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


Peter Hammill


Eclectic Prog

4.31 | 765 ratings

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3 stars Like much of Van Der Graaf Generator, Peter hammill's third solo outing THE SILENT CORNER & THE EMPTY STAGE can make for some disturbing (if not outright painful) listening, yet this 1974 work is not without its substantial rewards. Hammill's wild vocals and soul-lashing lyrics are very much an acquired taste -- as fellow reviewer James Lee wittily suggests, playing this dark and strange stuff in the presence of the "uninitiated" may well test the limits of tolerance and/or friendship.

If, however, you're already a fan of pyrotechnic prince of darkness Herr Hammill, you should find much to "enjoy" in this musical version of the medieval hair shirt. (Feels good when you take it off.) As with my initial exposure to VDGG, I was at first almost repulsed by this disc, but found that, over time, and much like a sunbather's neglected melanoma, it began to grow upon me, and sink its hooks into my substance. I can't really maintain that TSC&TES represents "an excellent addition to ANY prog rock collection," but I can say that it is "good, but non-essential," and thus award it a solid three stars. (That being said, I do urge VDGG and Hammill fans to get this one -- I don't think you'll be at all disappointed!

For my tastes, noteworthy tracks include the multi-faceted "Modern," which forcefully establishes the near-suffocating atmosphere right away, the "quieter" piano-driven "The Lie" (an extended response to a religious sculpture, with the memorable opening line "Genuflection -- erection in church"), and the very Van der Graaf-esque "Forsaken Gardens," which finds band mate David Jackson contributing his signature flute and sax sounds to the mix.

"Red Shift" is another winner: it starts slowly, but steadily builds to a powerful piece that is quite reminiscent of the harder moments of King Crimson's LIZARD, especially via the "Frippoid" guitar of Randy California (of Spirit), and the militaristic snare.

My overall favourite though (perhaps predictably, as it could easily have been lifted from a VDGG album) is the longest and closing track: "A Louse is Not a Home," with its theme of (surprise!) isolation and incipient madness, alternately strangled, spitting and quietly intimate vocals, Jackson sax and eerie keyboards, strongly deserves a place in the collections of all Van der Graff/Hammill adherents. This one is not to be missed -- check out the MP3 here!

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Hammill's tender address to his little pink Willy. His (then) baby daughter's name serves as the title for "Wilhelmina," though I don't know just how soothed the tot might have been by papa Hammill's crib side crooning of lines like "life's hard now -- you know it gets harder -- and hope, it is but a single strand. We pass it on, and hope you'll understand." Despite the unflinching, non sugar-coated lyrics, this softer song is actually rather nice. (Though perhaps not destined for inclusion on an "All Time Best Lullabies" compilation any time soon....)

THE SILENT CORNER & THE EMPTY STAGE is thus a good (verging upon great) Hammill album, and one that followers of his solo career, and/or Van der Graaf Generator, will want to check out. (Four stars for them, three for all other prog listeners.) Give it a go.

Peter | 3/5 |


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