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Van Der Graaf Generator - H To He, Who Am The Only One CD (album) cover

H TO HE, WHO AM THE ONLY ONE

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

4.31 | 1034 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer
5 stars ...a review of the 2005 re-mastered CD...

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR was ahead of the curve in late 1970, at least compared to other Proggers emerging at the same time. In 1970 GENESIS was only beginning to find its voice on the band's second album, "Trespass"; YES was busy treading the backwaters of bourgeois orchestration on "Time and a Word"; KING CRIMSON was still in creative disarray after losing two of its original members; and the debut albums of both ELP and Gentle Giant were just then hitting the shops.

Even so, the original 1970 vinyl edition of the second proper VDGG album "H to HE" probably shouldn't merit anything more than a respectable 4-stars, marking as it did a significant step forward in scope and sophistication, but for a band still with its best years ahead of it.

Today, more than thirty-five years later, this 2005 CD reissue easily earns that coveted (and, in this forum, all-too generously awarded) fifth star of distinction. Not only has the re-mastered sound been polished to a surprisingly bright and vital sheen, but the addition of two long bonus tracks (extending the album by another twenty-four minutes) makes it an essential purchase, for students of Golden Age Prog in general and fans of Van Der Graaf Generator in particular.

The first of these is the awkwardly titled "Squid 1/Squid 2/Octopus", an astonishing live-in-the-studio enlargement of two tracks from the early "Aerosol Grey Machine" era, recorded during the "Pawn Hearts" sessions and intended for the proposed but aborted second disc of that classic 1971 album. I'm amazed the song lay dormant in the vaults for so long: this is Van Der Graaf Generator at its untethered best, with more than fifteen minutes of tightly controlled psychedelic mayhem showing what a formidable unit this group must have been on stage.

It begins with Peter Hammill singing a plaintive ballad over a solo acoustic guitar, but don't let your guard down too soon: within seconds the full band is firing on all cylinders and Hammill is screeching his lungs out as if possessed. The performances of all four musicians are electrifying (and near telepathic: notice the pinpoint accuracy of their stop/start unison runs), with highlights divided equally between the gothic majesty of Hugh Banton's organ, the aggressive jazziness (not an oxymoron) of drummer Guy Evans, and perhaps best of all the signature snarl of David Jackson on saxophone.

Jackson was unique among horn players of the period, with a more experimental style owing nothing, repeat: nothing to any popular Jazz or Blues tradition. The band didn't employ a dedicated electric guitarist (enlisting the aid of Crimson King and kindred spirit ROBERT FRIPP on this and other albums), but Jackson easily filled that gap with sounds no mere guitar could match: check out his celebrated solo on the album opener, "Killer", sounding as if he's attempting to throttle a struggling alley cat. And his creative use of a wah-wah pedal on the extended "Squid/Octopus" medley anticipates the similar sound developed by the great MILES DAVIS during his primal "Dark Magus" years, shortly afterward.

The second bonus track is a likewise live-in-the-studio rehearsal of "The Emperor in His War Room", almost identical in form to the final album version appearing earlier on the disc, but with the lack of any overdubbing (including the distinctive sustain of Fripp's guest guitar solo) giving the song a more appealing immediacy.

The original album itself has already been thoroughly chewed and digested elsewhere in these pages, so I won't dwell on it long except to note how remarkably fresh the music sounds after all these years, despite (or maybe because of) the sometimes overwrought poetry of Peter Hammills's lyrics. Hammill was always one of the more literate songwriters of the era, and deserves high marks for youthful ambition even when his narratives shaded toward the melodramatic (as in the brilliantly tortured exposition of the 11+ minute "Lost").

The album closer "Pioneers Over C" is a fascinating case in point. The C of the title is presumably Einstein's constant: the speed of light, proximity to which can do funny things to the fabric of space and time, as suggested by the enigmatic album title and equally obscure Paul Whitehead cover art (what exactly is that contraption floating in low earth orbit?).

Science fiction themes were not uncommon in early Prog (think of the Space Rock of PINK FLOYD at the time), but this was Psy-Fi out of a J.G. Ballard nightmare: a pessimistic look at the inner terrors of outer space, with an uncanny lyrical sense of temporal dislocation ("We are the ones they are going to build a statue for," says Hammill's astral traveler, his voice jumping unpredictably between octaves, "ten centuries ago...or were going to, fifteen forward.") The song offers an interesting perspective of the Final Frontier, especially after the mind-blowing evolutionary optimism of Stanley Kubrick's 1968 cinematic head-rush "2001: A Space Odyssey", and indicates how the 22-year old Hammill was, like his astronaut protagonist, a man sometimes uncomfortably ahead of his time.

Well, so much for brevity. Add a dozen-page CD booklet filled with historical background, band photos, and song lyrics, and this already excellent album emerges in the 21st century as a belated masterpiece of truly progressive music.

Neu!mann | 5/5 |

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