The uncoolest musical genre of all time is back, reports Matthew Sweet
Here's a teaser: which one of the following is not a genuine album title? Script For A Jester's Tear; Tales From The Topographic Oceans; Chameleon In The Shadow of the Night; The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack. The answer? Unfortunately, they're all real. And therein lies the reason why Prog - that grandiose, multi-tracked, pseudo-orchestral pomp rock produced by the likes of Yes, King Crimson and The Nice - is now about as fashionable as pencil ties with piano keys on them.

For many years now, admitting an enthusiasm for Progressive Rock has been about as socially acceptable as confessing to a hare-jugging fetish. As Jake, 22, a record-shop assistant, affirms: "The albums still sell reasonably well - we shift a lot of Mike Oldfield, especially now he's gone Celtic. But I'd defy anyone to buy anything by Emerson, Lake and Palmer and look me in the eye."

The thought of coming out about liking Prog is enough to send a guilty shiver down the spine of any thirty- something man with a Rick Wakeman gatefold LP under the mattress. But to those male IoS readers now glancing nervously over at their partners, Paul Stump, author of one of the first critical studies of the genre, offers some words of hope.

The Music's All That Matters is the product of Stump's one-man mission to rehabilitate Prog's critical reputation. Like some Marge Proops of the Mellotron set, he can empathise with those secret Progheads unable to articulate the musical taste that dare not speak its name. "It has carried a stigma for a very long time, and one of the interesting things about writing the book was finding out just how many people were closet Prog fans. There do seem to be a lot of thirtysomethings out there who have their Prog albums hidden away like porn mags on top of the wardrobe. I suppose it's not particularly hip to say that you got into something by listening to Genesis."

Stump come across numerous tales of shame and woe. "I've heard stories about people selling great swathes of their record collection out of pure embarrassment. I can't think of any other form of music that has died such a death that people would do that sort of thing. You wouldn't find people going down to their basements with armfuls of Haircut 100 Records because they can't bear to be seen with them."

He's right. There are individual bands that carry a legacy of toe-curling naffness: Bardo, Bros, Sigue Sigue Sputnik. But even Brotherhood Of Man still have a bouffant charm, and I have a friend who takes brazen pride in his complete collection of albums by Kid Creole And The Coconuts. But Prog? Only Smashey and Nicey would offer a paean to the production values on The Enid's Aerie Faerie Nonsense. Or so we thought. Or hoped, because - contrary to the critical orthodoxy - observers of the Prog phenomenon suspect that a revival is on the cards.

Just think of it - 45-minute guitar solos; swirling dry ice; more Moogs than you could wave a baton at; orthodontically disadvantaged ex-Hippies declaiming lyrics like, "Cat's foot, iron claw/Neurosurgeons scream for more/At paranoia's poison door/Twenty-first century schizoid man" - could it all be coming back? Paul Stump believes it might just be possible. "I think the time is right for a revival," he reflects. "By the law of averages it's got to happen sooner or later." And in Tokyo, pop trash capital of the world, all-girl trio Ars Nova are making it big with songs heavily indebted to (wait for it) Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Even Stump seems a little dazed by this idea. "It's very, very peculiar," he muses.

David Robinson, editor of The British Progressive Rock Directory, is similarly keen on these new arrivals (although, unlike his fellow enthusiast, he pronounces the name as "arse" rather than "aah"). And he concedes that a revival of British Prog Rock may have to look to Tokyo for inspiration. Although they're obscure here, Robinson's own band, The Fireworks, are big in Japan, where their first CD shifted 6,000 copies there.

There are other signs and omens: my enquiries produced these defiant words from IoS music journalist Chris Maume: "I still have my Yes and ELP records, and I'm not embarrassed to admit it." Perhaps, most suggestively, a gig last month at the Royal Festival Hall by The Divine Comedy saw the band playing with a full orchestra, dry ice, a retina-blasting light display and a cover version of the Prog-inflected "Mr Blue Sky" by ELO as their grand finale. A young crowd in beige, polyester shirts and Jarvis specs were not only up and dancing - they knew all the words. Perhaps, as Tales From The Topographic Oceans puts it, they'll soon be having thoughts like "the future poised with the splendour just begun/The light we were as one/And crowded through the curtains of liquid into sun". Nice.

The Music's All That Matters: A History Of Progressive Rock is published by Quartet, priced pounds 12.

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