There’s a small thread going on at ProgressiveEars asking for recommendations of Univers Zero’s music. I posted a quick response, basically saying that I like all of their albums (thus making mine an entirely unhelpful contribution to the discussion), though for different reasons. I really don’t think there’s a weak spot in their entire discography — some 10 albums as of the release of Live last month. Some I like less than others, sure (their first two “reunion” albums are a notch below the rest of their body of work IMHO), but it’s all quite good, with each album subtly different from the ones that came before and after.
I can’t really think of any other band about which I feel this way. There are some bands out there that I like all of their albums, of course, but none with the long history and large discography of Univers Zero. There are plenty of bands who have a great discography but who have released a clunker or two, or at least a couple albums that I’m lukewarm about. There are some non-prog bands, like Cowboy Junkies, Mogwai or The Decemberists, whose discographies I like front to back, following along with their subtle stylistic changes as they evolved, but I don’t like them with the same passion that I have for Univers Zero.
I don’t know. Henry Cow comes close, but they have fewer albums and I’m not a huge fan of the Canterbury-centric sound of Legend. I guess King Crimson comes relatively close as well; I adore a lot of their albums, but I’m not a huge fan of their 80s period and they’ve just released so much material (and I have so much of it) that I’m just not as well-acquainted with a lot of their stuff, compared to how well I know all of UZ’s releases. Perhaps Daniel Denis’ infamous perfectionism, and refusal to release live albums until this new one, pays off in the form of a more concise and lovable discography.
I think I’m rambling a bit, but I think the point is this: there are very, very few bands out there who can say that they’ve released a bunch of albums in a recognizably distinct style, all of excellent quality, yet all of which show enough progression and development such that they don’t all sound alike. I mean, some people probably love all of the Ozric Tentacles‘ or Djam Karet’s albums, but to me they’re all too similar to each other. Univers Zero have avoided that rut, doing something a bit different every time (although arguably the reunion version of the band shows less progression between albums than the classic version) such that every album, despite being in the same overall style, is a unique work that stands well on its own merits. And this is without exception — no clunkers in their history at all!
If I think of another band about which I can say this, I’ll follow up, but I don’t think I will. Univers Zero isn’t my favorite band — I think a decent number of bands have reached greater heights — but perhaps no one in my experience, particularly in the rock music field, has been as consistently good as they have.