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Van Der Graaf Generator - Still Life CD (album) cover

STILL LIFE

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

4.28 | 988 ratings

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KingCrimson250
3 stars It's a good thing I held off on rating this album, because after the first couple of listens I would have undoubtedly given it only a single star. As it stands, this remains perhaps the most difficult album in my collection to review, simply by merit of it's striking uniqueness within the prog spectrum.

Perhaps the most important thing that the listener needs to understand going into this album is that it is a vocally-dominated affair. Please note that there is no value judgment attached to this statement - whether it is a positive or negative aspect of the album will surely vary from listener to listener and from mood to mood. I can say that if it is an instrumental venture that you crave, this album will sorely disappoint. This was my first VDGG album after Pawn Hearts, and after being ensorcelled by the complex layers of chaos laid down on that cut, I was craving more of the same here. It ought to be no surprise, then, that the much more straightforward and understated music of Still Life left me a bit cold on the first few listens. Make no mistake, there are certainly moments of brilliance to be found in the music here, however these are few and far between and even when they do occur are usually playing second fiddle to Hammill (with the notable exception of the saxophone solo on My Room (Waiting for Wonderland).

However, if you are craving an album with stunning vocals, or even if you're willing to be open-minded, then there's a lot to like about this record. Peter Hammill delivers masterpiece after masterpiece - his typical electrifying vocals powerfully dominating the recordings as he passionate sings, screams, croons and whispers his way through vocal melodies that can vary from catchy and anthemic (Pilgrims) to full of despair and mourning (Still Life) to soft and reflective (My Room). The lyrics are, as always, top notch and are guaranteed to provoke thoughts and questions from the listener as Hammill deals with various topics: from the broad, sweeping examination of existence on Childlike Faith, to the exploration of the value of death on Still Life, to the deeply personal material found on My Room. The only clunker of the bunch would be La Rossa - while a captivating song vocally, the topic of what seems to be a stereotypical "nice guy" trying to have sex with a girl who sees him as "just a friend" seems rather out of place amongst the heavy, highly existential lyrics that define much of the rest of the album.

All in all, this album falls in at around 3.5 stars - somewhere between good and excellent. Peter Hammill is at the top of his game and delivers a stunning and powerful performance, but the fact that the rest of the band ends up getting strapped in the back seat limits the album's mileage considerably.

Highlights:

Peter Hammill's emotional vocals on Still Life; David Jackson's haunting sax work on My Room (Waiting for Wonderland)

KingCrimson250 | 3/5 |

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