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


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 2059 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Heart touching progressive music

Fourth opus by Peter Hammill and co., "Pawn Hearts" marks the end of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR's first era as well as its pinnacle. After three interesting but somehow uneven and still experimental albums, the band fully defines its own musical identity and proudly enters the heights of the progressive sphere, in 1971. Driven by saxophone and keyboards instead of guitars, their style and sound are unique, tortured and delicate, depressive and beautiful, exploring the depths of the human mind. This was completely different from what other prog bands were proposing at the time.

Initially planned as a double album, only the first half of the recordings was finally released as "Pawn Hearts". These three lengthy, sophisticated and varied songs were composed one year before major progressive milestones such YES' "Close to the Edge" or GENESIS' "Supper's Ready". Maybe not as accessible as the aforementioned suites, but certainly as inspired and magical.

The first mini-epic sets immediately the tone. Oppressive and frightening, "Lemmings" offers complex structures and rhythm breaks for calm floating passages and plaintive anguishing moments. Organ and saxophone create a particular troubled watery atmosphere that supports perfectly Hammill's haunting and aerial vocals. Great, easily one of the best tracks from VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR! "Man Erg" is a musical transcription of our internal conflict between good and evil. The first part alternate melancholic and glorious passages representing the opposition of the "angels" and the "killers" inside us. Opening like a piano ballad with a beautiful melody, the pace suddenly accelerates, the instruments start a brutal fury illustrating the battle between the two entities. Cosmic and jazzy ambiances then interlace until the rhythm slow downs for the ballad reprise and a quite terrifying finale. What a journey!

The record concludes with THE VdGG epic, the band's "Supper's Ready" before it even exists: the satiric "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers". The story narrates the helplessness of a lighthouse keeper to save the stranded bodies on the coast. Its spacey powerful overture mutates into a mysterious sonic chaos, letting the listener lost through the immensity of the sea. Unpredictable, this suite features numerous changes, slow and fast sections. Sublime, dark, touching, depressive, demented are one of the few adjectives that could describe this unbelievable piece. Beware: combined with Peter Hammill's possessed voice, you'll find yourself at the gates of despair and delirium. The finale is just not of this world...

Although lesser-known compared to the other progressive milestone records, "Pawn Hearts" shines like a lighthouse inside the night of the obscure side of prog. A creative and pioneering album, that may have influenced the representative bands of the genre in 1971. The songs offers a wide range of different atmospheres as well as delightful melodies to cry for. No weak passages, every section stands at its right place.

Demanding, intimidating but not the least accessible from the band, "Pawn Hearts" is undoubtedly VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR's best album, with "Godbluff". An essential and major opus, resembling no other. If you don't know Hammill and co., you'll discover a new universe of truly progressive 'non-rock' music. You may not fully appreciate it at first listen, but its treasures will reveal themselves over time...

This fourth effort will gain a surprising success in Italy. One year later, Peter Hammill will embrace a solo career and other members will go their way. Fans of this unconventional prog will have to wait three years until the band reunites...

Modrigue | 5/5 |


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