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


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

3.44 | 449 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars The second of the modern albums as a three piece, and one that deals with the relatively easy (!) subject of numbers and mathematics, Van Der Graaf return seemingly in fine fettle.

Certainly, the opener, Your Time Starts Now, is almost commercial, or at least as near to that damning word that the band have ever come to. As with the second track, Mathematics, there is an accessibility that one never really associated with the band, and the three members play extremely tightly backing Hamill on fine form. Especially enjoyable here, as throughout the work, is Hugh Banton's organ work.

However, as ever, it is in the lyrical department that the band will be judged on this album. Hamill is about the only person on this still intact world who could make something as specialised, and, indeed, loathed by generations of schoolboys, as the subject of an entire album's worth of material.

What I will say, however, about this work, is that they miss David Jackson's madcap eclecticism on tracks such as Highly Strung. Sure, it's strong, and the type of music that we all used to enjoy spending ages "getting into", as opposed to the openers, but there is, in my opinion, something missing. Pardon the cliche, but it is almost as if this is eclectic by numbers, rather than the lunatic element that the four piece band used to set them apart from many imitators. Having said that, even here, the chorus is toe tapping stuff. Strange days indeed.

Red Baron, the first instrumental of the album, is a short exercise in dark landscaping that, again, I feel, would have benefited from the more left field approach Jackson would have brought. It is, by the way, very reminiscent of the type of instrumentals Gabriel was experimenting with in the early 1980's.

Bunsho is impressive, and the type of track that would have been quite at home on earlier albums, or much of Hamill's classic solo works. Extremely dark musically and lyrically, the listener is never quite at home or comfortable with this one. In other words, classic Van Der Graaf.

Snake Oil is in the vein of the opening tracks, enjoyable but strangely and instantly accessible at first, but after a few listens becomes rather pedestrian. Again, by numbers rather than fierce and far reaching as I like the band.

Splink is another short instrumental, which finds the band experimenting, with Banton's keyboards especially completely out of synch with all else, set against an almost country & western backdrop. It has filler written all over it, really.

Embarrassing Kid is, I am afraid, well, embarrassing. More upbeat than much else on the album, it nevertheless plods along to a simple guitar riff and is almost a dead ringer for a Blur track, (honestly!)

Medusa is quietly dark, with a quaint keyboard plinking over the main riff. Hamill also, probably unintentionally, sums up much of the album when he sings "what you see is what you get from me", something the band could never really be accused of in the past. Indeed, that was much of their charm.

Mr Sands is almost a return to form, featuring Banton at his best on keys, and Guy Evans at his jazziest on drums. Almost a paeon to earlier works, and certainly deliberately written and performed with a 70's feel in mind, it is good. Now, just where is that sax to round things off?

Smoke, if I hadn't checked the CD inlay, I would swear featured a certain Mr Bowie on guest lyrics, and is a mercifully short piece of repetitive nonsense.

5533 is a lyrically treatise on the beauty and applied form of mathematics, with Hamill lecturing us against a slightly offbeat backdrop. Fun, without ever really threatening greatness.

The album closes with All Over The Place, which starts off as if it wouldn't be out of place on any Blackmore's Night or Renaissance album, such is the medieval feel of the harpsichord used. A more minimalist approach is used as the track kicks in, and it is certainly one of the highlights of this album, at least ending on a strong note both vocally and in the dark feel of the music.

I have listened to this band for many years. Some of their work, Pawn Hearts, Godbluff, and The Quiet Zone especially, rank amongst the finest albums I have in my collection. I am also not one to have a dig at a band simply for attempting to do things differently or in a more modern context, as a glance at any of my reviews of later "classic" band releases will testify.

However, I can only really rate this as a good album at best, and it is certainly absolutely non essential. Much of it feels very formulaic and, in parts, extremely tired. When they are good, the band are still a match for almost anyone, but, the first CD of The Present aside, nothing I have heard from the later albums makes me want to come screaming back for more. I also like it less and less the more I listen to it.

Three stars. There have been, and will be, far better releases in 2011.

lazland | 3/5 |


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