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


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 1962 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
5 stars 'Pawn Hearts' - Van Der Graaf Generator (10/10)

The last album that Van Der Graaf Generator would release before breaking up (for their first time), 'Pawn Hearts' represents the artistic peak of everything that this band had done up to this point. Although they had certainly released some great music in the three albums before this, 'Pawn Hearts' not only dwarfs previous achievements, but also stands both as being one of the greatest prog albums of all time, and one of my personal favourites.

This is an album set up in the same three-song format that Yes' opus 'Close To The Edge' would achieve critical immortality with. Van Der Graaf Generator may be prog rock, but they take a different tone to their music than many of the contemporary bands that were taking rock music to new heights. Most notably, Van Der Graaf Generator has a much darker atmosphere, brought on in no small part due to Peter Hamill's disturbing lyrical content. In any case, we are presented with three songs- err, epics- that are distinctly Van Der Graaf material. 'Lemmings' opens the album on a subtle note, with acoustics chiming in, but its not long before this piece of music evolves into something a bit more diabolical. There is little guitar in the music, with the instrumentation being driven by the keen keyboard playing of Hugh Banton, and jazz-infused percussion of Guy Evans. The true highlight to the music though is Hamill's voice itself. As is best shown on the album's highlight 'Man-Er-G', Hamill's delivery can be both aggressive, and graceful within the context of one song. The piece starts off with pleasant pianos and organs, and Hamill's pronounced British enunciation leading things on into a bombastic 'chorus' of sorts that screams all things epic. Then out of nowhere, Van Der Graaf Generator's jazz leanings kick in and contrast the melancholy with something chaotic and proggy.

Maybe the track that this album is best known for is the twenty minute long 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers', an epic that is seen to be on par with other greats like 'Supper's Ready', or '2112'. Van Der Graaf's chief contribution to the epic catalog certainly amounts to them on a musical level, although it has a more scattered sensibility to it. Instead of sounding like a traditional epic, 'Plague' is a chaotic, almost rhapsodic piece that cycles through a number of different interesting ideas and places on its journey, ending up somewhere very different than from it started. Much like the first two tracks, Van Der Graaf Generator ranges from lightly theatrical passages to craziness that sounds quite a bit more 'out there' than something you might here from Yes or Genesis. Some of the transitions between ideas feels rough, but taken as a whole, the musical quality of the ideas and performance warrants nothing less than an essential rating in my books. 'Pawn Hearts' is absolute gold, and I wonder if prog rock will ever see an album that manages to be so adventurous, yet so emotionally splendid at the same time.

Conor Fynes | 5/5 |


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