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Van Der Graaf Generator - World Record CD (album) cover

WORLD RECORD

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

3.80 | 500 ratings

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TGM: Orb
Prog Reviewer
3 stars World Record, Van Der Graaf Generator

World Record is where a lot of casual VDGG fans seem to get off, and while it certainly isn't as masterful as the previous four albums, and contains noticeably weak moments without all the psychological satisfaction of working out why sounds, lines and choices had been included, it's not at all bad. Despite a couple of feeble moments in the middles of A Place To Survive and Masks, the lyrics are still excellent, the masterful Banton-Evans team is still on top form, and the band hasn't let up on the experimental, exploratory side of their music. An excellent progressive rock album, but not quite a masterpiece.

The jazzy noodlings of a Jaxon flute and a thumping Evans beat introduce When She Comes, a quirky, vicious and highly musical creature, including some very 'bright' and disjointed organ, a smoky Jaxon riff and a bit of rhythmic insanity. The big feature of this one isn't the neat set of lyrics referencing various intellectual figures, but the absolutely riveting harmonies pulled off by Hammill, whether the clever hook of the opening 'slow' or the ferocious, exuberant, block vocals of 'easy targets, easy crosswords, easy life!' The music is fairly cleverly composed, determined to surprise the listener every time they think they know exactly what will happen, and Evans in particular holds down a unique-to-this-album drum sound. Excellent opener, and really quite cleverly done.

A Place To Survive is a rarity. A VDGG song which doesn't have first rate vocals. Regardless, it comes off fairly well because of the gritty organ, occasionally supplemented by a weird sort of bend thing and the sheer tension that the band is able to contain when all focusing on doing that. Hammill's vocals are clearly on the crazed side here, but really, they only occasionally blow away (perhaps if they were mixed a bit more stridently?). A bit of unfortunately aimless jamming hamstrings the middle of the song, and much as the band, especially Jaxon and Hammill, pulls off a lot of cool sounds and some rather interesting organ licks towards the end, the rest of the song has mixed impact. I have mixed feelings on the lyrics too, some rather neat touches, but a few of the word choices are frankly baffling. One of those songs that gets slightly better towards the end (yes, bass pedal solos for everyone + Schizoid Man warbling), wouldn't be hurt by a mix that placed less ubiquitous emphasis on the organ, and a noticeable weak point in the album.

Masks is probably the most songish piece here, with a very distinct riff within which Jaxon gets to throw his various ethereal saxophone stylings, and Banton and Hammill create some absolutely insane block sounds to enforce the basic content of the song. However, here the music, though excellent, is second to Hammill's vocal, a daring, rapidly sung creature, with all sorts of, often hilarious, flourishes. The lyrics, too, are top notch. Jaxon, for once in this album, lays down some of his scraily sax, and the band both manages to create real tension and expectation as well as put down some chaotic everyone-is-doing-something moments. A marked return to form, even if a couple of the tempo changes come across as obligatory and a bit too abrupt.

So far, by and large not at the standard VDGG had been at for the four preceding albums, but the 'epic' (it's a personal song, and containing a lot of jamming, so it doesn't really count) Meurglys III (The Songwriter's Guild) redeems it almost single-handedly, with a searching Hammill lyric, superb lines (Where I trade cigarettes in return for songs/The deal's made harder the longer I go on!) and a continued musical interest throughout, whether from dark, 'typically VDGG' sections with manic piano, fuzzy guitar and upside-down Banton organ or careful crescendos following a lonely vocal, with accentuating sax. Everyone seems particularly stricken by the reggae section, but it doesn't really 'feel' like one, in that it remains dark and unresolved and fits in perfectly with the rest of the song (goes on too long? Pfeh, it's about a search! It's got to go on too long!). Here, Hammill's guitar is particularly marked, with self-destructive, played-into-the-ground lines, over the absolutely fantastic Banton organ-beat and alongside Jaxon's colourful flourishes. As always, Evans has a unique sound and feel, and fits into the reggae vibe very effectively. An absolute masterpiece of a song, and proof that Van Der Graaf Generator really didn't stop at Still Life. Essential for any fan of Hammill.

Wondering is where the melody really comes back after the warbling guitar rounding off Meurglys III. The song is positive, gradually rises with a swelling, immaculately tasteful Banton organ part and a dreamy Hammill vocal complimented by celestial saxophone runs. The irrationality becomes a part of the reason, a part of the meaning, a part of the joy. It truly is amazing once you get it, albeit emotionally indescribable, a sort of sad elation, reminiscent of Kerouak's 'beat' idea.

Apologies for the rather scattered and not particularly amazing review here, but it's awkward to do. The oddities here are provided by textures and effects as much as by the actual ideas of the songs, and I simply don't have the musical knowledge to express what I'm thinking Banton's doing every time he (in particularly) does something interesting with his organ part. Credit to the bonus tracks, both worthy inclusions, and, in some ways, better than the originals. Anyway, four stars, comfortably, but it lacks the total absorbtion which other VDGG albums achieved.

Rating: Four stars, 11/15 Favourite Track: Meurglys III (The Songwriter's Guild)

Edit: With rating enharshenigung going on, I thought that probably my least favourite of what I consider the classic phase of Van Der Graaf Generator's offerings would be a worthwhile ceremonial sheep. It's still a great album, I really love large bits of it and overall it really moves me, but, unlike its predecessors and successors, there are noteworthy moments I don't particularly like. Given I'm a serious fan, anyway, I thought maybe a three would be more appropriate.

TGM: Orb | 3/5 |

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