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Progarchives, the progressive rock ultimate discography
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

Cesar Inca
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Having had a consistent, very active career (currently resumed in one of the most important rock comebacks or the last years), it shouldn't be surprising that VdGG's discography should contain more than just one sole masterpiece. Regarding their fourth studio effort "Pawn Hearts", I think it's the most accomplished epitome of what this band is all about. Building on the increasingly dramatic combination of relentless avant- garde, existentialist drama and ultra-intense ambiences that had been progressively developed in their first three albums, "Pawn Hearts" undoubtedly benefits from the augmentation of sonic strength, the inclusion of mellotron, synth and more bizarre sound devices for Jackson's saxes, and last but not least, the amazing complexity of the compositions and demanding nature of its corresponding arrangements - the musical ambitions are higher than ever before, and the quartet's cohesion allows it to achieve robust performances melted in a sonic unit. And given the fact that the melodic lines, rhythm patterns and solos are so recurrently delirious and/or demented, well, that's too big a merit! Sure they later created some other posterior masterpieces during phase 2 (1975-78) that deserve the same level of recognition than this one, but definitely, "Pawn Hearts" is the master opus that comprises the largest amount of overt intensity and the greatest dose of splendour. Much has been written about all three tracks of this album's repertoire - both in and out of ProgArchives -, so I'll be as concise as I can in order to keep myself from falling into common places. The album kicks off with the powerful 'Lemmings': the initial storming wind keyboard effect announces the display of frontal energy that is to take place for the following 11 minutes. This stuff properly matches the lyrical content (social turmoil and political violence). Later on, Hammill's final call to conscience meets a perfect landscape in the inscrutable, eerie improv that ends the track - great start! And things get so much better with the next number. 'Man-Erg' deals with the duality good-evil both lyrically and instrumentally: this song's structure portrays two contrasting facets right up to the climatic closure, in which both facets intertwine for a few seconds until the evil facet makes the final musical statement. The sidelong suite 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' is easily the most famous track of this album: clearly it was designed to make quite an impression on the listener's mind and shake their spirit. This tortured tale of self-imposed seclusion and self-inflicted pain, leading to the ultimate quest for redemption, finds a properly dramatic development all through each and every section. The sections range from languid, dark atmospheres ('Eyewitness I' & 'II', 'Presence of the Night') to psychedelic- driven anger ('Kosmos Tours'), momentary serenity ('Custard's Last Stand') to cheerful dementia ('The Clot Thickens'), and finally, flamboyant joy ('Land's End'/'We Go Now'). I have the USA vinyl edition, so I'm familiar with the 4 track version of this album. That 4th track is 'Theme One', a George Martin-penned instrumental radio jingle that conveys a high-spirited vibe. This cover delivered by VdGG retains that optimistic vibe: located between tracks 1 and 2 in the vinyl's side 1, it manages to release for a while the "merciless" emotional tension that fills the album as a whole. Just like the band per se, this album is not for everyone, but I hear all those VdGG connoisseurs who regard it as an absolute masterpiece of prog history - I totally agree. (I also totally apologize for not being as concise as I promised I would be).

Addendum: The 2005 remastered release adds 5 extra pieces to the original 3-track repertoire. 1) An original mix of 'Theme One', with a grand piano instead of the ARP synthesizer that appeared in a single A-side and the US vinyl. 2) The first version of the mid-tempo ballad 'W', a bit rougher than the single B-side. 3) 'Angle of Incidents', a bizarre free jazz instrumental featuring demented sax and drumming, plus te hsounds of breaking and scattering glass. 4) 'Ponker's Theme', a delicate, catchy old-fashioned jazz number below the 1'30 duration. 5) Finally, an eerie Gothic-oriented organ solo titled 'Diminutions', in which Banton uses a minimalistic approach that brings him closer to the spacier stuff by Eno and keyboard centered krautrock - disturbing and mystical at one time. The three last bonus tracks complete the era of intellectually driven craziness that filled the days of VdGG during the 71-72 era.

Cesar Inca | 5/5 |


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