Jerry Lucky has a curious article at Ghostland entitled “The Most Popular Subgenre of Prog” in which he discusses the results of a Ghostland poll asking people, well, what their favorite subgenre of prog is. I call it “curious” because he says some stuff that’s utterly ridiculous, but I do think his central point is pretty good, if misguided.
Basically, the Ghostland poll showed that 45% of voters chose symphonic or neo-prog as their favorites, with prog metal second with 20% and most everything else far behind. Jerry acts surprised at this (is anyone at all actually surprised by these results except him?), and uses it as a springboard to attack the straw man he steps up and calls, sweepingly, “the critics”. What really annoyed me about this is that he tries to distance himself from this group (keep in mind that not only has he reviewed for online resources, he’s also published at least two well-known books on progressive rock):
I would never call myself a critic, a reviewer yes but never a critic and I believe there is a distinction that should be made. My Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary says a critic will express what’s good and bad about a creative effort while a reviewer will simply provide an overview of what was done. I prefer to review a piece, provide an overview of what the artist has done, and perhaps in some cases provide a comparison to any of their previous efforts.
Well, one of the frequent complaints about Jerry’s book The Progressive Rock Files is that it’s too descriptive and doesn’t bother to say whether or not anything is any good or not. So maybe he’s right in this, but I still think he’s introducing a false dichotomy. If you’re reviewing music, you’re a critic. How transparently you let your opinion shine through is a difference in degree, not in kind.
Okay, so now that the absurdity is (mostly) out of the way, on to the substantive point. Namely, that “while the general public seems to enjoy listening to Symphonic prog more than any other sub-genre, the critics rarely place it at the top of their listening interests.” The reason, Jerry reasons, is that critics have to listen to so much music that they become jaded. Implicit in this reasoning (although never actually pointed out) is that genres such as symphonic and neo-prog might suffer particularly from what he calls the “jaded-complex” because they’re not original. They are by nature derivative, and so critics are more likely to say “I’ve heard this before. Next!”
Is there any merit to this claim? For some reviewers (critics - same damn thing), sure. Me, for example. It takes a damn good symphonic album to really get my attention (but is this because I’m jaded, or because I just don’t like the style as much as a lot of people?). Luckily, there are still plenty of bands putting out damn good symphonic prog (Uzva, Taal, After Crying until recently, Paatos, to name a few that came to mind immediately). But I certainly have written some reviews that Jerry would call “apologetic” - like my review of Lex Rex, for instance. But I don’t believe it is a claim that has general validity. Many prog critics that I read, on sites like ProgressiveWorld, Sea of Tranquility, and so on - and certainly reviewers on smaller sites I don’t read regularly - love the symphonic and neo-prog stuff coming out these days without shame. I think Jerry is reinventing the tired “prog-snob” complex that seems to be based solely on old rec.music.progressive flame wars.
Jerry’s suggestion is that reviewers limit themselves to genres they actually like. Good idea. Hardly a new one. I would guess that most publications don’t send RIO albums to neo-only lovers, or neo albums to RIO types. At Ground & Sky, where reviewers review stuff out of their own collection almost exclusively, this happens naturally. And that is why I’m apologetic when I review, for instance, a Lex Rex: because I know that it’s not my thing, and I feel that I have a responsibility to let readers know that as well. This is why you’re more likely to see a review of a Univers Zero album here instead of at DPRP; and conversely, you’re more likely to see a review of an Arena album there than here. All this stuff already happens!
In sum, I agree with a lot of what Jerry has to say, I just don’t really see what there is to complain about. If you’re a symph and neo fan, more power to you. You have plenty of resources to read and - yes - plenty of reviewers that share your tastes. Maybe not necessarily at Ground & Sky (although poke around, you might be surprised), but certainly at plenty of other sites. There’s no question that you have more resources available (in terms of review sites, at least) than someone who’s a fan of RIO and avant-prog.
Two more points. First, the entire basis for Jerry’s little article is pretty flawed since he doesn’t talk at all about the survey itself. I don’t think there’s any question that, if Ground & Sky had run the survey instead of Ghostland, the results would have been very different. He might as well have been trying to generalize from poll results off the e-prog list (by the way - holy CRAP what an obnoxious website). Naturally, he doesn’t mention the possibility of skewed results due to sampling quirks.
The final point is a philosophical one. Jerry seems to believe that reviews should be as objective as possible, and treats the reviewer’s opinion as more of an obstacle than an asset. I take the opposing view. Objectivity is an impossible ideal, and since we’re going to be subjective, we might as well be as honest and transparent about it as possible. That’s why G&S has different reviewers with different tastes, and with profiles online so you can readily figure out what their tastes are and whether or not they match up with yours.