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Peter Hammill - Nadir's Big Chance CD (album) cover


Peter Hammill


Eclectic Prog

3.77 | 291 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Review , Nadir's Big Chance, Peter Hammill, 1974

Just before the big reunion of Van Der Graaf Generator for the amazing Godbluff, Peter Hammill gathered up and recorded this selection of essentially pop/punk songs in so distinctive a fashion that it seems to have caught on quite well with his more eclectically-minded fan base. Naturally, the playing from Banton, Evans and Jaxon is fantastic, and Hammill's vocals are simply incredible. The lyrics are, of course, thoughtful and well-written even when the general effort appears to be to put out a simple album. Every song is memorable, moving at times, and some are extremely effective. Perhaps the best chunk of the album is the balladic material in the middle (Been Alone So Long, Shingle Song and Airport), though Open Your Eyes and the title track are equally impressive in their own way. All in all, not a must for any progressive music fan, but a solid addition for anyone who loves Hammill's voice and lyrics or is secretly quite fond of progressive pop. Sure, it's not a breakthrough or forty minutes of near-perfection, like a couple of Hammill's albums, but certainly not a bad way to spend however much a CD costs in your part of the world.

Nadir's Big Chance is a rather bizarre break with anything Van Der Graaf Generatory, bursting through with an insistent rhythm, somewhat aggressive and growling vocals from Hammill, complementing the general guitar-playing, chair-smashing lyrical feel. Evans provides a good beat, Jaxon scrails away in a whirl of soloistic flair that initially had me uncertain of whether it was a guitar or not (hey, I'm still not entirely certain at times). The bass is a constant rhythmic pull, and adds a couple of extremely neat higher-level flourishes. The lyrics, though a tad buried by the general loud aggression of the piece, are great fun, and fit the piece perfectly (gonna scream, gonna shout, gonna play my guitar/Until your body's rigid and you see stars).

A Guy Evans militaristic drum-roll segue leads us onto the quirky The Institute Of Mental Health, Burning, which features more excellent playing, particularly on the menacing bass and/or piano notes. An acoustic sort of tags along with the vocals, initially, while Hammill's vanishing-into-mid-air electric tones trade ideas with Jaxon's stonking sax. A complex piece, with a lot of cool melodies crammed in as well as unusual melodic effects, but also quite catchy in its own way ('Can't call the fire brigade, none of them have been paid'). This track is the essential one for the serious Van Der Graaf Generator fan, being a bit more in their vein than the other stuff on here.

Open Your Eyes is another punkier number, with some general banter opening it together with a couple of fairly basic layers of organ from Hugh Banton. A spattering of good humour comes off nicely, conveyed by a trademark Peter-Hammill-Sounds-Nothing-Like-Peter-Hammill vocal. The lyrics fit well, though song's whimsical nature sort of necessitates them not dominating the song too much. Banton's stabbing organ throughout the piece is a force of considerable rock, as is the electric shunted in under a splintering Jaxon take and an array of percussive sounds. Potent, great fun.

Nobody's Business continues the general loudness of the album, with a dense bass-led rhythm providing a background for the distorted range of vocals, some general sax patterns and an occasional percussion flourish. The lyrics are good, the general rhythm hits, but the real standout feature is Hammill's voice of general force and fun.

Been Alone So Long is a truly amazing love song, with sorrowful, sustained acoustics, touching sax and a vocal which is truly amazing for how unassertive and uncertain it sounds. The Chris Judge-Smith lyrics are essentially perfect. I really do have nothing to say about this, other than that it is probably my favourite 'ballad' ever. I don't understand why, yet, but it is.

A segue takes us onto Pompeii, another of the album's 'quirky' pieces, with an odd percussion rhythm underneath the whole piece, and a couple of saxophone and guitar melodies providing flavour. Every now and then, a bass note does something mildly significant. The almost-grandiose vocals, though excellent, are again only slightly reminiscent of Hammill, and the restrictions of the rhyme scheme do come across a bit more than I'd perhaps like; the lyrics are also good, though not as memorable as many of Hammill's more personal choice. Still a good piece, overall.

Shingle Song is the second 'ballad' of the album, with a movingly honest vocal and a surprisingly sharp acoustic taking the lead. The effective Evans-Banton rhythm section continues to contribute very strongly even in a very soft song, which is, in my view, the real mark of a versatile rhythm section. The piano is extremely moving and pretty. Subtle and . A lamenting Jaxon solo takes the limelight, flowing right into the soul-tearing vocal

'Look at the sky, but it's empty now Look at the sea, it holds nothing but despair I raise my eyes, but my head stays bowed Look to my side, but you're not there'

An incredibly moving and touching song. Not to be missed.

Airport is probably the most unusual of the album's love songs, complete with unpredictably-located harmonies, little melodic catches from the guitar and sax, as well as a fast-paced, hard-guitar-and-stabby-sax jabs at one point. It's sort of a shame that, as Hammill notes, the very blunt tape-runs-out ending doesn't pay off at all. The lyrics are, again, very moving. Highly commendable overall, even if that ending is the album's most obvious weakness.

People You Were Going To and Birthday Special are, in my opinion, the two weakest songs on the album, and the combination of the two brings it down a bit for me. Nonetheless, the hammering piano and the classy Hammill vocals on People is a pretty killer combination, and with the organ and solid percussion additions as well, it's musically quite strong. The only problem is that the lyrics are a touch weaker than I'm used to from Hammill, and so, like White Hammer, it gets a bit more flak from me than it musically deserves.

Birthday Special is another song which is musically great fun, but slightly weaker on the lyrics. The guitar, bass and drums all hammer home their point in an insistent way. The vocals are quite amusing, but wear off after a while, and while the essential message is entertaining enough, and you can see what Hammill's trying to do, it doesn't always quite work. Not bad, just a touch less powerful than the rest of the album.

Two Or Three Spectres is an, in context, fairly odd unsegued piece, driven by the lump of amusing, sarcy and biting lyrics. We can see a couple of subtle electric guitar and piano effects from Godbluff in use, and Jaxon is on absolutely top form in this song, providing lush licks and jarring wails alternately. Dense, thick with effects, full of jabs at the industry and ending with an extremely memorable blocky vocal section ('ten thousand peace signs, but they look different from the back'.

There are albums which I enjoy much less than this which got four stars from me. I don't consider this absolutely essential in the way that The Silent Corner is, but it's still very good if you get it, most definitely progressive at times, full of artistic merit, and solid on the lyrics. Essential for fans of Hammilldegraafgenerator, a good choice for anyone else. Probably the best album I'll give three stars to.

Rating: Three Stars Favourite Track: Lots of good picks, but Been Alone So Long takes it. Honourable mention to NBC itself.

TGM: Orb | 3/5 |


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