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Van Der Graaf Generator - A Grounding In Numbers CD (album) cover

A GROUNDING IN NUMBERS

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

3.44 | 459 ratings

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Seyo
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars If "Trisector" suffered from uncertainty of how to adjust the trio line-up to writing new studio material, its successor seems to overcome this problem. "A Grounding In Numbers" presents an almost perfect sounding trio band, which does not carry the burden of the past. Absence of Jackson's reeds is no longer felt and the band seems to have found the way to fill all the remaining soft spots in their sound. In no small part this must be credited to the producer Hugh Padgham who, while mixing different sections as contributed by each band member in an extensive period of recording, came up with a modern sound of 21st century that still preserves a good old VdGG identity from their past glories.

Science was always one of favourite topics of Hammill's song writing, and this time it extends from the cover artwork, the album title and up to the songs "Mathematics" and "5533". There is a popular expression in my region - when one wants to praise talents of a singer it is often claimed that he or she could sing "a phonebook lyrics" and that would sound beautiful. Well, Hammill can sing mathematical equations that sound not only beautiful but also confident and meaningful in the context of a rock song. Be it a song about the Euler's Number, which coincidentally is often referred to as a "mathematical poem", or his musings about matrix pattern found in the number 5533223, Hammill employs his voice to full potentials, so "you'd better believe" what he sings. On the other side of his lyrical spectrum, the very power of belief concentrated in a circle of a master/teacher and his devotees/adherents, which can apply to any system of doctrines in human society, is scathed in "Snake Oil" ("the companionship of the herd"), one of the album's highlights.

Another interesting feature of this album is that most of the songs are much shorter than what would you expect from VdGG, running from 2 to 5 minutes. This shows the band capable of condensing their arrangements and content into almost pop song structure, yet still retaining their trademark quality. Mid-tempo opener "Your Time Starts Now", heavy guitar-led New Wave-ish sounding "Highly Strung", irresistibly catchy "Mr. Sands", or funky "Smoke" recalling David Bowie's late 1970s dance beat experiments could easily be appreciated by general audience. With the exception of the longest track, 6-minute boredom of the closing "All Over the Place", the album is full of diverse sounds, topics and surprises, while several brief instrumentals, out of which a dark and percussion-heavy "Red Baron" is the best, provide a necessary break. And all of this diversity somehow sounds coherent, well devised and brilliantly performed and recorded. Finally, another highlight that must be mentioned is "Bunsho", where Hammill questions his ability as the author to anticipate the public reception of his art, while music-wise it is one of the best tracks VdGG made after the 2005 reunion.

Although not every single track on this album works 100 per cent (I could easily skip "Splink", "Medusa" and "All Over the Place"), the album as a whole deserves appreciation as the best studio effort of the post-reunification VdGG to date. "I can't see my stream" - complains Hammill in "Bunsho", but we as his audience are sure that we can see it, all the way through, even if that sounds like a "slavish devotion" to the master. :-)

Seyo | 5/5 |

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