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


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 1962 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Prog Reviewer
3 stars I entered the VDGG catalogue with this album in 1974. I was fully in love with Genesis, Yes and the Floyd (as far as true prog is concerned), so this was quite a shock ! Although I liked it after a few spins, I must admit that there are easier albums to start with if you want to discover this important band. Only three songs for a bit over forty- five minutes.

Originally, this should have been a double album, but it was decided that it was not relevant to release such an effort. One additional side would have been a live one with probably "Killer" and "Darkness". The last one being a collection of individual songs from Guy, Hugh and David (sounds like "Works" from ELP, right) ? Some of those elements were recorded but never mixed.

"Lemmings" : do you know these animals that follow each other until they fall into the precipice and die ? Peter will start the song in this way :

"I stood alone upon the highest cliff-top, looked down, around, and all that I could see were those that I would dearly love to share with crashing on quite blindly to the sea..." and "What course is there left but to die ?".

We are again into the darkest themes in which death is very welcome. This song is average. Not very powerful (at times very, very quiet : like KC in "Moonchild"), somewhat jam-oriented and jazzy. A bit disappointing.

"Man-Erg" is a kaleidoscope of what VDGG produces : complex music with rythm changes, nice melodic passages combined with (very few) cacophonic moments as well. It is by far my fave here. The lyrics are incredible. Peter describes a schizo having both a killer and angels inside him : "How can I be free? How can I get help? Am I really me? Am I someone else?".

It is quite similar to "House With No Door" (one of my VDGG's fave). Same for this : a great song.

One of their two epic songs (second one coming much, much later) : "A Plague ..." consist of ten parts linking very well the one into the other. Do not expect though anything la "Supper's Ready" or "Close to the Edge". VDGG has a style apart that cannot be compared to anything else. You listen and either you like it or not. No mixed feeling about it !

I have a lot of respect for Peter who was able to remember this awful amount of text during live performances (I had the same feeling for Jon while Yes performed "The Revealing Science of God"). No wonder they will often play a "Plague Medley" with only half (or so) of the song.

It starts on a smooth tempo with nice vocals and a very discreet band, it builds a bit stronger then comes part two "Pictures/Lighthouse" which is a lenghty spacey moment leading to some noisy and then almost noise-less one (around minute four). Back to "Eyewitness" for part three (as far as I am concerned they could have easily skip part two).

"S.H.M." has more rythm. Good backing band and some melodious (but dark) vocals : "The spectres scratch on window-slits, hollowed faces, mindless grins, only intent on destroying what they've lost".

"The Presence of the Night : part five is quiet and sad. Truely emotional. One desperately wants to come and save the character : "'Alone, alone,'the ghosts all call, pinpoint me in the light.The only life I feel at all, is the presence of the night". Brrrr. Very good section.

Next one "Kosmos Tour" is jamming and irritating. I prefer the part seven "Custard's Last Stand" : more melodious with great piano work and subtle sax. A very nice section again. Back to complexity/cacophony with part eight : "The Cloth Thickens". Weird vocals, with different tones. Difficult moment for me.

Hopefully, the last two sections are all harmony and closes this track in a beautiful manner (it was needed). IMO, it is not really the type of songs you can spin three times in a row (unlike "Firth Of Fifht", "And You And I" or "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" if you see what I mean. (I did it twice though while I am finalizing this review).

Their very dark and scary music do not generate a lot of fun but this band was a pionner in the genre and this album closes their first era of production quite well I must say. This album will reach Nr. 1 (number one) in Italy where the band reached stardom.

Phase II of their carreer will generate true gems of prog music; but that's another story.

A must own for any VDGG fan but not for the average prog lover. I would absolutely NOT recommend "Pawn Hearts" as an entry album to their catalogue like I did more than thirty years ago (unless you are found of complex and intricated music). Three stars.

ZowieZiggy | 3/5 |


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