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Van Der Graaf Generator - Still Life CD (album) cover

STILL LIFE

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

4.28 | 988 ratings

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Gatot
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars No doubt! This is a TRUE MASTERPIECE album! [IMHO. Sorry, . there is no room for me to compromise on this ..]

This band was well known by name if only because they headlined the Charisma Records package tour at the dawn of the 70's. One of their supporting bands was a young English outfit going by the name of Genesis. Never fitting any traditional box, VdGG forged their own path, with the wailing organ of Hugh Banton and Peter Hammill's hallmark voice - described as having a multi-registered miracle - being the most distinctive features. [2]. It was often said that VdGG music a kind of putting more emphasize on organ as the main instrument to form their music textures - replacing what was famous at the time: keyboard / moog synthesizer and guitars. Woodwind instruments, especially sax, were also used to strengthen the role of organ and sound variety. Practically, most people thought that VdGG was the band that pushed their music with the non existence of guitar in most of their compositions. Of course there were some songs with guitars, but they were not a lot of that kind.

The band's lineup changed through the formative years, even featuring Robert Fripp (King Crimson) as a guest guitarist on two of of their classic albums: "H To He Who Am I The Only One" (1970) and "Pawn Hearts" (1971). After the latter they took a break from the music business before appearing again in 1975 with the organ- driven "Godbluff".

Personally, this band has colored my life since childhood altogether with all seventies' heroes. As many people mentioned that "Pawn Hearts" is the masterpiece, I would opt to say that "Still Life" is their finest album followed by "World Record" and then "Pawn Hearts". It's probably a difference in musical tastes. But I have a compelling reason of putting Still Life as their finest. First, there is no such track out of overall five that is considered as mediocre track; all of them are excellent. Second, this album was written with a solid concept - a melodically-based songwriting - and tight composition. This is not something to do with "I like it" or "I do not like it" ball game, I'm talking about overall songwriting, composition, structure and delivery (performance). And, this album fulfills all those dimensions very well with practically no flaw at all. As I understand from my prog mates, most people found hard to get the melody line of VdGG music. But I consistently told them: "Be patient, open your mind - free your mind with any preconceptions or expectations - sit down and relax until you got the line, then the rest it will stay in your mind forever!". Then I gave them this album and ask to jump start enjoying the third track "La Rossa" where it has a solid melody.

Let's talk about this album in great details, if you want. Otherwise, just buy this album as this is a masterpiece!

"Pilgrims" begins with a nice organ sound which by in it is already a melodic and atmospheric opening, I think. This opening organ touch is really killing. The tonal voice of Peter Hammill enters beautifully with "Sometimes you feel so far away .". A fantastic opening part already. Peter has been well known for his ability to shift between angelic whispering, sultry baritone crooning and violently impassioned screaming as unnerving as it is exciting to witness. He does excellently in this opening track. The contribution of Hugh Banton on organs augmented with David Jackson's sax have enriched the textures of this song. Excellent!

"Still Life" starts off differently. Hammill starts his angelic whispering with "Citadel reverberates to a thousand voices, now dumb: what have we become? What have we chosen to be?". It's dark nuance opening and it provides a very good atmosphere setting of the song. Hugh Banton puts his thin-layered organs at the back, accompanying Hammill's singing. One-third of the song overall duration is set with this style until Guy Evans enters his drumming work. The music and the singing flows into higher register notes where Peter Hammil's singing turns screaming in some peak segments. The most interesting part is the thin-layered organ sounds (augmented with sax) that have textured the song brilliantly. The music turns to quieter passage with a piano and voice line until it ends beautifully. Brilliant composition!

Ahem . I cannot wait until this my all-time favorite track since I heard this album for the first time in 1977. Yeah, "La Rossa" is a great song with easy to digest (at least for me personally) composition. In here, I think the Peter Hammill's voice is somewhat theatrical and is a pivotal element of the song. Observe this lyrical part: "Lacking sleep and food and vision, here I am again, encamped upon your floor, ..". It demonstrates Hammil's top caliber singer as the way he sings this opening part is like mumbling but with a very strong accentuation and excellent melody. The strong accent is very obvious when he says "floor" at the end of this first lyrical part. It then continues with next lyric "craving sanctuary and nourishment, encouragement and sanctity and more.". Again, you may observe when he sass "more"; it projects a very strong accent that he repeats as he previously says "floor". Very cool. The music gradually enters in its full swing led by drum work during this lyrical part: "The streets seemed very crowded, I put on my bravest guise - I know you know that I am acting, I can see it in your eyes". It flows beautifully to higher notes with excellent singing style accompanied with wailing organ sounds and drum beats. The melody is so uplifting. The composition of this song demonstrates the band's ability to mix high and low points brilliantly. Sax fills its part nicely in between transitions or sometimes during Peter's singing. Despite all, what makes this song brilliant is that it shifts the melody-line unnoticeable as at the end part the tagline melody is completely different with the first half of the song. Well, I can talk a lot about this song as this is - for me - is a very beautiful song. But I have to stop it and put one overall comment on this song: a true masterpiece!

"My Room (Waiting for Wonderland)" is a mellow track and it starts with a baritone voice of Peter accompanied with sax at the back and some augmentation of piano sounds. I can sense the jazz influence of this song especially during the first part of the song. David Jackson is given a chance to do his sax solo in the middle of the track until Peter Hammil'ls low register voice enters the music. The tagline melody does not change much over the full stream of this song. Only at the end the piano and sax are given more roles in avant-garde jazz style to conclude the song.

The concluding track "Childlike Faith in Childhood's End" starts with a dark nuance through a combination of Peter Hammill's voice and organ at the back; playing the same notes. At approx minute 2:01 the music turns into a faster tempo with Peter Hammil's singing takes the lead to lift up the tone. Saxophone provides some rhythmic sounds to enrich the role of organ. Some sax solo is also performed at approx minute 4 of the song until Peter Hammil's voice returns theatrically. It turns to a quieter passage with solid accentuation and the music turns fully symphonic. I can hear a lot of emotions involved enjoying this track. At approx min 7:30 the music shifts into a more avant- garde style with some sort of complex arrangements but still maintaining the baseline melody so when it returns back, it happens smoothly.

It's a highly recommended album as this is a true masterpiece with a progressive approach. Still Life is a good album to start for the beginners and those who start to explore progressive rock. You won't regret at all to own this brilliant record. BTW, the band will do a long awaited REUNION CONCERT this year. Visit their website for details! Keep on progging!

Yours progressively,

GW - Indonesia

References:

1. The band's website - it's a simple design site with a lot of links available here.

2.PROGRESSION magazine Issue 35 - Spring / Summer 2000 "Interview with Peter Hammill by Tony Emmerson and Steve Baylin.

Gatot | 5/5 |

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