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Peter Hammill - The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage CD (album) cover

THE SILENT CORNER AND THE EMPTY STAGE

Peter Hammill

 

Eclectic Prog

4.36 | 527 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Review 55, The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage, Peter Hammill, 1974

StarStarStarStarStar

The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage was my first venture into Peter Hammill's solo career, and every bit as stunning as I could have expected. Given that it features my favourite lyricist and vocalist, as well as the assorted members of Van Der Graaf Generator, it couldn't have really flopped for me, but I was not expecting so diverse, powerful and interesting a range of material. Consistently superb, with highlights beyond all expectation and lowlights virtually non-existent.

Modern kicks off the album with an odd ascending acoustic before Hammill's vocal enters, clear but extremely dark. The second verse features a much starker and more aggressive delivery to match the increased intensity of the lyrics. The piece features roaring sax, whirling electric guitar with an eclectic edge and a very driven, near-mechanical bass. A desolate mid-section features softer organ, and hollower twists on the acoustics. Throughout the two vocal sections and intermediate instrumental section, the piece is horrifically dark, highly eclectic and powerful. Hammill's vocals are, as usual, entirely stunning, with matching lyrical city-characterisations fitting the delivery brilliantly. Certainly one of the best.

Wilhelmina is a contrast to Modern's intensity, with a basic piano-vocal entrance gradually being supplemented by bass and later acoustics and something that sounds like a harpsichord. The mellotron makes an appearance when appropriate. All the performances are excellent, piano, vocals, acoustics, and the end piece is a very personal and touching song.

The Lie is similar in its feel to the opener, though achieving the darkness and intensity in a very different way. The piece is basically sharp piano, incredibly powerful vocals, and a whirling synthesiser thing. Later on in the song, church-like organ makes its appearance. The final two lines are perfectly handled, moving from optimism to rejection. Brilliant, and lyrically enigmatic and potent.

Forsaken Gardens is the first didactic piece in the album with a related theme to Childlike Faith In Childhood's End. A capella opens the song, and piano and bass again feature prominently. Guy Evans' percussion and David Jaxon's flute are added skilfully to this mix, along with sax and a more harmonised vocal. A very convincing argument for community and more open lives is presented by emotional vocals with the support of incredible musical material, managing to be persuasive as well as thoroughly rock-based. A very impressive combination, and worth more words than I've given to it.

Red Shift moves back to sheer experimentalism, again featuring Guy Evans with a very odd bass-disregarding drumming part. Very thick bass and guitar feature, as well as a wonderfully unrelated/disassociated guitar solo. The vocals move between very strong and prominent to equally strong, but fading and disappearing. The incoherence and alienation is conveyed well musically and quite naively, but without feeling unconnected and without alienating the listener. Wonderful, even if it took a fair few listens to 'get'.

Rubycon features a clean vocal, with resonant quality, and is very lyrically dominated with its interesting and intelligent evocation of choice. Oddball acoustic guitar and bass are most of the instrumental content, though slippery sax does turn up on occasion. I did only get it after focusing on the lyrical content more actively.

A Louse Is Not A Home is simply one of the best pieces of music ever, certainly in my top ten. It is very much a Van Der Graaf Generator-styled piece, with splintering sax, cascading rock drumming and subtle organ featuring alongside the dark, potent piano. High-tempo powerful rock meets softer breaks, haunting and tense slow parts, vocal parts fast enough to make it difficult to sing along and varied enough to equal A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers. All of these extremely varied features are merged into one entirely coherent whole. Lyrically stunning, both in terms of its personal connection (and its mildly didactic nature), clever recurring themes that become clear with a little examination, delivery and stylistic originality. Stunning throughout, and an essential piece for anyone.

The live version of The Lie included on the remaster follows this after a sufficient break and is different enough from the studio version to merit inclusion. An extended piano introduction opens it with stunning energy and haunting resonance. The vocal begins softly, and only later moves onto hideous force similar to the studio version. The piano is slightly more edgy and abrupt than the studio version. All these differences pay off brilliantly, and suggest that I am highly deficient in Hammill and VDGG live material. The sound quality isn't brilliant, but that doesn't really bother me.

The other two live versions (BBC sessions) feature David Jaxon. Rubycon features wonderful flute additions, as well as some significant twists on the acoustics. It holds up surprisingly well without the bass, and the vocal performance is equally sublime. Red Shift is very different in arrangement, though it is essentially the same song, with acoustics taking over the role of the bass, harmonised vocals appearing, and the sax taking over flawlessly from the lead guitar. The vocals are stunning, and the acoustics are done with energy and verve. A surprisingly strong and loyal live adaptation for such a complex piece by (as I understand it) only two performers. The sound quality on these two is perfectly good. Overall, the bonus material adds to the album and my enjoyment of it, fitting in neatly at the end without imposing itself on the listener.

Given my glowing review, I can in good conscience consider it a masterpiece. Essential for anyone who enjoys Van Der Graaf Generator or high-quality lyrical content. Anyone who doesn't fall into those two groups should still find something of interest.

Rating: Five Stars

Favourite Track: A Louse Is Not A Home

TGM: Orb | 5/5 |

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