Steven Wilson: proof that the received wisdom of punk-versus-prog is bunkum

Music history's parameters have been redefined on this sublime four-CD/seven-LP/two-LP selection curated by Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue - Progressive Sounds In UK Alternative Music 1979-89 cover art
(Image: © Demon Records)

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Rarely has so much bunkum been spouted as in the (somehow, in some quarters) ongoing punk-versus-prog wars. It was never a zero-sum game. 

Steven Wilson intelligently re-frames the adjective ‘progressive’ here, demonstrating that the post-punk era informed the 80s with a wash of intelligent, exploratory sounds and styles. Even in the brave new iconoclastic world, it wasn’t obligatory to yell “Oi!” over three chords to be ‘good’. 

His extraordinarily detailed sleeve-notes illuminate this (although the music he’s chosen really does the talking). “This is my personally-curated attempt to redress the balance,” he writes. “Conceptual thinking and ambition didn’t suddenly evaporate after 1977… weird, thrilling music was all around you in the 80s, if you looked in the right places.”

There are names – Echo And The Bunnymen, Ultravox, Sisters Of Mercy – and those who should have been names – The Sound, Punishment Of Luxury. It’s not all about guitars, as selections from Japan, Simple Minds and Gary Numan show. 

And as Scott Walker, David Sylvian, Kate Bush and Cocteau Twins swoon in, all gossamer wings and that, it’s clear that the desire of most of this music is to express beauty, in whatever shape or form. This collection is a treat for aficionados, and will be a revelation for newcomers.

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has written about music, films, and art for innumerable outlets. His new book The Velvet Underground is out April 4. He has also published books on Lou Reed, Elton John, the Gothic arts, Talk Talk, Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson, Abba, Tom Jones and others. Among his interviewees over the years have been David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Bryan Ferry, Al Green, Tom Waits & Lou Reed. Born in North Wales, he lives in London.