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Peter Hammill - Nadir's Big Chance CD (album) cover


Peter Hammill


Eclectic Prog

3.77 | 291 ratings

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4 stars When you think of progressive rock, the last band to come to mind would probably be the Sex Pistols, a group notorious for hating the genre to the point that burning life sized effigies of Keith Emerson was not uncommon practice at its shows. Considering this, imagine my surprise when I first discovered that John Lydon was a fan of none other than Peter Hammill. Not being all that well acquainted with Hammill's career at the time, I struggled to make the connection. What relationship could there be between Hammill's musings on louses and lighthouse keepers and the Sex Pistols' straightforward brand of punk rock?

This is the answer.

When I decided on a whim to pick up a cheap, used copy of Nadir's Big Chance at my local record store, put it on the car stereo, and pressed play for the first time, everything made sense. The opening track features Hammill in full-on pissed off mode as he nearly screams lyrics about how he's "gonna scream gonna shout gonna play [his] guitar" while his Van der Graaf bandmates make a wild, chaotic racket in the background. Even though it was recorded in 1975, this first track is very much punk, but at the same time it's clearly 100% Hammill. Oh, and it kicks some pretty serious @$$ too.

Still, title track included, I wouldn't say there are more than three LOUD, straightforward rockers in total on this disc, the others being "Nobody's Business" and the lyrically fantastic "Birthday Special" (both of which I love very much, if you must know). One thing which really stands out to me about Nadir is the sheer variety of material on offer here and, unlike quite a bit of Hammill's solo career, it's all very accessible and melodic. By a hair, my favorite track might just have to be "Open Your Eyes". I love how Hammill almost seems to be singing under the instrumentation in the verses before soaring above everything else when he sings "and I opened my EYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEES!" It's absolutely gorgeous, not to mention the fact that both Hugh Banton and Dave Jackson kill on this track. There's a fine line between chaos and absolute beauty here unsurpassed anywhere else on this album.

There are also a few ballads. "Been Alone So Long" makes my heart want to melt every time I hear it (God, I can't believe I just wrote that, but it's true), and although it took awhile for "Pompeii" to grow on me, I now find myself listening to it more than nearly anything else on the disc. I'm also a big fan of "The Institute of Mental Health, Burning." The combination of the bizarre, sarcastic (almost joyful) lyrics with Guy Evans's eerie repeating drum pattern just works...somehow. There's even a re-recording of an old Van der Graaf Generator song, "People You Were Going To," which--despite a few awkward lyrics--comes off a great success. If there's a weak moment, though, I must confess that I've never been a fan of "Shingle Song". Lacking any interesting performances or notable hooks, it simply fails to keep my attention.

In the end, all flaws aside, this is a well constructed, melodic, diverse album of short, digestible songs. It bears mentioning, before I wrap up, that this album has one of the coolest atmospheres on any record I have ever heard, certainly different from Hammill's other work--dark, mysterious, somehow innocent--I'm not totally sure how to describe it. Listen and you'll see what I mean. Although this is quite different from the stuff VdGG was doing at around the same time, the band plays absolutely fantastic on here, and it almost goes without saying that Hammill's vocal performances are simply FANTASTIC, even if I get the feeling that the lyrics might not cut quite as deep as usual. Still, this is undoubtedly one of his best. Johnny Rotten liked it enough to play two tracks from it on national radio, and I must say that--for once--I am in total agreement. Recommended for anyone looking for an accessible way to get into Peter Hammill's work.

4 Stars

Originally posted (by me) on

1970sgenesisfan | 4/5 |


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