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Van Der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 2081 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars "Pawn Hearts" is often referred to, and considered by many as being Van Der Graaf Generator's opus. I can have no say on the matter as I do not own even close to all the band's studio albums, however it would be hard to top. There is a lot of talk of this album being hard to get into and it being very dark. I don't see the depth in these arguments as I found "H to He who am the Only One" to be a lot darker and ambitious than "Pawn Hearts." Its really about personal experience and preference in the end and there are a lot of flaws when questioning someone's opinion. All that said don't expect to get this work on a first listen.

Anywho, "Pawn Hearts" was created after "H to He who am the Only One" and it really is a refined version if you like of the band's sound. Peter Hammill, as in all their albums has a definite presence through his powerful voice and ingenious compositional techniques. Powerful, yet melodic saxes by David Jackson and almost domineering organs and synthesizers from Hugh Banton, backed up by Guy Evan's strong percussion gives the album a great kick.

The cover art of the album depicts a group of people, on what looks to be the sky and space as pawns. This reminds me greatly of the old myths about the gods of Olympus using humans as pawns in their games, its kind of the same thing here I believe. There is also what looks to be a waterfall in the picture, don't know what the significance of that could be. The grand idea of the album is pretty obvious though.

"Lemmings (including Cog)" opens up the album and it begins with an acoustic guitar, which is soon joined by a gradually increasing.wash of music. This section is accented by flute trills and gillandoes (I think that's how it's spelt) before the first section of vocals come in. The song progresses in a true fashion through it's entirely before ending on an almost unfished note.

"Man-erg" is one spectacular song. It begins with a piano melody along with vocals from Peter Hammill. It soon moves into a very menacing section in which Hammill sings screams (kind of like Geddy Lee.) for a while. After this short passage the music dies down again and a mellower section begins, in which an amazing saxophone solo is given to us by David Jackson. The end is quite interesting as melodies from past sections of the song come back to haunt the music.

Last of all is the epic of the album "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers." It begins immediately with some keyboard chords and lyrics from Hammil, shortly joined by Jackson on the sax. The lyrics are something to be envied in this section. They are quiet easy to memorise as they flow so freely and beautifully backed by fantastic instrumentation. This section is called "Eyewitness."

The grandeur of "Eyewitness" dies down to reveal the next section in Pictures/Lighthouse. This passage is somewhat of a wanting section as it seems to be building into something spectacular, but is dies right back down again. Another melody is introduced on an organ towards the end of the passage.

Next section is called "Eyewitness" (again) and it is essentially a reprise of the opening part of the epic. The feel of the piece is very similar to that of the first part but the music is all new and nothing is repeated. Again, excellent!

"S.H.M" is slotted in there somewhere as well.

After "Eyewitness" the music dies down again to be encompassed by a saxophone and organ with mellow bass and percussive backing. Soon more vocals come in and it is soon evident that this section is called "Presence of the Night" and it is somewhat reminiscent of Bartok's "Night Music" style.

"Kosmos Tours" follows and with it comes a climax in the music and for the entire duration of the passage the music seems to gain intensity. The sax and organ work in sync together to give the song great accentuation. There is one superb line at the end of the section, excellent!

"(Custard's) last Stand" beings once the music has "fallen" from the previous.thing. It begins with an organ, piano, sax and some very powerful lyrics from Hammill. The climax here is quite exciting.

"The Clots Thickens" is a very intense section and it very aggressive with Hammill providing some very, very on edge material. This is followed by an extended instrumental section in which some odd stuff is revealed.

As the "The Clots Thickens" ends, suddenly, the next part "Land's End (Sineline)" beings which just so happens to be my favourite part of the song. The lyrics in this section are amazing and, after "The Clots Thickens" they are just. perfect.

The last section is a direct follow on from "Land's End (Sineline)" and it is entitled "We Go Now" and it echoes the main melody of the previous part to end the song in an amazing fashion.

1.Lemmings (including Cog) (4/5) 2.Man-Erg (5/5) 3.A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (5/5) Total = 14 divided by 3 (number of songs) = 4.6666. = 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of progressive music

What an album this is, an essential for sure. The remaster of "Pawn Hearts" comes with five previously unreleased bonus tracks which are well worth checking out. "Pawn Hearts" was the no.1 album in Italy for 6 weeks, which is an amazing feat! I'd recommend this album to all prog fans, superb.

Australian | 5/5 |


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