Both rock and pop come in various states of rigidity.
Most obviously, there is hard rock of course – it can also be heavy or full-on metal. But there is also soft rock as its polar opposite.
The pop world has a similar toughness grading. Power pop on the one hand, and soft pop on the other.
However, when it comes to prog there isn’t much talk about anything being soft. Progarchives.com, for example, lists heavy prog, progressive metal and tech/extreme prog metal as different official sub-genres, but makes no mention of anything even remotely related to soft, delicate, balmy, gentle, mild or even light. Nada. Nichts.
Which is a shame because it is certainly as difficult to make good music that could be described using such adjectives rather than just stoking the fire, as it were. Going rough is just taking the “gentle” out of the man, how hard can that really be?
You might say that Canterbury is a soft prog genre and while that could sometimes be applied to bands like Caravan or Hatfield & the North, the genre contains a lot of stuff that isn’t soft as well. Not least by the Soft Machine…
Enter Fruupp; delicately and without much fanfare. With harpsichords rather than distorted organs; and whispers not screams. That is not to say there are no organs or screams on Fruupp’s albums; there are plenty, we are just inverting the power scale here.
And while on the topic of instruments, Fruupp is unusually a prog rock band conceived by a guitarist, namely Irishman Vincent McCusker. Just don’t expect any solos. Or power chords. For what Vince doesn’t do, he is really is a guitar hero.
Fruupp’s debut album ‘Future Legends’ is the only of their four efforts that gets a four star rating on Progarchives, the others all get a meagre three stars.
To me, that is a bit like giving ‘Trespass’ by Genesis a higher rating than their subsequent albums. But even though Fruupp’s debut is of high standard, reviewers fail to appreciate that the band then progressed beyond the conventional prog-rock fold, and, in many ways, left comparisons behind.
While second album ‘Seven Secrets’ is good yet somewhat transitional, Fruupp find their true voice on ‘The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes’. While you get what by now is almost a signature dial-in of the music, opener ‘It’s All Up Now’ makes it quite clear that Fruupp are no longer the slightest afraid to be cute. Not camp in any way, just plain pretty.
But that gives them a more colourful palette and a broader range to draw from than most other bands. The album manages to constructively build on that dynamic, and is not only my clear favourite in their catalogue but also one of the unique moments in prog. Fabulous stuff. Their final album ‘Modern Masquerades’ is almost as great, even though it is more of the same rather than another big leap forward.
Although I have all their original vinyl albums as well as the original Japanese CD reissues from 1990, the Japanese paper sleeve editions of the first three albums on Arcangelo from 2004 together with ‘Modern Masquerades’ on my own Strange Days label in 2006, and the Esoteric remasters from 2009, I still think it is great that Esoteric have now collected the albums in a box with a name taken from a track on the second album, ‘Wise As Wisdom’.
Mind you, there is nothing new on this box: no hitherto unreleased material, and the masters seem to be the same ones that were used by Esoteric last time round. Also, if you want quality replicas you still need the Japanese paper sleeves.
But Fruupp are a band that deserves every reissue they get!