Friday, March 31, 2017

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1993 - I Prophesy Disaster

Van Der Graaf Generator 
I Prophesy Disaster

01. Afterwards (4:57)
02. Necromancer (3:36)
03. Refugees (5:24)
04. The Boat of Millions of Years (3:50)
05. Lemmings(including Cog) (11:37)
06. W (4:26)
07. Arrow (9:46)
08. La Rossa (9:50)
09. Ship of Fools (3:46)
10. Medley (Parts of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" and "The Sleepwalkers") (13:32)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards
- Guy Evans / drums
- Hugh Banton / organ, bass pedals and guitar (No 1 to 8)
- David Jackson / saxes, flutes (No 1, 8, 10)
- Keith Ellis / bass (No 1, 2)
- Nic Poter / bass (No 3, 4)
- Graham Smith / violin (No 9, 10)
- Charles Dickie / cello, keyboards (No 10)

 A Van der Graaf Generator compilation is never a bad thing as the band had so much to offer and choose from to fill up an album. I sat down with this compilation simply to hear all these tracks compiled in a different way than the album releases and to re-familiarise myself with some of the lesser known tracks. The first thing one notices is the almost maddening patience the band has as it introduces each of the tracks. But there are always moments of brilliance with each track as the pace ranges from slow to breakneck, and the time signatures change throughout, not only with the instruments but with Hammill's incredible vocal delivery. It is pleasant to listen to these cuts taken from the classic albums such as the choices from the debut 'Afterwards,' and 'Necromancer' that demonstrate the innovation in the early years.
'Refugees' is a treasure from "The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other", though I definitely prefer the brilliant 'Darkness (11/11). 'The Boat of Millions of Years' was a rarity until its release as a bonus track on the remaster of the aforementioned album.

We move then to some tracks from the masterpiece "Pawn Hearts", including genius composition 'Lemmings (including Cog)'. Here, it is easy to see why this band are musical pioneers and boundary pushing visionaries. The track begins innocently enough, "I stood alone upon the highest cliff-top, looked down around and all I could see were those that I would dearly love to share with crashing on quite blindly to the sea." David Jackson's saxophone soon turns it up a notch and we are treated with the maelstrom of sound and verbal music psychosis that is quintessential VDGG. 'W' follows that is a track that never made it to the album but it is nice to hear it here.

"Godbluff" is well presented by the dark, brooding menace of 'Arrow'. Hammill's vocals are more tortured and raspy on this track and are a surprising contrast to the smoothness on the other tracks. The track begins with a percussion and saxophone improvisation that reminds one of the early King Crimson years. The track relies highly on saxophone and Hammond but the understatement of the bass is admirable and knits it all together perfectly.

'La Rossa' is one of the gems from "Still Life", a wonderful composition with an antithesis of intense atmospheres and entrancing beauty; Hammill absolutely blasting out with an emotive delivery. Jackson is a revelation on sax and the organ grinds powerfully throughout, along the drums and bass motifs. This track is truly a wonderful foray into the dark netherworld of VDGG. Ear splitting vocals and ambient keyboards are the order of the day and Hammill is a master of the insightful existential lyric. This is him at his existential best as he indulges in caterwauling along genuinely off kilter melodic jazz dissonance.

'Ship of Fools' was an unreleased single but now represents the bonus track from the remastered "The Quiet Zone/ The Pleasure Dome" with raucous servings of heavy guitar, and intense vocals full of angst and rage. It is perhaps the heaviest that the band gets, and shows a new direction that the band took during this era of 1977.

'Medley (Parts of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" and "The Sleepwalkers")' is the 13:32 treasure from the live "Vital". I always loved this version from the live performance and at least this compilation does include some of the ingenious "Pawn Hearts" epic. It is not as good as the epic of course but still nice to revel in. The way it segues into "Godbluff"'s 'The Sleepwalkers' is a stroke of genius and again it is great to hear those quirky melodies again. It begins softly and then launches into the maelstrom of sound and verbal music psychosis that is VDGG. The Hammond and sax take us deeper into the abyss and VDGG really let loose with wild staccato riffs and a monstrous finale where everything just explodes into a paroxysm of uncontrolled mayhem. It's a killer track and moves from romanticism with piano elegy only to explode into a doom-laden soundwave with wild saxophones screaming over unfriendly sounds such as Dickie's keyboards and Guy Evan's off-kilter percussion. Potter's bass is booming on this live album and is one of the real drawcards to hearing the whole concert. 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' was the first track I had heard from this amazing band that tells the story of an eyewitness who sees the unspeakable as he feels his body fading in a storm while voyaging on a doomed ship; It reminds one of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. 'The Sleepwalkers' is zombies rising from their sleep to wreak terror upon the unwary; both work together as a grande guignol visceral excursion into the macabre.

Overall, this is a terrific compilation but is missing some of the indispensable VDGG tracks. I like the way it features unreleased tracks at the time and still retains some of the masterful tracks that made this band such wonderful progressive legends. There is nothing new to offer those who own the VDGG remastered CDs but still is better than the average VDGG compilations as it features all of the years to the present date of release; from debut to "Vital".

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1988 - Now And Then

Van Der Graaf Generator 
Now And Then

01. Saigon Roulette - Jackson, Banton, Evans (4:43)
02. The Liquidator - Van Der Graaf Generator (5:27)
03. Gentlemen Prefer Blues - Jackson, Banton, Evans (2:58)
04. The Main Slide - Jackson, Banton, Evans (4:07)
05. Tropic Of Conversation - Jackson, Banton, Evans (7:19)
06. Spooks - Jackson, Banton, Evans (5:15)
07. Tarzan - Van Der Graaf Generator (2:14)
08. The Epilogue - Jackson, Banton, Evans (4:10)

On the Van Der Graaf Generator tracks:
- Peter Hammill / piano & vocals
- Hugh Banton / organ & bass pedals (presumably, because he is credited with 'sax', which can't be true compared to the Time Vaults release)
- Guy Evans / drums
- David Jackson / saxophone

On the Jackson, Banton, Evans tracks:
- David Jackson / saxophones, flutes & keyboards
- Hugh Banton / keyboards & drum programmes
- Guy Evans / drum machine, percussion, baliphones & trumpet

Most of the tracks on this album were recorded around 1984, after VDGG had split. With Hammill perusing a solo career, the other three band members (Guy Evans, Hugh Banton, and David Jackson) recorded a number of tracks together. It is doubtful whether these were ever seriously intended for commercial releases, and even more doubtful that they were intended to bear the name Van Der Graaf Generator. Inevitably though, they found their way into the bootleg market as "Gentlemen prefer blues" and bearing the VDGG name. They have since gone on to acquire quasi-official status in terms of release, although there is no indication that the band have ever sanction them.

Two of the tracks, "The liquidator" and "Tarzan" are from an entirely different period in the band's history, both featuring the classic line up including Hammill (who writes both tracks). These songs date from 1973/4, between the "Pawn Hearts" and "Godbluff" albums. These tracks are taken from the "Time vaults" compilation.

Those seeking the lost treasures of Van Der Graaf Generator would be well advised to tread carefully when it comes to the 6 Jackson, Banton, Evans tracks. I am not saying there is anything wrong with them, but they bear little resemblance to anything VDGG have ever done. All the tracks are instrumentals, Hammill's defining vocals are absent altogether. The tracks are much more accessible than is customary for VDGG's work, with simple rhythms and themes; they are effectively soft smooth jazz outings.

At times, we move into pure, traditional jazz, such as on "Gentlemen prefer blues" which is simply a sax improvisation by David Jackson. The jazz is put aside temporarily for the experimental "The main slide", a piece devoid of musical structure or form. Bizarrely, this gives way to a reggae influenced synth backed interlude called "Tropic of conversation". As pleasant pop/reggae/jazz ditties go, this one is actually quite enjoyable. While "The epilogue" fits in well with the other tracks, it actually dates from a previous incarnation without Hammill from 1977. Jackson and Evans are absent from this track, which features Eric Cairns and Ian Gomm instead.

Of the two tracks which include Hammill, and are thus by the full VDGG line up "The liquidator" is one of the most upbeat and enthusiastically performed songs ever recorded by the band, with Hammill positively bouncing along to his vocals. "Tarzan" is a short funky instrumental more in keeping with the rest of the material here.

In all, one for the VDGG collector really. The music is reasonably enjoyable, but it is somewhat different to the style usually associated with Van Der Graaf Generator.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1982 - Time Vaults

Van Der Graaf Generator
Time Vaults

01. Liquidator (5:24)
02. Rift Valley (4:40)
03. Tarzan (2:09)
04. Coil Night (4:12)
05. Time Vaults (3:33)
06. Drift (I Hope It Won't) (2:40)
07. Roncevaux (6:55)
08. It All Went Up (4:07)
09. Faint and Forsaken (2:45)
10. Blackroom (8:52)

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards
- Guy Evans / drums
- Hugh Banton / organ, bass pedals and guitar
- David Jackson / saxes, flutes

Releases information
First officially released on musicassette only by Sofa Sound in 1982, later on LP by Demi Monde (DM 003) and on CD by Thunderbolt (CDTB 106).

"Time vaults" is not an official VDGG releases, and indeed it was never intended that the music it contains be released at all. While some tracks, such as "The liquidator" are pretty much completed, others are clearly works in progress. The tracks here are all Peter Hammill compositions recorded during the band's sabbatical between "Pawn hearts" and "Godbluff". The tracks originally found their way onto the bootleg market, but have since been (perhaps reluctantly) legitimised.

During the period covered by these tracks from 1972 to 1975 VDGG did not officially exist. Hammill was pursuing a solo career, with other members of the classic line up helping out along the way while also working on their own material.

The opening track "(The) liquidator" is the best of the bunch here. Opening with some delightful echoed piano, Hammill offers a fine vocal performance on a rousing, rocking number. The song sits alongside the band's most accessible material, a sort of "Theme one" with vocals.

Unfortunately that's about I really. Much of what remains is made up of studio jams, rehearsals and demos. As the quality of the sound dips, so does the quality of the music. To be fair to Hammill and the rest of the band, the experimentation which can be heard here was just that, this is not a final product by any means. Some of the tracks (such as "Coil night" and "Tarzan") remain in instrumental form, presumably intended as backing tracks for as yet unwritten lyrics and vocal melodies.

The title track is the most bizarre, the piece drifting in and out of "Rudolph reindeer" and a plethora of other themes. "Faint and forsaken" sounds like a loose attempt to recreate "Theme one", but without the benefit of a memorable melody. It sounds great with all those thumping keyboards, but a tune would have been nice.

In short, one for the VDGG fan who has to have everything by them. That said, worth acquiring just to hear "Liquidator".

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1978 - Vital

Van Der Graaf Generator 

1978 Original double LP:
01. Ship Of Fools
02. Still Life
03. Last Frame
01. Mirror Images
02. Medley (Parts Of 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers' And 'The Sleepwalkers')
01. Pioneers Over C
02. Sci-Finance
01. Door
02. Urban
03. Nadir's Big Chance

1989 CD release:
01. Ship Of Fools (6:44)
02. Still Life (9:43)
03. Last Frame (8:59)
04. Mirror Images (5:48)
05. Medley:
a) Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers
b) Sleepwalkers (13:47)
06. Pioneers Over C (16:59)
07. Door (5:29)
08. Urban / Killer / Urban (7:36)

2005 Remastered Edition double CD:
01. Ship Of Fools (6:43)
02. Still Life (9:42)
03. Last Frame (9:02)
04. Mirror Images (5:50)
05. Medley:
a) Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers
b) Sleepwalkers (13:41)

01. Pioneers Over C (17:00)
02. Sci-Finance (6:16)
03. Door (6:00)
04. Urban / Killer / Urban (8:20)
05. Nadir's Big Chance (7:00)

- Graham Smith / violin
- Nic Potter / bass
- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards
- Guy Evans / drums
- Charles Dickie / cello, keyboards
- David Jackson / saxes, flutes

- The first Charisma CD release contains the first LP.
- The 1989 CD release contains a selection of the two LP's ("Sci-Finance" and "Nadir's Big Chance" are left out)
- The Japanese CD release publishes the whole album, as does the 2005 Remastered Edition.

Perhaps this sits much better in a punk-rock collection, even though this is no simple punk rock, either.
One of the things I always loved about Vital is it's raw playing and the best (and probably only) prog/punk hybrid ever. What a show!

I don't know how does the original pressing compares with the 2005 Remaster (the one I have), but the sound of the latter is crystal clear enough to hear every nuance but not enough to miss the edge, which is damn nice item in my book. Here you get to hear PH's flagerised guitar and sweetly obnoxious voice, Potter's amazing fuzz bass (something I think he, alongside Hugh Hopper, is a king of), Guy's jazzy drumming, Smith's lovely violins, Dickie's compressed cello and electric synthesizer and synthesized electric piano, and even Jackson's bleeded unrecorded saxes, a real joy to hear. Not quite, because Vital is an as uncomfortable listening experience as it gets, where the listener is constantly challenged and reminded to pay attention, the mark of an essential live record and the why this one is so high in my list, maybe even more than Live At Leeds.

What I like the most about it is the inclusion of the then-unreleased stuff like the paranoid "Ship Of Fools" or the angry medley of "Urban/Killer/Urban", and Charles Dickie's homemade synthesizer (the same from The Future Now) adding atmosphere such as the sequences on "Door" or the processed noise at the end of "A Plague Of Sleepwalkers", which may look like little but makes a whole lot of difference.

The album opens with some uncertain applause just before Hammill plays some notes to test the air and then proceeds with the riff from "Ship Of Fools", a ferocious rocker with a nice violin/guitar/cello bridge; "Still Life" contains some of the best fuzz bass I've ever heard, doubling the guitar, and somehow I don't feel disappointed about this rework; "Last Frame"'s intro is a teaser for the forthcoming brutality, another piece of Hammill's constant question of identity; this version of "Mirror Images" is much superior than the one from pH7, it opens with some violin-dominated gloomy intro before it becomes a bittersweet ballad of sorts; "A Plague Of Sleepwalkers" is a medley, of course, but just as the reworking of "Still Life", there's enough elements to make it special such as the extended intro and moving ending; "Pioneers Over C" is the only song I think could have been trimmed or made differently, but just because the sax wasn't recorded to make the solo audible enough; "Sci-Finance" in this form is a monster, contrary to the dreaded version from In A Foreign Town; "Door" is odd and Peter himself admits it, but that doesn't mean it isn't good; "Urban/Killer/Urban" begins with a jam and ends in a similar way, the stuff within is just as good as all the rest; and "Nadir's Big Chance" closes Vital with an angular, slightly sloppy version.

I understand this isn't prog as such and prog fans may not be interested in this sort of stuff, but prog or not, this is excellent enough as a live record to ignored.

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1977 - The Quiet Zone / Pleasure Dome

Van Der Graaf Generator 
The Quiet Zone / Pleasure Dome

- The Quiet Zone (LP side 1):
01. Lizard Play (4:29)
02. The Habit of the Broken Heart (4:40)
03. The Siren Song (6:04)
04. Last Frame (6:13)
- The Pleasure Dome (LP side 2):
05. The Wave (3:14)
06. Cat's Eye / Yellow Fever (Running) (5:20)
07. The Sphinx in the Face (5:58)
08. Chemical World (6:10)
09. The Sphinx Returns (1:12)

Total time: 43:20

Bonus tracks on 2005 Charisma remaster:
10. Door (Studio version) (3:28)
11. The Wave (Instrumental Demo) (3:03) *
12. Ship of Fools (1977 French Single B-side) (3:43)

* Previously unreleased

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitars, keyboards, producer
- Graham Smith / violin, viola
- Nic Potter / bass
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion

- David Jackson / saxes (7,9)

Bizarre doesn't even begin to describe this album. A blend of progressive punk and almost pastoral music with a mean violin, vocal stylings that baffle even the Peter Hammill initiated, quirky, though generally brilliant, lyrics... the list goes on, and the bizarre melding of standard musical elements and a freakishly experimental mindset works overtime. Really, there is no way to describe this album effectively, it'll probably take a while to catch on as a whole, and any preconceptions you have about Van Der Graaf Generator probably do not apply to this album. Consequently, it's a bizarrely essential album: I really enjoy it, I appreciate there are a lot of people (particularly the pretty vocals crowd) who probably won't get it (not a bad thing, just different tastes), and I think it was really pushing the barriers in a way that the other classic prog bands had rather given up on by 1977. Graham Smith and Nick Potter give the album a great deal of attack, Hammill's experiments with all sorts of vocal ideas have jumped off into the deep end in a way that you'll either love or hate, Guy Evans is solid as ever, and the pianos and guitars are used with a lot more confidence and detail than most previous Van Der Graaf Generator efforts. I think it's a masterpiece, sure some others take the opposite opinion. Lizard Play exhibits the rather Van Der Graaf Generatorish (well, in this case, Van Der Graafish) of having some sort of anti-catch value. On the first listen, it made virtually no impact on me, either lyrically or musically, but now, I can call it nothing less than amazing. The first Meurglys III notes lead us into a little, slightly jazzy intro a bit reminiscent of When She Comes, before Hammill's light-hearted, very cleverly harmonised vocals come in, using a full range of high wispy overdubs to counterbalance low, gritty multiple vocals. Evans is fantastic, of course, providing all sorts of rolls in addition to some absolutely beyond-belief unusual hollow and tingly percussion inclusions. Hammill's lyrics are metaphorical, assertive and extremely potent once you actually see the whole picture, and allow for a couple of clever spins which you somehow never quite expect even when you know they're coming up. Potter's thorough, thick basslines provide the real backbone for the piece, as well as a sort of bestial feel to the piece. The Graham Smith violin is characteristically unusual, and includes a couple of rather neat subtleties that provide a little more weight to the acoustic. A song full of weirdness, shamanic rhythms, a general refusal to accept the standard terms of what rock is, and a touch of whimsicality that works really well for Van Der Graaf.

The Habit Of The Broken heart is another somewhat eclectic song, moving from a fairly basic acoustic riff to a subtle bitter bit of reflection to a full on burst of rock to a small vocal coda. The lyrics are a touch less sharp than I'd expect from Hammill, though they still contain a couple of great lines, and a basic message, which is more than a lot of bands manage to do. The lyrical vulnerability of the song relative to the rest of the album is more than outweighed by the superb musical content and the rather odd mood in Hammill's vocal. Guy Evans and Nic Potter provide a weird bass-driven riff for a fair amount of the piece. The dashes of organ fit in quite nicely, as does the lush background viola. A lot of the punk ethos thumping in again, along with a few elements of dissonance and the rather curtailed melodies than characterise much of World Record. The conclusion is nicely done. Not an absolutely perfect piece, but a lot of redeeming features, and a particularly top notch performance from Evans.

Siren Song features the album's finest lyrics, and some of the finest lyrics in rock, and the closest thing to a conventionally pretty vocal on there. The piano is absolutely lovely, and supplemented by a tragic violin, Guy Evans' very emotional and delicate percussion and the unusual Potter distorted bass sound. The mood changes of the song are distinctive, involving and feature a rather more upbeat, folk-inspired violin part, as well as an example of just how mobile Van Der Graaf Generator can make a song. Nic Potter never did a weirder bass part than that in the middle of this song, and it pays off fantastically. Anyway, the best way to describe this one is with a bit of a lyrics quote. It has reduced me to tears on occasion, and not many pieces can do that.

Laughter in the backbone laughter impossibly wise that same laughter that comes every time I flash on that look in your eyes which whispers of a black zone which'll mock all my credos as lies, where all logic is done and time will smash every theory I devise

The six minute Last Frame could well be the highlight of the album for a lot of the more prog-by-the-books listeners. A hollow atmospheric introductory solo on viola (I think) from Graham Smith leads us into the song proper, coupled with a couple of very dark, full jabs on bass and a tinkle of percussion, takes us onto the tragic retrospective vocals, coupled with a savagely bleak and determined set of lyrics. Hammill provides an acoustic (on occasion surprisingly unusual in sound) pretty much throughout the main part of the song, which is quite a nice change, and it fits in neatly both at the higher-tempo sections and the more introspective low-key parts. A sort of freakish guitar or violin solo backed up by a dab of Meurglys III riff takes up prime position in the instrumental mid-part. The song's conclusion is particularly awesome, with a distinctly rocking bass riff mixing itself in with dabs of percussion, classy lyrical bite and a distorted guitar. As always, Evans is a solid drummer, controlling his sound, volume and feel quite precisely and adding a slightly human feel through the drumming. Fantastic stuff.

The Wave is probably the most daringly introspective of the songs on this album, with quirky, and yet quite moving lyrics about the point of analysis and the effect of that on nature or feeling. The lush, but quite delicate, interplay between Hammill's piano and mellotron (it's probably actually a viola, listening to it a bit more closely) and the strings is extremely well-written, and Hammill's vocals are simply amazing in a way that only they can be. The tension is available, and a mixture of grandeur, uncertainty, high and low and whispered vocals, and selective self-harmonies adding a sort of ebbing feel to the piece. The rhythm section is again excellent, with Guy Evans' fitting in his own sort of style quite softly, accomplishing a number of subtle cadences that other drummers often seem nervous to add into soft songs, accomplishing the same sort of rolling line with no intrusion at all. It did take a while to catch onto me, as one would sort of expect a soft song like this to simply head for plain lyrics, but in the end the combination seems simply more and more right. Unusual soft songs are one of my favourite features of the classic 70s prog rock bands, and this fits that description perfectly. Masterful.

If one track can be described as driven, it's probably Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever, this piece rivets itself into the mind, frantically and schizophrenically leaping off its own ideas. Hammill's lyrics and vocals have a wonderfully reeled-off-on-the-spot tint, albeit not a lot of conventional beauty to counterbalance that. The jarring aggression of the vocals is in the vein of Nadir's Big Chance rather than Arrow or La Rossa, relying on an innate menace, speed and rhythm over volume or arrangement, and yet they are actually surprisingly fitting for the song, ramming in uncertainty, panic, menace and rage without pausing for breath... a burst of vocal dubs only heightens the frantic mood. The exhausted final vocal line is a complete contrast to this schizoid personality... one of the best worst vocal performances ever. Graham Smith's violin and viola provides truly berserk emotionality, reeling off a pulsing, tense riff as well as an array of off-the-wall solos, counterbalanced by the utter catharsis of the concluding solo. Nic Potter has never sounded better, with pulsating, demanding, insistent bass-lines complete with mixed-in sort of bass groans, as well as a bass-sound or two I haven't heard used in that way before. Even under that incredible violin solo at the end, he fits in a tasteful, obvious bass sound. The guitar is equally superb, providing a sort of picked-electric sound that lends a lot of character to the piece, as well as some blitz-on-the-ear wails. One of the big standouts of this piece, though, is Guy Evans. His combination of sort of trapping drum sounds, solid, aggressive beats, tasteful leaves, hard, flat rock beats and manically fast, yet comprehensible, fills, which sort of overspill all the parameters of the song, providing a sensation of real vertigo and being off the edge.

Anyway, I've gone into a bit more detail than I usually do on shortish songs for this one, but it was entirely worth it. An incredible song, one that really both pushes the parameters of rock and yet builds on existing traditions. As Peter Hammill would say, the 'exciting stuff'. It's a sample at the moment, so take a listen to it on the appropriate volume. If you don't like it, the album might not be for you (there's a wide range of material covered, and the lyrics, here, are probably not as strong as the rest of the album), but if you do, really, the album might be your thing. It's the song that brought me to going beyond the obligatory four VDGG albums.

The Sphinx In The Face is another oddity, complete with a particularly anarchically arranged set of lyrics, a range of rather clever musical quotes from previous pieces incorporated into the main piece. Opening with a cheerful guitar riff, backed up by the appropriate groove from the bass. A couple of rather reggae-ish moments are juxtaposed with a general pushing-rock-feel, amazing mellotron/viola, as well as possibly the most remarkably moving harmony in rock. The musicianship, as always, is incredible, and though the 'concept' of it all... the unifying theme of disunity, of a search... is a bit hard to grasp at first, once it kicks in, it sinks below the surface, and a range of exclamations that first seem trivial become extremely moving. Also brilliant, though I can imagine that the harmony ending won't hit anyone until you've really wrapped yourself in the album.

Chemical World is another piece of particularly good writing disguised by a bit of general chaos, noise, and lyrics which alternate between whimsical and acidic. Aside from a surprisingly Spanish guitar melody from Hammill, the song's softer moments are highlighted by Graham Smith's fascinating sax/flute-'imitation's on violin. The noisy, distorted-out-of-this-world mid-section is probably the high point of the piece, with an explosive Evans and a number of tense melodies and more 'psychedelic' ideas, which perhaps resemble that rather haunting section of Nine Feet Underground a little. Nic Potter's bass is very effective, again, handling a couple of lead guitarish licks on one occasion. Amazing stuff, and extremely progressive.

The Sphinx Returns concludes the album proper, with a rocked up version of the outro to The Sphinx In The Face, somewhat sealing up all the themes of the album in one range of bizarre musicianship and a fade to indicate that they continue.

Onto the bonus material. The Door is another great piece, with a killer riff. Rocking everywhere, a high-range thumping bass and a couple of hilarious keyboard effects. The demo version of The Wave is actually very moving and effective even without the lyrics, and it places a little more emphasis back on the individual music parts. Potter is probably a bit more effective (think it's that he's a lot more conspicuous with a quieter piano) on this one. Anyway, it illustrates that Van Der Graaf really could do instrumental extremely effectively... almost as incredible unpolished as it is finished. Ship Of Fools truly kicks, with a hammering riff, neat lyrics, and a sort of electric fire that reminds me a bit of a couple of the things 80s Crimson and Tull would go on to do. The vocals are truly off the wall, or off the charts, depending on how you see it, and Hammill gives a great guitar burst or two. I'd probably call it hard rock, more so than any of the Deep Purple and Uriah Heep stuff I've heard.

So, all in all, a collection including pretty much exclusively absolutely fantastic songs (The Habit Of The Broken Heart is a bit weaker, but not much so), which I would consider among Van Der Graaf (Generator)'s list of finest achievements, and that really does mean a lot, coming from me. The album is characterised by subtlety disguised as blatancy, which is a pretty standard VDGG feature, so if you don't get H to He or Godbluff or something like that, you probably won't get this. The lyrics are typically . Nonetheless, vital for fans of Van Der Graaf Generator, aggressive progressive music, later, but still very progressive albums, or quirky, obtuse concepts. A masterpiece of progressive rock, and (and I say this even with Starless And Bible Black, and Brain Salad Surgery close in mind) Guy Evans' performance on this is perhaps my favourite percussion on one album ever.

Rating: Five Stars... seems a bit standard fare for VDGG and my ratings, but that's alright... Favourite Track: Very, very difficult choice. Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever or The Siren Song if I had to pick.

(oh, a couple of considerations)... I'm sure some of the times I reference saxalike/flutealike violins it is actually Jaxon, but I think at others they are, in fact, actually violin sounds that correspond to how I'd expect some of the saxes on World Record to sound. I'm not great on violas, so my exact terminology for string instruments may be horrifically wrong. Finally, the cover art, it's amazing, don't you think?

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1976 - World Record

Van Der Graaf Generator
World Record

01. When She Comes (7:58)
02. A Place to Survive (10:00)
03. Masks (6:55)
04. Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild (20:47)
05. Wondering (6:33)

Total Time: 52:13

Bonus tracks on 2005 Charisma remaster:
06. When She Comes (Live) (8:10) *
07. Masks (Live) (7:24) *

* Previously unreleased

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, piano
- Hugh Banton / organs, bass pedals, Mellotron
- David Jackson / alto, tenor & soprano saxes, flute
- Guy Evans / drums, cymbal, percussion

The mood of this record is dark and melancholy. Every single song reminds me of November (the birth month of Peter Hammill), though incomprehensible it was recorded in the month of May (my birth month). The dominating mood is farewell here. The forthcoming third split of Van der Graaf Generator and the forthcoming separation of Peter from his longtime girl-friend already show up on the horizon.

The remastering of the record is most pleasing, though in some savage passages Peter's roaring voice couldn't be made as clear as the instruments out of technical reasons.

The most interesting two songs are "When She Comes", which I see as a kind of follow-up to "La Rossa" in Peter's personal love affair, and the over 20 minutes long "Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild", a perfect fusion between Rock, Blues and Jazz. Peter excels on electric lead guitar here. (Funny, but "Meurglys III" always reminded me of "I want you / She's so heavy" by The Beatles.)

The year 1976 was incredible creative for Peter Hammill. He wrote the songs for "World Record", each one of high quality. In the same year he wrote and produced his stunning solo album "Over".

Comparing the two albums I always found the mood of "World Record" depressing and the mood of "Over" liberating.

Both have the same topics: split, leave-taking and wrench. In some of the songs of "World Record" Peter Hammill tries to generalize these themes into reflections of typical human behaviour, above all in "Masks" and in "A Place to Survive". Peter explained that from time to time he wrote songs that suited the band. These couldn't be about his own traumata in a too personal way.

On the other hand the solo album is uncompromising personal and though pain and hurt are even more obvious and in some songs nearly unbearable, it has a more optimistic feeling. Because it's "Over". "I'll see you on the wedding / I'll see you on the other side".

The two bonus tracks bring "When She Comes" and "Masks" again - this time from the BBC Peel sessions. Deripped from even the small overdubs of the official production these tracks show the wonderful structures of the music of Van der Graaf Generator.

After two quickly succeeding masterpieces, VdGG went back in the studio, but this time, they would actually deny the "Never two without three" saying and head for the "Two out of three ain't bad". While still a worthy Graaf album, World Record (with a stunning artwork again on a single sleeve) is clearly a step away from the right direction.

Clearly (and quite unfortunately), it appears that Graaf's inventivity and inspiration had come to the end, and the quartet will once again go their separate ways after this album. The first side of the vinyl is filled with rather short tracks, none of which would've made the cut on the previous albums, but in no way are they fillers, I insist! Just tracks that fail to have as good ideas as before, like if all of them ideas had been used on the previous two albums.

However, on the second side of the vinyl, there stands a monster track Meurglys III (Hammill's guitar spirit) with an incredible descending crescendo, and clearly the highlight of the album. However, the track does overstay its welcome a bit too much as the reggae jam is simply a bit too long and highlights Hammill's (relative) weakness as an electric guitar player, but overall, if this track had been shorter by five minutes, it might have a been Graaf's crowning achievement (with Lighthouse). Please note Italian group Germinale will record an astounding cover, but more succinct) on their second album.

Still a typical VdGG album, just not as strong as the previous five albums, every with will still find this album a must-have. Unfortunately, the group will implode (due mostly to exhaustion), leaving Hammill to suppress the Generator part of their name and find old mate, Potter, keeping Evans and and enlisting Smith on violin, for a drastically different sound. But this is another story

Van Der Graaf Generator - 1976 - Still Life

Van Der Graaf Generator 
Still Life

01. Pilgrims (7:07)
02. Still Life (7:20)
03. La Rossa (9:47)
04. My Room (Waiting for Wonderland) (8:09)
05. Childlike Faith in Childhood's End (12:20)

Total Time: 44:45

Bonus Track on 2005 Charisma remaster:
06. Gog (Live) (12:23) *

* Previously unreleased

- Peter Hammill / vocals, guitar, piano
- Hugh Banton / organs, bass & bass pedals, Mellotron, piano
- David Jackson / alto, tenor & soprano acoustic & electric saxes, flute
- Guy Evans / drums and percussion

As there were remaining tracks from the previous writing/recording sessions, Still Life arrived fairly quickly on the market, and what a splendid album it was! Godbluff's twin album is actually superior (and ultimately more rewarding) to it and it shows with the stunning artwork sleeve.
Opening Pilgrims (and its slowly solemn descending crescendo) is a sure winning salvo only topped by the lengthy La Rossa (their Italian affinities showing), while the very personal My Room (Hugh Banton on bass and Jackson's superb ambient sax, with Evans' restrained drumming) is a real contender for the best Graaf track >> not far from House With No Door. The title track is another spine-chiller, with Hammill's doomy and desperate vocals crying out in the middle of the night, before the quartet is picking up momentum and Hammill's mood changing to anger. Then comes the lengthy and awesome Childlike Faith In Childhood's End (inspiration taken from a book that was particularly well appreciated from all band members) closing off the album in a grandiose way.

While two of the five songs were written (and recorded) during the Godbluff sessions, the remaining three tracks are certainly of the same calibre if not even better, but certainly the proof that Graaf still had major things to say in the realm of prog rock. As I said before, I prefer Still Life to Godbluff for it has no weak track, but sincerely, choosing between there two is something I would rather not do.