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

PAWN HEARTS

Van Der Graaf Generator

 

Eclectic Prog

4.42 | 1468 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Neo-Romantic
5 stars Pawn Hearts... It took me a while to muster the effort to review this album. I first listened to it almost a year ago, and it was my introduction to what is now my all-time favorite band by an unmistakably wide margin. I bought it on a whim, having vaguely heard of VDGG on a few music-related sites (before I discovered PA) and wanting to hear something totally new and different from the more well-known 70s prog groups I was already familiar with. I got exactly what I wanted with this album.

This was probably the first album I ever heard that left me thinking, "I can tell this is awesome, but I'm not entirely sure why and probably need more time to digest it." This album rewards commitment in a way no other album ever can. Dark, oppressive, even cacophonous at times, it is a stout listen, but if its bombast doesn't scare you off, you will be treated to some of the most emotive and poetic songs in existence. Sure some say Peter Hammill's delivery is harsh and difficult to appreciate, but don't let his detractors dissuade you if you're still unfamiliar. This music begs for his hyper-emotive delivery, and nobody else could possibly make it come alive in the way he does. As one who actually does like his vocal style, I realize some may not share my view, but as stated before, this is a conclusion each listener must come to on their own. Even if he may not be your favorite vocalist, I believe in the context of these songs and their atmosphere, his singing can still be appreciated, especially as it fits so well with the poetic words he crafted.

The lyrics themselves are thought-provoking and insightful, and the music itself compliments their heavy messages perfectly. Each song's words resonate with me on a very strong level, giving the album a high degree of personal emotional significance. Lemmings adopts a viewpoint of one looking out over a mass of people lost and directionless, spinning a tale of caution to blindly following the crowd and suggesting the importance of those who stand apart encouraging the flock to find their own sense of identity and purpose in life. Man-Erg addresses the duality between good and evil, its razor- thin boundary, and the potential to become lost or overcome by our own internal power upon becoming aware of it if not responsible. Finally, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is an epic about alienation and identity crisis told from the perspective of a lonely lighthouse keeper. His feelings of internal anguish and misdirection stem from his isolation and the thought that while he may shine a light to guide and protect the ships he sees in the night, there is in fact nobody to guide him, no light for him to follow, and nobody to alleviate the burden of responsibility to those ships in the night who would become lost or destroyed if not for his guidance. He becomes consumed by his burdens, loneliness, and internal discontentment, causing him extreme instability and forces him to the brink of life and death as he contemplates suicide as a means of gaining a release from his existence, in which he cannot presently see the good he does by guiding those ships. His tale ends inconclusively, leaving the listener to decide whether or not he ends his life. The open- ended nature of the narrative's ending gives us a sense that while his challenges are great, his fate is not predetermined. We can all take a message of hopefulness from this, as we all face challenges in our own lives, and even though a way out might be tempting, the realization that we don't need to determine our self-worth or contentment by our current situation. A happier tomorrow follows the turbulence of the hard night as long as we do not succumb to the crushing depression we may feel when we face our internal instability and melancholy head-on. Regardless of who you are, where you've been, or what your calling in life may be, there's a powerful message here for many if you're able to appreciate the song's dark atmosphere, forceful delivery, and scathing emotional fervor. Anyone who has ever been in a position of responsibility over the fate and well-being of others at the expense of their own contentment, felt alienated by their duties, or became unhinged by the external and internal pressures of life will find a kinship to this man's tale. Although dense and bleak, it carries a strong emotional message that will surely reach anyone who can relate to this story.

As if the lyrics weren't enough of a true artistic conquest, the music itself is wildly inventive and highly unique. The level of performance is nothing short of masterful. They truly abandoned all inhibitions to embrace passages of controlled dissonance and intentional cacophony unlike any of their previous or subsequent releases. But in spite of the oppressive textures, dense instrumentation, and complex forms, melodies, and rhythms, it somehow all fits together with a sense of unity and focus. The only difference between innovation and novice excess is how well you justify your ideas, and the band does so wonderfully. Every bombastic passage is perfectly prepared and exited, demonstrating a sense of purpose and balance that truly makes each moment shine without seeming like it was included in error or as a result of some drug-induced lapse in judgment. As wild and seemingly mad as each idea may be, they all declare their intent clearly and unapologetically, and that to me is what makes this album truly remarkable. Why be ashamed of your quirks when you can show them off and use them to set you apart? Not everyone will appreciate them, but those that do will find your sense of pride and abandonment from the harsh opinions of the masses will find you a true inspiration. In a way, this album encapsulates everything progressive rock represents, and can even serve as an anthem for fans of the genre as a whole.

This album is truly one of the best, most significant collection of songs in my collection and only becomes more enjoyable and meaningful with each new listen. I strongly recommend this to anyone willing to broaden their horizons musically and experience an emotional journey both intense and cathartic. To paint a beautiful picture, you have to use some dark colors, and this album is sure to add a sense of depth with its brooding palette. If you find it off-putting on first listen, give it a few more chances. As dense as it is, there's no way to absorb its full effect with one spin alone. Upon giving it the attention it deserves, you will feel moved and cleansed in a truly unique way. It will exercise every intense emotion in your arsenal, possibly ones you haven't used or wanted to embrace in quite some time, but you won't regret the experience. This album very richly deserves a place of reverence in the history of progressive music, and for that I award it 5 stars. It truly is a perfect album, one that sits in my top 5 of all time, and will always hold a place of special emotional significance in my heart. If not for Godbluff, it would be my favorite VDGG album. But even so, it sits so far above the entire discographies of so many other groups in my book by a very wide margin.

Neo-Romantic | 5/5 |

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