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


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 2006 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Prog Reviewer
5 stars Review Nš 26

This is my first review of a Van Der Graaf Generator's album. Usually, my favourite album by any band corresponds to what I think to be their best album. However, in this case, this doesn't really happen. With this group, my favourite album from them is their fifth studio album 'Godbluff'. Although, I sincerely think that probably their best album is really their fourth studio album 'Pawn Hearts'. This probably seems to be a little bit incoherent, even for me, but sincerely, this is what I feel. Logically, I would begin my first review from the band by one of them, and so, in this case, I decided to begin with 'Pawn Hearts', leaving 'Godbluff' for my next review on Progarchives.

'Pawn Hearts' is the fourth studio album of Van Der Graaf Generator and was released in 1971. The line up of the band on the album is the traditional, and in my humble opinion, is their best too. So, we have Peter Hammill (lead vocals, acoustic and slide guitar and electric and acoustic pianos), Hugh Banton (backing vocals, Hammond and Farfisa organs, piano, mellotron, ARP synthesizer, bass guitar and bass pedals), David Jackson (backing vocals, alto, tenor and soprano saxophones and flute) and Guy Evans (drums, percussion, tympani and piano). On the album we have also the presence of Robert Fripp of King Crimson on guitar, as a guest musician.

'Pawn Hearts', was originally conceived as a double album. The first side of the vinyl LP would be the album as it came to be released, and the second side would be divided between personal projects and live studio versions of the band's members. By some reason, this project never met the daylight. Probably it was the best thing to do. However, when the album was remastered in 2005, some tracks from the missing project, were added, as bonus tracks.

'Pawn Hearts' has three tracks. I'm talking about the European release, which is mine. The American and Canadian releases contained four tracks. Squeezed between 'Lemmings' and 'Man-Erg' there is the fourth instrumental track, 'Theme One'. In Europe, 'Theme One' was released as a single with the song 'W' as the B side. So, the first track 'Lemmings' written by Hammill has very powerful vocals with different harmonies and strange vocal passages, and musically, it has parts with extended saxophone work, keyboards and guitar passages. The track is pretty calm but contains some long musical dissonant parts, but is very pleasant to listen to. The second track 'Man-Erg', also written by Hammill, is sung by him with in a more traditional way. It's a song with a beautiful piano introduction and is followed by Hammill's voice. On the track we can hear Banton's organ work accompanied by Evan's very expressive drumming, great Jackson's saxophones works and some very pretty acoustic and electric guitar works made by Hammill and Fripp. Probably, this is the most beautiful song on the album. The third track 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers' takes the entire side B on the vinyl LP and is divided into ten parts: 'Eyewitness', 'Pictures/Lighthouse', 'Eyewitness', 'S.H.M.', 'Presence Of The Night', 'Kosmos Tours', '(Custard's) Last Stand', 'The Clot Thickens', 'Land's End (Sineline)' and 'We Go Now'. This is the monumental track on the album, and is, without any doubt, one of the most innovative and creative pieces ever made by them. The twenty three minute of this conceptual piece is very epic and is finished by a great guitar solo by Fripp. All the parts were written by Hammill, except 'Pictures/Lighthouse' written by Hammill and Banton, 'Kosmos Tours' written by Evans, 'The Clot Thickens' written by Van Der Graaf Generator, 'Land's End (Sineline)' written by Jackson and 'We Go Now' written by Banton and Jackson.

Van Der Graaf Generator toured extensively until 1972, but a lack of support from the record company and some financial difficulties, forced Hammill to split the band and pursue his solo career. Despite that, the apparent end of the band, proved not to be permanent. Two and a half years after, the group returned to record more four studio albums, 'Godbluff' in 1975, 'Still Life' and 'World Record' both in 1976 and 'The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome' in 1977.

Conclusion: 'Pawn Hearts' is an emotional and captivating album and isn't surely for the casual progressive listener. It demands attention and respect, in order to get the most of it, which is usual in all band's albums. Lyrically, I highly encourage the future listeners to following along with the lyrics to get the real spirit of it. Musically, it has the ability to evoke very deep personal emotions. Both things together, show perfectly what separates Van Der Graaf Generator from its contemporaries. 'Pawn Hearts' is a perfect place to start to see who Van Der Graaf Generator is. Surely, 'Pawn Hearts' is one of the best and most innovative masterpieces of progressive rock, but I'm afraid that it cannot be for everyone. It's very rare to find an album with such raw emotion as 'Pawn Hearts'. It's one of the darkest musical experiences the progressive rock as to offer, and is an essential addition to any serious progressive collection.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

VianaProghead | 5/5 |


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