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


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 1971 ratings

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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This 1971 recording was VDGG's fourth album, and by the time Hammill, Banton, Jackson and Evans headed into the studio to make it, they were well into their stride. It seems almost tragic then that they would make another astounding album and break up (although in the grand scheme of things, there was plenty more fine music to come from the quartet).

Despite a much simpler title than the two albums that preceeded it, Pawn Hearts was in some ways a more difficult album. Nonetheless its three songs Lemmings (including Cog), Man-Erg and the 10 part, 23 minute long A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers are all rightly regarded as indispensible VDGG tunes. Lemmings is a devil and a half to get into, with a massive mid-section that constantly struggles for rhythm and tonality, before the whole piece vanishes gradually into the mists. It's a fearsome tune that sums up VDGG's dark side, which really isn't for everyone.

Man-Erg on the other hand is one of the those heart-breaking Hammill exorcisms. The sweeping majesty of VDGG's organ- drenched symphonic moments are pretty tough to match for their intensity and Man-Erg is one of those awesome moments, perhaps doubly so, because it also contains some extraordinarily fiery hard-rocking passages (in some time signature I can't begin to fathom). Certainly when David Jackson's dreamy sax comes to attempt to take the piece into oblivion, one almost heaves a sigh of relief. However nothing can save Man-Erg itself and the song concludes with some awesome fireworks.

As for the mind-blowing A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers, it's a monumental work, to be sure. Eyewitness (which crops up twice during the song) and S.H.M.are blessed with some of VDGG's best ever melodies and delectable organ lines from Banton, and although improvised ghostly sections such as Pictures Lighthouse take some getting used to, they eventually become an insperable part of this ultimate VDGG epic. And I don't even want to talk about the power of Hammill racing through his words in Presence Of The Night, which can be quite a chilling experience. The hymnal Custard's Last Stand and the kitchsy faux-polka of The Clot Thickens almost lose me, but the eerie sweeps of Land's End (Sineline) usually draws me back and as We Go Now concludes with a strange, superb erratic solo, I find myself gasping.

Despite its many brilliant moments, Pawn Hearts is still a rather difficult album for me to have to sit through, and I suspect that's why I rate it (marginally) lower than its predecessor H To He and on par with Godbluff, the album VDGG would cut following the 1975 reunion. ... 83% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 4/5 |


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