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


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 1953 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Prog Reviewer
5 stars I was originally wary about giving this 5 stars, but decided to go ahead with it on closer listens. Although a bit unorthodox, it certainly is great for what it is. The dark, moody organ and the strange, occaisionally dissonant saxophone combine with virtuosic drumming and freaky, insane vocals to create the perfect dark symphonic prog. Yes, guitar and bass are present, but they tend to take a back seat more often than in other music. Actually, although this is classifed as "symphonic progressive rock," it sounds almost opposite to GENESIS music (another symphonic band), because while GENESIS takes on a brighter complex keyboard and HACKETT-like guitar sound, VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR is dark and at times mad, crazy, and just plain vulgar. In other words, the sort of stuff I've been looking for.

The first track, "Lemmings," begins with a misty guitar and equally pondering vocals, quickly building up to introduce the sax and organ. The lyrics concern the problems of groupthink and society, comparing them to a herd of lemmings running blindly off a cliff. The dark music matches it perfectly. HAMMILL's vocals are prone to constantly lilt and never stay in one place, odd and at times strange but still fitting and never bad. The lyrics are so serious that at times certain people may find them funny, but I never thought they were... Anyway, after the music stays consistent for awhile, everything fades. Then a silent sound builds, and crashes into the "Cog" portion of the song. Here, the organ is offbeat and the saxophone moves in a repetitive but catchy pattern. HAMMILL's vocals occaisionally halt everything to ponder for a verse, then the music fires up again. After a short bit of this angry dissonance, the music builds back up into the former pattern as it re-enters the "Lemmings" portion. The lyrics are changed, however, to a much more hopeful tone urging man to live on for their "children's children's little ones" in the hope that they'll save them at least from society's woes. Then the music enters a long, step-down outro.

Second is "Man-Erg," which, in deep contrast to the first track, reflects inner conflict and problems with individuality. The lyrics first relate to the good and bad sides of a man, comparing them to "killers" and "angels." Again, HAMMILL's lyrics are a bit awkward but somehow seem to fit. The music begins with a piano as the first two verses are sung, then silences and fires up into a frantic, confusing, angry, and very odd-beat 11/8 saxophone and organ midsection. The guitar occaisionally drops in, but is sucked into the fray every time. After everything calms down, more lyrics follow along with some nice instrumentation, which ends by reprising the frantic midsection. Weird, but very cool.

Finally we reach "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers," the antithesis to GENESIS' "Supper's Ready." Opening with "Eyewitness," a lonely lighthouse keeper recounts how he has become alone and remorseful for something horrible that has happened which he could have prevented. "Pictures/Lighthouse" is an instrumental section which depicts this tradgedy, with a deep saxophone echoing the sound of a foghorn and crashing into the rocks. Apparently the lighthouse keeper forgot to turn on the light, and now everyone on board has died. The organ slowly builds back up into a reprise of "Eyewitness," in which the narrator conveys his fragile position as he stands stunned by what has happened. Then the music kicks into the first of three climaxes, "S.H.M." (which could stand for either "Ship Head Mast" or "Safety and Health Manager", both of which apply to this story). This section is jazzier, but far from the more frantic later climaxes. The lyrics seem to illustrate the horrid ghastly figures which haunt the narrator in his dreams because of the accident. After a guitar fade-off, the music enters "Presence of the Night," a much quieter and eerie section. The narrator now sits alone to stew in his guilt and remorse, dead to the world and consumed by fear.

The music suddenly stops as the narrator asks "would you cry if I died?" and "Kosmos Tours" begins. After more questions and confusion, the music kicks in the second climax. The music spins out entirely, and all sense of meter seems to be lost momentarily. Soon it dies down into "(Custer's) Last Stand," which is a sort of false outcome. It is very mild, almost as if the song has ended and everything is okay...but the lyrics still indicate the narrator's search for reason and forgiveness. As the organ builds at the end, you feel very unsure about the direction, and suddenly BANG! "The Clot Thickens" slams into you and the third climax opens. This section is crazy, as well as creepy, and most of it is in 10/8 time. Definitely the high point of the album. Here, the lyrics begin to move away from the theme of this song and into the theme of the other two songs on the album: direct references as well as allusions to them appear. Then the music is cut off instantly by a piano chord for the soothing and hopeful ending, "Land's End." The lyrics tie up all the loose ends of the album, and complete its concept of apartness and a part of-ness. Finally, it closes with the "We Go Now" instrumental. Robert FRIPP, I believe, plays guitar here as the music fades into the sound of sparks and blowing fuses. Fitting.

Not for the faint of heart, but for those who are interested enough or who have an open mind, it's great. As classic as anything GENESIS did, and very unique and masterful as well.

penguindf12 | 5/5 |


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