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

STILL LIFE

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

4.28 | 1004 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Why do I do this to myself? I know I don't care for VDGG, and yet I keep trying. Part of it is because I value (to a certain extent) the opinions of fellow progressive rock fans, many of whom think VDGG is the cat's meow. Part of it is that Peter Hammill is so appealingly over-the-top that I enjoy listening, in the same way I love listening to THE LEGENDARY STARDUST COWBOY and BAD BOY BUTCH BATSON. But even I have to concede that there's much more to VDGG than a novelty thrill, and out of pure respect for the fans and musicians involved, I'll keep the review as objective as possible.

Having said that, I'm happy to say that "Still Life" is one of the better VDGG albums with which I've tormented myself. There's a real sense that the band has progressed from the "Pawn Hearts" days, while losing nothing of their unique sound and musicianship. While refusing to compromise with a more mainstream sound, the songs on "Still Life" are relatively accessible- there are few mixed-meter passages and the melodic component is largely conventional rather than experimental (not a bad move for a band that focuses on emotion rather than virtuosity). The atmosphere is typically moody, with plenty of minor-key keyboard-led slow-burners that erupt sporadically into aggressive bursts of raspy organ and Hammill's patented ragged throaty declaiming. Everything reaches a cathartic culmination at the end of "Childlike Faith" which puts a nice closure to the album as a whole.

Banton and Hammill provide a solid and competent keyboard foundation for the vocals (there's very little guitar here), leaving solo duties to Jackson for the most part. The saxophone adds color and a bit of soulfulness- especially in the understated opening to "My Room" (but, in other places on the album, contributes to the recurring temptation to compare VDGG to the "Rocky Horror" soundtrack). Hammill seems more comfortable with his voice, crooning softly over the majority of the album and belting out the louder sections with more control and expressiveness than ever before. Evans' drumming is better on this album than I've ever heard him- tight and masterful, and quite well-recorded, providing much of the energy and structure for these otherwise soft-and-dark tracks.

If you've been waiting for me to get nasty, keep waiting. "Still Life" is mostly a pleasant experience (pleasant isn't exactly the right word, but I can't find a word to describe "mellow angst" and I've already over-used the word "moody"). It's not too different in texture and approach than PINK FLOYD's "Dark Side of the Moon"; both albums create a seductive current, a relaxed but emotion-drenched flow to the final organ-filled crescendo. VDGG has less variety and experimentation (both compared to "Dark Side" as well as to their earlier works), and as a result the songs are rather similar, but it's not a wearying similarity; if you like the sound, you won't mind hearing it re-interpreted from song to song. The most complimentary thing I can say is that "Still Life" came closer to satisfying me than anything VDGG has done.

James Lee | 3/5 |

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