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


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 1961 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars The alleged genius of VDGG has always eluded me, to the point where I'm almost starting to think there's something wrong with me for not 'getting it'. The music on "Pawn Hearts" is amateurish and seldom interesting, existing almost exclusively to highlight the vocals. Hammill is an acquired taste- even his biggest fans grant that much. The lyrics could have been written for a creative writing assignment by a pretentious, depressed teenager- don't believe me? How about "The maelstrom of my memory is a vampire and it feeds on me/ now, staggering madly, over the brink I fall." Does he really take himself so seriously? I guess when someone pours their heart out so artlessly there's always the risk that they will get laughed at, but even the unintended humor is short-lived. "Stonehenge" by SPINAL TAP gives me bigger laughs, and the music is of similar quality.

I'll say this much: there's more range on this album than there was on "He is to He"; "Lemmings" reminds me nicely of parts of "Ummagumma" near the end and "A Plague (of Lighthouse Keepers)" has an interesting tone poem in the middle, featuring effect saxophones and some subtle ambient organ, and some notable guitars at the climax. "Man-Erg" starts with a promising low-key vocal over nice piano, but soon enters "Rocky Horror" territory- and worse. The everpresent twittering saxophone adds some texture, but sounds almost as if it was added later- rarely does it sound as if the music would be any different without it.

Seventeen years ago I listened to "Pawn Hearts" with no preconceived notions and disliked it. I've listened to it from time to time since then as my tastes and attitudes have developed, and still disliked it. I've even tried listening to it while high, and giggled when I suppose I should have been awed. This is not innovative, or avant-garde, or demanding music; this is uninspired, indulgent, pretentious and mainly useful for examples to students of what not to do when making music (or poetry). So many people have lauded the band, and this album, that you may indeed like it, despite anything I say- but I'll continue to suspect that the band's cult status is the main thing generating interest.

James Lee | 2/5 |


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