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Van Der Graaf Generator - H To He, Who Am The Only One CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.32 | 1695 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars How to characterise this strange band? Well, if Gentle Giant are the eclectic group who take Yes's bright harmonies and crazy complexity even further, then Van der Graaf Generator are the eclectic group who take Genesis's thick, chordal sound and dark, philosophical lyrics even further. This is evidenced by the common correlation that people who significantly prefer Yes to Genesis, also prefer Gentle Giant to Van der Graaf Generator, and I am one of those people.

This album is not bad, but even it's best song did not blow me away (being the fairly straightforward 'Killer'). What I can say in favour of Van der Graaf is that they are ambitious and unafraid to take chances. The thing is, these chances are always the same: the band plays a riff or a chord sequence for a while, gets bored of it, and proceeds to play five other unrelated riffs or chord sequences, sometimes returning to an earlier one, and thinking that the end result is a "song". Okay, in fairness, this only applies to side two of this record, because the songs on the first side have a structure. 'Killer' is catchy, and explores little musical ground but makes up for it with killer organ and sax solos (pun definitely intended). 'House With No Door' is a melancholy ballad of sorts. It's nothing special, but I commend it for being the only song on the album where there isn't a relentless Hammond organ continuously grinding the same few chords into your ears. 'The Emporer In His War Room' is where things start to go downhill, with the pieces now being far too long for what they have to offer, and with no varying instrumentation at all. It is saved, by a decent guitar solo from Robert Fripp, from falling into the same meandering depths of side two.

'Lost' is a very appropriate title for a structureless sequence of themes. Even when a couple of the riffs are quite good (which they are), I just can't get the same enjoyment from them when they have no context, no purpose. And this is barely differentiable from 'Pioneers Over C', which is in much the same vein. A few moody organ chords, some minimalistic sax riffs, a bit of dissonance here and there. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but nothing that stands out from the endless sound collage either.

And the whole thing has Peter Hamill's love-it-or-hate-it poetry splattered over the top.

The lead singer takes a boring, 'submerged' album and makes it spacey and lofty with his singing, or acting, I should say. His dark poetry that seems to blend "space philosophy" with geeky, scientific topics, resulting in some of the most cringe-worthy lyrics I have ever come across. If you're fond of eccentric men theatrically screaming their thoughts on existence, death, time, space and antimatter, then you're in luck. Myself, I would struggle to tell it apart from a list of Progressive Rock clichés compiled by Rolling Stone magazine, who probably haven't even heard this band.

I was disappointed by this band. Although side one of this album is fairly listenable, and worth listening to more often, the other half doesn't benefit from a hundred listens. And the whole record is burdened by omnipresent squealing and grinding from the organ and sax, with the aforementioned poetry on top. "Samey" is not a good adjective to be describing a progressive rock band with, but that's what it is. I can stretch to three stars on this, mainly for Killer, but the overwhelmingly positive response to this album is a bit shocking to these ears.

thehallway | 3/5 |


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