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Van Der Graaf Generator - Godbluff CD (album) cover

GODBLUFF

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

4.50 | 1316 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Review 34, Godbluff, Van Der Graaf Generator, 1975

StarStarStarStarStar

A few things to note about Godbluff:

1. It's a comeback album, and it's as good, if not possibly better than most of the material released before the band's break-up. A renewed sense of purpose, particularly in Banton's bass pedals and Hammill's rather unique, if rhythm-based, guitar ensures that the new VDGG are just as vital, experimental and interesting as the old, and they certainly haven't become stagnant by '75... even up to '77/78 they were releasing, with a couple of line-up changes, solid material. 2. It rocks as hard as any guitar band I know. Absolute fact. 3. For a VDGG album, it's pretty accessible. aheh. 4. It was my introduction to my favourite band ever. I can't be expected to be impartial, but I still think, if you want an introduction to one of the most idiosyncratic, dark and forceful progressive rock bands, this is a bloody fantastic buy.

The Undercover Man begins with something you didn't hear on Pawn Hearts... restraint. The energy-sapping, nervous bursts of flute lead, supplemented by minimalistic drums and organ, onto Hammill's low-key, careful and precisely arranged vocal, echoing out a set of haunting, insistent lyrics, with a very unusual arrangement/rhyme structure. With the vocal, Hammill, as ever, manages to pull off some very interesting emphasis, placing contrast and urgency and angst wherever it suits. At the line 'and hope that it all works out right/tonight' the instrumentation fills out with an Evans fill and a careful flourish from Banton, and from that extraordinary opening, the piece develops rapidly, but never carelessly, with some very pretty flutework from Jaxon, glittering organ parts and lush bass and piano choices. Hammill's rather excellent clean voice gets a full opportunity to shine in this part of the song. A menacing clavinet (I think) riff leads into a full bit of careful instrumental jamming, with some incredibly guitaresque licks from Jaxon and the ever-subtle Banton's talents brimming in the background. Carnivalian organ and sax, together with the world's weirdest harmony vocals, bring the song onto its intentionally dramatic climax, complete with a grandiose and bizarrely moving rhythm section. It's almost a parody in some ways, but even the parody is moving. A lush sax solo from Jaxon and more precise organ-work rounds the piece off to its incredible conclusion. Magnificent.

Scorched Earth segues straight on from this with a formidable rock edge, blaring sax-and-clavinet (or possibly guitar... with Hammill, you can't always tell), rolling, destroying, martial drumming from Evans, who manages to remain stunningly non-static in this piece. He somehow manages to avoid often repeating much of his drumming part or keeping any really conventional style of a beat, but rather taking quirky drum lines and unfulfilled beats all over the place, particularly in the more 'rock' sections. As always, the sax and organ is phenomenally tasteful and extremely powerful, with Jaxon taking the occasional solo and Banton's not-quite-classical stylings blaring away in the background. Hammill, as ever, is fantastic. He does menace, he does not-sounding-like-anyone-else, he does a sort of vicious, distorted, growling cleanness (contradiction, but there you have it), he does whimsical sound effects, and all without ever cutting off interest. Banton pulls off the most thick and vicious riff he's come up with since White Hammer, and the band goes onto some very bizarre crescendoes. The lyrics are again, unusual, but effective in their own violent way. An absolute standout performance from Hammill and Evans in particular. The least gripping piece on the album, but still excellent. The really quite interesting calmed-down-then-brought-back-to-the-boil conclusion, complete with a bit of rather nifty, though not showy, guitar.

Arrow was the song that grabbed me first time round. A squeaky, swirling jam opens it, with a wandering Banton bass part, some very sharp tinny drumming from Evans and a whirling guitar, drops into a phenomenal rolling, grinding whorl of textures, which then drops off to a desolate strummed guitar and splintering percussion. Menacing, howling sax and the repeated stress of bass-and-drum crescendoes build the atmospheric, Victorian tension up to the entrance of Hammill's ferocious vocal. Extensive vocal-sax-keyboard-melodies slowly create a ferocious, biting, teeth-grinding force as Hammill's vocals and lyrics grow increasingly dark and terrifying up 'til the feral release of his final, desperate and possessive scream. Simply incredible from an atmospheric point of view, and from a musical one, the Jaxon sax soloing has to be heard. Particularly striking lyrics here.

Sleepwalkers is plausibly the most representative track on the album, and maybe the most accessible, although the atmosphere of Arrow outdoes the considerable musicality of the grand finale (Sleepwalkers) for me. Available as a sample here, I think, at the time of writing (listen to it a few times, I suggest... not many people get VDGG right away... I certainly didn't). Possibly the organ performance of rock in general, with some amazingly classical touches, an atmospheric swirling that only Banton in the British prog scene really achieves and a fluid but very, very sharply defined tone which Emerson and Wakeman should envy. His soloing over a sax riff is clear, defined and heavily rocking. Dramatic, and again excellent, vocals from Hammill fill out the music, with a matching set of wordy and yet extremely sharp lyrics. Evans takes on more idiosyncratic drumming, at times simply not adding a continued beat, at others, adding a throbbing pulse to the piece or a classical pomp to Hammill's feverish declarations ('make reason of the sensory whorl/if I only had time'). Great performances by all involved here, and a real masterpiece, including a bit of hilarious 'cha-cha-cha' rhythm which leads into a very dark version of the same. Jaxon contributes some rather unique sax, including a triumphant, liberating blare that could well be the band's most memorable moment. The band also manages to fit a 'jam' into the middle of the song effortlessly, not separating it at all from the content... basically, this is THE organ song, in my opinion, and a fantastic closer.

Revisited:

Original rubbish review replaced by the above slightly better one. One of my most listened to albums. Not one you should expect to appreciate fully on the first listen. I didn't. No idea where it falls in running order of the VDGG classics... below H To He, Who Am The Only One and above The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome. A nod to the bonus tracks: both band performances of tracks from Hammill's solo album 'The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage' (worth picking up, by the way), and both exceptional songs. The sound quality is very raw, but the performances are full of verve and effect... an interesting inclusion. Depending on how you balance verve and sound quality, you will or won't like them. Anyway, great introduction to the band, great album, and a pretty much certain five stars from me.

Rating: Five Stars, 14/15 Favourite Track: I'd select Arrow or Sleepwalkers if pressed, but I love them all.

TGM: Orb | 4/5 |

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