 barrage of two albums—each astounding in its own right—the band had to be exhausted.  The release of three EPs seemed a good idea.  Of course, I’d love another Galahad album, and I assume we will get one.  So, let the guys do what they need to do to get ready for the next big one!  I can be patient, especially when it comes to excellence, and I’m positive Galahad will deliver.  These are guys who–thankfully–never do a thing half way.

Now that the last of the three EPs has been released, we can readily assess just what Nicholson and co. have accomplished in 2014.  And, frankly, it’s quite a bit.

I’ve already reviewed Seize the Day at progarchy.  This is the longest of the EPs in terms of songs.  Six total.  Two versions of “Seize the Day,” including the definitive “full version”, two versions of “21st Century Painted Lady,” and two versions of “Bug Eye 2014,” including a live version.


The second, “Guardian Angel,” came out this summer.  It presents the title song in four different versions, two of which appeared on the album, Beyond the Realms,  It also contains a piano version of “Beyond the Barbed Wire.”  Stripped down to its essence, the song reveals the delicate beauty and versatility of Nicholson’s voice.


The final EP, “Mein Herz Brennt,” presents this title song in four versions as well.  I’m not familiar with the original song, and I’m still digesting this EP.  Though I was once fluent in Austrian German, I have a hard time appreciating the German vocals here.  They seem harsh and spooky, though this might very well have been Galahad’s intent.  The EP will probably grow on me.  When it does, I’ll report back.

Regardless, I’m really, really happy with what Galahad has done.  They’ve managed to remain prog while also being truly progressive, exploring new areas and sounds. 

I’m truly sorry they’ve not been a part of my life for thirty years, but I’m thankful they’ve been a part of it as long as they have.  A huge thanks to Lady Alison for sharing her love of this band with me.  Thank you, equally, to Stu and Co. for keeping alive the spirit of playful and meaningful innovation.  Galahad has always been the favorite knight of this Arthur-obsessed man, and Galahad has quickly become a favorite of this same prog-obsessed man as well. 

Long may they continue!

One may purchase each of the three EPs at and at Galahad’s official site:


On a Silver Salver: The Miracle of 1984, Part I

As I mentioned yesterday (, I thought 1994 was a “pretty good year” for music.  Thinking about 1994 made me think about 1984, and, methinks (don’t you hate it when writers use such pretentious words!  Ha), 1984 puts 1994 to shame.    In fact, it puts many, many years to shame.

As a product of midwestern America, Ronald Reagan will always dominate my main image and memory of 1984.  I write this nonpolitically. Whatever you thought of Reagan as a leader, the man wielded supernatural charisma.   He was, simply put, a presence.

But, other images emerge as well from 1984: movies such as 16 Candles, Red Dawn, and The Killing Fields.  Chernyanko becoming head of the Soviets.  Paul McCartney arrested for possession of pot.  The fall of AT&T.  The arrival of the first Macintosh.  What a year.

Beyond the above, I most remember the music.  What a year of greatness for those of us who love innovation and beauty in music.  So without further bloviation, I offer my favorites of that august year.


rush gup cover

Rush, Grace Under Pressure.  This is not only my favorite Rush album, it was and remains my favorite album of 1984.  I’ve written about this elsewhere,  but it’s worth noting again that I think Rush perfectly captured the tensions of that year: the horrors of the gulags; the destruction of the environment; the loss of a friend; and so on.

I hear the echoes, I learned your love for life
I feel the way that you would



Thomas Dolby, The Flat Earth.  I’ve written about this album as well.  So brilliant.  As deep and as meaningful as Dolby’s first album was interesting and novel.

Suicide in the hills above old Hollywood
Is never gonna change the world



Ultravox, Lament.  My favorite Ultravox album?  Maybe.  As much as Rush captured the spirit of the year, so did Ultravox.  From the worry expressed in “White China” to the longing of “When the Time Comes,” Lament is a masterpiece.

Will you stand or fall, with your future in another’s hands
Will you stand or fall, when your life is not your own


talk talk it's my lifeTalk Talk, It’s My Life.  While this is certainly not Talk Talk’s best album, it is quite good.  In particular, Hollis reveals much of his genius in songwriting, whatever the “new wave” trappings of the song.  Underneath whatever flesh the band gave the music, the lyrics cry out with a poetic lamentation of both confusion and hope.

The dice decide my fate, that’s a shame
In these trembling hands my faith
Tells me to react, I don’t care
Maybe it’s unkind if I should change
A feeling that we share, it’s a shame



Simple Minds, Sparkle in the Rain.  Again, while this isn’t the best Simple Minds had to offer, it was the last great gasp of the band before entering into an overwhelming celebrity.  Kerr’s Catholicism especially reveals itself in songs such “Book of Brilliant Things” and “East at Easter.”

 I thank you for the shadows
It takes two or three to make company
I thank you for the lightning that shoots up and sparkles in the rain