David Stubbs: Prog rockers strike a blow for all musical artists

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The Independent Online

Pink Floyd's legal victory over EMI may be welcomed by some as a victory for artistic integrity. Others, however, culturally reared in the post-punk era, will scoff at the preciousness of these ageing pomp rockers and their assumption that to remove one brick from their overwrought Seventies musical edifices would be like removing the cornerstone from a cathedral.

Pink Floyd, are, after all, of that first generation of rock musicians who regarded themselves not as jukebox fillers but producing something "progressive", mature and thematic, classical even in scope. In the Seventies, there was a divide between the spangly, glam ephemera of the charts and the loftier likes of Floyd and Led Zeppelin who hung high in the albums charts, not the banal hit parade. Although 1979's The Wall was a huge success, Floyd had taken a severe mocking from the likes of The Sex Pistols and it proved to be a last hurrah for the Concept Album. Gatefold-sleeved, epic ruminations on social alienation were giving way to abrasive, pithy gobbets of punk/pop rage, all the rage by the early Eighties.

In 2010, then, Floyd's prickliness might seem self-important and archaic. Why can't one just download "Another Brick In The Wall" and "Comfortably Numb" from an album which could easily have been boiled down to an EP? What's the problem?

Yet you don't need to be a fan of The Wall, Pink Floyd, or concept albums in general to sympathise with this ruling. With the onset of mp3s and iPods, there has been a consumer tendency to cherrypick, to mix into playlists from various artists. This has not gone unnoticed by record companies. Consequently, fewer groups have licence or encouragement to express themselves across the album format, à la Radiohead. It's all about those 79p downloads. This is a shame and a loss, since the album listening experience is cumulative and greater than the sum of its single-track components. Over the course of its 45, 50 minutes, you are transported into a band/artist's soundworld, over an arc of moods and ideas bound by a cohesive and engaging musical vision. This isn't prog rock's prerogative, it could apply to anyone from The Specials to R.E.M., from Prefab Sprout to These New Puritans, and if it has taken a rock dinosaur to help stave off this idea from extinction, then so be it.