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Van Der Graaf Generator - Vital CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

3.82 | 279 ratings

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4 stars "Vital" is indeed a strange beast within the Van der Graaf Generator canon. Very much a love it/hate it effort, it marked the end of the band in their classic 1970s period. But, what everyone seems to agree about is that this double vinyl live record presents the band in their most aggressive, brutal and extreme offering.

Long time ago I had an oppportunity to borrow this LP and listen to it a few times but was not much impressed. I even thought at times that it was absolutely horrible sound-wise, except for wonderful "Mirror Images", which was far superior as performed here than in the studio version on Peter Hammill's "Ph7" solo album, not least due to fantastic Nick Potter's bass playing. Perhaps it was the murky production, bad mixing or whatever, but the sound was pretty irritating. And although I had already been acquainted with many punk rock classics, this VdG version of it did not make much sense to me.

Fast forward to the digital millenial era when VdGG not only re-formed in their classic line-up, but when their back catalogue saw digital remastering courtesy of Virgin Records, who had acquired the rights to old Charisma label. This 2005 double-disc release of "Vital" sounds far more superior and cleaner than the original 1978 vinyl record, thanks to Peter Hammil and the band who supervised digital remastering of the old tapes produced by drummer Guy Evans. Unfortunately, sax wizard Dave Jackson (who was briefly back to the foil following his departure in early 1977) is still barely audible on several tracks, but as he explains in the liner notes, this was due to technical problem during original live recording process when Jackson's entire audio track was deleted, so Evans tried to pick up the traces of saxophone from other available tracks. Nonetheless, the sound is amazingly heavy, with Potter's fuzzy bass up front in the mix (which I like), often at the expense of other players (which is not very good). Besides him, Hammill shouts and screams and slashes electric guitar with his imperfect playing in a way "MC5 meets Sex Pistols", while violin virtuoso Graham Smith often provides lead melodic lines instead of absent keyboards and buried saxes, particularly in older songs. Newcomer Charles Dickie's cello provides some nice backing to several tracks but his credited keyboards are very hard to detect.

Actually, when considered in a broader respect of Peter Hammill's entire career, "Vital" now seems much more consistent with his experiment-minded spirit and his urge to make "pop music" in rather unconventional ways. At the time when this album was recorded (January 1978) many other prog rock bands (with which VdGG were often lumped together rather supeficially) became caricatures of themselves, either losing ideas entirely or going pop-mainstream-arena. Hammill and VdG embraced punk and new wave instead, using these trends to facilitate their own expressions and ideas and to offer them to new and diverse audiences. In a way, Hammill was even considered an early progenitor of British punk with his "Nadir's Big Chance" solo LP of 1975, and according to some sources he even coined the term "punk rock", at least in UK, two years before rock journalists adopted it during the 1977 Pistols craze. In the early 1980s Hammill formed the K-Group with VdG rhythm section Evans/Potter and John Ellis, ex-guitarist of the British punk rock band the Vibrators, whose 1977 album "Pure Mania" should have been considered one of the classics of the genre. This excellent line-up backed Hammill on his several solo LPs and live gigs providing an uptempo post-punk new wave sound. Shortly before that in the early 1980, Hammill appeared as a guest (along with Robert Fripp!) on the Stranglers concert dedicated to their imprisoned vocalist Hugh Cornwell, singing "Tank" from their acclaimed (and probably most downright punkish) "Black and White" album. Taking all this into account, "Vital" seems more natural product of the late 1970s when genres and styles blended and influenced each other back and forth.

Now, back to the CD. Practically all songs, apart from some older material, are killer versions of their studio counterparts (either VdG or Hammill solo albums). Medley of "Lighthouse Keepers/Sleepwalkers" and "Urban/Killer" does not work well, but "Pioneers Over C" instead is excellent even if prolonged to 17 minutes. Roughly half of the album ("Ship of Fools", "Mirror Images", "Sci-Finance", "Door", "Urban" and "Nadir's Big Chance") consists of tracks that are premiered on a VdGG album, so for this reason only every VdGG collector should own it. And since these are performed in a "most extreme" way, "Vital" is also an album that every punk rocker should have in his/her prog collection!

Seyo | 4/5 |


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