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Van Der Graaf Generator - Vital CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

3.82 | 279 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars This live album is not for the faint of heart. David Jackson is back for this recording of a 1978 concert, but this is the Van Der Graaf lineup, which means that Hugh Banton's hammond organ is nowhere to be found (there's a lot of Graham Smith's violin, though, as well as cello from a newcomer named Charles Dickie). In addition, about half of the material was previously unreleased (some would later end up on Hammill solo albums), and the other half is transformed in ways that aren't necessarily for the better. Throw in that the recording quality is sketchy (Jackson may be present but he's a non-factor for a lot of it), and that Hammill is often more interested in yelling than in singing, and you have an album that only a die-hard fan could love, and one that anybody else could potentially hate.

Well, I don't quite hate it, and I kinda like it in spots. I actually quite like the medley of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" and "Sleepwalkers" that concludes the first half; the editing process eliminates some of the aspects I like of each track (the hard-rock groove of "Sleepwalkers" is nowhere near as powerful as before), but it also gets rid of a lot of the bad in "Plague," and the final product is one I basically find enjoyable. Plus, I feel like the violin is a great addition to the arrangement of "Plague," one that adds a lot of atmosphere.

The other familiar tracks have ups and downs, to say the least. "Still Life" trades the low-key intensity of the original (which only hinted at fully fury at times but never remotely approached it) for a louder, screamier intensity, with grumbling guitars and violin that feels a bit like a pest at times. Still, while there's nowhere near the same depressing stomach- punch effect that the original provided in its best moments, I find there's a weird charm in the overpowered bass, over-thumped drums and over-dramatic violin parts of this one. It won't convert somebody who's never heard the original, but somebody who likes the original but doesn't feel a tight connection with all of its little details could like this one.

Of the other two familiar tracks, "Last Frame" never impressed me much beyond its introduction, and this one is about the same, while "Pioneers over c" is, well, an acquired taste that might not be worth acquiring. The original was fantastic, but this is 17 minutes long (much longer than the original) and obliterates most of the atmosphere of the original, replacing it with a lot of screaming and grumbly guitars and a lot of out-of-control loud fuzz- bass. The basic skeleton of the piece is more or less the same, and I have enough residual familiarity with and love for the original that I can find some enjoyment in grooving along the various parts, but I like the original way more.

Of the other tracks, the best of the lot is definitely the closing "Nadir's Big Chance," the excellent title track of the excellent 1975 Hammill solo album, and it turns out to be a good fit for an ensemble best suited (based on their other performances) for making a lot of artsy punkish racket. The other tracks are definitely artsy punkish racket, with jazzy elements thrown in (especially on "Urban," which incorporates snippets of "Killer" during the mid- section and is thus labeled "Urban/Killer/Urban"), but they ramble a lot without leaving much of an impression (other than some nice riffs in "Ship of Fools" and "Urban"). The general approach and combination of instruments is novel enough that I wouldn't mind hearing this material again once in a great while, but something to hold onto beyond style and interesting timbre would be nice.

As with Quiet Zone, listening to this leaves me with little surprise that the band broke up as soon thereafter as it did. For whatever good that's in here, the final product sounds like a tense novelty at best, and it should say something that, as somebody who overrates prog-related live albums as easily as I breathe, I have to struggle a bit to pull out bits that I like. Buy it at your own peril.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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