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Van Der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts CD (album) cover

PAWN HEARTS

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

4.43 | 1484 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

SonicDeath10
4 stars Wow what a controversial album. Maybe not as well known as the controversy surrounding Tales from Topographic Ocean but still quite tumultuous. Some people say this album is a masterpiece, the defining statement by VDGG and an album they never topped. Some, including George Starostin and even the prog friend John McFerrin say it's Faulknerian (sound and fury, signifying nothing). Does the truth lie in the middle?

Probably. This was the first album I heard by VDGG and it really defined what they sounded like to me. I didn't hear another album for awhile after this one. It is a really terrifying and frightening album to contemplate if you aren't predisposed towards Hammill's mania. After listening to H to the He I thought I GOT VDGG, so I came back to it. Then, I would have given it a three stars and been fine. Having heard everything and grown to love most of it, I can give it a firm four stars.

How does one even begin with this album? All sense of pop or pop song craft goes out the window. Hammill has never been one to dabble in really strong, classic pop formats but here it almost feels like complete musical anarchy. Instruments float in and out of the music, riffs coalesce briefly, disappear, Hammill screams complex gibberish, the drums pound, the saxes honk, organs drown and suddenly all is quiet as the piano plays a brief dirge, the saxophone is processed, the organ choppy, the drums roll, Hammill screams some more...it all floats in and out of the consciousness, nearly like a dream.

I am overstating for effect. There is obvious forms to these songs but they are really stretched out and really difficult to memorize. Man Erg actually has a pretty simple form: the first piano led part builds and builds to the wild saxophone section and comes back to pretty piano. However, melodies, riffs, lyrics, arrangements and sound effects change rapidly throughout the album. If you hate pop, this is the album for you. It's incredible that this album came out the same year as Nursery Cryme or Meddle. While I think Nursery Cryme is better than this, it's certainly many leagues less musically complex than this album, for better or worse.

The lyrics are essentially meaningless but that is okay. It is probably the most uncompromising prog album by progs most uncompromising band. Of course it's a tad terrifying!

This is a really confused and confusing review, which befits a confused and confusing album. Naturally, the atmosphere on this album is incredible: it beats down on the listener and sucks them into a very schizophrenic and claustrophobic world view. I have the remastered version with the bonus tracks but I can't listen to them. They're good but once I've been trapped in Pawn Hearts, drowning with the "ONE MORE HAGGARD DROWN MAN" I feel I have to escape. Essentially, this is an album that dares you to like it and comes to no middle ground. You must make the effort to be entranced as it certainly isn't going to try to convince you to like it.

And even though it's definitely mostly gigantic nonsense and completely anarchistic, it is an incredibly daring album, especially given the time. It is definitely the definitive album for VDGG in the sense that they never went this far out, epic or uncompromised again. It gets four stars because it's not something everybody could love which is important for a masterpiece: it must be complex, innovative but also enjoyable by a large amount of people.

SonicDeath10 | 4/5 |

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