Greg Northrup    11-August-2002 Van der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts

This is one of Van der Graaf Generator's absolute finest efforts and considered by many to be their biggest statement. It is indeed one of my favorite albums of all time; truly glorious progressive rock that manages to be haunting, engaging, unique and totally brilliant in every imaginable way. Here the early VdGG sound that had been developing on the prior two albums has reached its apex. Hammill's lyrics have become works of harrowed genius, while the musical environment around them is sonically flawless. The result is a perfect melding of dissonance, incorrigible rage and chaos along with roaring melodic power. Inspiration drenches every moment of the album.

On "Lemmings (including Cog)", David Jackson spits out a pummeling saxophone riff while the band creates a disjointed yet infectious rhythmic pulse. Hammill's outpouring rages over a psychotic circus waltz as the song builds into uncontrollable frenzy. The next classic, "Man-Erg", begins as a dark gothic ballad with ominous vocals and music before tearing into a explosive, mind-bending middle section of unimaginable chaos. The epic "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" is easily one of the single greatest progressive rock pieces of all time. This is timeless music with all the VdGG hallmarks; stately organ, heart-wrenching vocals, and wailing saxophone. Van der Graaf Generator, and this album in particular, are a must for those with a taste for the darker side of progressive music. Pawn Hearts will mine the depths of your consciousness, if you allow it to.

Jeff Melton 11-August-2002 Van der Graaf Generator - Still Life

The second album from the rejuvenated quartet of Banton/Hammill/Jackson/Evans forged on from their strong re-union album, Godbluff, with this gem from 1976. Peter Hammill's delivery of his sci-fi apocalyptic vision has never been so dead-on in a group setting with a line-up who grappled with dynamics by refining a skill comparable to the best of telepathic King Crimson of the day. The anthem-like "Pilgrims" opens the disc with a passionate cry and forceful foundation from Banton's portative organ and bass pedals. Dave Jackson's sax on the intro to "My Room" showed great subtlety by both augmenting and swirling around the fragile lyric, "searching for diamonds in the sulfur mine". The album's title track is a veiled statement on aging which gets into the details of it for a couple that may have run of out steam so to speak. The pieces which truly expand upon the scope of the group are two lengthy tracks, "La Rossa" and "Childlike Faith in Childhood's End". The former piece fixates on a delicate love drama with an intense chemistry as the focal point. The latter epic is opened by Jackson's flute before transitioning into one of Hammill's most heartfelt dissertations on the hope of humanity to thrive. Plus, the ensemble hard-rocks its way through the repeated second phrase and climaxes the track to summarize the album as well as provide a suitable dénouement. Still Life ranks as one of the top three discs in the group's catalogue.

Greg Northrup    11-August-2002 Van der Graaf Generator - World Record

After a string of flawless albums, going back through Still Life, Godbluff and Pawn Hearts, and Hammill's solo opuses, World Record comes as a bit of a disappointment. The album is okay, but doesn't have the focused savagery of Godbluff or the existential lyrical angst of Still Life. It also lacks that ambitious chaos of the first generation albums. In comparison, this album is fairly uninspired, and to me doesn't offer much the others do. All the songs are solid, but not nearly as memorable or as furiously intense as on the band's other works. Though nothing will sound out of place here to the avowed Hammill fanatic, it's simply the lack of forward motion and sense of redundancy that does this collection in. Although some will claim that VdGG's period of musical mastery ended with Still Life, I would say that the decline certainly begins here. After Hammill saw that he couldn't fully rebound from this album with another album, the slightly better Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome, he wisely chose to disband the group permanently.

For the most part the songs are even more streamlined than on past releases, a trait that worked well on the previous two albums, but sort of falls flat here. "When She Comes" is a nice song, with a verse/chorus/verse arrangement, but would not have made it onto any of the earlier albums. Ditto with the slightly better "A Place to Survive". The one true highlight of the album is the uncharacteristically expansive "Meurglys III", which stretches out into a long and very intense jam session. Otherwise, this is a collection of nice songs for established fans, but lacks the vision and fire of past releases. It probably won't win over any non-believers. Though the group never released anything "bad" per se, World Record is probably their least exciting album.

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