Review by: Irfan Hidayatullah
Album assigned by: Victor Guimarães
A must for every prog lover. But I guess you know it already.
That seems to be the general critics’ assessment for this album, although frankly, apart from the title track or “My God” these songs are not really prog, at least not in my opinion — most of them are hard rock/folk rock with medieval styling, and somewhat unconventional chord progressions. (Maybe that’s what they meant by “prog”?) What they did may seem simple on paper, marrying hard rock with folk/medieval motives, but nobody back in 1971 did this stuff, at least when it comes to major prog rock stars — Yes were busy complexizing its music, ELP went straight to the classical genre, basically continuing The Nice’s legacy, King Crimson were sucking free jazz influences, and Genesis (with whom they have *arguably* things in common the most) lacked hard-rocking energy, concentrating instead on mellotrons, twelve-strings acoustic textures, and some pretty pretty music. But I digress.
Anyway, for such a classic album, I was surprised there’s a relative lack of diversity. Relative, because there’s at least distinctions between “epics”, relatively normal songs, and pretty acoustic links. But somehow it gets pretty tiring, at least to me, around tenth track or so. Maybe because of similar instrumentations and mood between the harder rocking songs — of course, you could argue that Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound, immaculate as it was, also didn’t change much in terms of instrumentations — but it still sounds exciting to my ears, while Aqualung drags in places, even if none of the songs suck or something.
“Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath” are the most well-known songs off this album, and quite deservedly so, even though I’d be pressed hard to tell what makes these songs stand out from the others. But those are not the only good songs off the album — I somehow also favour “Up to Me”, with its menacing riff, and “Hymn 43”, where the stop-and-start riff manages to sound almost funky (!) in its own way, and of course, “My God”, even though I still don’t know what to do with the mid-section. Is it a brilliant medieval-styled flute solo or just a pointless instrumental section? You tell me…
Still, the songs are good, the riffs are well written, and the album as a whole still sounds fresh today; even though the progressive influences might have been exaggerated, it is still arguably one of the most unique art-rock creations of its day.