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


Van Der Graaf Generator

Eclectic Prog

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5 stars Possibly the ultimate prog / art rock album. Very dark, but extremely intelligent, lyrics. The studio recording quality of this album makes it hard to believe that it hails from 1971. Superb musicianship throughout makes this album an essential listen for any serious prog fan. (Warning - this album was the main reason my wife left me!)
Report this review (#7851)
Posted Sunday, January 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars It's albums like this that finally weened me off Spider-man comics and soccer star trading cards. The gatefold cover alone puts it in my top three of all time and the lyrical content is a truly religious experience. I only hope that new listeners can hear why we are all giving it five stars. No matter how innovative contempary prog bands are, I don't see another "Pawn Hearts" on the horizon.
Report this review (#7834)
Posted Saturday, January 10, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This a marvellous album though I personally prefer Still Life. The way hamill sings is just unbelievable: sometimes he sounds passionate and furious and then he changes his tone into a mellow, smooth one that makes you feel on the top of the world. One of the 15 best prog rock albims of all time, no question about it!
Report this review (#7836)
Posted Tuesday, January 13, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars With the astounding Pawn Heart, VDGG has reached its peak artistically, although financially they were broke. Only three tracks made up this fourth album of theirs, but awesome, each and every one of them, they were. Again a Paul Whitehead-designed artwork, with a very controversial inner gatefold. With this album, they reach to the comparison of Thick As A Brick, Selling England, Angel's Egg, Lark's Tongue (or Lizard), Grey and Pink, Dark Side or Close To The Edge. A real reference! This is the album where Peter Hammill reaches maturity mixing meaningful lyrics with superb melodies for his astounding vocal range and his weird voice. I must say that once again the remastering job did miracles but on this album, Hammill's vocals seem to have profited most from the job.

Lemmings is one of my fave VDGG track and with its 11 min+, it has every chance to please any proghead not allergic to that peculiar voice. Man-Erg is another superb classic and reaches a maximum in conciseness also making reference to the two previous albums by evoking Killers and Refugees. A real tour de force, but was those evocations of previous tracks not prophetic? A bit like Fripp closing off a Crimson chapter by bringing back previous members for the grande finale of Starless on Red.

From the first notes of piano of the last track of the vinyl and the first goose bumps after hearing Jackson evoking the fog horn of the lighthouse with his sax ( again evoking another earlier song? Darkness, in this case), a real fan can only be awed at the grandiose voyage that lay ahead for us ? for the Hero of the story, however no trip, voyage or even promenade except on the top ledge of his building. I always shiver in delight at the beginning of the haunting melody of the second verse of Eyewitness: "I prophecy disaster, then I count the cost ?. I shine but shining, dying, I know that I am lost." - What perfection. Many more motions lay ahead , notably Banton and Jackson's impressive rendition of what a lighthouse keeper can feel among which solitude and boredom must the cake. Only Klaatu will make an even more eerie Lighthouse Keeper theme in their second album: Hope

In case someone has problem getting into this great track, I can only suggest them to find the Belgian TV special where they do this track almost un-rehearsed (they had not expected that request), with Hammill having to find a lyrics sheet from the album to remind himself of the words/ it is right there on his piano. Grandiose!!!!

The first bonus track is a rather quirky BBC theme and dos stick out of the album, but not like a sore thumb. Then comes W, much more in tune with the dark forebodings of the other tracks, but still not bringing that much added value to the album. The last three bonus tracks are little more than bits and pieces, jams and improvs from baton Evans and Jackson: not really in line with the album, either.

Then will come some three years before VDGG will be re-formed, but all Generator unconditional fans can turn towards the fabulous trilogy of Hammill solo albums: Chameleon, Silent Corner and In Camera. Do make the financial effort for the mini-Lp sleeve, it is worth it, but don't get rid of that first generation CD, because the remastering's EQ'ing will not be to everyone's tastes, namely in audiophile quarters.

Report this review (#7845)
Posted Wednesday, February 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
Jim Garten
Retired Admin & Razor Guru
5 stars Released in 1971, this is arguably VDGG's finest hour, dealing with themes of alienation & despair in a way that only Hammill could, yet retaining his very English sense of humour and the absurd. Ably supported throughout by Jackson, Evans, and especially Hugh Banton.

Pawn Hearts is an ideal introduction to VDGG, and unhesitatingly recommended.

Jim Garten UK

Report this review (#7833)
Posted Wednesday, February 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars There is little to add that previous reviewers haven't already stated; a work of genius that remains as fresh and compelling as the day it was released too many years ago. Sadly, there is now no version of this recording with the uplifting (if not incongruous for this album) 'Theme One'. It was available on the US version of the LP once but now has vanished.
Report this review (#7838)
Posted Thursday, February 12, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars another classic from VDGG, beautiful music and so much emotional and vivid, sometimes dark sounds appear ( I know VDGG was major inspiration for VOIVOD which is one of my favorite prog metal bands). This album is very good and you simply have to listen to this.
Report this review (#7841)
Posted Monday, March 1, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars PAWN HEARTS, from 1971, is Van Der Graaf Generator's fourth release, and the product of a trail-blazing progressive rock band in top form. As with its also top-notch predecessor H TO HE, WHO AM THE ONLY ONE, the album represents truly avant garde, demanding, and occasionally difficult, yet highly gratifying listening. The classic Van der Graaf elements are all here: from front man Peter Hammill's searing, introspective lyrics and dynamic vocals (Hammill is a master-contortionist of the voice); to Banton's accomplished piano, organ, mellotron and synths; to Evans' precise drumming (with almost militaristic snare); to Jackson's unique sax (an essential component of the band's sound) and occasional flute. To further sweeten the mix, Robert Fripp again serves as guest guitarist, adding his deft, inimitable touch to the musical "canvas."

PAWN HEARTS displays a maturity and ease of execution which seems to reach its rarefied heights of artistry without trying as overtly hard to be "clever" as H TO HE did, and thereby succeeds all the more resoundingly. Yet, while there is ample power and beauty to be found here, we are made to pay for our pleasure with occasional "pain" in the form of some decidedly jarring passages. As in life, however, such moments only serve to make the rewards to be found within all the sweeter by contrast, just as the lingering, bitter cold of winter renders the fleeting warmth of spring and summer all the more welcome, and death imparts poignancy, urgency and importance to life. This is serious music, and not for the merely "casual," or faint-hearted listener!

The lyrical content is fully as deep as the music. The near twelve-minute opener "Lemmings," deals with the fallibility and oftimes corrupt nature of leaders, and the folly of blindly following them, lemming-like, to our destruction. Written during the dark days of the Vietnam War and the Cold War (which made nuclear apocalypse an all-too-real possibility), the lyrics advocate the questioning of authority, and the choosing of one's own path. While the imagery is oftimes disturbing, the song is ultimately a message of hope: individual action can yet overcome the "greasy machinery (that) slides on the rails, young minds and bodies on steel spikes impaled," and thus secure a better future for our children -- a sentiment and rallying cry that rings as immediate and relevant today as ever.

The next song, "Man-Erg," (which can be sampled here) is one of Van der Graaf's best, with poetic, sensitive and insightful lyrics movingly delivered by Hammill. The theme is perhaps the most perennial in all of art: that of the dichotomy (or duality) of human nature, and the fragility of identity. Intellect and instinct, reason and passion, vie for control within us all. Hammill sings that "the killer lives inside me," in uneasy company with "angels" then screams in anguish: "How can I be free -- how can I get out? Am I really me -- am I someone else?" This is a song that could easily lend itself to analysis in university literature or philosophy courses, as a very effective portrait of the universal human capacity to do good or evil.

The closing track is an acknowledged VDGG masterpiece, and one that many fans cite as the band's crowning achievement. Running some twenty-three minutes in length, "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" predates Genesis' "Supper's Ready" by a year, and is thus among the first "full-side" songs in progressive rock. The music and words are by turns dark and brooding, powerful and infectious, cathartic and uplifting, eminently memorable, and the distilled essence of early progressive. Hammill casts himself as a lonely lighthouse keeper, who looks out upon the night-dark waters from his sea-girt stronghold, full of regret for the failure of past relationships, and craving human company. He ponders the nature of freedom of choice, wonders "what is my role in the pageantry," before suicide/death finally brings peace: "I think the end is the start. Begin to feel very glad now. All things are apart -- all things are a part." As Fripp's blistering guitar and a mellotron-swept "choir" seem to signal deliverance and possible ascension to a heavenly afterlife, we are left to conclude that we have relived one of the genre's defining masterworks.

PAWN HEARTS is a brilliant achievement. By no means an "easy" album, it is nonetheless rewarding and required listening for serious fans of classic progressive rock!

Report this review (#7846)
Posted Friday, April 2, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the best concept album, within the dark progressive scene of the seventies... a great reference, characterized also by the presence of a special guest star like Robert Fripp from KING CRIMSON. The final incredible last suite, "Plague of Lighthouse Keepers..." is one of the best dark suites of all time... there's such an excellent performance by Peter HAMMILL, as well as some great moments of space rock/progressive rock, with dark and spacey tones, which alone are well worth checking out, but also the other tracks are not bad.

A MUST HAVE album...

Report this review (#7847)
Posted Sunday, April 4, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars Im entering this review with EVERYTHING had allready been said, about this absolutely amazing album, and i do not have any words that my good colleague Peter Rideout, havent already used, and he really pinpointet that very musical experience in a sublime way (he´s got a way with words!) so...what am i doing here?? trying to make a point,as i recently read in the progarchives forum.....which/who were the first prog group/experience your(all of us) opinion??! Now, i do not participate in this- (or any other) forum...not arrogance...but sheer lack of time!! could argue whether it was Pink Floyd etc. One thing is my mind, it is absolutely sure that VDGG , Gentle giant (& of course.. Pink Floyd) were the forerunners of this particular kind of music. I rest my case...all has been said....this album is :beautiful ,horrifying,extreme and very progressive!!! And yes...." A plague of lighthouse keepers" is by far, an extraordinary song!!! I have several other VDGG favorites..but this one keeps haunting me!!
Report this review (#7832)
Posted Saturday, May 8, 2004 | Review Permalink
James Lee
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars The alleged genius of VDGG has always eluded me, to the point where I'm almost starting to think there's something wrong with me for not 'getting it'. The music on "Pawn Hearts" is amateurish and seldom interesting, existing almost exclusively to highlight the vocals. Hammill is an acquired taste- even his biggest fans grant that much. The lyrics could have been written for a creative writing assignment by a pretentious, depressed teenager- don't believe me? How about "The maelstrom of my memory is a vampire and it feeds on me/ now, staggering madly, over the brink I fall." Does he really take himself so seriously? I guess when someone pours their heart out so artlessly there's always the risk that they will get laughed at, but even the unintended humor is short-lived. "Stonehenge" by SPINAL TAP gives me bigger laughs, and the music is of similar quality.

I'll say this much: there's more range on this album than there was on "He is to He"; "Lemmings" reminds me nicely of parts of "Ummagumma" near the end and "A Plague (of Lighthouse Keepers)" has an interesting tone poem in the middle, featuring effect saxophones and some subtle ambient organ, and some notable guitars at the climax. "Man-Erg" starts with a promising low-key vocal over nice piano, but soon enters "Rocky Horror" territory- and worse. The everpresent twittering saxophone adds some texture, but sounds almost as if it was added later- rarely does it sound as if the music would be any different without it.

Seventeen years ago I listened to "Pawn Hearts" with no preconceived notions and disliked it. I've listened to it from time to time since then as my tastes and attitudes have developed, and still disliked it. I've even tried listening to it while high, and giggled when I suppose I should have been awed. This is not innovative, or avant-garde, or demanding music; this is uninspired, indulgent, pretentious and mainly useful for examples to students of what not to do when making music (or poetry). So many people have lauded the band, and this album, that you may indeed like it, despite anything I say- but I'll continue to suspect that the band's cult status is the main thing generating interest.

Report this review (#7858)
Posted Thursday, June 24, 2004 | Review Permalink
2 stars James Lee has it absolutely correct here. The pieces are well executed, but there is no musical virtuosity. The songs are interesting at first, but essentially amateurish. The opening to Man-erg is especially sloppy, though it really does pick up in the middle. But besides that, and bits of the Lighthouse suite, this record offers me little.

The one thing that I have never been able to get over of VDGG is the sophomoric simplicity at the heart of their chord progessions and melodies, buried under layers of complicated and convoluted structures and atmospherics. This album sound cool at first, especially for those who have had no contact with VDDG before, but H to He is much better musically. And if you go into this recording with proconceived notions of it as something monumental, you will be bittered disappointed. Pawn Hearts is lightyears behind Close to the Edge

Report this review (#7859)
Posted Sunday, June 27, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars What else can be said of this album that has not already been said? Not only the pinnacle of VdGG's career and recorded output, but one of the defining moments of progressive music, period. Classic rock radio material this will never be, but who cares? Yes, for all their virtuosity, would never produce a single album of this magnitude. VdGG may not have been the most technically gifted musicians in the world at that time, but no one could touch them for atmosphere and dynamics. For me the standout is still "Man-Erg", in all its "bare your soul to the world" brilliance.

This is, however, not an easy album to evangelize to others. In almost 30 years of (occasional) trying, I have not been able to find one other soul for whom this album does anything. I guess those of us who have found this album to be such a rewarding experience are hearing something no one else does. Pity for them!

Report this review (#7861)
Posted Sunday, August 22, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars No doubt VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR at the top of their game. "Pawn Hearts" is the band at their most aggressive, at least up until that point. Bassist Nic Potter had now left for good (he was later briefly a member of RARE BIRD, before going on to other things). Robert FRIPP once again lends a hand in this album. The album opens up with the wonderful "Lemmings". I just love the aggressive nature of this song, with Hugh Banton's spacy organ and David Jackson's sax, and ad that on with Peter HAMMILL's doomy lyrics. I especially like the organ that ends the song. "Man-Erg" starts off rather mellow, but is also loaded with more great and aggressive passages. Then you get the side-length epic "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers". This song goes through so many different changes, I really like those twisted passages. What's interesting is the Mellotron (a Mark II) makes a rare appearence. If you own the American LP, you'll also get treated with the band doing a version of George Martin's "Theme One", a truly amazing instrumental piece dominated by David Jackson's sax. This song was available in Great Britain only as a single released in 1972, ("W" being the other side). Totally essential album to your collection.
Report this review (#7862)
Posted Tuesday, August 31, 2004 | Review Permalink
Carl floyd fan
5 stars Along with "The least we can do is wave to each other", this one is a classic and should not be avoided. This one is jazzier than the first three but is still very unique in comparisson to the rest of the prog world. Peter Hamill just has that unique way of drawing you in with his lyrics and temperment that maybe only the lead singer of "Island" can do. The last song is an epic and give the listener an idea of what to expect for the second part of VDGGs carrer. Listen to this song for a preview of what 1975-77 will hold.
Report this review (#7864)
Posted Tuesday, September 21, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars Going all out on the Archives' deservedly hard-earned star system operating here seems churlish in this case. Pawn Hearts is second only to H To He in the Van Der Graaf league table and definitely among the top prog LPs ever - up there with Close To The Edge, 2112, The Lamb... and Roxy's For Your Pleasure (which is proggy, not poncey, honest!) When I first heard it about 20 years ago I was reduced to trawling the likes of Magma and PFM for new prog to get into, having exhausted all the mainstream stuff I could find in those mellotron-starved times. Pawn Hearts just blew me away. I've bought the rest of the VdGG catalogue since CDs appeared and adore 'em, while never learning anything about the mysterious individuals who made such unique music. Then, when the box set came out, I was delighted to see they looked and sounded as mental as I'd imagined - especially Jaxon! Get H To He first if you're a beginner by all means, but if you ever dug Crimson, PiL, Tool or Tull, you need Pawn Hearts too.
Report this review (#7866)
Posted Monday, October 18, 2004 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#7869)
Posted Wednesday, December 1, 2004 | Review Permalink
3 stars Dex F. was right when he wrote that Pawn Hearts was unorthodox and not for the faint of heart, and despite the fact that the majority of reviewers believe this to be a five-star album, I do not agree. I am not writing this simply to add another not so great review to counterpoint the majority, but more to emphasize the point, for those who may be trying VDGG for the first time (like I recently did in picking up a copy of the Pawn Hearts CD based on the abundant glowing reviews on this site) that this music is different, and even for those who believe it is a masterpiece, it requires an open mind.

On the down side, the vocals are certainly not great, often approach irritating to me. James Lee wrote, "Hammill is an acquired taste" and Bryan Adair commented that Hammill's vocals are more akin to "helpless cries, uttering bleak, self- absorbed poetry" than traditional singing. Both remarks ring accurate with me. On the plus side for the vocals, they do fit the music. As to the instrumentation, the music is lacking in guitar which is a bit of a deficiency to me.

I found Man Erg to be the most easily likable track. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers has some fantastic moments, but they are too few and too far between. The music and lyrics of Lighthouse Keepers do, however, depict and tell the story well, and the track is growing on me overall with each listen. I do not know that I will ever be able to like Lemmings.

As Peter Rideout observed in his five-star review, this is "[b]y no means an 'easy' album". It is not. Neither is it essential or excellent. There are simply too many things to dislike while getting to the good parts.

Report this review (#7870)
Posted Monday, December 20, 2004 | Review Permalink
5 stars I bought this LP second hand in several years ago, not knowing much about the band and their music. When I first played it I thought it was a bit too obscure and unorthodox to be consdered one of the favorite records of my collection, no way would it get 5 stars! But I thought I'd play it a few more times to give it the 'benifit of the doubt', after all it just may be one of those albums that you have to appreciate by listening to more than once.

Now, several hundred plays later, I condider it to be, musically, the best album ever produced! Brilliance beyond words, so I won't add any more.

Report this review (#7872)
Posted Monday, January 3, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I have admired the genius of VDGG since I first heard them in 1971 and "Pawn Hearts" was the first album I heard. Like all the best music it takes a while to get into, fortunately a friend would insist on playing it and by the third or fourth hearing I started to realise that this was something special. Once you've got into it, the music on "Pawn Hearts" is revealed as a polished performance that maintains interest throughout, with its blend of Hammill's distinctive vocal, Jackson's sax and Banton's keyboards creating that unique VDGG sound. Nothing here for guitar aficionados though.
Report this review (#7875)
Posted Monday, March 7, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars It is almost 35 years since it was first recorded, and there has yet been an album to equal it. A record that can be enjoyed on all levels - musically, lyrically, passionately, intellectually, quality of recording, imagination used, impact as a whole and in the sum of its parts. A work so dense that it takes at least 5 listens to even to begin to comprehend its depth and majesty. and therein lies the dilema - most listeners will not brave the same journey more than once. But then like all things truly worthwhile, the journey is truly amazing. Also read Julian Cope's review in Album of the month? No - The ultimate album.
Report this review (#7878)
Posted Tuesday, March 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Simply, the best album I have ever heard. Music and lyrics sound like just one thing. Each sound is at the right place and each word too. This is a really masterpiece of progressive music. Several listening are advisable to appriece completely this lp, but it's worth it.
Report this review (#7879)
Posted Wednesday, March 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
Eetu Pellonpaa
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Though I like this band, I must admit that I haven't been able to digest this album. All songs begin wonderfully, but the compositions are then lost for me, and even their sound doesn't please me so much (the merciless brass...). I even like some very chaotic music, but I guess my psyche is triggered to a slightly different level then? Hammill's lyrics are fine though, and the "Theme One" in the bonus tracks is a funny tune, I believe used by some British television or radio broadcasting company.
Report this review (#7880)
Posted Friday, April 1, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars They threw away the mould after VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR was formed. Not a band for everyone, with music that is moody and often strident, and with Peter Hammill often shouting or almost speaking rather than singing. I think he has a terrible voice, really, and yet, in some of the quiet parts with sax or keyboards backing, he sounds almost angelic. And his angry, often gruff voice fits the mood of the music perfectly. I first heard this album a year or two after the LP was released and was instantly hooked, initially by the unforgettable sax riff in 'Lemmings (Including Cog)' but then by the diversity and atonality of some of the music, and by the sheer power of the delivery. Don't get me wrong: there are melodic parts in here, but if you're looking for lush melodies or something to tap your foot to then you've come to the wrong place. This is sombre stuff, with plenty of heavy sax and some dark keyboards (Hammond, Farfisa, Mellotron, ARP synthesizer, and piano).

The almost 12-minute 'Lemmings (Including Cog)' starts off so quietly with Hammill's acoustic guitar and Hammill's singing, and builds into that killer riff and on into a bleak-sounding track. The sounds coaxed out of the guitars, keyboards and sax are disturbing and amazing at times, and you get the full effect when wearing headphones. Sometimes they are all playing in unison and at other times in a melee. The lyrics are very good; depressing yet finally with a glimmer of optimism: "There's other ways than screaming in the mob: that makes us merely cogs of hatred. Look to the why and where we are, look to yourselves and the stars, yes, and in the end what choice is there left but to live in the hope of saving our children's children's little ones?"

'Man-Erg' is also an excellent track, which I take to be Hammill's introspective musing on the dichotomy and paradox that is Man, with Hammill crooning "The killer lives inside me; yes, I can feel him move" and later "The angels live inside me, I can feel them smile; their presence strokes and soothes the tempest in my mind." The sax seagull sounds and heavy, stabbing keyboards and sax part way through this track are amazing and Hammill almost screams: "How can I be free? How can I get help? Am I really me? Am I someone else?" Then things calm again and Hammill ends with the realisation: "I'm just a man, and killers, angels, all are these: dictators, saviours, refugees in war and peace as long as Man lives..."

The 23-minute 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers' also starts sedately, but there are such a variety of sounds and moods in this LP side-long track. The sax is even used to sound like foghorns, and the synthesizer to sound like an engine room or steam train, creating a very atmospheric piece. There is an almost jazzy part around halfway through but that turns into an atonal synthesizer cacophony with pounding keyboards that would drive anyone nuts, only to become a lovely piece with Hammill singing over piano, breathy sax and some rat-a-tat-tat drumming from Evans (who's drumming is excellent throughout, by the way) and Banton's ecclesiastical-sounding Hammond. Then it whoops up into another atonal jamboree, complete with simulated waves and distorted synthesizer, which again seems designed to drive you onto the rocks. But 'the clouds break' and Hammill sings over piano: "Oceans drifting sideways, I am pulled into the spell, I feel you around me, I know you well. Stars slice horizons where the lines stand much too stark; I feel I am drowning - hands stretch in the dark." And Fripp's distorted guitar and Banton's Mellotron play majestically to the end of the album (and peter out, really).

To me this is most certainly a masterpiece of the genre. Hammill's lyrics may be melodramatic, but they are also interesting and strike a chord. Jackson's sax and Banton's keyboards are simply amazing, Evans' drumming and other percussion perfect, Hammill's piano precisely hits the right mood and his slide guitar disturbingly. disturbing. And Fripp's guitar. well, it fits perfectly too. I do recognise that this music is not for everyone, so would recommend that you listen to a sample before buying the album. Aren't you lucky to have a track here on ProgArchives?! If you do take the plunge and buy this album, put headphones on and be prepared for an amazing 45 minutes. No wonder Hammill seemed so pleased in interviews just after this album was released.

As an aside, I caught the band live at The Roundhouse, London in 1976. I cannot for the life of me remember the set, but I have a vivid memory of Jackson's heavily amplified sax nearly blowing out my eardrums!

Report this review (#7883)
Posted Friday, April 15, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars this is one of prog-rock greatest albums, and is truely deserved to be called a masterpiece. it contains the good 'lemmings'; the excellent 'man-erg' which is about a man who is half- killer half-angel, and is being controlled by them, while ht emembers of the group make it perfectly clear when we are in the 'killer' zone; and at last the great masterpiece (which can be considered as a classic music piece for a rock group). the latter describes the intolerable didds which a lighthouse keeper has to suffer. think about this: you're a lighthouse keeper, stranded alone or with another keeper, somewhere in the middle of nowhere between seas, and your job is to keep the light on the lighthouse on so that ships can see their way through, only you have no control on what happens to them besides keeping the light on. what happens when you see a ship coming near a shoal, and you have nothing to do about it when you know it's bitter end before it has happened? that's what Peter Hammill is trying, and succeeds in getting through to the listener. an unforgotable epus, surely on of it's kind.
Report this review (#7884)
Posted Wednesday, April 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cygnus X-2
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars What an album! I was very impressed by what VdGG had to offer on this pinnacle landmark in their career. The entire album being 3 songs, each hauntingly beautiful and agressive at the same time. Peter Hamill is a genious lyricist and a raspy, spine chilling vocalist that makes a point during his vocal lines. The saxophone is tasteful yet it tends to go in and out of agression and melody. Guy Evans does a terrific job on the drums, with quick and frenetic fills, and great timing. Hugh Banton also makes a moody atmosphere with his wide array of keyboards. Guest musician Robert Fripp is also a welcome addition to this already stellar work.

The album begins with Lemming (including Cog), a very up and down song that swings and struts witht the best of them. The saxophones really linger in my mind, the way they go up and down throughout the song. It all sounds so haunting, and so beautiful at the same time. The next track, Man-Erg, is along the lines of the first track, it has its up moments, and it has its down moments. A very fine track indeed. The album closer, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, is also along the lines of Lemming and Man-Erg. It starts off quiet, then the agression comes back and recedes after a few minutes.

For those of you who want to get into Van Der Graaf Generator, I recommend you start with this album. A very fine work indeed.

Report this review (#7886)
Posted Friday, April 29, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars There are the artists I would have never or seldomly given less then 5*, such as PH, VDGG, GENESIS, RUSH and YES. Even in their weaker opuses, I am able to follow just those lines which i like and ignore shortcomings. I love VDGG very much because of their silence and roaring, peace and agressivity, changes, melodies, expressivity, impressivity, and whatever. It is everything here. But, when I immerse more into and compare with e.g. my beloved Still life and Godbluff, or H to He, I like it less and find it less compact and coherent. I have not been able to find my way to the style of this album. The plague is an adventorous fantastic journey to the centre of the earth, that is clear, but the rest two tracks I do not enjoy so much. They might be important in the light of Hammill's works, dealing with serious morality and deep personality, yet, musically they escape my attention. Especially the lemmlings. And, I have also one big objection dealing not with the music. May be it is just my ignorance or the lack of humor but I do not like the musicians hailing in the cover photo. That only would be the reason for 0*. However, if not seeing that i give 3.5*. let me round it up.
Report this review (#7887)
Posted Friday, April 29, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars OK I always had a problem with this album. After being initiated to the cult of VdGG via first two albums, I did not appreciate enough their later works, partly because of Hammill's attitude "I am a poet, not a songwriter, you have to understand what I am trying to achieve". While I liked the overall philosophy of the band mixing influences from sci-fi, avant-garde jazz, English folk and sea shanties, poetry of "science", Manichaean dualistic struggle between Good and Evil within the Human spirit, fascination with the sea exploration and fight against the natural disasters, literary conceptions found in the works of Konrad and Melville, dark horror and gothic feeling of Edgan A. Poe, at times Hammill crossed the line, delivering unaccessible songs in favour of his personal catharsa.

And "Pawn Hearts" fit into this frame well, after years of listening and trying to "get it". I always considerd "Man-erg" the masterpiece song, following the pattern of "House with no Door" from the previous album, but the remaining minutes of "Pawn" were very painful experience. "Lemmings" and the suite "Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" are really an acquired taste: I was often urged to press the stop button to end the agony, sometimes I managed to survive but to no avail.

Finally it got me into its world after repeated listening, but I still wonder how to evaluate this work?! I mean you can give it equally 5 as a masterpiece and 2 as "for fans only", depending on your position and you will not make mistake in either way! "Man-erg" values 4 on its own so what the heck...?

Report this review (#7889)
Posted Saturday, April 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
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.

Report this review (#7890)
Posted Sunday, May 1, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars This 1971 recording was VDGG's fourth album, and by the time Hammill, Banton, Jackson and Evans headed into the studio to make it, they were well into their stride. It seems almost tragic then that they would make another astounding album and break up (although in the grand scheme of things, there was plenty more fine music to come from the quartet).

Despite a much simpler title than the two albums that preceeded it, Pawn Hearts was in some ways a more difficult album. Nonetheless its three songs Lemmings (including Cog), Man-Erg and the 10 part, 23 minute long A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers are all rightly regarded as indispensible VDGG tunes. Lemmings is a devil and a half to get into, with a massive mid-section that constantly struggles for rhythm and tonality, before the whole piece vanishes gradually into the mists. It's a fearsome tune that sums up VDGG's dark side, which really isn't for everyone.

Man-Erg on the other hand is one of the those heart-breaking Hammill exorcisms. The sweeping majesty of VDGG's organ- drenched symphonic moments are pretty tough to match for their intensity and Man-Erg is one of those awesome moments, perhaps doubly so, because it also contains some extraordinarily fiery hard-rocking passages (in some time signature I can't begin to fathom). Certainly when David Jackson's dreamy sax comes to attempt to take the piece into oblivion, one almost heaves a sigh of relief. However nothing can save Man-Erg itself and the song concludes with some awesome fireworks.

As for the mind-blowing A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers, it's a monumental work, to be sure. Eyewitness (which crops up twice during the song) and S.H.M.are blessed with some of VDGG's best ever melodies and delectable organ lines from Banton, and although improvised ghostly sections such as Pictures Lighthouse take some getting used to, they eventually become an insperable part of this ultimate VDGG epic. And I don't even want to talk about the power of Hammill racing through his words in Presence Of The Night, which can be quite a chilling experience. The hymnal Custard's Last Stand and the kitchsy faux-polka of The Clot Thickens almost lose me, but the eerie sweeps of Land's End (Sineline) usually draws me back and as We Go Now concludes with a strange, superb erratic solo, I find myself gasping.

Despite its many brilliant moments, Pawn Hearts is still a rather difficult album for me to have to sit through, and I suspect that's why I rate it (marginally) lower than its predecessor H To He and on par with Godbluff, the album VDGG would cut following the 1975 reunion. ... 83% on the MPV scale

Report this review (#37910)
Posted Tuesday, June 28, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars For starters, I am a sucker for VDGG and Peter Hammill. So there's my bias.

I was very much interested in the low-rating reviews. As far as comparing them with the likes of Yes and Genesis, there is an important difference: VDGG make (by their own observation and that of fans like Johnny Lydon and Mark E Smith) noise, not beautifully crafted compositions of the bands mentioned (of which I have several albums as well and I do like them). So if you look for the latter, it is not for you.

Is it good or even great music, or is it bad, mediocre even? I personally think it fails to be in these categories. If you like the style, it is the greatest thing ever. If you don't, don't waste your breath, time or money because it sucks.

For that reason, I give it four stars. In my book it is five but it stands a ice-cubes chance in hell as to general appreciation. You can't sell the best coffee to someone that prefers tea. It is a very personal thing. So maybe three stars would be more appropriate but I don't have the heart.

Yet I will try a general recommendation. If you like symphonic rock played with an ugly attitude, try it. If you like a punk attitude towards prog-rock, try it. Noise is the word. If you don't like it, especially after two or three tries, don't bother. VDGG isn't the best band in the world, they are my best band in the world and maybe yours.

Now a bit more specific: the lyrical richness is beautiful but, being Dutch and not having the lyrics, I had the privilege of listening to the tone and melody of the words and picking up more words and sentences every time I listened. Digging out the lyrics was a great experience, as you strain to dive deeper and deeper into the song. And still, every time I listen to a new VDGG or Hammill album, I start without reading the lyrics. Even among fans 'Lighthouse Keepers'is a subject of debate. I like the rollercoaster ride that it is. 'Lemmings' has this resigning positive ending. After a few 'what cause is there left but to die' it is ultimately replaced with 'what cause is there left but to live'. That seems positive but it is expressed with an inaudible but present sigh, an 'oh wel, let's go on then if we must'.

I guess it's both a two and four star album. But you know my bias. So four it is. Surf's up.l

Report this review (#37939)
Posted Tuesday, June 28, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars The third of "The Fantastic Four" is generally considered as VDGG's masterpiece. With only three songs, "Pawn Hearts" begins with "Lemmings", one of the heaviest songs in all VDGG's canon. Folowwing it we have "Man-Erg", with interesting lyrics by Hammill. It starts almost as a ballad, then gets faster in the middle section. The last song is VDGG's greatest epic, "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers", with another great lyric. This song is somewhat uneven, with some pieces weaker than others, but overall is a great work. Robert Fripp again guests on electric guitar, but he's almost buried in the mix. "A Plague..." is my vote to the greatest prog-rock epic (sorry, Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd fans, this one is a major achievement, both in melody and lyrics).
Report this review (#38973)
Posted Saturday, July 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
Peter Pan
5 stars This is a review of the remastered version of "Pawn Hearts".

With "Pawn Hearts" progressive rock music reached it's height. And Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator a first peak of their innovation and creativity.

The remastered edition of "Pawn Hearts" shows which masterpiece has been achieved in the summer of 1971. Though the remastering process hasn't led to the same high clearness and isolation of all separate instruments and voices in the same way as e.g. "H to He". The reason seems that heavy mixing and overdubbing has been done on the original recording tapes. But so the sound of this CD is nearer to the original vinyl-release than the other remasters of the first pack of the VDGG catalogue. Yet you can hear a widely improved sound.

The core of this album is the epic "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers". In musical and technical terms this was cutting edge and on the very limit of what could be recorded in a studio by a rock band in these years. Peter Hammill's voice is as forceful as vocals can be and unbelievable versatile. The lyrics have high literary quality as it should be so often in Peter Hammill's recordings after this album. Some passages of "Lighthouse Keepers" are unforgettable. Who else in rock music could write and sing sentences like:

"'Alone, alone', the ghosts all call / pinpoint me in the night" or "The seal of death / lingers in the molten wax / that is my head". Peter's scream in "Locked in silent monologue / in silent scream" makes you shiver inside.

But the music had gotten so complex and in part experimental that it couldn't be pushed further this direction. "Lighthouse Keepers" already was unperformable live. Furthermore the band was drained and exhausted from heavy and nearly non-stop touring over a period of 2 years. Their last contract for an Italian tour saw them even doing 3 gigs a day. Little financial reward and growing tensions between group members added to the conclusion to split. The most fascinating and unusual band of progressive rock music had come to end. But it's members had saved their identity and their physical and mental health which had been at stake.

Overall no other album of any rock music band has been so inventive and - yes - progressive. "Pawn Hearts" still sounds fresh and thrilling as it has been when it was first released. The remastered edition makes the sound even more powerful. The CD is accompanied by an extensive and beautiful booklet. The bonus tracks bring two songs which are more of historical interest and three takes which were formerly supposed as part of the never released second LP of "Pawn Hearts". These three "solo" works from Hugh Banton, Guy Evans and David Jackson show one possible direction Van der Graaf could have taken in these days. Straight into jazz fusion similar to Soft Machine. But they didn't lose their roots in rock and the high literary impact with Peter Hammills writing and singing. So Van der Graaf Generator came back two years later with music still eloborate and sophisticated but instrumented and recorded in a more "simple" and accessible way than "Pawn Hearts". -

Report this review (#39737)
Posted Monday, July 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Years ago I became very excited about the music of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR and can clearly remember the magic of this discovery to which this day still remains a favourite of mine. "Pawn Hearts" is IMHO a pure masterpiece of progressive art rock from start to finish. "Pawn Hearts" is characterized by the side long epic "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers" which is made up of 10 parts and clearly showcases the creative genius of Hammill and the lads. The mix of Hugh Banton's homemade organ sounds with David Jackson's syncopated sax and flute jabs makes this album a great listen. Of course Peter Hammill's light guitar touches and dark lyrics only adds some wonderful depth to this music. VAN DER GRAAF's music always sounds great when heard thru a fine stereo system that can pronounce the deep bass troughs these guys were able to create. A pure essential recording.
Report this review (#40660)
Posted Wednesday, July 27, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars The fourth work of announcement in 1971 "Pawn Hearts". Wonderful masterpiece that feels the entire albums united. It is a work that summarizes the first term consolidated in three masterpieces of an avant-garde style. The ensemble is a mysterious, and Vorcal of Peter Hammill is infinite divineness. This heavy feeling is common to the first work "In The Court Of The Crimson King" of KING CRIMSON.
Report this review (#43771)
Posted Monday, August 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
Tony Fisher
2 stars This is the last of the current top 20 for me to review and for a good reason: I just can't find too much good to say about it. It's the only top 20 album I don't own - I borrowed a copy for this review. Many rate this band, and musically, they are not bad although very dark and bleak. Jackson and Banton deliver a carronade of sax and keyboards which is quite impressive. But two things spoil this (and all other VDGG albums). One is Peter Hamill's vocals. Like early Genesis, the instrumental work is largely there to showcase the vocals; unlike Genesis, the vocals are not good enough to merit it. I'm in the James Lee / Bryan Adair camp; Hamill is an acquired taste with his melodramatic vocal style and lyrics. I haven't got it and probably never will. The second weak area is their tendency to overcomplicate everything. They add extra layers to everything, regardless of whether they are necessary. So, I cannot recommend this album and I will return it to its owner without much regret (he doesn't think much of it either!).
Report this review (#45649)
Posted Monday, September 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well, this just show us how diverse the world is. This happens to be one of my favourite albums ever. I like everything about it. Of course, it is not the only kind of thing I enjoy, but good lyrics and melodramatic vocal style are, at least, a very valid way to express yourself as writter/singer/something. You may like it, you may not. I do. It is somehow complicated and very long; dramatic and painfull, very loud and very soft and lots of more things; like an old and very agitated Hyeronimus Bösch or Böckllin painting.
Report this review (#45652)
Posted Monday, September 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Some reactions after listening to Pawn Hearts countless times: confused, exhausted, angry, terrified, intrigued, awed. Few pieces of recorded music has elicited such a dizzying variety of moods - sometimes within seconds of one another. It's difficult to say what the songs are "about," or if they are even songs in the traditional sense. Yet, it is difficult to turn away from "Pawn Hearts" dark, intricate beauty. A true masterpiece that takes years to properly understand, if such a deed is truly even possible.
Report this review (#49568)
Posted Friday, September 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I've just reveiwed Moving Pictures by Rush which is average. So here's the exact opposite. This album is 100% Prog. The range of sounds is phenominal. The music & lyrics reach such darkness you feel like you've been catapulted into some ultra horror film. Added to this is Peter Hamill's use of language. This is adventurous challenging music which I dare you to listen to.
Report this review (#51775)
Posted Friday, October 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars I still remember the thrill of hearing this the first time. I went through quite a bit of emotional turmoil in my early 20's, and I related to the lyrical content immediatley. I had only previously heard the song "Killers" on a prog compilation, but looked up info on the band on the strength of that track alone. This album was consistently referenced as their best, and I can not agree more. The only thing that took a little getting used to was Hammills voice, and I have come to consider it one of the best in prog. He may not have the range of Jon Anderson, or the smoothness of Greg Lake, but his singing drips with emotion and drama which is something I tend to enjoy in prog rock. Perhaps it is accurate to say that their is some immaturity in the lyrics and song writing, but it was 1971 after all and this band was breaking ground that no one had before, and aside from Crimson, no one really has done anything quite like this since. For me, a true masterpiece of progressive rock (and I very rarely rate higher than 4 stars).

(one gripe I have is that the latest remaster sounds, to my ears, even worse than the original CD release that I have.........the drum sound being the only thing that sounds somewhat better.......not sure what happened with the original production of this album, but all of the others sound much better, even in their original CD I assume they did the best they could with what they had to work with when remastering....still a dissapointment though in terms of sound quality)

Report this review (#52792)
Posted Saturday, October 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars It took me years, many years from the time back in -77 when I saw VDGG in concert before I "rediscovered" them again. And it was and still is very enjoyable moments when the sound from P. Hammill and company is visiting the loudspeakers. Enjoyable in a peculiar way that is. P. Hammill's voice isn't particularly joyful; on the other hand it's beautiful! One of the most eccentric and recognizable voices in the history of music. A truly instrumental voice. And of course, with the compositions he was able to make, his voice fits this music perfect. It's melancholy, depressed, dark and manic but still extremely beautiful music in it's own way. But be careful, it can set you in a state of anxiety! I personally hold this album as one of my favourite albums from VDGG.
Report this review (#53991)
Posted Sunday, October 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars When I first purchased this album, I listened to it about 3 times in a couple weeks, and didn't think it was that great so I put it away for a couple months. Then I decided to give it another shot. For 3 days in a row I listened to it each of those days, and on the 3rd day my mind was effectively blown! In particular it was that eery organ section towards the beginning of 'Lighthouse Keepers.' Since then, this album has sort of freaked me out every time I have heard it.

I can't really say what hasn't already been said, except that this is probably by far the best album of 1971, and definately the best produced album up to that point. The production is mindblowing; mysterious sounds, loud and quiet, coming out of parts of the stereo spectrum that you didn't even know existed. Most peculiarly, on 'Lighthouse,' when Hamill says the line "Would you cry if I died," I SWEAR those weird high-pitched squeaking sounds are different in some way each time I listen to the album!

Anyway, I would just like to say that this music is actually what I would call "progressive progressive," in that it's actually like, the next exponential degree up from normal progressive music. Just listen to the end of 'Lemmings,' those kinds of things are just insane...Well, anyway, 5 stars! Bravo lads, bravo!

Report this review (#54847)
Posted Sunday, November 6, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars The best album of Van der Graaf Generator. Excellent!The lyrics are very good specially in "a plague of lighthouse" and "man erg". Very originall. I recommended it to a person who had more than 15 years.
Report this review (#56070)
Posted Saturday, November 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is a classic. Almost everything is said before me. I was convinced by the 2 "short " tracks at the first listening. Lighthouse Keepers needed more time, but after a few days I could appreciate this epic as well. The music is not guitardrivenat all, it's dominated by the sax of David Jackson and the organ of Hugh Banton and last , but not least the voice of Peter Hamill. He has one of the most beautiful and uniqe voice of the world. I also consider his lyrics outstanding. Pawn Hearts really opens a new world to the patient and oen minded listener. This dark, emotional, haunting album is pure state of art.
Report this review (#56250)
Posted Monday, November 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Without a shadow of a doubt the finest thing I have ever herad committed to 'media'.

Since my days as a twelve year old listening to this 4 times a night during his first summer of 'realisation', this has remained the high point of the VDGG canon and is still number 1 in the best LPs of all time in this Cumbrian's now thirty-eight year old head.

Dispense with the other buttons.

There should be 2. One for 5 stars, one for asking to be shot. If there is a better delivered line, soul- crooners included, that have more balls and passion that have ever bettered "for if the sky is seeded death what is the point in catching breath? Expel it" let me know. Expel it, indeed.

This album will never let you sit still and you really, really feel that this band can PLAY!

I could talk for the res of my fantastic life about how brilliant this album is, and, let's face it, we all heard different things in our lives, at different times and that is how and why these records affect us. At twelve I was an oddball listening to this whilst the Smurfs and Madness held court, but there are so many sublime moments of keyboards, drums!, SAX and vocals that I am unequivocal in my opinion, and "hope that I'm not dammmmmnnnedd". "I'm just man" now.

Peter and the boys still hold court in my heart. God bless you gentlemen.


Report this review (#56308)
Posted Monday, November 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Ohhhh.... god this album, i dont know what too say... right now this is my favorite album of all time. Its simply perfect. there are only 3 songs on here if you dont got the new remastered and expanded one wich i got, well the new added song are all very good but it is the 3 orignal ones that is the real cake. We starts of with "Lemmings" a powerfuler opener whuld be hard to find it starts quiet and then builds up to a monster tune powerful and complex yet its yust the begining, then we got Man erg and its even beter a ultra great song and we get some freak out in the midle too very nice, then comes the final and it hase to be the best ending song to any album ever made A plague of light house keepers i dont know how to describe it it's got everything beauty, sadness, freak out's, power, its the ultimate prog song quite simply. This album is the essential VDGG album, i love all thire albums but if you only gona buy one this is it. and make sure you get the new remastered one.
Report this review (#56421)
Posted Tuesday, November 15, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars A master piece !!!!!! specialy the song : A plague of lighthouse keepers. This album his the perfect ambassador for the first generation of vdgg (the complicated vdgg).You can't not be touch by this album the first time you hear it
Report this review (#56472)
Posted Tuesday, November 15, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Okay, for those of you who've heard of or even listned to the highly-acclaimed likes of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, or Rush may or may not have heard of Van Der Graaf Generator, and if you have, you'd undoubtedly undertand that this obscure while phenomenal band belongs in the upper echelon of Progressive Rock. They have it all: Beautiful melodies, a rough edge, fantastic vocals, psychadlic interludes - you name it. Pawn Hearts - in particular - stands out among their works as their best overall, while at the same time as one of the best and most artistic works in Progressive music, period.

The first track, Lemmings (Including Cog) opens the album in one of the harshest and most in-your-face fashions that you could imagine - it starts out with a nice acoustic melody, and as soon as Peter Hammill's lyrics come in, the music explodes into a moving frenzy driven by David Jackson's fantastic sax work and Hugh Banton's rough-edged, powerful organ work - honestly, without his organs, the full effect of this song would be dull. I've never really heard anything comparing to his style of playing before...he's not just in the background, he is the melody. This track has you on your feet from beginning to interlude to end.

The second track, Man-Erg, has more direction than the album opener; less improvisation. There's more of a defined melody rather than pure artistry (which was more apparent on Lemmings). This one opens with Peter Hammill's vocals and piano, creating one of the most ironic moments that I have ever heard in music (imagine a beautiful piano melody with lyrics describing a killer schizophrenic and you'll see what I mean). This continues for a good three minutes before - once again - exploding into a highly organ and guitar driven piece, with Peter Hammill's guitar and screeching vocals adding to the effect of it all, thus making this bit one of the darkest and hard- edged moments on the album, maybe even in VDGG's entire catalogue. Afterwards, the song slows back down to more of a mid-tempo, as it was towards the beginning. A couple of minutes later, it once again explodes into a frenzy of music, but with more beauty than previously. You'd really have to listen to it to understand.

The third and final track, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, is what I would expect to disenchant many mainstream listeners, mainly due to it's extraordinary length, clocking in at over 23 minutes. However, in this case, VDGG saved the best for last, as this one of the most flawless pieces of music that I have ever heard. The song opens with a jazzy introduction dominated by keyboards and Hammill's dark, metaphoric lyrics. A couple of minutes in, the song picks up some power before cutting out in simply one of the coolest fashions which an organ can do, thus leading to the next segment of the suite. Suddenly, out of the quiet interlude comes a series of sax chords that literally make your hair stand on end...I [&*!#] you not about this one. This leads to a series of organ chords which set the initial melody back into place. I'm not going to list every single'll just have to find out for yourself. The true beauty of the entire album doesn't come until the end, in the form of one of the most majestic endings to an album that I have ever heard...absolutely flawless.

Overall, this album is excellent if you can look beyond Hammill's theatrical style of singing. I personally love his style, but I could imagine that not everyone would think likewise.



Report this review (#57483)
Posted Tuesday, November 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars This record is probably the only progressive classic album I have not reviewed yet. I was told it is their best album, a thing I do not not necessarily agree. I still believe however it is among the most overrated classic progressive albums ever made. I must admit that for 1971, they were pretty ahead of their time, and their uniqueness and originality are undoubtedly obvious.

Obviously, the more mellow bits are usually better, especially when Hammill does not sing. While listening to this record, I am constantly confronted to unwanted next notes or next arrangements: you think you know the next note, and when it comes, then it is exactly the opposite of what you have expected!

"Lemmings" contains very dissonant parts: the saxes and keyboards combination is often very irritating: do not get me wrong: I like dissonant music, as long as it is significant and pleasant to listen; unfortunately, it is not the case here. The organ sounds a bit like on the early Gentle Giant's albums. The organ has a very slow rhythm, and it becomes rather redundant. Peter Hammill uses an echo effect in his voice, which slightly reduces the irritating character of his voice. Past 5:00, there is an EXTREMELY annoying brief noise bit, probably made by an electric guitar: it is totally irrelevant! Past 6:00, there is a very disgraceful & dissonant part, which is very unpleasant to hear. Around 10:00, there are pleasant, delicate & peaceful flute notes, but the accompanying music is not significant enough; The real end, also containing delicate flutes, has an interesting mysterious atmosphere, but it ends too abruptly, as reveals the couples of fast closing drum strokes.

"Man Erg" starts well with a good rhythmic piano and an ethereal organ a la Led Zeppelin's "Thank You". Past 3:00, the comparison of Peter Hammill and Judas Priest' Rob Halford takes all it signification: he screams like Halford at his best in the 80's. The decreasing speed of the repetitive & alienating rhythmic pattern past 4:00 is completely ridiculous and useless! The melodic sax lament past 6:00 is not bad at all, although the drums are just really too fast for this mellow part of the track. Past the 8th minute, Hammill's voice combined with the music is more catchy, solemn and poignant: it is funny to notice that around 9:30, Hammill sings like the singers on some of the Phillip Glass' albums!

"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" lasts around 23 minutes: it REALLY starts well, with a catchy & mellow part full of delicate flutes, until only after 2 minutes, Hammill arrives with his usual disgraceful voice. The part where the saxes emulate ships horns is interesting, but you have to admit it is totally empty of music, or even a decent moving ambience: this is what we call experimental music. This long track has more bland bits than interesting ones. It could have been a very good track if VDGG took more care of the coherence between each bits, because irrelevance happens too often in this track. The organ crescendo around 5:00 is interesting, but I don't like the way it is changed to an ordinary rhythmic part. I rather like the good synchronization between all the instruments and Hammill's voice, starting around 11:00. The VERY dissonant bit at 12:15 is very unpleasant to listen. At the 14th and 15th minutes, Hammill has a better voice than usual, and the air seems catchy, except that there is an unpleasant & unexpected note & arrangement that partly kills the promising catchy character of this passage. Past the 16:00, the circus ambience passage is interesting, so that one can notice all the instruments participate to a fully synchronized progressive exploration: this allows the instruments to go into the same direction! I still do not understand however the inelegant change of it to a piano ballad: let's be honest: the transition clearly lacks elegance: before the piano enters around 19:15, the music cadency and repetition take a foolish proportion! And what a bad ending of this epic track: notice the last few seconds, when the catchy chant is sustained: the dissonant voice, fading, followed by some unclear sissy piano notes.

The problem is that Peter Hammill often sings in unison with the instruments, so that his bad voice kills the rest of the music. VDGG are rarely able to create pleasant atmospheres, because they lack fluidity in their music: although the ambient organ is more fluid, the other instruments are clearly not fluid at all here, and this does not help to produce pleasant, catchy & addictive music.

The album is VERY unequal: some bits are really very good, while some are really too aggressive and dissonant for nothing: actually, aggressiveness does not fit well with VDGG. I'm sure that if there were a better singer, then I would like this band much more.

I think the band is made of really excellent musicians; however, I feel most of the music goes nowhere, and that the band does not concentrate enough on the melody and on the harmony. There is something wrong between the excessively scattered drums and the relatively slow rhythm: indeed the bass is too slow and too unrefined for the complex and restless drums: this causes a severe unbalance. I listen to the music and the abrupt changes sound so odd to me.

A very strong point of this record are the graceful mellow flute parts.

As a good comparison, Jethro Tull's "Passion Play" is much more structured, so that the instruments are constantly synchronized each other, going into one definite direction. And regarding the mellow bits on "Passion Play", they are much more catchy, ethereal, pleasant to hear and refined.

Report this review (#59176)
Posted Sunday, December 4, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Remastered CD (2005) with Bonus Tracks: 4. Theme One (original mix) (3:15) 5. W (first version) (5:04) 6. Angle of Incidents (4:48) 7. Ponker's Theme (1:28) 8. Diminutions (6:00)

Already in its well deserved place in TOP20, the album itself needs no further introducing. It's either LOVE or HATE, or maybe for some brave listeners uncomfort turning into love? Especially 'Plague' and 'Man Erg' deal so strongly with dark emotions that also the reception is very intimate and personal. Played loud in a record store most likely makes 90% of customers walk out. 'Lemmings' is for me harder to interpret but musically it's as amazing as the others. A definite 5-star masterpiece. OK, now let me introduce the bonuses.

The text reveals that originally it was planned to be a double, extended with band members' solo contributions and live versions of existent songs. (Luckily the record company vetoed.) Guy Evans' 'Angle of Incidents' is an avant-garde instrumental involving drums recorded backwards, and the sound of crashing lightbulb. To me it falls into the same category as the second disc of Present (VDGG 2005), I'm unmotivated to hear it many times. David Jackson's (sax) short 'Ponker's Theme' is free jazz; could be Coltrane or something. Organist Hugh Banton's 'Diminutions' is experimental multi- organ track. These and the original mix of 'Theme One' (composed by George Martin for BBC Radio One) and the first version of 'W' are not reason enough on their own to buy the edition, I think. But, with the good text on band's history of the time, this is an excellent moment to get this wonderful album if you don't yet have it.

Report this review (#60232)
Posted Tuesday, December 13, 2005 | Review Permalink
The Wizard
5 stars Pawn Hearts is Van Der Graaf Generators magnum opus, there finest album. It is a fusion of jazz, hard rock, chamber music, psychedelia, avant garde, poetry, and proto- punk. The mixture comes out a progressive masterpiece. In my opinion the album is flawless. Every moment is perfectly executed. The musicianship is in tip-top shape, yet the remain incredbley expressive. David Jackson, who plays a saxaphone, never fails to rock, yet experiments constantly, employing sounds and noises that are heavy, dark, and ultimately expressive. His use of devices insures that that every sound is unique and shows he is unlike any musician, a true original. Hugh Banton play an incredible organ. Instead of focusing on fast solos, he plays gothic overtones that show an even hightened sense of dread. Guy Evans may be the most underrated drummer ever. Playing jazzy rythms and maddening staccatos, he is a force to be reckoned with. They combine to make instruments that make pawn hearts the sonic attack that it is.

Peter Hammil is who makes this record though. His songwriting is amazing, and he deals with some of the most dark and facinating subject matter a rock band may indulge in. The lyrics are introspective, but at the same time use sci-fi elements. And his voice. It is incredibley bizarre, which scares many people away from this band. He uses it like an instrument though. Robert Fripp said he is the Hendrix of the voice. That may be true. He uses several different to express the lyrics. He dosn't just sing them, he makes you feel them. At times it is sweet, then it is angsty and rough, which shows his punk rock influence. At times he cowers in fear. Robert Fripp also lends a hand in this record, employing his sonic guitar runs on the songs.

In Pawn Hearts VDGG perfect there sound and issue a flawless record. In there first real record (The Least We Can Do) they find there soun. In 'H to He' they perfect there sound. Then in Pawn Hearts they unless upon us there masterpiece. Highly reccomended.

Report this review (#62354)
Posted Friday, December 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars FIVE STARS!!! easy. This is not an album you want to pass up. Hard to get into at first, but oh so sweet and rewarding after a few hard listens. Hammil and co are so original and unique, no one sounds like these guys. Sometimes soft and melodic, sometimes ANGRY and dissonant, other times somewhere in between.

The first song, Lemmings, is the hardest to get into, but after all a truly awesome song. It features some spacy melodies, and some haunting vocals, great organ and sax interplay though. Cool lyrics too, how many songs are there out there about the perpetual suicides of Lemmings? Well, of course its all a metaphor for society in the end, but still, very original. "Cog" is a very strange piece of music, the first melody in it is very dissonant and scary, followed up immediately by a softer (still scary) melody. All in all, this is a very haunting, almost epic song, so so good.

Man-Erg is perhaps the ultimate showcase of all the aspects of VdGG's sound, with lyrics about a man being torn in two by two sides of his personality (listen to it on this site, why don't you?). Starting off slow and melodic, sad with piano and Hammil's great voice. After about 2 and a half minutes of this, another riff kicks in: dissonant and heavy, this is VdGG's aggressive side. A short little verse here, some cool screaming from Hammil. This part is great, may take some getting used to though. Afterwards comes another kind of slow melodic part, very good. The "But I am Dommed" melody may turn some people off, if you are listening, you know what I'm talking about. It sounds like a melody from a movie soundtrack, and at first I hated it, but it's grown on me a little. Anyway, after a while, the first emotional melody kicks in, and as the song ends, that first aggressive riff is heard meshing with the emotional part, showing the true madness of the man's personalities battling each other. Eventually the aggressive one takes over and ends the song. Ooh. Goosebumps. A real classic of prog.

Now, if Man-Erg is the ultimate showcase of the band's sound, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is their ultimate song. Hammil and the boys try their hand at the fabled twenty minute epic, and when you think about it, this is one of the earliest. This is from '71, Supper's Ready, CttE, Thick as a Brick are all from '72. As far as I can tell, the only 20 minute suites that came before this are Tarkus and Lizard, but neither is as good as this IMO.

Anyway, the song starts off with a very dreamy melody, very nautical, and fitting with the Lighthouse theme, which is once again very original subject matter. Great melody, one of the best ever. Then comes Pictures/Lighthouse, and this is the lowpoint of the song. Very quiet and atmospheric, and cool at times (sax immitating foghorns, anyone?), but it is too long- 3 minutes without Hammil! It's not that bad though. Then comes a reprise of Eyewitness, great. SHM is a jazzier part, not too jazzy though. Just right, cool melodies, great lyrics. Presence of the Night is one of the other high points of the song, featuring emotionally racked singing from Hammil. The melodies here are AWESOME and EPIC, and the airy saxophone is awesome. Kosmos Tours is some dissonant organ sax play, pretty cool, scary though. Eventually, Custard's Last Stand comes in, and the first two syllables of the slow melody are very deceptive: you think it will be cheerful and upbeat, when in reality it turns out to be dark and sad sounding. All in all not one of the best parts of the songs, something cheerful would have been better in this "sea" of sadness and anger and scariness. Ah well. Eventually, The Clot Thickens with SCARY melodies and riffs, freaking weird man. This part may be a little long, they repeat the scary riff without vocals too many times. This part reminds of "Willow Farm" in Genesis's Supper's Ready, the way it turns all of a sudden to bouncy kind of dark gothic music. Similar, but this is darker and scarier. Anyway, after about 3 minutes, all the dissonance gives way to soft piano chords, and Land's End (Sineline) comes in, with AWESOME lyrics and singing, breathtaking altogether. This cheerfulness is just the thing they needed to end this epic perfectly. We go Now is just the previous section without vocals and a crazy Fripp guitar solo, it might be mellotron though, I'm not sure though. It also has some great choir vocals at the end. Truly awesome.

So anyway, this is one awesome album, an underrated classic of prog, should be in the top 10. All the songs are awesome, although they take a few listens for the greatness to sink in. Altogether, an easy 5 stars. These guys are amazing.

Report this review (#66729)
Posted Wednesday, January 25, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Pawn Hearts features VDGG's most brutal, uncompromising energy and musicianship, showcasing the extreme vocal talents of Hamill, the impressive organ-work of Banton, the complex drumming of Evans and the demented avant-garde sax and flute playing of Jackson. Truly an interesting, mood-altering listen.


1) Lemmings: Starts out calmly, but soon lapses into much darker sections, reaching its dark climax during "Cog", accompanied by the often graphic, brutal lyrics that accompany VDGG.

2) Man-Erg: Beautiful piano and thoughtful lyrics lull the listener into a false sense of security before they are sonically assaulted (in a good way) with the dissonant "How do I know when I'm heeeeeeeeeere?" section. This song, in liquid form, would probably be equivalent to drinking Drano. It just melts your hard exterior and later burns up your insides...

3) A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers: VDGG's huge epic track, featuring twisted vocal contortions from PH and marvellous electric piano and organ work from Banton. Amazing interplay between the band. Also, I believe you can hear a message in morse code during one of the setions.

Report this review (#68452)
Posted Sunday, February 5, 2006 | Review Permalink
1 stars "Pawn Hearts" is a poor crafted, very depressing album, and was lent a copy of this album and though to myself, I give it a spin, heard the album and I was soon gutted,and this sort of music does not appeal to me, but I'm sorry to say this is a negetive album.

"Man-erg" is the opener and the song is rather sloppy and dull, a terrible, monotonous track and the most dissapointing track on the album 0/5!!

"Lemmings" very Pink Floyd-ish at some points and some other reviewer has pointed that out, again not my cup of tea but is a much more sophisticated listen than the previous track, but unfortunately a weak track, 2/5!!, is the strongest offer I can give it!!! "A Plague (of Lighthouse Keepers)" has a fusion of pieces placed together all on one track, very weird track and I do not like all of it infact some parts are to unlistenable especially that out of tune part with the synthesiser going beserk!!! I have to skip search parts of it, alongside some horrible piano thumping, again some pieces are monotonous especially that weird brass section with a train type of sound, the piano ballads nearer to the end is epic-ish but very dull and unnecessary , the guitar part at the end is quite cool with all the fuzzy effects, infact the ending is quite good, with the guitars and symphonic eerie vocals at the end, a poor track but has it's moments 2/5!!

I cannot adapt to this album at all and very much so dislike it. The music is amateurish, too self indulging and monotonus, and very bland!!

This is the first VDGG album I've heard and from now on I shall avoid them at all costs, not my type of music at all!!

5% recommended, 2/5!!!

Report this review (#68805)
Posted Wednesday, February 8, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars I listened to this album a few days ago, my father knowing of my love for prog music came around with a statement like "I'm sure you're gonna like this".....He was absolutely right! This album is FANTASTIC, a very good arranged piece of music! Excellent also the collaboration by Robert Fripp on the Electrig guitar throughout the album... In my opinion this album shows us a group more interesting by far than their contemporary YES and GENESIS.From my point of view I notice how their style could be identified as one that influenced and is still influencing The Mars Volta. A GREAT album! For the times one of the most beautiful.
Report this review (#71002)
Posted Friday, March 3, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Saxaphone, keyboards and vocals are what really stand out to me in this album. When I bought this album, I was kind of unsure what to expect because it was my first VDGG piece. I had only heard Man-Erg from a friend and had hardly remembered it, but my first time through this album and I was hooked. The recording quality is AMAZING, the sax micing is superb, and the "keys" section is large and fantastic. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is my favorite track because of the way it starts out, then builds, then subsides and continues for each section of the song. Everytime I listen to any VDGG, I always find myself jamming with them on my guitar (at home) or pounding with the rhythm in the car just because they're so AWESOME!!! The downside (I'm surprised to have found one) is the bonus tracks. Most bands include live or early versions of a song, but VDGG included five different track which I have little enthusiasm for. Don't let that deter you from this album (it doesn't matter if you can find it in record form). The three original tracks are very substantial and provide good enough reason for any prog fan to purchase "Pawn Hearts" by Van Der Graaf Generator.
Report this review (#74567)
Posted Monday, April 10, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is an amazing album, though it takes many listens to grasp it. All three original tracks are essential, but don't bother listening to the bonus tracks.

The first song, Lemmings (Including Cog) includes many great (if very odd) melodies. This song is easy to get into compared with the rest of the album because the opening riff is very catchy.

Man-Erg is an emotional roller coaster. It goes from a beautiful piano section with nice vocals, to a psychotic, hard section and then fuses them together at the end with the psychotic, dark section taking over at the end. Truly haunting.

A plague of lighthouse keepers is a great epic. I always feel a sense of despair when listening to this song. It's like watching a horror film. This track features great sax playing and very emotional singing.

A Masterpiece!!

Report this review (#74595)
Posted Monday, April 10, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars What else can really be said about an album that has an overall positive draw from the Prog community? Not a damn thing. Rather than bore you with a backstory of the cliche "once-hated-but-now-love-unconditionally" tale, I'll just bore you with my own attempt at a review:

This is a really beefy album, consisting of very dark, masculine musical content with Hammill's melodramatic voice and equally dark, dramatic lyricism tying the ensemble together to equal out to one essential Progressive masterpiece. King Crimson's own Robert Fripp makes an appearance as the guest guitarist for this album, which further drives the dark nature of this album home. The only complaints I can conjure up are the obvious issue of sound quality (which even on the re-mastered version, it still seems hollow), along with some points during the songs, there's a small bit of aimless meddling, at least in my opinion; your mileage my vary. All-in-all, these issues don't bother me enough to rate this masterpiece anything less than 5 stars. This shows a very raw VdGG beginning to hit their compositional stride, and is a must-have for any fans of edgier, darker Symphonic Prog.

Report this review (#76397)
Posted Thursday, April 27, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Total masterpiece. This is the first VdGG's album that I've ever heard but it remains my favourite.

Album starts with Lemmings, then follows Man-Erg and this is the end of first album side. The second side contains only one composition A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers which consists of 10 pieces.

Hammill's vocals are excellent as usual with genial lyrics (Man-Erg). Robert Fripp as guest plays electric guitar which is not dominant but in background.

This (and Godbluff) is the best starting point into Van der Graaf's music.

Report this review (#76591)
Posted Friday, April 28, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars GOOD ALBUM, but hard to digest

I must admit this album is especial for me, because it is the first one I cquired with my own money because all the others were gifts or my relatives' albums.

well, if you want to buy this album i suggest you to get the remastered version of 2005, as the bonus tracks are gems. All of them!

Lemmings is a good songs with Hamills great voice, but it ends so dark... i would have prefered an end in the style of man-erg (buy the album and youll know why!)

Man-Erg is a really dark-sad song withe a change at aprox. 3 minutes that i really like (jacson is a sax-hero and he started my interest in brass instruments (along with Ian Anderson). now the epic "a plague of lighthouse keepers" the hardest to digest by far! after listen number 3 i realized it is a grat song, maybe a masterpiece (but the words "masterpiece" and"tghe worst" are so relative...), yet i have to admit that a somoe parts (the synthesizers going crazy or that brass part that sounds like a ship are a little to unaccesible for tyhe ones tat hear VDGG for the first time or for most (if not all) of girls i have known. but those partes do have their charm anyway!).

*PD*listem to the bonus tracks especially theme 1 and the dark lyrics of W. do not forget the other themes anyway!

Report this review (#78277)
Posted Monday, May 15, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is one of the most polarising albums ever made - those who like the more classical progressive music of Yes and early Genesis often find "Pawn Hearts" too dissonant, chaotic and meandering. Certainly, the first few plays of this gave me a headache, but something kept me coming back to it. The atmosphere was pervasive, and eventually it grabbed me and worked its magic - and this is a magical album.

Not for the faint-hearted, but please guys play it more than once it'll get you in the end...

Report this review (#78291)
Posted Monday, May 15, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars A towering prog masterpiece! Three epic tracks, each packed with adventurous music with thought-provoking lyrics full of vivid imagery. Peter Hamill's vocal range is astonishing,while the musicianship throughout the album is excellent. The music has plenty of unsettling changes of mood and tempo. My favourite moments include; the flute warblings towards the end of 'Lemmings'; the quiet atmospheric organ sounds near the start of APOL, and the unbelievably manic mellotrons near the end of APOL. The whole album is a glorious adventure!
Report this review (#78556)
Posted Thursday, May 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Never before has prog ever sounded so harsh. If you're not into the hippy happiness of Yes or the pretentious showmanship of ELP (not that it's a BAD thing) then VDGG are right for you. Harshy written music mixed with harshly written lyrics, I think HARSH is the onyl way to truly describe the album, However, BRILLIANT would also be another word. No other band can pull off the evil intentions that are on this album yet make them so ejnoyable like VDGG.
Report this review (#80822)
Posted Friday, June 9, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars 4.3 An excellent addition, but I don’t consider it essential.

This is a very odd recording, very dark and capable of creating great conflict in the opinions of the prog listener. That must mean something?

I consider this album an important part of my currently humble collection, as some sections of the piece are ear spinningly brilliant, contrasting moods with great intelligence, not mentioning the lyrics. However, much of the album sounds the same, especially parts of ‘Lemmings’ and ‘Man-Erg’, suggesting a lack of ideas. ‘A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers’ is generally well crafted, although slightly detached.

This has really stumped me, as the music is one of a kind, extremely interesting while lacking intricacy and no real climax. Perhaps the album is essential just for this? It is essential that you listen to this, but whether it so as an addition I cannot say. I am extremely close to giving this a five star rating…a truly baffling experience.

Report this review (#81818)
Posted Friday, June 23, 2006 | Review Permalink
Andrea Cortese
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars "The killer lives inside me; yes, I can feel him move, sometimes he's lightly sleeping in the quiet of his room..."

...hmmm, Pawn Hearts, the "Music of the Sea". Thus titled in an italian magazine in the 1971 year, just after this "prog monstrum" saw the light, curiously ignored in its motherland. Not so in Italy, where the success reached so high peaks (1st place of the charts for many weeks) up to become very soon the epitome of "ART" in all the rock history.

The progression of the three tracks are really astonishing. One cannot even take a breath at the very first listen. Fortunately this is one of the very few albums which is difficult to listen each time, even if the listener is a old good prog lover. In fact this music is not for passive ears. This is music for heart and mind: deep and romantic but never boring (inceasingly exciting), disturbing and spectral but never frustrating (inceasingly involving), out of schemes but never uncertain (music inceasingly flows like a river and the way is already planned).

I don't know if Hammill, Evans, Banton and Jackson knew then perfectly where they wanted to go or where they were going to. The sound goes from apocalyptic to salvific and so the vocals, nevermore so sharp and intriguing, in my humble opinion. Albums of the second era ("generation" would be the correct word) will not have an equal pureness neither the same imaginative power. Records as Godbluff or Still Life show a band somehow searching for new formulas and ideas. Contamination seems to be the key for those (justly memorable, by the way) works.

Some few words have to be spoken for this fabulous remastered re-issue! Could not believe such an improvement in sound's quality. All the money is certainly worth to be spent until the last cent!

Just my little contribution to make Pawn Hearts climb the top 100 chart!

Report this review (#85491)
Posted Wednesday, August 2, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars All things are [a]part.

Perhaps one of the oddest albums a prog fan is likely to have, Pawn Hearts pushes the limits and far beyond in one of the most challenging albums I've heard. Do not expect to understand any of this after one listen, as I still don't get it fully after several hundred. This album asks us questions and is one of the most progressive pieces of works, showing us beauty in shrouds of dark and gloom, which is what this album appears as on the surface. Certainly more challenging than their prog friends like Pink Floyd, and in some ways making Floyd look childish.

Many prog fans are disturbed by Hammill's vocals, however, due to the nature of this album, I don't see who else could replace him and the vibe he gives off with the music. It's breath taking really, the tension and power found in every quirky note and shriek by Hammill. He fits perfectly on this album. Not a minute is wasted on this album. Every movement has an important fit to it, well crafted between beautiful piano passages and wonderful guitar play from guest Fripp. An absolutely stunning gem, one that overshadows many of their prog companions. Certainly not for the faint of heart.

If you are looking for art pushed to the limit, look no further than VDGG's Pawn Hearts. An outstanding album, and easily one of the best and most unconventional of the early 70's, as well as having the first "epic". Those bored with the dullness of the "popular" prog may find solace here, in the dark world of VDGG.

Report this review (#86036)
Posted Monday, August 7, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Pawn Hearts is a very lyrically complicated album from a very accomplished band. Lemmings is a very dark song that changes its structure several times during the song. Peter Hammil has to be one of the best vocalists of all time with his creepy voice to his high pitch wail. The rest of the band follows the vocals which take main-stage on this album. VDGG is very tight musicaly and instead of the vocals complimenting the music, it is the music which complicates the vocals. This album is one of my favs and is definately deserving of being in the top 20 prog albums of all time.
Report this review (#86216)
Posted Tuesday, August 8, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars For me pawn hearts is the best album of all the progressive music. Only three tracks, but three masterpieces!!! Lemmings, one of they favourite tracks of the first period, man-erg the first vdgg's song i heard, and i loved it immediatly and the long epic a plague. Vdgg are a strange band: on stage they are no bass player (Hugh Banton with the pedal organ plays the bass line), the guitar is not very important (Robert Fripp plays in this album as in h to he...), The most important sounds are organ, the great sax of david jackson and the wonderful voice of Peter Hammill. The music is dark, schizoid and romantic in the same track!!! A must for all!!!

Report this review (#87363)
Posted Wednesday, August 16, 2006 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars First of all, a word of caution to all those newcomers to the word of prog who hear this album mentioned as a masterpiece, or even as essential listening - for it has nothing to share with the soothing, pastoral soundscapes of Genesis, the soaring cathedrals of sound of Yes, or the bombastic, over-the-top brilliance of ELP (to name but three bands). "Pawn Hearts", Van Der Graaf Generator's fourth album, is a monument of dark, brooding, Gothic intensity, the ideal soundtrack to one of Edgar Allan Poe's disturbing tales of mystery and madness. Although its three tracks (excluding the bonus tracks included in the remastered edition) undoubtedly rank among the milestones of prog, they do not certainly make for comfortable listening. It could safely be said that, even more than Gentle Giant, VDGG are an acquired taste - either you love them or you hate them. In any case, they are not a band to leave people indifferent.

In their heyday, VDGG commanded a strong cult following, though they were never the hot property ELP or even Yes were at the time. Strangely enough, they were hugely successful in my homeland of Italy, one the pioneering countries for prog of any description - probably due to the inherent dramatic quality of their music and lyrics, which in some ways appealed to the Latin temperament. The liner notes emphasise how, in the early Seventies, Italians took to VDGG with an enthusiasm that was only second to what they had shown towards such a completely different band as Genesis. Though not in the same way as ELP, VDGG were indeed excessive: highly idiosyncratic instrumentation (no bass and almost no guitar, heavy use of saxophone, rythmic keyboard patterns); impenetrable, sometimes controversial cover art (the inner sleeve of "Pawn Hearts" suggests a sort of Fascist rally, with the black-shirted band members saluting in the so-called "Roman" way); intense, intellectual lyrics occasionally verging on the overwrought; and, of course, Peter Hammill's inimitably theatrical vocals, the perfect vehicle for the above-mentioned lyrical content.

Nowhere are these elements on better display than on "Pawn Hearts", which can boast of one of the best album openers ever. "Lemmings" packs a wallop that will grip the listener at once, with its frantic sax- and organ-driven riff, wildly careening between melody and atonal, harsh moments which complement the brutal, despairing lyrics quite perfectly. The following "Man-Erg" begins in a deceptively quiet mood, with almost mellow piano and Hammill's heartfelt vocal delivery - before a dissonant, aggressive middle section shatters the apparent calm. What better way to convey lyrical content through the music? Hammill's voice turns to a screech, echoing the frenzied tones of sax and guitar (courtesy of KC mastermind Robert Fripp - an old hand at creating dark, disturbing soundscapes) - then, at the end, the two different strains merge to further suggest the tragedy of a split personality.

However, the album's pičce de resistance is the 23-minute-plus epic "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers", a monumental achievement suggesting bleak landscapes of deserted islands in the middle of a cruel sea - by turns wistfully melodic (especially at the beginning, with the immortal words "Still waiting for my saviour..."), ear-shatteringly dissonant (the maelstrom of sound in the middle section), and majestic, almost triumphant at the end, which suggests some sort of reconciliation. Blaring brasses imitate a ship's horn, while Hammill's voice dominates the proceedings, its all-out intensity sometimes bordering on the unbearable - unless one can see the gifted singer beneath the vocal acrobatics. Not for the faint-hearted, but gripping stuff indeed.

The bonus tracks on the remastered CD include a killer version of George Martin's "Theme One", with David Jackson's sax in particular evidence, and four rather avant-garde tracks which make for a rather demanding, even uncomfortable listening experience. The last three of these tracks are actually solo efforts by Guy Evans, Hugh Banton and David Jackson, and as such have mainly historical value.

Although I'm aware of the depths of both unconditional love and equally unconditional loathing that VDGG command from prog fans, I do not hesitate to recommend everyone to give "Pawn Hearts" a careful, unbiased listen. I cannot honestly say that it is an album I listen to frequently, or that I would rank it among my all-time favourites. Still, its raw, harsh, uncompromising beauty is undeniable, as well as its ground-breaking status as a sort of missing link between prog and punk. Four solid stars (plus a virtual half one) for its historical and musical merit.

Report this review (#87535)
Posted Thursday, August 17, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Lighthouses Might House The Key"

Yes indeed perhaps the pinnale of progressive rock for many (it is for me), how can you stand alone and voice your concerns about the world and its ever increasing lust for self destruction -- write a song as good as Lemmings thats how, its starts off so gently and by the middle its almost crushing you under its weight via the Cog section, but never having to resort to "LOUD GUITARS" or "BOMBASTIC DRUMMING" et al. That is the great strength of VdGG and Hammill in particular, to be overwhelmingly angry, but not just get loud expressing it.

Man Erg starts off beautifully, some people say this is a raw aggressive album, but to listen to this part you know you're listening to true song-writing genius and you have to wonder how Hammill is not more well known than he is, maybe if he followed the more melodic route he would have been. But by the end of Man Erg and the crazy sax breaks that just spin round your head you're again hooked and soaked in wonderment.

A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is again just, just genius what a name for a song, how could you not pick up the LP/CD and listen to it with a song called that. Prog goes Sea Shanty for a short while and we all love it. The many sections of Plague again leave you caught between the beauty and the bizarre (The Clot Thickens), but evermore a grandiose ending leaves you exhausted but ready for another round.

So five stars and I have no problem OK'ing the dialogue box that will appear when I click it.

"All Things Are A Part" they are, and the parts fit perfectly.

Report this review (#87811)
Posted Monday, August 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars I feel fortunate as after a span of about 10 years without encountering any new classic progressive bands I accidentally stumbled on this site and got to try out VdGG. This is my first encounter with this band and I could not be more enamored with their music. Each of the classic bands Yes, Genesis, ELP, etc... always seemed to have their niche within this particular genre, however one common thread holding these bands together is that each member seemed to play as near an equal role in the music making (i.e. three to five players typically playing at equally high levels and often simultaneously). In 'Pawn Hearts' we encounter a progressive band that is dominated by its VOCALS, and the effect of this Peter Hammill 'lead' outfit is outright magical.

The three main tracks, "Lemmings", "Man-Erg", and "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" are each hauntingly addictive. Even when not listening to this album, the melodies stay within my head like a personal soundtrack as I walk through life. Of the three songs I find "Man-Erg" to be the most accessible, upon which when I heard this the first time through I immediately knew that these guys where going to be something special. The other two tracks also feature a multitude of those moments in music listening that just about make your jaw drop out in awe.

All in all if someone were to ask me to generate a sample of progressive rock this would definitely be included in my references, thus this album earns a well deserved five stars as it is truly an essential listen.

Report this review (#88091)
Posted Thursday, August 24, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars 1971, Beatles still breathing when vdgg does pawn herts. This is an marginal album in time and space. The great sound´s combination between Banton and "Jaxon" union with the rithym of Evans and the voice of Peter creates one of the most best album of progressiv music. All the dicotomic way of hammill is present here, like an angel, like lucifer, like me (silent corner). It´s very complexed music with a net of sounds and actuality. Even today, after 35 years I discover news sensations. 5 stars because it´s the maxium.
Report this review (#89095)
Posted Wednesday, September 6, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Wow... If there is only one album that I can give a 5 star rating, it is this one. Van der Graaf Generator had a low budget, yet created something so fresh that it sounds new even today. With Lemmings, Man-Erg and the epic masterpiece A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, Van der Graaf Generator created the best triology of songs that they ever could.

This absolute prog essential masterpiece starts out with ''Lemmings'', a soft piece (Compared to the other two) that starts out with acoustic guitar playing, flutes and wind noises. Then Peter Hammill's vocals kick in, with his now well known brilliant lyrics. And then that sound that defined Van der Graaf Generator kicks in; the organ and Hammill's vocals playing together brilliantly. After this section David Jacksons saxophone kicks in, with Guy Evans absolutely great drumming and vocals working with it. The song proceeds with several sections, with the organ always being heard in the background, with Hugh Banton giving us the incredible organ lines he is now so well known off. Some softer melodies arise and eventually turns into nothing but wind and acoustic guitar playing. Then Hammill's crazy vocals entertain us once again, with Jackson joining on saxophone, improvising around high notes which makes for perfection. Then you hear a pic being dragged across guitar strings. What now? Chaotic organ and saxophone playing together, with Hammill's vocals soon joining in. It stops for a second or two, leaving only vocals, but soon comes in again to shake our minds. The drumming changes pace, again absolutely awesome drumming by Guy Evans, and now mad piano joins. And some sections from the beginning of the song is played again. The song goes back to the first verses with new vocals of course. The organ is giving our speakers a hard time being loud and destructive, however not even Hugh Banton's organ can overpower Hammill's loud, distinct vocals. The song cools down, and the organ becomes more quiet, till there is only the organ and drums. This goes on until the song eventually fades out, or does it? No. Some organ and ride cymbals are left for us to enjoy. It ends with a floor tom being hit hard by Guy Evans, and leaves place for an even better song;

''Man-Erg'' starts out with the most beautiful piano intro any progressive rock song has ever had, and Peter Hammill's stunning vocals join along, to make for an almost impossible-to-explain first verse. The chorus goes the same, being so beautiful and fitting, that this song is perhaps the best song on any Van der Graaf Generator album. The lyrics are absolutely brilliant, perhaps Peter's best. On the second verse, we can clearly hear Hugh Banton's organ following up with the vocals, piano and drums. The verses and choruses end, leaving some space for David's saxophone playing. It fades out and what comes next? Chaos. A loud piercing saxophone note follows, then comes absolutely mad, destructive, chaotic organ and saxophone with heavy drumming by Guy Evans. Hugh Banton improvises like crazy on the organ, while Jackson keeps it going on the sax. Peter Hammill soon screams out the vocals so loud that you'll probably have to turn down the volume. The crazy ''verse'' stops, and leaves place for one of the fastest drum fills you'll ever hear in your life. The crazy verse starts again, this time with Hugh Banton playing different chords. Gradually (Very slowly) the verse slowls down, and fades out with fast drumming by Guy Evans. This goes into a new section, with beautiful vocals by Peter. And really calm, soothing organ by Hugh. I get goosebumps every time I hear the distorted organ playing with Peter's vocals. Very nice section, eventually evolves into a great saxophone intermission, where Jackson makes very clever use of high pitched and low picthed notes, and make them collaborate very good. The organ is playing well in the background, and then that beautiful, emotional first verse comes in again. The awesome piano joins too, and the mood is better than ever. Then comes what I think is Hammill's most brilliant vocal line: ''I'm just a man, and killers, angels, all are these: Dictators, saviours, refugees. In war and peace.'' Those lines are repeated once again, the vocals being even heavier. The saxophone and organ work together again, with the same great characteristic drumming from Guy Evans heard in the background. The ''vrazy verse'' kicks in again, with the same chaos from the last one. The song ends on the loudest chord in the song, almost abruptly. Absolutely marvelous song.

The song that follows is Van der Graaf Generator's most complex song, ranging 23 minutes in length, and features incredible improvisation. This is, if I may, Van der Graaf Generator's best song... ever...

The opening D minor chord played by Hammill on his electric stage piano sends shivers down my spine every time I even think of it. The soft, mellow ride cymbals follow. The vocals kick in soon, being the most dynamic vocals ever by Hammill. The saxophone joins as well. You have now listened to the first of twenty three minutes of ''A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers''. A milestone in progressive music. This intro is soon followed by outstanding tom-playing by Guy Evans, performing at his best. And now Hugh Banton's best organ playing ever follows. The second verse makes me shiver even more every time. ''I prophecy disaster, and then I count the cost. I shine, but shining, dying. I know that I am almost... lost''. With all the instruments playing together, that verse is by many seen as Peter's most brilliant lyrics. I don't disagree. This verse is followed by another one, with the organ changing from creepy to chaotic. So does Hammill's vocals. The effects on the vocals are great, and gets the song in the right mood. A chaotic bridge follows with the saxophone playing with the organ. It slowly fades out with Banton's organ playing. Crazy chords on the organ make way for an awesome section; the section where David Jackson does the fog-horn noises with his saxophone. The fog/wind like effects in the background created by the organ collaborating with the saxophone makes this a brilliant as it can get. Guy Evans mimics a motor with his drum kit, and soon the ''normal'' organ kicks in again. Very quiet this time. Slowly gaining volume, the song kicks into a new section. Different organ chords are played, rising in key and the sound rising in clearity. Eventually the verse comes in again, with the stage piano and vocals collaborating in this brilliant section called ''Eye-Witness''. As Hammill screams the word ''Scream'' the effects on his voice are so brilliant, I just can't get more amazed every time. They were really ahead of their time, and this song is a lightyear beyond what many musicians will ever be today. As the ''Scream'' fades out, the chaotic section comes in again, with the sax hitting relatively low notes. Hugh Banton gets crazy with the organ again, and so does Jackson on the saxophone. Then comes another brilliant section, completely different from the other ones. Again, Hammill's vocals really deliver to the song's mood. Finally comes the sound that will lead throughout the rest of the song; distorted organs. Hugh Banton changes from clean to distortion brilliantly, and thus, the song's mood rises. It ends abruptly, but another section comes in, with the organ again dominating the sound. Jackson also does a great job. Vocals soon come in, and the drumming is superb. This goes on for a bit longer, eventually turing into an instrumental section. Now very quiet vocals come in. They go ''Would you cry if I died...?'' and a brand new section grace our ears, less chaotic than the others, but this is soon changed. Vocals are being screamed, and the organ is more distorted than before. Guy Evans almost emotional drumming dashes in the background. Eventually Hugh goes mad on the organ, and the most chaotic section yet arises. Every instrument plays strange chords and the drumming is loud. Hugh goes crazy like never before, with very complicated organ lines. In the middle of all chaos, Peter comes in with his great vocals and grandiose piano, and deliver the final words ''Over the brink I fall!'' before the chaos is broken, followed by ''normal'' organ playing. Hugh is really underrated. The vocals are changed a lot, and so is the song overall. No longer semi-creepy, sad and chaotic. Guy Evans changes the drumming a lot, and no verse here gets reptitive at all. It starts again, now with some more of that piano played by Peter, while he sings his part. The vocals are really good here, and Peter follows the instruments with his vocals almost perfectly. The piano goes down two chords and the song goes chaotic again. A heavy organ chord swifts over us, fading out and then in again, and a very chaotic section follows, with Peter's vocals being very effected. The organ is crazy again, and so is the sax and drumming. A complete change of pace is made from the last section, and it's a real ''wake-up'' call. Peter screams out the vocals more than before and David Jackson goes absolutely mad, and Hugh Banton does too. Absolute chaos is created between Hugh and David, and Guy's fast drumming doesn't make this less chaotic. Neither does Hammill's crazy vocals. Yet they all somehow stay in key. The organ starts playing scary notes, and again, nothing but chaos is at hand. It all ends encredibly abruptly to leave place for some of the most beuatiful piano lines Peter ever wrote. Such a strange change of music and pace, yet so good. Peter sings his heart out in the last section of the song, which is beautiful. The piano chords sound amazingly fresh. It doesn't take long for Hugh to join with the organ. The lyrics are absolutely brilliant here, and the song leaves place for the last three legendary lines; ''All things are a part! All things are apart! All things are a part!'', and the section goes out into improvising, with the organ getting distorted again. It get's a bit crazy here and there, and the chaos from previous sections is not completely forgotten here either. Guy Evans gets crazy on the cymbals, and a choir like singing is heard, leaving the last dashing piano chords that end this very masterpiece a real ending. What a song.

Thank you for reading this review.

Report this review (#89810)
Posted Saturday, September 16, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars -Historical Information

After the amazing two records, "H to He, who am the only one" and "The least we can do is wave to each other" released in 1970, Van der graaf generator, release "Pawn Hearts" in 1971. The same year, Hammill had also released a solo album, "Fool's Mate" (which may be considered as a Vdgg release since it features Vdgg's members and the music is very much like what Vdgg did at the time).

Keeping the classic Vdgg line-up from the previous "H to He" consisting of Hugh Banton, David Jackson, Guy Evans and Peter Hammill, Vdgg intended to release a double album with one side of oldies done more or less live, and one side of individual pieces by Hugh, Dave and Guy.

"We had mixed feelings about 'Pawn Hearts' because we'd recorded a double album and it had been decided that it was not 'prudent' to release a double LP at that time, so it had to come out as a single album. There was a track called 'Archimedes Agnostic' I think, and Guy had a backwards drum piece. The other titles are lost to oblivion though, as is the master tape. It's the biggest mystery of all: what happened to the lost half of 'Pawn Hearts'? We put a lot of work and ideas into it, one time we went into the studio and set up everything and then played a Van der Graaf song live straight off, recording it in mono and putting it onto one track of the 24 - then we did the same thing on the second track with a totally different song and so-on until at the end of the day, we had twenty four Van der Graaf Generators all playing simultaneously. We mixed it all together and used a section of it on 'Lighthouse Keepers' near to the line '...maelstrom of my memory' although to be frank, hearing it back now it hardly seems worth the effort." Said David Jackson on an interview in 1990.

The name comes from a rearrangement of the words "horn parts". Pawn hearts was becoming really popular in Italy holding number 1 in Italy for 12 weeks in 1972. The original vinyl in the US and Canada, contained a fourth track between "Lemmings" and "Man-Erg". "Theme one" was an arrangement Vdgg did of an old BBC Radio 1 closing theme composed by George Martin.

-Gatefold photo

Peter Hammill's statements on the inner sleeve picture with the infamous 'Nazi salute' image:

"The picture inside was completely spontaneous (in form!) - originally we'd intended a picture of us playing Crowborough tennis, a VdGG invention involving the table we're standing on and the football under Dave's arm... I won't try to explain the rules, as it's quite complicated, but a very energetic game of skill!! So we took lots of shots of that (all of which are equally weird, and some of which may yet be used) and then had a few frames left, so got into the psychedelic Nazi's trip! When we saw the effect, the pose, infra red film and all, we instantly overcame any inhibitions about freaking people, and knew it HAD to be that! The black shirts and yellow ties, incidentally, are not as directly connected to it as might be thought... they arose from conversations in the making of PH, in which we decided that we were going so far out inside (you can take that any way you want, musically, emotionally, psychically), that all we could do was have a "blackshirts" society to denote our outsanity. It's a bit of a self-defeating concept, but only 1/4 serious!! So for this cover, this idea came back! I hope all that makes some sense, but it's difficult, because people know us through the music, yet this is only peripherally in the music, and has more to do with the unrealities in which we live....(guarded) explanations in song on the next album, I hope!!" - Peter Hammill in a letter to Jem Shotts, 21st February 1972

"The pose was in ironic reference to a statue in Kaiserslautern which had given us chills." - Peter Hammill in an interview with Mju:zik magazine, February 1998

-The music

Pawn Hearts is one of the biggest reference points of 70's English progressive music. Pawn Hearts is considered to be the best Vdgg release. Peter Hammill has stated: "As human beings, writers, musicians, we were quite out there for that one". "Only when we met up to release a boxset did we discuss what happened - that we'd all gone bonkers".

Pawn Hearts is amazingly complex compared to other Vdgg releases but at the same time it sounds so fluid. It's as "Bryan" has written in his review 'effortlessly complex'. Complexity however, is amazingly combined with amazing compositions, truly wonderful lyrics, great musicianship and emotions. All four members show their skills, their unique sound and the musical connections they have with each other. Maturity but also experimental tendencies are two big characteristics of this album. All Vdgg characteristics from the previous albums appear here as well as new ones.

I am not going to do an analysis of each song (I never do that anyway) not to ruin the surprises of those three amazing tracks. An album that everyone should have. Many won't be able to digest it, others may not stand Hammill's voice (really usual phenomenon), others may not like the dark feeling of the compositions but there will be many to appreciate and love this true masterpiece.

Report this review (#93684)
Posted Saturday, October 7, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars Simply their very best album ever! All VDGG albums are great, but this album is the master of masters! Peter Hammil always perfect is his totally full of emotion vocal style, Hugh Banton and David Jackson creative at the higher point and Guy Evans drumming with excellence, the sound of gods! Lemmings is the first piece of this treasure, no words to explain this track... perfect! Man-Erg, the second is my favorite: the most beautiful melancholic and dramatic song of all time! A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers is one of the best prog rock suites I have heard! This album is totally recommended for any kind of listener who likes good music!
Report this review (#94351)
Posted Thursday, October 12, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars The epitome of the progressive music!

Simply the best of the hard work and good vibrations into a poetic affair. A MASTERPIECE WITHOUT A DOUBT! Hear the sax of Jackson at the voice of Hammill and the drum of Evans and the atmospheric sound of Banton... THE album that open minds!

Still life & Godbluff makes a pecfect listening time.

Wine, good tube amp, a full night and... play it LOUD! "

... think that was made in heaven..." like the Miles Kind of blue album!

(Y'know that they still a live and well - Present-! Hope they will come in Quebec for some nights: lots of fans here!)

Vive VDGG!

Report this review (#94448)
Posted Friday, October 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars I know I know... Everything has been said about thing album, but still I feel the need to talk about it. First of all, I have owned this one for about two years, without really lving it. I won't start to say that I found it bad, but I tought it was not my cup tea. But most recently, I decided to give it another try. I started to listen to it about two or thrre times a day, and finally it hit me. This is album is pure genius. It took me a lot of time to dig it, but now I can't get enough of VdGG. Some parts of this album are just perfect, wich is not somehting I say really often. The lyrics of Man-Erg are just mesmerizing, And Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is great from ebginning to end. So this is what I wanted to say about this album to all of you who don,t know much about Pete and his band: it may take a LONG time to dig it, but once you do, it will become one of your favorite band, I can promise that. It grows on you, it's just incredible. Three songs, equally astonishing. Their beauty is hidden deep down, but trust me, it pays off to dig deep. 5/5
Report this review (#94544)
Posted Saturday, October 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars I am not going to add a great deal to what has already been said. At the time of its release most people didn't get this recording especially in the UK. VDGG where a cult band certainly not in the first division of Progsters. As far as the musicianship goes VDGG couldn't compete with the real big boys, even the compositions are amateurish and sloppy in comparison with those of Yes as an example. Some of the arrangements are clumsy or get out of hand. On the original LP release there is even a point were the engineer turns the volume down really crudely. However this is still a truly classic recording and it certainly is progressive in every sense of the word. VDGG take a lot of risks (especially on this set ) but many of them come off and make this a very interesting even essential purchase. There is a real passion behind the vocals, it becomes almost operatic in its scope and Peters voice is an important instrument, indeed P.H's Vocal are the only virtuoso performance on this record they carry the sound and the drive of the music wonderfully. The composition are without exception interesting and at times the music is very beautiful. This is contrasted against some of the most ugly and aggressive music ever recorded. It is little wonder that Fripp wanted to be part of this, and King Crimson are the only other prog band that contrast their music so sharply. I personally think VDGG are a better band than any KC line up although in terms of musical skill they do not come close. VDGG were not a super-group outside of VDGG the other musicians did not have big names. They are not classically trained super stars but they are a tremendously dedicated and hardworking band. For this reason they remain by far my favorite prog group. This record is VDGG at one of its creative peaks. Later albums would be safer and they would never again go quite so far into the darkness. The extras on the re-issue are a mixed bag. The version of W is interesting but has a few mistakes in it which may be why they re-recorded this track later. W is a gem of course even with Jaxon out of tune at times. The version of Theme One is pretty good. The tracks from the pawn Hearts period are mostly experimental and not that good. The inclusion of the extras has rather spoiled the effect of this LP ,Its a great shame they had not been found and put on the Box instead were they would have fitted comfortably. Its a great shame that the live version of Killer is lost but the live squid/octopus is on the H to He set where it fits perfectly. This remains a must have purchase for any serious collection of prog, and remains a classic.
Report this review (#95234)
Posted Friday, October 20, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars 3.5 Stars.

This is a very, very odd album, from the mind of the demented Peter Hammil.

The album requires perserverence, patience and intent listening.

A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers might be what attracts you to it, another epic to discover. It is great, but did not live up to my expectations. It's quite scizophrenic, changing from peaceful vocals to thrashing hammond and devilish saxophones.

Lemmings is a great song, a 10 minute peice with saxophone riffs a plently, lyrics with a hidden meaning, and structured very well.

Man-Erg disturbs me too much to give it more than a occasional listen.

Come to this band when you have gone over the more staple offerings.

Report this review (#101421)
Posted Saturday, December 2, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Pawn Hearts" is often referred to, and considered by many as being Van Der Graaf Generator's opus. I can have no say on the matter as I do not own even close to all the band's studio albums, however it would be hard to top. There is a lot of talk of this album being hard to get into and it being very dark. I don't see the depth in these arguments as I found "H to He who am the Only One" to be a lot darker and ambitious than "Pawn Hearts." Its really about personal experience and preference in the end and there are a lot of flaws when questioning someone's opinion. All that said don't expect to get this work on a first listen.

Anywho, "Pawn Hearts" was created after "H to He who am the Only One" and it really is a refined version if you like of the band's sound. Peter Hammill, as in all their albums has a definite presence through his powerful voice and ingenious compositional techniques. Powerful, yet melodic saxes by David Jackson and almost domineering organs and synthesizers from Hugh Banton, backed up by Guy Evan's strong percussion gives the album a great kick.

The cover art of the album depicts a group of people, on what looks to be the sky and space as pawns. This reminds me greatly of the old myths about the gods of Olympus using humans as pawns in their games, its kind of the same thing here I believe. There is also what looks to be a waterfall in the picture, don't know what the significance of that could be. The grand idea of the album is pretty obvious though.

"Lemmings (including Cog)" opens up the album and it begins with an acoustic guitar, which is soon joined by a gradually increasing.wash of music. This section is accented by flute trills and gillandoes (I think that's how it's spelt) before the first section of vocals come in. The song progresses in a true fashion through it's entirely before ending on an almost unfished note.

"Man-erg" is one spectacular song. It begins with a piano melody along with vocals from Peter Hammill. It soon moves into a very menacing section in which Hammill sings screams (kind of like Geddy Lee.) for a while. After this short passage the music dies down again and a mellower section begins, in which an amazing saxophone solo is given to us by David Jackson. The end is quite interesting as melodies from past sections of the song come back to haunt the music.

Last of all is the epic of the album "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers." It begins immediately with some keyboard chords and lyrics from Hammil, shortly joined by Jackson on the sax. The lyrics are something to be envied in this section. They are quiet easy to memorise as they flow so freely and beautifully backed by fantastic instrumentation. This section is called "Eyewitness."

The grandeur of "Eyewitness" dies down to reveal the next section in Pictures/Lighthouse. This passage is somewhat of a wanting section as it seems to be building into something spectacular, but is dies right back down again. Another melody is introduced on an organ towards the end of the passage.

Next section is called "Eyewitness" (again) and it is essentially a reprise of the opening part of the epic. The feel of the piece is very similar to that of the first part but the music is all new and nothing is repeated. Again, excellent!

"S.H.M" is slotted in there somewhere as well.

After "Eyewitness" the music dies down again to be encompassed by a saxophone and organ with mellow bass and percussive backing. Soon more vocals come in and it is soon evident that this section is called "Presence of the Night" and it is somewhat reminiscent of Bartok's "Night Music" style.

"Kosmos Tours" follows and with it comes a climax in the music and for the entire duration of the passage the music seems to gain intensity. The sax and organ work in sync together to give the song great accentuation. There is one superb line at the end of the section, excellent!

"(Custard's) last Stand" beings once the music has "fallen" from the previous.thing. It begins with an organ, piano, sax and some very powerful lyrics from Hammill. The climax here is quite exciting.

"The Clots Thickens" is a very intense section and it very aggressive with Hammill providing some very, very on edge material. This is followed by an extended instrumental section in which some odd stuff is revealed.

As the "The Clots Thickens" ends, suddenly, the next part "Land's End (Sineline)" beings which just so happens to be my favourite part of the song. The lyrics in this section are amazing and, after "The Clots Thickens" they are just. perfect.

The last section is a direct follow on from "Land's End (Sineline)" and it is entitled "We Go Now" and it echoes the main melody of the previous part to end the song in an amazing fashion.

1.Lemmings (including Cog) (4/5) 2.Man-Erg (5/5) 3.A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (5/5) Total = 14 divided by 3 (number of songs) = 4.6666. = 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of progressive music

What an album this is, an essential for sure. The remaster of "Pawn Hearts" comes with five previously unreleased bonus tracks which are well worth checking out. "Pawn Hearts" was the no.1 album in Italy for 6 weeks, which is an amazing feat! I'd recommend this album to all prog fans, superb.

Report this review (#103432)
Posted Sunday, December 17, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
5 stars This is probably their most complex record and therefore not the easiest album to get into. For me this album and the previous one "H To He, Who Am The Only One" are my favourites from the band. What brings this record up a notch (for me) is the concept that the record revolves around. I would suggest reading inpraiseoffolly's review for some interesting thoughts on that.

The first song "Lemmings (including cog)" features some crazy sax melodies and the organ play really adds to the full sound.Tempo and mood changes are abundant in this song, and Peter's vocals are all over the place, from soft to theatrical to yelling. A thoughtful song about choices we are sometimes faced with, like whether we follow the crowd and continue to be lemmings or cogs in the system or do we take a stand.

"Man Erg" is my favourite and not surprisingly the most emotional song for me as well. We get piano, organ, drums and reserved vocals creating a dark melody for 3 minutes until things get very noisy and chaotic. The melody that comes out of that gets slower and slower until the song changes again with calm vocals, good drumming, piano and some nice sax melodies.

"A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers" is an epic that was pieced together in the studio and apparently unperformable live. talks about how the band was told to play this song on a Belgian TV show. They filmed them playing it in pieces and then spliced it all together in the editing room. Needless to say this is an amazing song that is all over the map and features some great performances from all involved, including Mr.Fripp who ends the song with an outstanding guitar solo ! There is even a good dose of mellotron during the "The Clot Thickens" section.

This is not the place to start for those new to VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR in fact it's taken me a long time to finally offer up that fifth star.

Report this review (#104901)
Posted Saturday, December 30, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Holy smokes these guys are odd. But oddity is a key ingredient in creativity. And Hammill and the gang accomplished something substantially great here. Every track is slick and layered with heavy, dark atmospheres and fantastic musicianship. Lyrically it is absolutely fantastic. Lighthouse Keepers is a real journey, and Man-Erg never disapoints. The bonus tracks are good, but nothing is essential there. I find this album one of the most captivating series of sounds available to man. I'm sure hundreds of other proggies can agree with me there. So if you're new to prog, new to Van Der Graaf, or if you're reading this and haven't heard this album, than get on amazon and order it! I promise you a thrill ride of emotional proportions.
Report this review (#105091)
Posted Sunday, December 31, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars I entered the VDGG catalogue with this album in 1974. I was fully in love with Genesis, Yes and the Floyd (as far as true prog is concerned), so this was quite a shock ! Although I liked it after a few spins, I must admit that there are easier albums to start with if you want to discover this important band. Only three songs for a bit over forty- five minutes.

Originally, this should have been a double album, but it was decided that it was not relevant to release such an effort. One additional side would have been a live one with probably "Killer" and "Darkness". The last one being a collection of individual songs from Guy, Hugh and David (sounds like "Works" from ELP, right) ? Some of those elements were recorded but never mixed.

"Lemmings" : do you know these animals that follow each other until they fall into the precipice and die ? Peter will start the song in this way :

"I stood alone upon the highest cliff-top, looked down, around, and all that I could see were those that I would dearly love to share with crashing on quite blindly to the sea..." and "What course is there left but to die ?".

We are again into the darkest themes in which death is very welcome. This song is average. Not very powerful (at times very, very quiet : like KC in "Moonchild"), somewhat jam-oriented and jazzy. A bit disappointing.

"Man-Erg" is a kaleidoscope of what VDGG produces : complex music with rythm changes, nice melodic passages combined with (very few) cacophonic moments as well. It is by far my fave here. The lyrics are incredible. Peter describes a schizo having both a killer and angels inside him : "How can I be free? How can I get help? Am I really me? Am I someone else?".

It is quite similar to "House With No Door" (one of my VDGG's fave). Same for this : a great song.

One of their two epic songs (second one coming much, much later) : "A Plague ..." consist of ten parts linking very well the one into the other. Do not expect though anything ŕ la "Supper's Ready" or "Close to the Edge". VDGG has a style apart that cannot be compared to anything else. You listen and either you like it or not. No mixed feeling about it !

I have a lot of respect for Peter who was able to remember this awful amount of text during live performances (I had the same feeling for Jon while Yes performed "The Revealing Science of God"). No wonder they will often play a "Plague Medley" with only half (or so) of the song.

It starts on a smooth tempo with nice vocals and a very discreet band, it builds a bit stronger then comes part two "Pictures/Lighthouse" which is a lenghty spacey moment leading to some noisy and then almost noise-less one (around minute four). Back to "Eyewitness" for part three (as far as I am concerned they could have easily skip part two).

"S.H.M." has more rythm. Good backing band and some melodious (but dark) vocals : "The spectres scratch on window-slits, hollowed faces, mindless grins, only intent on destroying what they've lost".

"The Presence of the Night : part five is quiet and sad. Truely emotional. One desperately wants to come and save the character : "'Alone, alone,'the ghosts all call, pinpoint me in the light.The only life I feel at all, is the presence of the night". Brrrr. Very good section.

Next one "Kosmos Tour" is jamming and irritating. I prefer the part seven "Custard's Last Stand" : more melodious with great piano work and subtle sax. A very nice section again. Back to complexity/cacophony with part eight : "The Cloth Thickens". Weird vocals, with different tones. Difficult moment for me.

Hopefully, the last two sections are all harmony and closes this track in a beautiful manner (it was needed). IMO, it is not really the type of songs you can spin three times in a row (unlike "Firth Of Fifht", "And You And I" or "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" if you see what I mean. (I did it twice though while I am finalizing this review).

Their very dark and scary music do not generate a lot of fun but this band was a pionner in the genre and this album closes their first era of production quite well I must say. This album will reach Nr. 1 (number one) in Italy where the band reached stardom.

Phase II of their carreer will generate true gems of prog music; but that's another story.

A must own for any VDGG fan but not for the average prog lover. I would absolutely NOT recommend "Pawn Hearts" as an entry album to their catalogue like I did more than thirty years ago (unless you are found of complex and intricated music). Three stars.

Report this review (#107615)
Posted Monday, January 15, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Hot off the heels of H to He, VDGG's profile was rising even as their accounts were falling. Europe, particularly Italy, couldn't get enough of them and their beyond weird sax-driven music. Robert Fripp returns to lend his unique brand of electric guitar to Hammil's acoustic, and Peter steps up his already considerable lyrical game for some of the deepest words in rock. Evans and Banton weigh things down while David Jackson displays his sax skills.

"Lemmings" opens the album with a ten minute journey with acoustic and flutes, then gradually progresses with increasing volume as Banton's evil hammond and Evan's tight percussion struggle be heard over Hammil's loud vocals. The listener is bombarded with odd melodies, yet this is the most accessible track on the album. "Man-Erg" ups the ante with a similar opening before become even louder and darker than Lemmings. The highlight, however, is the side-long epic A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. This song is one of the densest, most inaccessible pieces ever written, yet when it clicks, it is an indisputable masterpiece. The alternate soft/heavy shown on the first two songs is perfected here, with near silent moments giving way to cacophonous rock with screamed vocals.

The remastered edition has 5 bonus tracks, none of which are essential "lost dogs," but they are interesting. The weird cover of BBC's Theme One shows the lighter side of the band. The rest are short, jazzy interludes that don't warrant repeat listens.

Newcomers to VDGG should steer clear of this behemoth. It takes a certain amount of discipline to understand this record, and it takes several listens to fully comprehend. To call this album challenging is an understatement. The only real flaw here is the iffy production, which hasn't been eradicated by the remaster. However, Pawn Hearts is Van Der Graaf Generator's peak, and it stands as a classic of progressive rock.

Grade: A

Report this review (#113377)
Posted Saturday, February 24, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Extremely complex album, it requires a huge amount of listenings before understanding this album, for me at least. Just like the singer Peter Hammill once said, it's an onion that has many surfaces, just keep on peeling it.

Featuring three tracks this album shouldn't be too hard to understand, but there's so many of those 'surfaces' that you have to peel to get inside it. Talk about progressive. This record is still ahead of it's time with it's fascinating arrangements and bouncing rhythms. I haven't got any favourite track, all three of them manage to keep me in their hold. Van der Graaf Generator always has this weird calming effect on me, though their music is sometimes even aggresive, and in this album there's that same aggressive atmosphere surrounded by Hammills calming voice. This album sure is worth trying, though you have to peel it a bit.

Report this review (#114975)
Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars I gave them a shot, really I did. But this is one of prog's pantheon that I just cannot get into. I've listened to this album, World Record, The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other at least 5-6 times, just to make sure. And I am sure that I just get past rating them as good. Somewhat interesting, yes, but their sonic template seems based mainly on organ playing that often is just playing the changes, from one chord to another to another, holding them for 20-30 seconds, with some solo sax interplay. There are the occasional "jazzy" freak outs, but they don't really catch my ear. Oh well, I gave it a try. I really did.
Report this review (#115117)
Posted Wednesday, March 14, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of the peaks of progressive music!!! It took me some time to get into this album, but today i can't live without it. I listen at least one song every day from it. As for the songs, there's of course no weak moment in these three masterpieces, i dislike a bit the ending of the lemmings. I can't think of any other weaknesses of the album .......Hammil's vocal is truly amazing. as for the drumming .... it sounds a bit of 60-ies for me but it's ok, as Evans shows brilliant playing skills !!

5 stars from me .........

Report this review (#115832)
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is really a masterpiece of progressive music! It's just 3 songs, but it's really a complete album: in the A side, Lemmings and Man-Erg represent good and evil, strength and gentleness, rage and calm: Lemmings is about the Meaning of Life, while Man-Erg is about the two souls that lie in every man - the Angel and the Killer... Hammill is a real poet, he's just as "mad" as a poet is supposed to be. And he's a great singer too; I've never heard a voice more expressive. The second side, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, is about intellectual solitude, the feeling of being lonely even in the crowd.

This is not only the best VDGG album, but also a must of Prog, an album that defines what we know under that name... 5 stars.

Report this review (#116059)
Posted Thursday, March 22, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of the darkest and most apocalyptic albums ever released, and I love every second of it. A bleak trip through Peter Hammill's psyche (circa 1971) over his fellow generators' percolating melodies. Their sound takes the original incarnation of King Crimson to punkish extremes as organ and saxophone are mangled to fit to these dark, stately melodies. Lemmings looks outward toward and condemns a chaotic world over precise drumming and David Jackson's harsh sax. Hammill's shows why Fripp would call him the "hendrix of the voice" (or something like that) 20 years later with his theatrical croons and shrieks, which make lines like "clouds are piled in mountain shapes" into predictions of impending demise. The Man-Erg is an introspective piece which starts as a piano ballad and ends as a hymn and a menacing stacatto figure duking it out. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is the sound of a band imploding over the course of 20 minutes. And not a note is wasted.
Report this review (#120314)
Posted Monday, April 30, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars How come I have not reviewed this seminal album? I might had been so ignorant about this album. It's probably from the first time I was engaged with prog music when I was 14 years old I had never considered Van Der Graaf music as one of my favorites. It could be the band's lack of melodies in most of its compositions or the band's intention for not using guitar as their main instrument. But I never put aside the band as I knew it from the 70s that this band was very special in the history of progressive music. When I listened to "Still Life" for the first time, it blew me away at first listen. It also happened to my other journey with "World Record" and "Godbluff". They were all excellent albums! Talking about "Pawn Hearts" I only could absorb the music after I was exposed with other albums of Van der Graaf Generator. I don't know why this album seemed like very heavy for my ears not in a sense that the music was so complex, but there were segments that I thought quite annoying - repetitive and not melodic. Even when I finally realized that Robert Fripp of King Crimson did contribute to this album, still I could not absorb it well.

Time went by and I did not quite notice anymore about this album as I got many other great albums like Genesis' "Selling England", Yes "Relayer" and King Crimson "In The Wake of Poseidon" which for me they have nice melody (in part or overall album) as compared to Pawn Hearts. But sometimes I felt like I needed something else, something different, something less-melodic but still unique. It seemed like "Pawn Hearts" fulfilled these criteria and I spun again this album. (Note: So long I only got this album in cassette format until couple of years ago I bought the CD format. Yes, I do enjoy the singing style of Peter Hammill which in some cases have similarities with Peter Gabriel.

I have read some reviews with respect to this album and found out there were polarities in terms of teach reviewer's view about this album. One thing that I was "quite" happy was the fact that most reviewers said that this album is somewhat heavier (read: tougher) than other albums of Van der Graaf (including my all-time favorite "Still Life"). Wow! The wider the polarities, the more I like it because this is what we call as "prog" music - people would have different perception from the same one album. That's the beauty of prog music: different views about the same music.

Once I finally be able to overcome my barriers to understand and digest this album, it has resided very well in my memory and in fact when I'm writing the review now (7 Apr 07) I do not need to spin the CD because it has been recorded well in my memory cells. Of course, I can memorize all the subtleties produced by this album. As far as musical compositions, this is a masterpiece album and set the band apart from other bands at the time of its release. Van der Graaf laid their music foundation on the use of Hammond organ and saxophone while no other bands did similar thing. You might need sometime to digest the music like I did in the past. But when you finally can absorb it you can see how brilliant the band was in creating a music like this. The composition is tight and it offers changes in moods and styles. The songwriting is excellent, resulting excellent tracks like "Lemmings" and "Man-Erg" (which can be digested easily than other tracks) plus excellent epic "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers".

Overall, this is a gem of the 70s with unique composition and powerful music in a dark nuance. This is recommended to all of you who want to explore the various types of progressive music - whether you like it or not is not important at all. You should have it if you want to explore prog music in its entirety. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#121031)
Posted Monday, May 7, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars The killer lives inside me; yes

Pawn Hearts is my favourite Van Der Graaf Generator album. The album is 3 songs long, and theese songs are borderline perfect. "Lemmings" starts as spacey understated folk-rockish theme with buried acoustic guitar riff and Hugh's keyboards. It ends with some nice organ part. Its the albums weakest part. (that says more about the next two tracks really)

My clear favorite on this album is the fantastic "man-erg". Everytime I hear the opening of this song my hair stands up, its such a beatuiful track. The sound of "man-erg" and also the rest of album reminds me somewhat of David Bowie. Imagine David Bowie crossed with King Crimsons epic tracks and you have the sound of Pawn Hearts.

The angels lives inside me.

The last track "A Plague of Lighthouse-Keepers" is one of those great prog songs that makes us love progressive music so much. Its a 23 minutes masterpiece. It flows from the most beautful piano parts to the more "out there" sax and guitar solos. It never gets to out there and it never gets to be to quiet, its a flow thats just marvellous.

And I, too, live inside me

Van Der Graaf Generator should have a bigger name. They are a fantastic group.

Report this review (#122788)
Posted Saturday, May 19, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars Van Der Graaf Generator . . . where to start?

This is not one of my favorite bands. I don't care for Peter Hammill's vocals that much. The best way to describe them is an overly strange, dramatic, and theatric version of Peter Gabriel. He also reminds me of Fish from Marillion, except a more extreme version. If you enjoy that type of singing then you will love VDGG. Personally, I'm not a big fan.

I had pretty high expectations before listening to Pawn Hearts. I was somewhat dissapointed. The vocals were incredibly bizarre and the music itself is very hard to get into. It's complex almost to the point of being dischordant, and there is just a little too much going on for the listener to follow.

One high point of the album is the sax. It's out of this world. I really don't think I've heard a better sax player in my life. Normally I'm not usually a fan of the instrument, but David Jackson is incredible. If you enjoy a good sax player, then you should deffinately check out VDGG. Also, check out "The Music that Died Alone" by The Tangent. Jackson is the sax player on that album and he really shines on it.

If you enjoy extremely complex instrumental sections, extremely theatric vocals, and extremely good sax playing, you will enjoy this band. If your a fan of the band or of Peter Hammill's solo work, then by all means get this album immediately. It's the best of their albums that I have heard.

I'm not a big fan, but maybe thats just me. Give them a listen and see if you enjoy it. There are some songs on this website that you can stream and listen to.

This is a band you will either love or hate. I can't stand them, but there are alot of people who love them. I'll let you decide if you like them or not.

Report this review (#125134)
Posted Friday, June 8, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is VDGG masterpiece, no way. They made a lot of great cds, like "H to he", "Godbluff" and others, but this is still their greater work. It's difficult to describe a similar sound, maybe invented from VDGG themselves, but it features the saxophone of D. Jackson and the incredible voice of Peter Hammill, my fav prog vocalist: he has a never-heard voice, it is so though... "Man-erg" is one of my fav tracks ever, but then we have "A plague of lighthouse keepers", considered one of the greatest prog suites ever. I agree, it is.

Anyway, you can't miss this cd if you want a good prog collection. Probably I would take it on the famous desert island if there were at least 10 places... I would give 6 stars if there were... :)

Report this review (#128194)
Posted Thursday, July 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars The famous album by Van der graaf generator

Lemmings (including cog) The track starts with a creepy organ sounds and great vocals from Peter Hammill. The track gets through several melodic and also rhytmical changes. Hammill´s vocal melodies are very complex and the saxophone fits in nicely as well. Guy Evans does some great drumming. Around the fifth minute and aggressive weall of sound comes in, and the song becomes more avantgarde. After that the main melodic motif comes again and the track concludes with a quieter, atmospheric keyboards part. 4.5 stars

Man-erg A more traditional track, very melodic, with Hammill on the piano dominating the first part of the track. His vocals are similar to Peter Gabriel´s of his Genesis era, majestic, but not oveblown. A faster part follows, with a tight rhytm section, dirty organ sound and and sax playing. The sound becomes even fluller with the instrumental passages dominated by saxophone and flute. The main melody returns with a wall of sound created by all the keyboards and saxes and the track concludes with creepy sounding organ. 5 stars

A plague of lighthouse keepers Again, the track is full of long, cmplicated vocal passages, which are eerie and also dramatic. After a weird piano and saxophone passage around the twelth minute the leading motif follows with majestic organ playing and lovely, relaxed vocals by Hammill, with subtle saxophone playing. Then a faster passage follows, with weird vocals from Hamll. After the climax of the vocal melody around the twentieth minute a blistering guitar solo from Robert Fripp comes., followed by a soaring atmospheric vocal conclusion. 5 stars

Overall rating: 5 STARS


Report this review (#132762)
Posted Saturday, August 11, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Pawn Hearts truly deserves the album of the month rating in my lists, what the heck, let's make it a few months. Three songs, which two are absolute diamonds and one fairly good song. There are a lot of great albums that took some time to grow on me, but this one was just an instant mindblower.

Peter 'Arry Hammill has confirmed his place as one of the greatest vocalists of all ti'me, not to talk about the compositions and lyrics. Rest of the band just rocks, simply. I usually don't care so much about huge amount of sax or horns, but Jackson's blows fit perfectly into the image of the music. Van Der Graaf Generatos is very dark prog. No melancholy like King Crimson or devastately like Porcupine Tree, but in it's very own twisted and crooked way. It can be also very beautiful, very gloomy, very deep and very something, just name a feeling in random and you'l find it from the depths of the Generator.

Lemmings, is the one fairly good song I mentioned. The vocal arrangements are the highlight of the song and it has some nice piano and stuff. On some other album, this woulb be the top material, but alongside with those two other ones, it's just ok.

Man Erg, here you have THE Piano and the vocals, the lyrics, just can't get enough of it. It pretty hard to write a reasonable review about something that just can't be defined with words. Just listen to it. I don't think that i have heard so nice piano on any other record. Also the ending of Plague is from the keyboard kingdom(that was a lame idiom I know). The refugees are also mentioned in the song, possibly a sister-piece for the one in The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other?

But then, ok, i try to chill myself out. The Plague Of The Lighthouse Keepers reaches something like my ultimate top-5, in any music. The epic and mentally unstable tale about a... lighthouse keeper who i think is pretty lonely, duh.

The ten sequences of the song, are all very strong and differerent individuals. The narrative opening, the drum-sax duels by David Jackson and Guy Evans, the distand foghorns, scenes where the protagonist is a bit losing it, the crazied feelings driven by 'Arry's insane mouthing, piano dominated screams for help and hope and the silent and isolated monologues trying to reach the following generations. Epic huh? Well it sure is, it sure is.

Enough of me chanting this one into heavens, just get your hands into this album and do the chanting yourselves.

Report this review (#137082)
Posted Saturday, September 8, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars ...a review of the 2005 re-mastered CD...

Why even bother adding to the pile of more than 270 reviews of this masterpiece, especially when it already boasts a near- unanimous approval rating? I can think of two reasons:

1) It's still one heck of an album, and one of the cornerstones of the Prog Rock experience, sounding no less strange and uncompromising today than it must have when first released in 1971. And:

2) The 2005 re-mastered CD has a revitalized clarity that shames any previous edition, with extensive notes, photos, lyrics and bonus tracks adding significant historical perspective to an already timeless recording.

You might not have known that the band originally hoped to release the album along with a second LP of experimental solo compositions and several live-in-the-studio recordings of older songs. The idea was scrapped before it got too far off the ground, in retrospect perhaps thankfully: a haphazard collection of new and live material would have undermined the seamless integrity of the single three-song album that was eventually released.

But after more than thirty years in limbo the surviving samples of that lost LP (five in total, four of them entirely instrumental) have been dusted off and included here as bonus tracks, giving listeners a rough idea of what one side of the aborted twin album might have sounded like. (The only remaining live performance from the same sessions has been added to the likewise recommended CD re-master of the band's 1970 effort, "H to HE Who Am the Only One".)

First up are hitherto unreleased alternate takes of the "Theme One" / "W" single (the A-side of which appeared on the US edition of "Pawn Hearts"; the B-side can be heard on the 1993 "I Prophesy Disaster" compilation). These are rough edits of what sound like live rehearsals, fascinating when heard today as works in progress but no substitution for the more polished final versions.

Next is "Angle of Incidents", from drummer Guy Evans: a five-minute cacophony of backwards percussion, slowed-down vocals, freeform saxophones, and the sound of fluorescent lighting tubes dropped down the studio stairwell. The track achieves an almost hypnotic intensity today sounding more Post Rock than Prog, as does Hugh Banton's multi-tracked organ experiment "Diminutions", an escalating series of very German space drones not dissimilar (and in some ways superior) to what TANGERINE DREAM was doing at the same time (between their early, ambient "Alpha Centauri" and "Zeit" albums).

David Jackson's brief, upbeat "Ponker's Theme" provides a lighthearted change of pace, in a jazzy, 90-second comic-relief interlude suitable for cocktails on the patio.

Taken out of context, these additional tracks can sound pretty much like what they are: discarded outtakes. But each one reveals a willingness to push the conventions of popular music right to the brink, which might explain why this was a band that survived the tests of time better than most Prog acts from the 1970s. Compare this album, for example, to such cherished time- capsule period pieces like "The Yes Album", or "Nursery Cryme" by GENESIS, both released the same year as "Pawn Hearts" but neither able to match it for ongoing relevance.

Of course the dystopian nightmares and naked self-examination of lyricist/singer PETER HAMMILL (I'm thinking here specifically of "Lemmings" and "Man-Erg") were always one step removed from the usual pastel-colored Prog Rock daydreams of the time. The darkness of a song like "Lemmings" in particular is more in tune with our own war-torn and brain-dead millennium than it ever was with the early 1970s. And do I even need to mention the 23-minute near-death experience of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers"?

The violence and beauty of the music on this album has no match in the greater lexicon of Progressive Rock, except perhaps in the spirit of "Starless"-era KING CRIMSON or Christian Vander's MAGMA. But perhaps the final judgment should be left to Peter Hammill himself, who remembers the album (with characteristic English reserve) as "a fairly extreme musical statement". In other words, not the sort of thing ever to earn your band an appearance on Top of the Pops, but ideal for adventurous listeners even now on the lookout for music to challenge their limitations.

Report this review (#151167)
Posted Friday, November 16, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Van Der Graaf's best album by far, with all 3 songs being amazingly well done and thought out. Robert Fripp again guest stars, but this time on all the songs, not just one. Well, here we go:

Lemmings: An interesting acoustic riff, and some thought provoking lyrics by Hammill. However, the softness doesn't last, as it blasts into a hard section with some great singing, verging on screaming as you can hear the rough edges in Hammill's voice. The sax perfectly augments the vocals in the harder part, and as it slows down, the organ creates a backdrop against which Hammill and Jackson create their masterwork. The section with Hammill harmonizes with himself in a very dissonant way is so good its undescribeable. The distorted and positively evil sounding riff from Jackson is augmented by the scary organ chords and Hammill's growling vocal. Then it starts to build up again, with the piano coming in to take a lead role, and then the sax overtakes it. There are still many more changes to come, and the ending few minutes are some off-sounding delicate organ and flute parts that contrast nicely. GREAT song

Man-Erg: starts off sounding a lot like House with No Door, and Hammill's voice appears like it might be doing the same thing. the piano work is nicely accompanied by the organ. Then it builds to be more dramatic, sounding like a church hymn almost. you begin to think the song will continue this for the whole 10 minutes, but you are thrown off soon enough. at about 3 minutes, some strange sounds plunge us into hell, and the killer sax riff leads the way, with the organ adding some frills and Hammill screams "How can i be freeeEEE, how can i get out?" he has such a unique voice, and it shows here dramatically. The heavy riff slowly slows down, and leads into an electric piano section that doesnt entirely throw off the evil guise. it seems to be a little sadder, but with something lurking under the surface. Hammill uses such inventive lyrics as "acolytes of gloom", and it suits the music well. the sax adds great frills as usual. the sax duet with the organ continues, and jumps back up into the opening theme, with Hammill reflecting on the "killer that lives inside him". This leads back into the evil riff from jackson, bringing the song to a heavy, dramatic close, with some tympani sounding drums from Evans.

A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers: One of the greatest epics ever, hands down. The many changes make it so perfect its ridiculous. Hammill's mysterious voice jumps the octaves, and leads us into the first section, with nice sax and militaristic drumming from Guy evans, who is grossly underrated. the vocals suddenly get heavy and deep, and then cut out, as we are lead via organ arpeggio into a free form section. The flute pops in here and there, as does the sax. soon it gets heavy, simulating the foghorn of a lighthouse, and then dissonant as the ship crashes into the rocks, killing hundreds. we are then led back into the song by a building organ chord progression that is mysterious and foreboding. the opening is reprised, and we are introduced to a newer, more upbeat section, with great sax and organ making it seem lighter than Hammill describes it to be. Hammill then sinks into the lower registers as the music dies down, and builds into one of the most beautiful chord progressions in history, with soaring saxophone and tear-jerking vocals and organ. then it builds up again into one of the most amazing sections ever, drama literally pouring out of Hammill's voice right into your heart, wrenching it right from your body. then the organ and piano create such a dissonance as has never been heard before, and the synth overtakes it all with its buzzy ferocity. The next section is lead into by Hammill's ominous vocal "The maelstrom of my memory, is a vampire and it feeds on me, now staggering madly, over the brink I fall". the organ is softer now, and Hammill seems to be sad and contemplative. this section leads into empty space, with a drum roll slowly building into the most intense and breathtaking section of the song. Hammill sounds positively mad, and Evans supplants him with some frantic drumming. this leads into more Hammill screaming and another organ riff that threatens to envelope all and destroy you. then everything cuts away and the piano leads to the stunning climax. A perfect ending to an amazing album and song, Banton builds a mellotron chorus, constantly changing keys, and Robert Fripp throwing in some perfectly placed notes here and there.

Overall, VDGG's best, a perfect contrast of light and dark, and the pinnacle of strange, dark, scary music.

Report this review (#154629)
Posted Friday, December 7, 2007 | Review Permalink
Queen By-Tor
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars The ultimate "who am I?" album!

I realize that everything that can possibly be said about this album already has been said, but y'know what? I'm gunna say it again anyways. This album is a masterpiece that deserves all the praise it can get. Three incredibly strong tracks fill the two sides of this album like some kind of behemoth in a cage just waiting to get off those grooves and into the air. All three tracks are worth of their own paragraphs, and so they'll get them... in time. First, a disclaimer. This is not an album (or band for that matter) that's easy to get into for most people. I bought this album when I saw it sitting in the various V section at a used record store I used to live near and threw it on for the car ride home (which was about a 2 hour drive... that's close! I live in Canada after all!). It was a dark night and the soundscapes that filled my car both confused and terrified me. Because that's the kind of music VdGG makes... it's as though black stormclouds will gather if you listen to them too loudly. Anyways, luckily this was not my first experience with the VdGG, and I gave the album another listen when I got home. I thought, "cool", and then the album sat on the shelf for a couple months. Later, I picked it up again and decided to give it another whirl. Whoa, I was blown away! What amazing music! So, to summarize that pointless little anecdote: Always, always give this band a second chance if you don't them off the first listen.

Onto the songs.

The album starts off with the bizarre LEMMINGS (Including COG). Here's a great, winding sax track that takes the audience on a nice little journey until finally delivering them to the next track via quick drumbeat outro. This is one of the more accessible songs on the album, and starts the album theme of "who am I? What do I do?", that recurring theme that Hammil loves oh so much. Anyways, not the album's best track, but definitely a VdGG classic none the less.

Next up is the supreme MAN-ERG. This is a terribly dark track that starts out rather softly and beautifully, if a bit creepy, thanks to the lyrics ("The killer lives inside me, yes I feel him move. Sometimes he's likely sleeping in the corner of his room. But then his eyes will rise and stare through mine..." ect). Great delivery by Hammil that breathes complete and total life into the track until -- bam, you're bombarded by sax from all sides. "How can I be free!?" screams Hammil as the sonic waves attack you from all sides like some sort of torrent out at open sea. The track continues until we're back at the pretty parts again, some more insanity... and soon the track ends, leaving you wondering what the hell just happened. Amazing.

VdGG's greatest epic, and only side long outing A PLAGUE OF LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS. Most often compared to "Supper's Ready", and for good reason, it's a divided track that doesn't fuse into one continuous song like CTTE or TAAB, regardless, it should be held in as high esteem simply for it's pure, uh, awesomeness! It starts great and low key, and eventually unfolds until it reaches full out choas around the 10 minute mark, then it reaches something beyond conceivable chaos around 16 minutes (the 4th dimension of chaos!). It slows down enough to let you breath right near the end and then, just like it's predecessors, it's over. Each band member plays to their finest, and yet again Hammil does wonders with the vocals. The lyrics are well thought out too, with the theme being that really no one knows who they are, using the lighthouse keeper against the ocean as it's metaphors. And of course the story is much deeper than that, but if I were to go into it the review would become far too long. Anyways, this is a great, if bizarre, track that could not have been pulled off any better than the VdGG boys did, and perhaps it could never be done by anyone other than them to start with. This is VdGG at their very finest, and if you doubt that go listen (or relisten) to this song. Simply stunning.

To conclude -- even if you have a small collection this album should be in it. Be weary, listen with an open mind an give it a few shots, if you don't "get it" right away you will likely later. VdGG's definitive album, this can't be missed! 5 stars!

Report this review (#155091)
Posted Monday, December 10, 2007 | Review Permalink
5 stars Dark, dissonant, very difficult to get in for the average listener. Those things are probably why this is my favourite album right now. Comprised of only three tracks, but they are all outstanding, extended pieces. It all starts with Lemmings, which is filled with despair, but also a sense of hope at the end. The music covers so many areas, from mellow acoustic guitars to dissonant synths, and that actually fits much of this album. Man-Erg starts off beautifully with piano and vocals, then builds up to one of the most intense instrumental sections I have heard, complemented by guest Robert Fripp on guitar. After a short instrumental interlude, Peter Hammill comes back into a vocal section with his signature shrieking, questioning his own identity. It seems that later on in the song, Hammill has come to terms with who he is, and thus the music returns to a mellower section, and the song ends sounding triumphant. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is probably my favourite song from this band, as it contains everything that makes them great, and it really sums up what the entire album is about. Alternately dark and triumphant, Peter Hammill whispers and shrieks the band through twenty three minutes of amazing music where Hugh Banton's organ and David Jackson's saxes take turns playing the lead melodic role. The bonus tracks here are quite good as well. Theme One is a cover of a BBC tune written by George Martin, and W is a song that I don't know the history of, but it is a rather good song. Angle of Incidents is a piece with backwards drums and dissonant saxophones, with the sound of lighting tube thrown in to make things yet more jarring. Ponker's Theme is David Jackson's sax piece, and it has a more upbeat jazzy feel. It concludes with Hugh Banton's Diminutions, which has a similar feel to Angle of Incidents in that it is a dark, dissonant instrumental.
Report this review (#159997)
Posted Sunday, January 27, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars One of the most unique and bizarre albums I have ever heard.

For 1971, this is extremely ambitious and creative stuff. Some of it is powerful, and some of it is nearly unlistenable. I suppose that's part of the charm. I simply see it as a landmark album that, although flawed, is probably essential just for the unique experience.

Lemmings. Right away, VDGG grabs your attention, with soft guitar and flute swirling into the bombastic dissonant organ and Hammill screeches. The rest is a bizarre (and quite enjoyable) free-for-all of blaring organ, heavy sax, and frantic percussion. The only downside is the three minutes of die-down at the end.

Man-Erg. VDGG keeps up the quality with the alternatingly poignant and chaotic offering that is Man-Erg. I especially enjoy the subdued, oozing sax section toward the end, which is interrupted by the brief poignant refrain, and concluded with an absolutely huge, ELP-style conclusion of unison clanging.

A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. As a progger who has a special love for epics, I really am surprised about how little this one has grabbed me over the years. Of course we have Hammill's excellent lyrics, an enticingly eerie extended introduction, and a grand finale, but the middle-to-late section before the finale is simply irritating to my ears. It is literally a struggle to keep from fast-forwarding. This provides extra incentive for me not to go crazy: if that's how it will sound in my head non-stop, I'll do anything to avoid it. Obviously that is the intended effect, given the song's subject matter, and reasonable people may feel that this is just another aspect of Pawn Hearts' brilliance.

Lemmings and Man-Erg are high quality, but the epic brings things down a bit in my book--of course, opposite to the beliefs of most reviewers. Even with a bump for historical purposes and pure creative effort, Pawn Hearts falls well short of masterpiece status.

Report this review (#162677)
Posted Monday, February 25, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The fourth album from Van der Graaf Generator called Pawn Hearts is where they start to shine IMO. I have always had the greatest respect for Van der Graaf Generator as musicians and innovators but never found that their music suited my prefered style. As many others I have always had an ambivalent relation to Peter Hammill´s theatrical singing, but this time it seems his voice suits the music well. Pawn Hearts is just too good and original to by ignored.

The music is driven very much by Peter Hammill´s strange melody lines and theatrical singing style, but Hugh Banton and his organ and synths are also a great part of Van der Graaf Generator´s sound. Peter Jackson has had an increasingly bigger role on each new album from Van der Graaf Generator and on Pawn Hearts his sax and flute playing is outstanding. The drums from Guy Evans is also strong and varied. It´s hard to describe Van der Graaf Generator´s music really because there are so many things happening, but strange and theatrical prog rock might be a suiting description.

The sound quality is very good on Pawn Hearts and a real treat to listen to.

The album consist of three long epic tracks. Lemmings and Man-Erg are my favorites while A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is also great, but not as good as the first two songs.

I know many consider this to be a masterpiece and I can understand why. This is a very original album and I can see it inspiring many. I also think this is a great album, but I think it is a bit too unaccessible for me personally to be a masterpiece and therefore this is a 4 star album for me. It´s highly recommendable though and it is a must in every prog rock collection.

Report this review (#162686)
Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars In my opinion, the peak of VDGG's output, but I wouldn't listen to it for the sake of lifting my spirits. It's dark, conjuring up images of whirlpools and sea storms. I particularly like the sections of Lighthouse Keepers where they are just totally going out of control, absorbing your mind into a variety of dissonant textures. This is a highly influential and highly recommended album, and a great way to become initiated into the dark-side of progressive rock.
Report this review (#163170)
Posted Tuesday, March 4, 2008 | Review Permalink
2 stars "Pawn Hearts" is commonly voted by progressive rock fan purists as their favourite Van der Graaf Generator album. I am not one of those purists and, for me, it is their least pleasing album.

Chronologically sandwiched between "H to He Who Am The Only One" and "Godbluff" this album suffers from less discernable melodic writing in both the vocal and musical parts and from a rhythmic structure that does not move me. I need either one of those features (or preferably both) to really appreciate my music, so am left a bit cold by "Pawn Hearts". Good progressive rock music contains those elements - this does not!

Not that it's a complete disaster: the three musical pieces that make up the original album are certainly complex and there are moments in all three that I enjoy but the overriding sensation is not one of pleasure. It's a pity because that feeling also means that I find it really difficult to concentrate on Peter Hammill's lyrics when I'm not enjoying the music and they are usually one of the highlights of the band's music, but I couldn't tell you what they are like on here, despite listening to the album quite a few times!

The bonus tracks are interesting but don't lift the overall CD up by a great margin - "Theme One", which was released as a single and became the signature tune to the Friday Night Rock Show on Radio 1 in the 70s, is my favourite of these - melody and rhythm in one - bingo!

For any newcomers to the band, unless you're an absolute "progressive rock" obssessive, then go for the more melodious albums - the ones already mentioned and "The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other" are all better places to start.

Report this review (#163229)
Posted Wednesday, March 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars The definitive album from the definitive dark prog band.

Truly, Peter Hammill and company are in rare form on this masterpiece. All three songs are written with such a passion and style that they are distinct in the VDGG repertoire, but unquestionably the essence of the band. This is quite possibly my favorite album ever (a close tie with Tull's TAAB), and as such I have a very difficult time even knowing where to start to describe it. The power of Lemmings is evoking, the passion of Man-Erg moving, and the nautical imagery of A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (coming from both music and lyrics) magnificent. I will simply say that it is an unbelievable album composed of some of the most incredible songs ever written (especially A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers). This website exists for albums like this. A definite 5 out of 5.

Report this review (#163453)
Posted Saturday, March 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Pawn Hearts is the last album of the first phase of VDGG, it will be another 4 years before they reunite to make happen the for me best part of their excistense. But this is still a classic album from a great progressive band. Stylishly the first phase of the band comes close to bands like King Crimson, and later Itallian Prog artists like Banco and PFM (I guess VDGG was quite popular in Italy). The intrinsic sadness and dark atmosphere that VDGG express with their music may be a bit too much for some listeners, but I like it. This album is for sure the most difficult album to get into, so only approach if you already like H to He and/or other VDGG albums.

Lemmings is quite slower and less intense than generally espected, with a focus on slow developing melody's, Man-Erg starts slow also, with occasional heavier moments to shift the mood from depressing to slightly hopefull and back to darker pastures again. The albums quality is best represented with the final track. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers a side long epic 10 part suite. Great vocals and a constant sense of something about to happen. And it does (just have to wait and listen in silent anticipation for it will come)

And once more VDGG has released a great album, it's not a masterpiece as such, certainly the difficulty in getting into the music stands in the way of such positioning, but for those who are willling to give an album time to sink in it is surely very rewarding. 4 stars for appeal, an additional half star for sheer ackomplishment.

Report this review (#164016)
Posted Saturday, March 15, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars It's never too late , if after all the right thing comes at the right time . I was really crying one week ago , while listening to Van Der Graaf ( Pawn Hearts ) for the first time . But , the bad thing was that i have this album since 1974 , and never get the time or the mood to discover it . So , why i did that now , simply because your reviews in progarchieve . I felt like a stupid ignorant not discover a giant band like VDGG and i have their complete collection in addition to peter hamill's solo albums , and as i'm tracking the best of progressive music , i honestly gonna review all VDGG albums one by one & track by track , and that's a promise . As far as Pawn Hearts , what a remarkable piece of art , talented team , good choice of musical instruments . i really felt the touch of yesterday and the feelings of tommorow . Not to tell t regret not to discover this beauty 34 years ago . 4.5 stars to the first 2 tracks & 5 stars for a plague ......... Tracking Tracks of Rock ))))(((( TRACKS TONI

Report this review (#166046)
Posted Tuesday, April 8, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Finally, VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR do what they were capable of. 'Pawn Hearts' is an all-time progressive classic, one of those few albums that is progressive both in its sound (it sounds like classic prog) and in its intention (it progresses the band). What a tragedy, then, that the band couldn't afford to keep going after this release. What might we have been given in those four silent years? HAMMILL's solo works are only a hint.

PETER HAMMILL kicks the chocks away from his voice and lets it flow in full theatrical mode. The band back him with two operettas and one full-blown opera, each of which have everything the prog listener wants, muscle, melody and sophistication, albeit arranged in a lo-fi, awkward fashion. I don't know if this was a deliberate choice: I suspect it was a matter of money. But in this case it adds to the charm. The subject matter picks up from the previous album, but this album deals with the subject in a much more effective manner. 'Lemmings' relies on a strong vocal motif: 'We have looked upon the heroes/and they are found wanting'. The phrasing is deliberately awkward, syllables not fitting the meter, reminding listeners they are not listening to standard rock music. The motif is underscored by JACKSON's sax work and a guitar so understated as to almost remain unnoticed. The central section - the lemmings analogy transferred to humanity - is one of the most discordant, powerful and truly frightening moment in music. 'Cogs tearing bones, cogs tearing bones.' The song fades away with the hope for the future deliberately undermined by the weakening music.

'Man-Erg' is another scary train-wreck of a track. It explores the muddy waters of self-realisation and self-disclosure: 'The killer lives inside of me/I can feel him move'. Man is somewhere between an angel and a killer. Fair enough. But of course this track is all about the incredible shrill instrumental and vocal attack at about the 3-minute mark. The shock arrival of blarting sax and pounding rhythm in the midst of a reflective ballad is disconcerting, to say the least - as it is intended to be. For the second song in a row we are assaulted by genius. Wave this in front of those snobs who mock the ingenue of popular music. The final climax ties an affirming end into a reprise of the discordant middle section in a triumph of composition.

I do not find the full opera, 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers', as compelling as the operettas. Like many epics, it overstays its welcome, the instrumental sections not tied as tightly to the lyrical force of the track as they might have been. This is the problem: when lyrics are as sharp and well-written as these, the music had better follow suit. Part ii (Pictures/Lighthouse), for example, might better have been integrated rather than separated, and the subtitles suggest the band knew it, as they feel they have to tell us what is happening (eddies/rocks/ships/collision/remorse). However, that's all I can find fault with. The lyrical concept and the rather disjointed sections of this song make it hard to assimilate, but if it is treated as a sort of 'Supper's Ready', a tale of chaos and (possible) resolution, it makes more sense. ('The Clot Thickens' is VDGG's 'Willow Farm', etc).

It goes without saying that an album ranked with the best prog albums of all time ought to be in your collection. There are good reasons it is rated so highly. Even for someone like myself, who appreciates melody rather than cacophony, this album is compulsive listening.

Report this review (#174473)
Posted Thursday, June 19, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is the first and only van der Graaf Generator album I've ever heard and I'm going to hear more of them.

(6.5/10) The first song is an ok beginning, but ain't really mind blowing at all. It's a great introduction to their style, but some things starts out from nowhere, wich works out great in 'the plague of the lighthousekeepers', but not in this song in my oppinion. I do love the dissonant saxmelodies from Jackson. I often skip this song, because I like the rest more

(9/10) This is classic van der Graaf. It starts really sweet, but there is some kind of threat in the song. Things are going to hell with the 11/8 theme. Awesome!

(7/10) The final piece, is very experimental. It contains ten parts. This really freaks me out. The piece is made by recording the parts seperately. Then the only thing left was to paste the pieces to make the piece one. It is a mess and therefor the piece ain't perfect. But it's surely original.

There are people that can't stand Hammil's voice. I can understand that because of it's very dramatic sound. I actually like his voice after a few listens.

Four stars.

Report this review (#174589)
Posted Friday, June 20, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars This an AMAZING album! When I first listened to it a couple of weeks ago I enjoyed it, but was not overwhelmed by it, but now I am. Peter Hamill's voice is magnificent, and was surely an influence on Marillion's Fish. His lyrics are brilliant as well. The unusual instrumentation works amazingly. This is one of the darkest prog albums I own, both musically and lyrically.

'Lemmings' is the 11 minute opener. It is my least favourite track on the album, but still a scorcher. When Hamill first enters his voice is very high pitched, and almost woman-like. The lyrics are quite depressing, but the end offers some hope. I am not sure but it seems to be a commentary on the worthlessness of life, saying the only thing to do is look forward to is death, although at the end it is decided that life is worth living in order to try and make the world a better place for our descendants. The section entitled 'Cog' is especially poignant, with Hamill almost screaming, this is some of the heaviest guitarless music I have ever heard! When the flute comes in towards the end it is very beautiful. 'Man-Erg' is next, and possibly my favourite. The subject matter is again dark, with Peter questioning the duality of human nature. He is struggling with issues of identity, as he has the capacity for great evil and great good. Again the ending is more upbeat, with him deciding that he is just himself, a man, and although he's not perfect, he is not a great evil-doer. The first too verses would fool you into thinking this was a soft ballad, until things pick up speed with a heavier middle section. Jackson's saxophone is awesome here. It ends in a grand and pompous manner, sounding almost like a hymn. Brilliant and poignant. 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' is the opener and a brilliant example of a side long epic. I prefer this to 'Close to the Edge', '2112', 'Nine Feet Underground' et al. In fact the only side long track I prefer would probably be Pink Floyd's 'Echoes'. Anyway back on track. The lyrics here offer tons of imagery and metaphors. I have not had time to fully interpret them, but it shows a very good mastery of the English language on Peter's part. The amount packed into these 23 minutes is phenomonal, yet it does not feel crammed, only dense. A lot goes on. we have beautifully soft vocal sections, tortured screaming, barely audible passages and more. It is a stunning song which every prog fan needs to here.

The bonus tracks will not affect the rating of the album. They are a mixed bunch. 'Theme One' is a not- very-exciting instrumental which doesn't do much for me. 'W' is a mediocre song. The last three are solo tracks by the band's instrumentalists. They all offer something interesting, especially the Coltrainesque jazz of Jackson's 'Ponker's Theme'.

This album might not be for everyone. Hamill's voice may be too much for some, and others may be put off buy the unconventional instrumentation. If you love good prog, though, you should hear this at least once, and you shall probably cherish it for a long time to come. Five Stars, undoubtedly.

Report this review (#176601)
Posted Saturday, July 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
5 stars Van der Graaf Generator's Pawn Hearts was my introduction to the band and It's my favourite of their repertoire for many reasons. The 3 tracks boast the unique sound of VDGG and features lyrics that are dangerously close to the edge and Peter Hammill's vocals are like no other. He can croon smoothly, almost whisper along a minimalist approach that may feature a mere Hammond Organ, or he can scream as a cacophony of sound erupts. In fact the whole album meanders from serene tranquility to atomic energy - it's an incredible achievement for the group and is hailed as a masterpiece for those who love prog rock.

The album starts off with the strange and bizarre 'Lemmings (including Cog)' and it is easy to see why this band are musical pioneers and boundary pushing visionaries. The track begins innocently enough, "I stood alone upon the highest cliff-top, looked down around and all I could see were those that I would dearly love to share with crashing on quite blindly to the sea." David Jackson's saxophone soon turns it up a notch and we are treated with the maelstrom of sound and verbal music psychosis that is VDGG.

The next track 'Man-erg' features a piano intro, a minimalist approach with Hammill's trademark quiet vocal delivery. It's an existential piece that questions who are we, the killer or the angel, or both, we are capable of great good and great evil, but ultimately "Death's Head throws his cloak into the corner of my room and I am doomed". On this delivery the track descends deeper into an abyss and VDGG really let loose with wild staccato riffs and a monstrous finale where everything just explodes into a paroxysm of uncontrolled mayhem. It's a killer track and moves from romanticism with piano elegy only to explode into a doom-laden soundwave with wild saxophones screaming over unfriendly sounds such as Hugh Banton's hammond and Guy Evan's off-kilter percussion.

The next track is the one that everyone is talking about when they discuss the peak of VDGG's musical prowess. It is all that VDGG has come to personify and more. 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' was the first track I had heard from this amazing band and I knew I would be purchasing this CD immediately. It's unbelievable in every aspect, running for an awesome 23 minutes, it tells the story of an eyewitness who sees the unspeakable as he feels his body fading in a storm while voyaging on a doomed ship. It reminds one of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner (check Iron Maiden's take on this poem). The narrator notes "I prophesy disaster and then I count the cost. I shine but shining, dying I know that I am almost lost." The piano gets faster and seems to be falling down an abyss. There is a brief interlude that reminds one of a ship floating on an endless ocean and we hear the lonely saxophone blasts that resemble bizarre fog horns. You can almost picture the image of a ghost ship sailing through fog and there's a genuinely creepy ambience. The song takes on a darker atmosphere and Hammill begins to use his patented gravel tone to sing of spectres that scratch on windows, hollowed faces, and lost mastheads that pierce the freezing dark. There are several parts that flash by until the track moves to Presence of the Night/ Kosmos Tours. The saxophone really shines in this section and a weird time signature locks in, with Hammill singing "Why can't I let me live and be free, but I die very slowly alone." A beautiful hammond sound fills the void and the tempo ignites to a frenetic pace where it spirals blissfully out of control. Then it all ends suddenly and the gorgeous piano reverberates to a melancholic contemplative Hammill who asks "Lighthouses might hold the key but can I reach the door?" It's a lovely moment after all the mayhem preceding, then the next section begins suddenly with Hammill's rasping vocals and short jagged spurts of noise from Banton and Evans, The Clot Thickens. At times the sound seems curiously off kilter, out of tune and rhythm but it all gels perfectly into the tranquil Land's End, "Stars slice horizons where the lines stand much too stark, I feel I am drowning hands stretch in the dark..." And it ends on a rather positive note in a sense where Hammill muses that "it doesn't feel so very bad now" and perhaps "the end is the start... all things are apart." You can take what you will from the potent lyrics but all is sung with absolute conviction which makes the piece all the more intriguing. It is a ballad of gothic grandeur in every sense that constantly surprises with its complex twisting structure.

The bonus tracks are quite good, though do not measure up to the 3 classic tracks mentioned. 'Theme One' is a quirky, catchy little thing that works well enough. 'W' is a bit pretentious but passable. 'Angle of Incidents' is experimental and flawed. 'Ponker's Theme' is forgettable and 'Dimunitions' as an instrumental does nothing for me, too long and based on a single idea, that is improvisational and without structure unlike VDGG's usual pieces. However, it is nice to hear these tracks as a bonus and one can simply take them or leave them as an added extra, similar to a B Side of a single: they are certainly not highlights of VDGG's repertoire.

My feeling is that the 3 tracks on the original album are the best that VDGG had to offer. Brooding, with interchanging time signatures, long and contemplative and experimental to the max, it is an album that must be heard by every serious prog rock fan. If you don't own it, TODAY is the day of salvation.

Report this review (#177740)
Posted Tuesday, July 22, 2008 | Review Permalink
The Prognaut
5 stars Thanks to the Archives is how I first came across VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR whatsoever by discovering a brand new world of musical amazement and eternal progressive appreciation. My first encounter with this English band was through the excerpt streams available over this wonderful site that has given me the opportunity to grow both musically and spiritually. In the beginning the eeriness of the sound and darkness of the lyrics blew my mind surprisingly just to the point where I devoted myself to put hands on VDGG's most recommended album by my fellow progholes which I eventually did by getting "Pawn Hearts". And you know what? I found out you can never go wrong with VDGG.

As I pointed out just now and out of first spin of the record on my player, I ended up feeling quite shocked and somehow intrigued because of what I listened to on "Pawn Hearts". The rare sounds and their evolution happened to make sense to me in this unease way that only forced me to play the record over and over again. The effect was clear; the music seeped in my system through my skin. Up to this day and after almost five years of lending ears to VDGG for the first time ever, I find it hard to describe their work, to label the sound of the music and to detail a proper close feeling of what I witness every time I break the air with the notes of this masterpiece.

What I could recognize right away were the notes of the sweet Mellotron, the Hammond organ, the delish flute and the unmistakable slide guitar and some others which are still unrevealed to me like the psychedelic razor and the tympani. My prog school so far was based upon the breakthrough bands that among others narrowed down my perspective to certain points of departure until VDGG appeared in my life. Being used to listen to PINK FLOYD, GENESIS and MARILLION most of the time, left me little material to stand a decent comparison and decided to enjoy only instead like I started to do with "Man- Erg". A top-class suite perfectly unfitted to Peter HAMMILL's mood and arranged in a way that even when the instrumentation goes messy you still can find sense through this contradictory warp of self- pointing lyrics and killer passages on every metals section to which I humbly take my hat off, believing David JACKSON's work is certainly impeccable. Unarguably my favorite song in "Pawn Hearts" and possibly one of my all time top prog songs.

The dissonant quietness of the record is one of the most appealing pointers to me since even though it floats among murky passages and foggy, deep lyrics it breaks that haze of uncertain with a very unique wit, showing nothing but purity and fine crafted displays behind every single instrument.

A very disturbing album that you'd surely find excellent. "Pawn Hearts" is unpretentious but amazing at the same time. Yet another chapter in Prog history to understand the whole of our today's standing point in this contemporary universe from which I pulled down five stars to be set upon this work of lyrical art.

Report this review (#179548)
Posted Thursday, August 14, 2008 | Review Permalink
TGM: Orb
5 stars Review 71, Pawn Hearts, Van Der Graaf Generator, 1971


If music is a form of expression, Pawn Hearts is surely a masterpiece of music. The lyrical and musical content fit together seamlessly, oozing depressive and mournful moods into the listener's mind, and Hammill's vocal delivery only further improves the intentionally convoluted lyrical ideas of the stunning A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers. Dissonant and furious tones, as well as tender, hopeful melodies, hammer in the maddening disorganisation of the world and light the all too distant beacons of the human mind. Everything about this album is expression, getting across moods and ideas. Clustered and claustrophobic production values add tension and give a slightly maddened and busy tinge even in sections where the music itself is sparse. The enormous studio experimentation and daring also tear their way in to the listener's consciousness, giving an element of unpredictability and anticipation to the three pieces included.

Of course, such an album will not appeal to everyone... it batters the human mind down rather than trying to entice it, and just as swiftly it withdraws into its shell, dark and nebulous... demanding real attention and involvement. However, if you are ready for the journey, if you are entrapped by this bleak and maddened atmosphere, there are few experiences quite as enjoyable and intense. Enjoyment might not be the obvious word for the result of so dark a piece, but it is the only word that really fits.

Lemmings, an apocalyptic psychological and philosophical piece, has the feel of the inevitable. Hammill's vocal creates uncertainty, fear and damning, sometimes mocking, condemnation equally without any restraint, and his 'what course is there left but to die... I really don't know' is indescribable in its emotional grip. A set of brilliantly written lyrics convey a life without real purpose, unable to simply happen, before giving the only answer, the only way to go about life, to live in the hope of 'saving the little ones', to seek the final meaning. Lyrically, it's basically the Still Life album in 10 minutes. The music is equally stunning, with jaunty acoustic parts creating a personal feel. Keyboards, both organ and more effects-based things, take a very prominent role in the more edgy schizophrenic sections, intertwining with savagely distorted saxophone gratings and licks. Guy Evans' percussion additions, leaving a lot of space for the leads, give a continual sense of interest and of the smaller spaces. The ending is derived from a drawn-out bit of negative atmosphere development, which is in itself quite unusual, and suggests a sense of futility and a lack of resolution. Masterful.

Man Erg is a contrast, in some ways, but so similar in others. It is more concerned with a philosophical question of free will, and Hammill's vocal, while no less personal and touching, is more grand and decisive. Lyrically, it is almost without equal ('I too live inside me/And very often don't know who I am/I know... that I'm no hero/Well I hope, that I'm not damned'. The compositional side has been a bit more fully approached, I think, with some very clever echoing of the aa-aa aa-aa aa-aa theme, a moving piano intro, and some of the overdubbing and sheer mass of contents that will characterise the second side. Organ and piano touches and melodies, sometimes attractive, other times utterly visceral, sustain a background, while Jaxon's saxes and flutes add dissonant disconnection and a soaring sense of positivity at separate times. Had I really been told before really listening this piece that a band could convey the uncertainty of free will, and a schizophrenic mind, I would probably have been of the 'pull the other one' persuasion, but Van Der Graaf Generator do manage it. And they manage it brilliantly.

A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers is only lightly describable. This twenty minute suite, with an incredible density of material in some places, but at others stripped down and almost vacant, is daring in both instrumentation and sounds, using effects constantly and effortlessly to give a mystical gravity to the piece. It pulls in and drowns, and drags about the listener, demanding in the snarling voice of Jaxon's sax or Evans' insistent and crashing drumming, before leaving them to float in the ocean of reverent organ thoughts, almost feeling like an intruder in a sacred ceremony. Multi-part melodies and twists alternate with pure instrumental atmosphere, each fulfilling its role and creating alternately intimacy and distance.

Hammill's vocal in itself, lyrics included, deserves a full five-star review. His tones of uncertainty, aggression, demanding, bleakness, loss and demented hope are all so... expressed. Unusual vocal touches are here, choices of where to place the stress, developments in force, a willingness to sound different as the song requires it. The way he sings 'would you cry, if I died?' or 'alone, alone, the ghosts all call... pinpoint me in the light/The only life I feel at all... is the presence of the night' takes is loneliness embodied, the menace in 'no paraffin for the flame/no harbour left... to gain' is palpable. The resignation of 'now I am the stranger I stay in/ah, well' or the hope of 'Oceans drifting sideways/I am pulled into the spell/I feel you around me/I know you well'. The vocals are just so expressive and connective. It is incredible.

Just touching on the musical sections briefly, the opening Eyewitness is one of the finest introductions I've ever heard for a long piece, with bleak lyrics, distant, but distinct (as opposed to blanketing mellotron or organ) keyboard sounds give the isolated feel. SHM is menacing (and a play on HMS, coincidentally), with fierce vocal delivery and a compelling saxophone groove. Presence Of The Night/Kosmos Tours features some of starkest atmosphere, with the modulation of density at its high point and a particularly wowing performance from Hammill. (Custard's) Last Stand took a while to grow on me, but it has done so, with an attractive piano expressing a sort of hopeless dejection. The Clot Thickens likewise was a grower, with Hammill making particularly obvious use of vicious overdubs and a growling backing matching it. Land's End (Sineline)/We Go Now is the cathartic release of the piece, with an incredible solo that sounds like Fripp, but could be Banton, and an uplifting points of light in the ocean of being (to steal part of a phrase from Mr. Gabriel) image. All of the fear, all of the tension, that has been built up to that point, are let out inspirationally.

So... a masterpiece of progressive rock, however reused that phrase is.

Onto the bonus material: Theme One was a band instrumental cover of a piece written by George Martin and features some nice playing, especially from Banton, but doesn't really succeed the album's atmospheres, even if it does rather suitably prepare us for an overall decent set of bonus tracks. W is much more satisfactory, with strong vocals and tinges of psychedelia, even if it's cut off a bit short. The completely chaotic Angle Of Incidents is a delight to the ears every time, with rolling playing from Evans dominating the piece, supplemented by little growls or wisps of music from Jackson and Banton. Ponker's Theme is a more typical and melodic saxophone showcase, though it is enjoyable. Banton's Diminutions is another set of dark textures, this time very keyboard-centric. All in all, a very respectable set of bonuses, and the superb Angle of Incidents would probably justify a purchase of the remaster if you really enjoy the album.

Well, love it or hate it, I can't name an album as purely given to expression as this one, and that alone makes it worthy of the masterpiece title. Adding to that, it contains a lot of very interestingly and neatly incorporated studio-based experimentation, and the all too rare, even in the classic period, complete and unpredictable control of the music's density. A final point for my 'objective' judgment is that Hammill's lyrics and vocals on this particular album are even more superb than his other performances. I'd consider this the finest ever album in that aspect. Thus, I think its status as such a prog landmark is entirely deserved, and even someone who doesn't expect to personally enjoy this sort of album should own it and engage with it. Personally, the album is an incredible experience, with almost physical pull at times. I love every moment of it. Either way, it gets a masterpiece rating from me, even if Van Der Graaf Generator's superb discography offer a couple of albums that are even more enjoyable from a personal viewpoint

Rating: Five Stars Favourite Track: A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers

Report this review (#181838)
Posted Friday, September 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars The first time I heard Pawn Hearts it was 6 years ago.Back then I was a devoted follower of Pink Floyd and King Crimson and I thought with the poor mind that I had listen to the epitome of Progressive music.BIG MISTAKE.That album its not for the faint-hearted or for easy listeners.I read many reviews which all lead to the same point,its not accessible.You have to listen to it carefully and many times to start realising what is going on.After that it will reveal its secrets as a great result of imagination,creativity and excellent production.This album consists of 3 tracks in the initial form and 8 in the remastered form.The album begins with the sinister LEMMINGS with a soft guitar riff that does leads to the heights with David Jackson`s and Hugh Bunton`s battling chord riffs resulting in a chaotic interlude combined with the frenzy drumming pace of Guy Evans and the colorful voice of Peter Hammill.A true epic followed by the melancholic and more accessible MAN-ERG with the soft piano and its jazzy touch though in the middle of the way it brokes into pieces with that question Am I really me or someone else? with Hammill`s voice desperate asking for answers.The last track of the album is the famous A PLAGUE OF LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS a 23-minute odyssey of spiritual agony and finally relief.Divided into 10 parts each one melting smoothly into the other with the exception of The Clot Thickens a personal race (with God?) for answers to be given right here,and after that the beautiful conclusion of Land`s End closing this brilliant piece in hope.The remastered edition of the album has 5 bonus tracks Theme One and W two single that appeared also in the box-set and 3 of the band members' personal projects, each one written by a member of the group.Robert Fripp participate in the guitar as a fifth unofficial member. I would suggest buying this record for it is a vital piece of the prog rock scene and the remastered edition gives you the chance to listen to all its glory correcting the small mistakes of the previous editions.

P.S.Listen to it with a good pair of headphones.It`s a true Apocalypse

Report this review (#182570)
Posted Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars As far as Van der Graaf Generator goes, this is only an average album. In fact, as far as 70s prog bands go, this is still just an average album.

This seems to be one of the most popular releases by Van der Graaf, and I can understand why. However, I feel that the second half the album, the song A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, is a terrible drag on the album. The first song, Lemmings (Including Cog), is a wonderful tune, complex and cynical. Despite a meandering noise-session in the middle of the song, it still can rank as one of the more interesting and recognizable tunes by this band. Man-Erg is a classic Van der Graaf track, powered by Peter Hammill's intriguing voice and some quality guitar insertions by Robert Fripp. Both of these songs ensure that, no matter how horrible the second side, this album gets three stars. These two tracks are essentials to all Van der Graaf fans.

Apparently, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is an essential track, too, though I wouldn't know that by listening to it. There are some truly wonderful moments on here. A few of the vocal bits are great. But as far as a song goes, it does not hold together well, and some pieces are downright painful to listen to. The bonus tracks, which were intended to be included on the double vinyl album, do not do anything to redeem the album, though they don't hurt it any. However, no matter how many times I listen to the 20+ minute second side, I still cannot get over the fact that Van der Graaf could have made their best album here, though many still do believe that is what happened.

This is a good album, and one every fan of Van der Graaf at all needs to hear. However, first time listeners to the band should avoid this one in favor of Godbluff or H to He.

Report this review (#184033)
Posted Monday, September 29, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Confronted with a piece of artistic perfection, I bow my head...

The 23 minutes long A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers must be one of the finest pieces of music written in the 1970s. The song starts like a mournful hymn and continues into space rock. Never dull, never simplistic. Just utter fascinating. This song takes up half of the album. The two other tracks, Lemmings and Man-Erg is both ten minutes long opuses. Both of them are prog rock classics too.

The music can best be described as dark symphonic prog, very much dominated on the vocalist Peter Hammil's voice, piano, saxophone and moog. It is almost church music, with the same feeling as being inside a churh with the congregation who are waiting for God. No joy, just God. Throughout the forty five minutes, there is no letup of good ideas and fantastic music.

This album is rated among one of the best prog rock albums ever. I can only agree.

I rarely give out 5 stars, but this is one of them.

Report this review (#188525)
Posted Sunday, November 9, 2008 | Review Permalink
1 stars What the heck am I missing here? Or am I hearing a different album than most reviewers?

This comes off to me as completely juvenile and really fails to hit the mark it tries to reach. What is this even trying to achieve? It comes across as overly emotional and bland to me.

1. Lemmings- This is really passable and does not keep my attention. Worst track on the album. The production isn't very good and this doesn't help the problem at all. Hammill's vocals really are passable, the instrumentation is not really interesting, and the only word I can think of for this track is boring. 1/10

2. Man-Erg- Easily the best track of the album, but it still could use tons of improvement. Hammill's vocals are overly theatric for me and don't strike a chord with me at all. The lyrics come across as a bit odd, almost childish, though this is again the best track lyrically in that regard (that doesn't say much, however). The production on this one is bland and the keys are sometimes interesting and effective, but it's too rare. For some reason, this music all just goes in one ear and out the other for me. It doesn't make me respond in any way. 4/10

3. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers- Rambling piece of absolute nonsense. This is more of the same, and I'd much rather listen to so many other albums and bands out there. Your collection can definitely go without the unnecessarily dramatic vocals of Hammill, the lackluster songwriting, and the uninteresting instrumentation. They certainly are talented at least, but again this fails to do anything for me other than allow my mind to wander for most of it. 2/10

This is quite poor. Only for completionists. Me? I have many VDGG albums in my collection and this one has to be one of my least favorite. It simply doesn't do ANYTHING, it just drags on. Boring, elongated, rambling, childish, bland production.

Pass on this one.

Report this review (#189549)
Posted Sunday, November 16, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars My first try with the Graaf; not my cup of tea considering that I've heard both GODBLUFF and STILL LIFE as well. PAWN HEARTS is more sedated of an album than their later classics, and it's kind of off-putting in a way.

VdGG are a unique band in the sense of you really have to understand what's going on lyrically in order to understand the music, and the epic ''A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers'' is a perfect example of this. Whatever mood of the keeper that Peter wanted to convey, he let it show in both the music and words to the point where you can't understand one without the other. It's annoying for me not being a fan of lyrics, but only parts of the big epic hold any interest with the best part being ''The Clot Thickens'' (epically haunting) coming right after the worst in ''(Custard's) Last Stand'' (a boring piano ballad).

''Lemmings'' and ''Man-Erg'' are slightly better because both are shorter and both have more memorable moments. The schizoid part in the middle of ''Man-Erg'' (the one in 11/8) is the best point of PAWN HEARTS. While Pete Hammill wrote everything, I say Guy Evans is the MVP here because his drumming is gripping and holds everything together in otherwise dry music territories.

Get GODBLUFF or STILL LIFE for a better introduction to VdGG. This album is a lot harder to understand and could potentially bore those not prepared, but don't underestimate VdGG.

Report this review (#191855)
Posted Thursday, December 4, 2008 | Review Permalink
1 stars Strange how a band that was, in the 70s, generally regarded as being the extremely poor relation of bands like Genesis, Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant and the like seems to have acquired a new generation of admirers, judging by the reviews on this site. So, prepared to give them another go (could I have missed something back then?), I borrowed this album from the only person I know who has it. And the first thing that struck me was how good a condition the vinyl was in - yeah, well, I don't like it much so I never play it was the owner's response.

And I can see why. Some bands can do epics and keep them interesting by developing ideas and themes. Some can generate emotion from the beauty of their playing or their lyrics. This band can do neither. All the 3 tracks contain a few interesting ideas but the band never seem to know what to do with them and all either go on far too long or lose the plot. The other problem is that Hamill can't sing without trying sometimes sounding like a tomcat being neutered; he constantly goes out of pitch trying to extract the last drop of emotion and it irritates beyond belief. Add to this the lack of a bass player, Banton substituting with his organ pedals to some extent, and the lack of a recognisable lead guitar, and this isn't going to appeal to me. Jackson's sax work is so far off the wall at times I find it hard to accept that this is the same instrument which graces albums by Solution and many other bands with such distinction. Hugh Banton is a great organist who salvages some parts by his talent and Guy Evans drives the band along in the absence of a bass player, but the whole is so wrist-slashingly dark and depressing that I suspect the luckiest people are those who have never had 45 minutes of their life wasted by listening to this garbage.

Lemmings epitomises what I don't like about the band; discordant, doomy music, out of tune singing and screaming (Hamill persistently goes for high notes and slips down in pitch at the last split second which sounds absolutely horrendous). It has few interesting ideas and goes nowhere very slowly over a long, boring 11 minutes.

Man Erg nearly fooled me; the first couple of minutes have an epic melodic quality with some nice keyboards and Hamill singing properly but then it degenerates into a complete mess of discordant saxes, keyboards and Hamill's voice doing gymnastics out of tune.

A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is a whole side epic which must be the most overrated track in history. Supper's Ready, Echoes and Close to the Edge it is not. It runs around like a headless chicken with no clear direction or purpose; there are a few, brief moments of quality but some parts are so discordant and grating they are downright painful.

No, I didn't miss anything. There can be no other rating for this than the lowest. I would give it zero if I could. Avoid like the plague (of Lighthouse Keepers).

Report this review (#194688)
Posted Monday, December 22, 2008 | Review Permalink
1 stars Pawn Hearts is supposed to be the best and most significant release by VDGG. Well most significant may be true but best ... Personally I think Godbluff and Still Life are more bearable releases for me. For those who don't know yet: I'm not a fan (to say the least) but still review some of their albums because they happen to be in my collection.

Lemmings is one of the reasons I'm not fond of this album. It's simply an ugly song, only meant for their fans who must just about be able to stand everything you can think of.

This is just the highest thinkable grade of eclectic progressiveness I believe and is certainly not meant for any melodic music lover. I'm forcing myself to listen to it because I'm a prog reviewer and feel I have to give an opinion of one of the most significant albums in prog history. This song is really torture to me and if I should rate it as an individual song I would give it one star only I'm afraid. The best thing I can say about it is that it is original and innovative but that's really something else than good prog or good music. It reminds me of a sunday morning TV show we had years ago over here and in that show they played so called experimental music. Music with just dissonants, no melody line at all and I can remember I used to think when I heard it play: Are there really fans of this kind of music ? With this song (and also the epic on this album) I get the exact same feeling.

Next is Man Erg, one of PA's stream songs and this is more like normal music to me. But this doesn't necessarily mean it's a good song. On Godbluff there were two songs I liked but not one this album. Man Erg and the famous epic Plague of the Lighthouse Keepers are songs I can find some nice elements in but they are still miles away from great music as I usually like it. In the Godbluff review I said I like their wind contribution most of all because in my two favourite songs the sax makes actually melodic music but not on this album.

And about the epic: in the forum I read an opinion of an obvious fan of this song who said Supper's Ready is just a rip off of this VDGG-epic. I just can't see that. There are only differences for me if I compare these two epics. Maybe in structure there could be slight resemblance but Supper's Ready is much more melodic and more suitable for the average symphonic fan. For Plague you either will have to be a VDGG fan or an eclectic fan of the "heaviest" sort to love it. And that's a major difference to me compared to Supper's Ready. Besides that, the part from 12:02 to 13:20 is maybe the best example why I really dislike both this song and this album. Goodness me, you will have to be a broadminded progger to be able to appreciate this kind of .... well, let's say producing sound (something else than playing music). I think it's an insult to the word music. Not to be disrespectful to the many fans of this epic and album but it's my opinion I'm afraid.

Contrary to Godbluff and Still Life I personally feel the bonus tracks lift this release but that will have everything to do with my dislike for the three original tracks. And since I think the idea of reviewing this album is to review the original album I fear I can't implicate the bonus tracks for the rating which means I can give no more than one star. And this is because it's my honest and personal opinion. I'm not reviewing in an objective way, maybe then there would have been a higher rating but PA wants us to give our own opinion.

We can't all love this band and especially this album. It's far too exceptional for that. And every now and then the other opinion will have to be heard as well.

Report this review (#202251)
Posted Tuesday, February 10, 2009 | Review Permalink
The Quiet One
4 stars Dark Hearts

Van Der Graaf Generator are already known as being one of the darkest Prog bands from the classic 70's wave, however VdGG managed two very different ways of expressing this darkness; one of them, there most successful and acclaimed by a big vast of Prog fans with the albums Still Life and Godbluff, while still featuring the dark themes and Peter's ''over-exagerrated'' theatrical voice, the melodies and compositions are way more accesible while by no means loosing their originality; the other one, which is featured on this record and their previous, VdGG focalised on the dissonant aspects of the dark themes with subtle jazzy/avant leanings and complex compositions all in all making one of the somberest bands from the 70's.

Already from the first song, Lemmings, you realize the dark themes this band is all about, as well as some interesting jazz influences, however this doesn't help the music be easier to digest, quite the contrary. However, from a objective point of view you should definitely be able to realize their great song-writing and musicianship. As from a personal point of view it has it's moments, like the mysterious and gentle ending, as well as some interesting somber passages, but in general for me, this is the weakest song in the album, anyhow it manages to be a very good composition, with all the essential characteristics VdGG is all about.

Now to the second song, Man-Erg, follows the excellent composition the previous had featured, however this one improves in better melodies and chord progressions. With beautiful, subtle organs all through the song, as well as some very jazzy moments, with David's majestic sax. However, Man-Erg, also has it's dark side, with moments of powerful organ and sax, with some tenebrous vocals here and there, which may seem dissonant, and way too sombre, however I now personally love the energy of it, over-taking the previous smoothness. Man-Erg, is definitely on par with any song from Godbluff and Still Life, in terms of composition and brilliant ideas.

Finally, the so acclaimed epic, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, truly shows that those who praise this epic so good, have a good reason for it. Going even further with the composition style Man-Erg had featured, this time with multi-parts each very well done and reminds me of the brilliancy of the multi-parts of Supper's Ready, however the music could still be considered dense and dissonant in most ocassions, which makes a huge difference in respect with Supper's Ready. Personally, I find 3/4 parts of it really good and completely unique, while not being my type of music, VdGG with this album, but specially with this song, has showed me that they definitely deserve the respect some give them and should be named along the 70's giants.

To finish I will say that VdGG's first period is definitely an acquired taste, though no matter how much you hate it, you can't denie that they were as capable as those classic 70's giants to create exceptional and totally unique music.

If you belong to those who listen to the classic Symphonic Prog bands start with Godbluff and Still Life, despite some challenge you will still find due to Peter's vocals, the music is by no means as complicated and discrepant as this. If you belong to those who enjoys, what people who don't like it call 'nonesense' or simply 'annoyance', then you're in for a BIG and, hopefully, tastey treat.

Not a lover of the band, and not often in the mood for them, and if I am I would pick either Godbluff or Still Life, however I can absolutely recognise that this album is excellent, the whole unique climax this record reaches with the epic and the impression this album gives overall, is definitely something no other band has, yet, delivered to me. Listen to this ONLY if you consider yourself a Prog fan, which I expect all of you from this website are.

Report this review (#209084)
Posted Saturday, March 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars An album that came highly recommended by this site, I was anxious to check it out, having been told that it was dark, complex, emotional, and all those other adjectives thrown around by the prog community to describe just about anything they like. When the album arrived in the mail and I first gave it a spin, I found myself absolutely bewildered by the music. It was absolutely unlike anything I'd ever heard before, and I was a little nonplussed, as it was totally different from what I had expected. And yet, when the last track came to a close, I felt emotionally drained, and I knew this was an album that would definately grow on me over time.

Lemmings, the first track, is excellent. Definately off-putting on my first listen, I soon grew to love this cut. Powerful lyrical message and some really compelling instrumental work do it for me. It seems simple on the surface but once you break it down there are a lot of nuances there. It's a bit of a difficult song to comment on, and really has to be heard to be believed. The instrumental at the end where everything kind of just falls apart is awesome, truly creepy atmosphere.

Man-Erg, the second track, is also quite well done and is an example of VDGG's cunning approach to song-writing. Sandwiched between two rather unusual tracks, this one is easily the most accessible of the album and is the cut that kept me coming back for the first couple of relistens. The first bit is almost as though Hammill and co. decided to take a stab at writing a rock-radio ballad. I can't help but think of it as Elton John gone prog. This fades into a frenzied bit which is okay. It's not the best aural depiction of chaos but it gets the message across, anyway. This is followed by my favourite part of any VDGG track. The organ playing, the vocals, the sax solo all evoke some very powerful imagery to my mind. Tears me apart every time I hear it. Then we're back into another pseudo-ballad bit until the ending, which I love and the way it falls apart and seperates is amazing and much better than the previous chaotic bit of the track.

A Plague of Light House Keepers is the biggest let down of the album for me. It begins in a quite compelling fashion, you know, interesting lyrics, powerful atmosphere, emotive vocals, that whole deal, but it slowly starts to fall apart. After a few verses and a couple murky interludes, the song just seems to lose steam, and slowly starts to bog itself down. There are plenty of good ideas and interesting sections, but the whole thing seems to collapse under its own weight. The last few segments I find especially are weak, which is an issue considering how important it is to finish strong. The very last bit could have been cool except I find the vocal harmonies on the all things are a part line awkward, very poorly executed and they just ruin the whole experience for me. All in all this song is a mixed bag, the weakest part of the album and definately not deserving of its high regard as one of the best side-longs ever written. It might grow on me with future listens but I've already listened to it quite a few times already, and one has to wonder when music growing on you stops being the mind learning to grasp a complex song, and starts being the mind getting accustomed to something that just wasn't all that good in the first palce.

Lemmings: 5/5 Man-Erg: 5/5 PLHK: 3/5

Report this review (#210771)
Posted Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
The Truth
Post/Math Rock Team
5 stars Van Der Graaf Generator should've gotten just about ten times more appreciation than they did. This album is an amazing one! Man-Erg has just about the best saxophone in a rock song I've ever heard (except in Pink Floyd's, Money of course) and it is an awesome song. The lyrics touch me deeply telling the story of a man whose body is the setting of the battle between angels and demons. Lemmings is an exceptionally good song and A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is a prog masterpiece. APOLHK has a nice lyrical theme, talking about a lighthouse keeper who is fighting depression and the fight is very well displayed with Hammill's theatricity. If you have the remaster like me you're gonna want to try out Theme One. It is an awesome song that gets caught in your head yet you want it to be caught in your head.


Must have been hard for me to describe this album awhile back and it isn't hard to see why. Now that I've matured a little more I wish I could explain the album better but it is really beyond description... An emotion-filled album that any fan of progressive rock will probably like. The songs on this record are unique, the lyrics are inspirational and the vocals are heartfelt. A true great of it's era.

Report this review (#211778)
Posted Sunday, April 19, 2009 | Review Permalink
The Sleepwalker
5 stars Van Der Graaf Generator's Pawn Hearts must be one of the very best albums ever made. It shows a band at the peak of their innovative and experimental approach to music. Pawn Hearts features three epic tracks, of which all are astounding pieces of music. The album is definitely not easy listening, but for those who don't mind music as radical as this album its inner beauty will be easily revealed.

The album opens with the aggresive and ominous "Lemmings (Including COG)". A very dominant thing in the song is the fierce sax playing by David Jackson, which is absolutely wonderful. Peter Hammill's vocals are just as expressive as usual, being laden with anger and despair. The second song on the album is another stunning piece. "Man-Erg" is based on the theme of identity. The piece starts, unlike the previous track, like a kind of relieving ballad. A sudden shriek of the saxophone and this all changes into what is probably the most menacing part of the album. This middle section features the band at its most dissonant and frightening and could perhaps sound a bit too radical to some ears. I think it's excellent though, and so is the entire piece.

The third and final track of the album is the epic suite "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers". Not only do I think this is the best piece on the album, I also tend to think of it as my favorite piece of music ever made. Peter Hammill's brilliant lyrics in this piece discuss a theme that often recurs in his lyrics, which is solitude. The suite takes us through various moods like sadness, relief and anger and never fails to stay interesting and touching.

From beginning to end this album is stunning. For that reason I give it 5 stars without the slightest doubt and consider it one of the very best albums ever made. I would recommend this to anyone who isn't afraid of some dissonance and very expressive vocals.

Report this review (#212412)
Posted Saturday, April 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars If we talk about heavy experimental music of early 70's three bands come to my head. Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator. I'm not big fan of King Crimson but I love remaining two. It's good to mention King Crimson here because Robert Fripp was invited to play on this release. Electric guitar wasn't very important in VDGG music, same as in ELP what is pure paradox cos it's pretty heavy without it. Bob just added some strange sounds to make these songs creepy but even without him it would sound enough bizarre and strange. Lemmings isn't something that I'd call masterpiece. It's very Crimson flavoured song. Not saying it's complete disaster but it doesn't move me at all. Man-Erg is much better. The melody is nice and song appears to be surprisingly not very complex... well at least until Eddie Jackson starts improvising. Then it becomes more messy but I really like that kind of mess cos it's something very original (jazz not jazz, avant-grade jazz? I don't know). Plague Of The Lighthouse Keepers in one of the most amazing songs I've ever heard. In fact it's long suite with 10 parts where VDGG show all their skills and all their passion for music. I won't go describing each part because many people on here did it before and saying it's amazing isn't enough. You just have to hear it. But I will mention one part and express my point of view on that. The Clot Thickens is something that sounds like pre-thrash metal. I mean the structure. I can compare this to Voivod's Pre-Ignition of their Nothingface album. It's almost identical structure as in VDGG piece. I simply love this part and remember it was 1971 and most of bands back then didn't know they could play like that (or they simply couldn't cos too hard). VDGG were true visionaries. My favorite musician on this album is Guy Evans but all of them are great. Hammill's voice is more violent than ever before. I'd give 5 stars if the Lemmings was better. But it deserves 4.5 stars easily.
Report this review (#212563)
Posted Monday, April 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Who's bluffing God? Why it is none other than the heart of the pawn. The pawn as he stumbles figuratively across the dark boundaries...

Dark boundaries formulated by dissonant progressive saxophone rock. This is moody and avantgarde in its atmospherics. It is also Van Der Graaf Generator at their creative peak. The album begins with Lemmings, a song that has a very nice flow as it careens anywhere from flamboyant sax pounding, to mellow organ floating. The 12 minute long song has all of the characteristics of your classic VDGG. It has Hammill's vibrant and diverse vocal skills treated well with the implementation of a jazzy saxophone romp and tight rhythm section.

Following on the dissonant heels of Lemmings emerges Man-Erg. This track has a much more dark, Gothic touch added as a majestic organ flourish and angelic melodies supplement Peter as he croons like a plagued cherub in some ethereal light. The song swells powerfully and the vocals must be commended for their masterful control. To be honest, the entire band is usually at the top of their instrumental game. Not often do they let their pretenses get the better of actual songwriting and performance. The song then breaks down into screams signaling the dark and King Crimson-style drop into dark jazz screeching hell. The drumming is heart stomping, and it becomes a terrifying onslaught as the vocal screams paint a bleak and insecure painting full of fleshed out and technical beauty.

Each of the three songs on Pawn Hearts contains at least several excellent musical ideas, as each track evolves and transforms, becoming many a style of threatening pretty beast. Hardly a single note seems to be out of place, and the focus switched from guitar to sax is a refreshing change of pace. The harmony and interplay is wondrous. I've said it before, but the sheer control and force of will behind Peter Hammill and his opera voice has to be heard to really be classified. This is music crafted to be emotionally striking, and the lyrics are up the the usually high quality for this band.

And we come to the herculean side two, the 23 minute long epic A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers. Massive in scope, and awe inspiring in presentation, the song drifts stately as it grows and bends to the will of a tasteful and brooding atmosphere. Van Der Graaf Generator have always been good at preserving an atmosphere, but this album is drenched in a very strong one, and the final track, especially. The lilting flute and saxophone notes that break off into space traveling fancy is highly enjoyable. I must caution those who are very biased agaist atmospheric avantgarde music, or dissonance of any kind, as the songs here utilize a broad range of diversity, and you'll get a lot of dissonant sax work.

The lush organ work is almost religious in the way it crescendos and rolls forth. This leads Plague to a heart squeezing build, to which every band member puts their developed oar into the meld. This also brings me to the one main criticism I can give of this album, and what makes it only slightly less enjoyable than Godbluff for me. The dissonance used herein is dark and enjoyable, but I almost feel as if they rely on it too much to push the musical ideas forward. This slightly lessens the diversity, but isn't enough to ruin the experience by any means.

With Pawn Hearts, VDGG have given us a very dark and atmospheric trip through a wide array of bleak emotions. Hammill's vocals are astounding, and the band's playing is very cohesive. The songwriting is put above pretentious noodling, and everyone gets a chance to shine. The album sometimes relies too heavily on the sonic dissonance, but the melodies are fantastic, and you'll be hard pressed to find an album with such a well defined and enjoyable mood. Essential VDGG.

Best Moment - Take it as a whole experience

Worst Moment - Possible over-use of dissonance

***** Kings to A-6

Report this review (#220327)
Posted Monday, June 8, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Pawn Hearts is one of the greatest Van der Graaf albums in the opinion of Mr. musical genius Aragorn here, and I can list all the reasons why: A. I had time review this

Pawn Hearts is an excellent album, featuring only THREE songs, all of which are fantastic Prog masterpieces. Lemmings is more of a low(er)-volumed song, mostly piano-based, but it doesn't mean the song doesn't have it's hard sax moments with David Jackson, or Guy Evans' funky drumming. Man-Erg is a more rock song, more to the tendency of Theme One, which we all probably know from various radio shows. But the real gem of this album, is the 22-minute long masterpiece, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. Lighthouse is a 10-section song which starts out with a rocker section called Eyewitness, then tones it down a bit with sections like Presence of the Night. After Presence of the Night comes the heavy-as-hell section, Kosmos Tours, featuring synchronized triplets by the whole band, with a devestating sax solo near the end of the track. The song then goes down to some rocker sections, around the volume of Eyewitness, and then ends.

This album is a masterpiece. Must buy for anyone who's only heard of VdGG and has decided to give them a try.

5/5, cause I know what you guys think ;)

Report this review (#225772)
Posted Friday, July 10, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars I am listening to this album in the moment of writing this rewiev. Not beacause I need to hear it to write about it. It's the other way around, hearing it made me wanna write about it.

Some albums gets me hooked at first listen, but soon lose their appeal to me. Some albums take a little longer to get into, but are well worth it. I can listen to those albums over and over again,for a long time. Then I finally grow bored of them. Very few albums does something outside that. Those few that does has another quality: they make me come back to them, over and over again. I can shelve them for a while, then I feel the need to listen to them again. Pawn Hearts by VdGG is one of these few albums (Still Life is another one).

This album id difficult to get into, even by VdGG standards, and for the newcomer to the band I would certainly recommend Godbluff as the best place to start. For me Pawn Hearts had to grow on me, for quite some time. First it went from unlistenable to listenable, then it became good, then great, and now it has finally reached the point of being essential.

Now after I've gotten all of that praise out of my system, I'll try to talk a bit more about the music. The album contains only three tracks, "Lemmings (including Cog)", "Man-Erg", and "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers".

"Lemmings": This track clocks in on a bit over 11 minutes. It features three sections, the first and last following the same theme. These are split up by the middle part, Cog. The first and last section is based around a saxophone riff. And what a riff! Always makes me wanna get up and jump around. :) Cog is a bit chaotic sounding, with PH really sounding menacing. From the chaos then erupts the saxophone riff again, and this is the best moment of the song IMO.

"Man-Erg": A favourite track of many VdGG fans, but my least favourite track on this album. Still great! It has a lot of variation to offer, with lot's of changes in mood, which VdGG are masters of. A bit over 10 minutes long.

"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers": Talking about mood changes, this 23 minute long epic has it all. First it puzzled me, there are a lot of sections that at first seem pointless (either just noisy, or plain boring: there are about 3 minutes right at the start with just noises that could be heard around a lighthouse). All of these serve to set the mood though, and works as a whole. Although this epic is really a bunch of shorter tracks patched together, and it has a lot of wierd moments, as a whole, it works. And it not only works, it is one of the best and most gripping epics I ever heard! The ending is truly majestic, and also features some nice guitarwork, courtesy of Mr. Fripp.

This album is truly a 5/5. A final piece of advise though: give it time! :)

Report this review (#228527)
Posted Sunday, July 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Prog Specialist
3 stars Some years ago I listened a couple of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR albums and found them simply beyond my understanding throwing the LP's and CD's to the bottom of a box and hardly listened them. this of course doesn't imply any discredit for the band's musicianship, but a consequence of my taste, I choose melody over excessive complexity and dissonances, so the band was out of my league.

But my tastes have changed, I became a MAGMA fan, and found some interest in a couple of GENTLE GIANT albums, so last week while putting my albums in order (Mover to a new house some weeks ago), decided to gibe Hammill and company a second chance.

So listened "Pawn Hearts" repeatedly and my opinion has changed partially, still I dislike their unnecessary and annoying complexity and the lack of coherence in most tracks, but at least there are moments that really captured me.

The first track "Lemmings" is one of those I can't still resist, not because of Hammill (Most VDGG detractors blame him), being that his theatrical style and excellent vocal range is amazing, but for the excess of dissonances that take nowhere and the lack of structure (at least for me), sounds like they are trying to more elaborate and complex than everybody but never pass the level of weird music. Melody is an important part of the music and this guys simply deleted any race of melody from "Lemmings"

Now, "Man-Erg" is another thing, an excellent song in which they balance the complexity with a wonderful melody, the use of piano and organ is absolutely delightful, and even in the weirdest parts, the band keeps the central idea alive. After a complex middle section in which the band includes elements of Rock, Jazz and God knows what else, all with extreme dexterity, comes the grand finale in which VDGG makes a display of pomp and drama that really touched me, excellent material.

"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" is the middle point between the previous tracks, there are excellent melodic passages and extreme demonstrations of experimentalism, that again go beyond my understanding, not my cup of tea, but I can listen it completely without wanting to press the skip button in any moment as I did months ago. Special mention to the mysterious Hammond solos that are just brilliant.

Today I'm interested in listening carefully more of the band's albums and my ears are open for new experiences, but don't ask me to jump from a 1 star rating that I had given some times ago to 5 stars, I'm not ready for this yet, but rating "Pawn Hearts" with less than 3 solid stars would be criminally unfair for me.

Report this review (#236186)
Posted Monday, August 31, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
5 stars VDGG's finest hour, more melodic, colourful and varied in mood then their later work. But still, approach with care. Their style is quite lyrical and extreme and tends to divide the audience into devoted fans on one side and disapproving naysayers on the other.

If you can stomach the band's eccentricities and Hammill's vocal gymnastics, they're a real treat though and bring some of the best progressive rock in the business.

I see not much of a point in discussing the tracks separately. They all sound equally perfect to me and each one covers an incredible range of melody, rhythm and intensity, ranging from sugar sweet to frightening madness. Especially so on the Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, the most astonishing 20+ minutes track in prog history!

Or was that Echoes? Or no Tarkus? No Ommadawn! ... Aren't we lucky guys with all that choice :-)

Report this review (#236922)
Posted Thursday, September 3, 2009 | Review Permalink
Eclectic Prog Team
2 stars Pawn Hearts has a lot of arcane music for one to sink one's ears into. Garish and ostentatious, this whole album is extremely difficult to follow. It has taken repeated hearings just to appreciate and enjoy what I do, but it seems that this is one of the nadirs of Van der Graaf Generator's classic era.

"Lemmings" Immediately, Peter Hammill's dramatic vocals whine over steadily building music, led by Hugh Branton's organ. David Jackson's saxophone accompanies the frantic vocal melody. With some howling wind in the background, a more subdued acoustic segment begins, but it is short-lived, unfortunately. Ultimately, the music disintegrates gradually until only the lonesome but jazzy drumming of Guy Evans remains. The organ and flute that come in at the last minute are a tad eerie.

"Man-Erg" Soft piano and organ begin this much more pleasant track. I love the soulful vocal melody in the first several moments, and it may be my favorite part of this album. After some saxophone screeching, the pleasantness ends, as an odd and cacophonic section takes over. All told, this is my favorite track from the album, and essentially salvages it from being banished from my hearing it ever again.

"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" Silky keyboard textures and cymbals flow under the histrionic vocals of the front man. An airier section lightens things up, with spacious flute and organ. In this way, it takes the form of psychedelic rock, with spacey passages and bizarre noises from the saxophone that just don't sound natural. The next heavier section has full, almost boastful-sounding vocals and a gorgeous organ tone. To be sincere, there are parts here that I really enjoy, particularly in how the instruments works together, and even the rapid-fire vocals at times (though I was seriously turned-off the first several times I heard it), but there's also an awful lot I can't stand even now, like the segment that is so full of dissonant instruments it nearly gives me a headache. One part toward the end sounds like music for some ridiculous freak show. The last three minutes are grand, but the music contained therein assumes an insignificant role since there was little building up to it previously. Much is going on in this lengthy piece, but overall, it tends to drag.

Report this review (#238021)
Posted Monday, September 7, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars For me, the only question about this album is whether it deserves 4 stars, or 5. The reason to consider this album as a 4 star album is because of the heavy use of "Sonic Dissonance" within, an effect that can leave listeners feeling a little lost, or make the music feel more disjointed.

There is no denying that this album is a fine work of progressive music that deserves much applause for it's creativity and breadth. Despite the many unusual sounds and the strange effects, this album manages to grab the listener by the ear from the beginning of Lemmings by being deceptively catchy. Peter Hammill's vocals are stunning on this disc, ranging a wide range of human emotion (if mostly sticking to the darker sides of human emotion, such as despair, hopelessness, and isolation - he can at times be brilliantly hopeful as well).

The music is aggressive and decidedly unhappy, fitting the vocals quite well. The saxophones and the keyboards work together well to create a sense of a world whose shape is not quite as friendly as we had hoped. This fits perfectly with the album, which from the opening declares it's bleak views:

"I stood alone upon the highest cliff-top, looked down, around, and all that I could see were those that I would dearly love to share with crashing on quite blindly to the sea..."

And yet, Lemmings gives us a brilliant juxtaposition, a glimmer of hope; where we are asked,

"What cause is there left but to die? ... I really don't know why ..."

The song at the end asks,

"What choice is there left but to live? to save the little ones? What choice is there left but to try?"

Perhaps not the beautiful, hopeful lyrics one would expect from a band such as Yes or The Flower Kings, and yet, given the dark, pensive mood of the song beforehand, these lyrics are strangely hopeful.

Man-Erg is another dark song, that consists of two main motifs: Hamill singing over piano about the Killer and the Angels inside his head, followed by a dissonant section where he demands to know if he is really himself. Another successful song that manipulates emotion to great effect.

The crowning achievement of this album, or the part where a listener will get lost, is A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, the 23 minute epic at the end. This is where VDGG is their most desperate, as the protagonists isolation seems to descend into a frantic madness, as the music slowly loses coherence and grows more dissonant. In total, the song has about three sections of dissonant noise (some of which remains harmonic with dissonant backing, some of which is just plain noise that is difficult to distinguish as anything), each getting noisier and less defined than the last. These sections are admittedly difficult to listen to, and more enjoyable for how they carry the song forward than for the way that they actually sound. And yet, despite the feeling that the song is held together by a thinner and thinner strand and is near to bursting into a cacophony of noise, it somehow ends with the hauntingly beautiful "Lands End (SineLine)/We Go Now" movement, where the music reverts to Peter singing over the piano, ending on painfully hopeful lyrics:

"It doesn't feel so very bad now, I think the end is the start Begin to feel very glad now all things are a-part".

These somewhat cryptic lyrics (for it is unclear if it is meant to be apart, or a part; even in the booklet, it switches between the two as they are repeated) leave the listener puzzling over the fate of the protagonist, but somehow feeling that he has reached some form of peace.

So, I must return to my initial question; is this a 4 star album, or a 5 star album? Without the dissonance, there would be no question, yet we would have a very different album, and I must give the album props for using it in a highly effective manner. Overall, I believe that it moves the song forward and makes it that much more poignant, so I will have to grant this album the high honour of being a five star album. Even if you cannot get past the dissonance, it is an album that must be heard and felt, at least once.

Report this review (#238497)
Posted Friday, September 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Most popular VdGG album with long list of 5* reviews. I own this album for quite long time, and I really tried to find,what is good in it. Pity, but I didn't succeed too much in it.

Just three long compositions, very unfocused and chaotic. Unhappily, I have old, not remixed version, and the sound quality is only very average. It doesn't helps, for sure.

First song - "lemmings"is real nightmare. Hammil voice is main accent of all album, and sound cacophony on the background isn't so important. But it became annoying in some moments. I like some small instrumental pieces taken from long composition, but in total they are not too much connected between each other. Keyboard sound is dated, as all music in total. It sounds for me as unsuccessful example of early avant symphonic prog.

Second song is a bit better. At least, there are some structure and melody, not just mix of sounds and noises. Thiird extra -long ( all LP B-side) compositions is a bit better as well, and at least has it structurised parts.

Don't think I am not prepared for listening of that kind of music. I like bigger part of Zappa's most experimental recordings, as well as John Zorn/Naked City music. I like King Crimson music very much. I like VdGG new albums as well!

But that one is baggy mix of sounds,some melodical pieces, some unsuccessful experiments on structures and sound mixing, driven by Hammil voice.

Report this review (#244841)
Posted Friday, October 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
Italian Prog Specialist
3 stars Ah. Van Der Graaf Generator. The ultimate hit-and-miss band for me. Generally a bit more adventurous, especially so on Pawn Hearts, where they gladly attack you with a brash, provocative style of crashing and collapsing waves of atonal and screeching musical neurosis in some way or another. Side by side with this you can expect weirdly non-directional wanderings into a land of noisy, or for that matter, minimal keyboard and percussion obscurity. And as an added bonus, a minute or two with a staunchly, strange but often basic melody, packing as much punch as heavy prog, or even better, a wondrously contrasting nimble interlude.

Evidently, the records strength is found in the contrast...the conflict...the gut-wrenching drama and intensity of these dramatic effects. All of this with no respect for what style and which instrumentation (much of its identity is found in David Jackson's impressive saxophone playing) to use when and how, yet still retaining the focus to apply it properly.

Despite this confusing, sometimes even alarming, schizophrenia there is a profound statement to be found. Because somewhere in this strange brew you find the heart and soul of the music in the complex inner workings of thought and emotion expressed better nowhere else; fragility tumbling around with confusion, anger toppled with deep, inconsolable sadness, hope tarnished by uncertainty. Unfortunately, I don't acknowledge this as a direct strength for the band in most cases, and especially not on Pawn Hearts, where it is at its most abundant and most glaringly obvious. VdGG, simply put, has a balance problem for me. As I once read, and agree with, they sort of collapse into their own intense emotion. I feel like Hammill (being a unique and massive emotional force) is ramming these thoughts and feelings down my throat, leaving no room for reflection and a personal emotional interpretation and experience.

So in conclusion you have got to admire the mind-boggling ambition on Pawn Hearts, but it just does not hold together well. There are too many sections without clear purpose, while lacking the capability to keep my interest level high to make up for it. The omnipresent meta-emotionality quickly degrades into a caricature of itself since it is, put simply, nauseatingly abundant. The feeling of strengths turned to weaknesses permeates the listening experience. That is not to say that there are no grand, well-executed parts to be found here, but they tend to be a little too few and a little too overshadowed by the wallowing qualities of the music.

Some of the best as well as some of the worst material of Van Der Graaf Generator is found on Pawn Hearts, and the appreciation of the album shifts in focus between the two depending on what mood you are in when listening to it.

So on average...a fair album.

3 stars.


Report this review (#247212)
Posted Friday, October 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Van der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts

The masterpiece that wasn't very likable...

This is a record that deserved it's place in my island selection (the essential of the essentials). For most of us it extremely hard to get into; I liked it after my fifth spin, though my brother loved it instantly. This album is very progressive, but even more that that - it's psychedelic! It's dark, it's without concessions, it's fatalistic. It's Peter Hammil going to the extreme.

The compositions are influenced by dissonant psychedelica, but also some freejazz influences can be spotted. Under the layer of darkness some beautiful melodies do appear; the songbasis of Man-Erg is very subtle and a lot of melodies on the long epic A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers are very emotionally driven. Eventually even these sublte moments are confronted with the heavy approach on this album. In the warm pianomelodie Man-Erg the first lyrics are "The Killer lives inside me"... The great majestic refrein in the end is being destorted completely with dissonant wind and key notes. All in order to make one of the most honest confessions sound real, the second couplet starts with "Angels live inside me", Peter Hammil is referring to his two sides, being more honest on this record that most people would be when sitting in the chair at the shrink.

The epical Lighthouse Keepers is a sum of different melodies that never come back, in a way this makes it a different epic from all the other. Most of the time part come back at the end with epics. VdGG gave every part of the song it's own themes and melodies, but I wouldn't be able to know wich subtitle refers to which part. It's just one very big song with atmospheric parts, vocal parts, psychomusic parts and majestic parts. It's a journey to through top-notch psychedelic music that is to progressive for most of us.

Conclusion. One of my favourite albums, extremely inspired, extremely well played and recorded and very 'real'. I know a lot of symphyproggers rather would commit suicide then listen to this album, but for the Progressive music listeners with the big P this is an pioneer album. This is how far prog came in fourthy years on this field. The fact that people can still like this dark album is almost as nice as how good it actually is, though quite unlikable.

Five stars, but it would have been six if possible.

* Extra

I recently bought the new vinyl 2lp print with bonustracks and I would like add some words for those who are considering to buy this new print (or a cd with these tracks). After all, the album was once intended to become a double album. 'Theme One' never sounded this clear and it really enhances this instrumental track (written by their producer for a commercial) a lot. Mainly the rhythmical section shines. There's a small difference with the original version, it seems to me there's less distorted organ around. The psychedelic track 'W' is a good song with atmospheric darkness and great vocals by Hammill. The recording quality is perfect. On the second side of my bonus vinyl 'Angle of Incident's and 'Diminutions' VdGG impress with heavy psychedelic soundscapes that remind me of Tangerine Dream's Zeit album. Un-logical sounds and drones that won't do a thing for some of us, but I happen to like these atmospheric interpretations (as I tend to call them). The short be-bop track 'Ponker's Theme' is unimpressive, the band doesn't succeed in creating a good jazz environment and the production sounds poor. At first I didn't though I'd need a second vinyl with bonustracks, but I can now look back on an even more successful purchase. I already really liked the warm and thick sound of my new 180g pressing.

Report this review (#250454)
Posted Saturday, November 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Electric guitars are for pansies. Imagine a band with a saxophone player, a ranting madman, and an organ so distorted, so dissonant and vile, that it sounds like hell's very own keyboardist has decided to join a prog rock band just for kicks. So, electric guitars are for pansies. Check out "Lemmings" after the Cogs section. You know, the part when Hugh Banton succesfully mimics a squeeling pig on his demonic organ. It's just a little scary, and completely awesome for those who like their rock music sprinkled liberally with weird noises.

Eventually after so many twists and tortions of music "Lemmings" winds down. Now, one thing often in discussion when it comes to Generator are Peter Hammill's vocals. They're a little... Uh, Dramatic is the word. I've grown used to them, but I readily admit they aren't for the novice listener. "Man-Erg" Shows off Mr. Hammill's talents in this regard, it's kind of a cheesy song, something that could have only came about in the early 1970's after ingesting about a truckload of illegal substances. But it's a fun song, and not nearly as bad as some of the other classic prog rock excesses. It's actually a rather "stable" song, compared to the weirdness that comes before and after.

If "Man-Erg" is the relatively stable song of Pawn Hearts, then "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" amounts to what is a long, deranged, rant into the blackest heart of the night sea. It's pretty out there. Things begin on a note of doom: a few verses where Peter sings around a few octaves, ambient sounds, Mr. Hammill's dark pronouncements of insanity, and then back to the song proper (though a little changed). This is the last remnant of sanity. After this part it's all bipolar.Highs and lows, screams and sorrows. "Unreal" indeed.

Report this review (#251120)
Posted Tuesday, November 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Art. That's what this album is all about. I didn't have any idea of what to expect when i listened to this album the very first time. Of course, it was at first a weird experience. I hadn't heard before a band with this ideas, ideas that push boundaries in a wonderful way. I think also that this album certainly isn't for everyone, but i suggest that all people should at least give it one shot, cause it's an amazing experience. Now onto the album. The first song "Lemmings" starts with calm guitar, and slowly the organs and effects help to build a tension atmosphere, then an amazing sax riff takes control of the song, and with that also comes the first vocals from Hammill. I know many people certainly don't like his vocals, but i think they fit wonderfully, it gives the album a unique pace. The song varies so much with noises, dissonant parts, and some dark vocals, it all helps to enhance an almost hypnotic mood. The second song "Man-Erg" starts with some beautiful piano lines. I really love that melody. Here Hammill starts singing in a mellowish style, it creates a floating like effect, very nice. Then comes a very dissonant part with sax and guitar(from guest Fripp) and disturbing vocals by Hammill. I find this section extremely effective. Then the song changes into a slow pace again to finish reprising the first verses (Hammill singing the dissonant part into this section it's a wonderful touch). It closes with a unison. Nice And now we enter into the last song, a huge epic " A plague of Lighthouse Keepers." I won't describe this song part to part because I feel it's a complete unique experience on it's own. All I can say it's that this song changed dramatically my view on music. Emotional parts, dissonant parts, experimentation are the key here. One of the most progressive works I have ever listened. Highly Recommended (not for the faint of heart).
Report this review (#251877)
Posted Friday, November 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Musical schizophrenia

I always find it useful to consider and compare classic English albums with what the competition were up to at the same time. In this case Pawn Hearts was recorded at roughly the same time as Nursery Cryme, Meddle, and Fragile. They certainly outdid Meddle and Fragile, and probably even topped Nursery Cryme by a hair. Pawn Hearts showcases a darker effort than Genesis however and this becomes apparent quickly as you sink into its embrace. The music of Pawn Hearts is deliciously dark and unpredictable, harsh, alienating, and yet completely satisfying as a listening experience. Led by a mass of swirling organ and saxophone, propelled by tight powerful drumming and deep bass, it is a perfect platform for the theatrical vocals of Peter Hammill. Hammill possesses all of the passion of Peter Gabriel but with more grit and danger to his persona. The three long tracks are all superb with "Lemmings" being the most challenging, pure insanity in spots, lurching you around like a ragdoll. "Man Erg" is so amazing, beginning in almost soothing balladesque fashion which becomes downright uplifting until the moment it snaps--you then hear the screams of children as the darkness descends. This moment of a man apparently falling prey to evil is replicated so beautifully by the ensuing sonic assault, very powerful, and almost disorienting due to the simultaneous stereo panning tricks. Surely one of dark prog's most memorable moments.

They then knock down Suppers Ready by delivering a better side long epic earlier, beating their rivals to the punch. 23 minutes of pure drift on the progressive winds, I just love the feeling of getting lost here. First, while there is plenty of space and openness, the various keyboard passages given time to ripen, the overall effect can be claustrophobic tempered with flute and brass. Desolation has never been more beautiful. Midway through Hammill's vocal will lock into the rhythm and punctuation in effect becoming an instrument, the runs of keys increasing in intensity to the point of pure chaos. And then they do break the tension with something lovely until we build again, an exhausting cycle but in a good way. Here piano comes in as well complimenting the murkier organ swells. VDGG excel in creating soundscapes that are dissonant and harsh on the surface, but the patient listener soon peels this back to the great beauty of what lies underneath. The fact that the sound flips back and forth with such swiftness is what makes it feel a bit dangerous. I'm not certain yet if this is their masterpiece as I still have other VDGG titles to hear, but it is a thrilling prog-rock album that will please anyone with adventurous tastes. I can completely understand why this band was so revered in Italy where this kind of boldness was just taking off and pollinating with the Italian traditions to create some of the following year's great RPI.

Report this review (#259257)
Posted Monday, January 4, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Like a dog in the night, i run through a manger, now i am the stranger i stay in.

I mean seriously, who writes stuff like that! Peter Hammil apparently. This is to me VDGG in their finest hour, even though there would be really great hours yet to come. The first two tracks on the album are fine listening, with Man-Erg to me being slightly more compelling. But then there is VDGGs Mona Liza, Ninth Symphony, Requiem; Plauge of Lighthouse Keepers.

My god this track takes my breath away everytime. I'm a huge Genesis and Yes fan but this track blows Supper's Ready and Close to the Edge out of the water. This track gets better everytime i hear it. It's so fantastic that my fingers shake when i write this review. Jacksons Sax is absolutley key here, Hammils voice is mystical and dark like the voice of a god. Evans drumming is exretmely tasty also. The organ riffs are like from a dream. All this in a track that has like 8 modulations and lyrics like: "Only life i feel at all, is the presence of the night", "Only to think what might have been, locked in silent monologue, in silent scream", and "What is freedom of choice, Where do i stand in the pagentry, whose is my voice?" Absolutley mindblowing stuff.

As an album Pawn Hearts probably shouldn't compete with consistent albums like Close to the Edge or Foxtrot. But man, is Plauge of Lighthouse Keepers something to listen to. I have to give this album 5 stars because Plauge is the best track ever written. NOTHING will ever top the musicianship, lyrics and composition of this track in the terms of prog rock.

Report this review (#260980)
Posted Friday, January 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Woowee, what an album to review, what a band! I'd say out of all the bands here on this site, VdGG stands apart both stylistically and musically. They're the exact opposite to what you'd expect from a saxophone/organ/piano/drums band, and they take a much more agressive and chaotic path to prog than more well known (and more comercially successful) prog bands- the quiet etheral passages of Yes or Genesis style are few and far between.

As an introduction to the band, this album does not work. It is much far too eclectic and ambitious for any non-fans to get their head around in the first listen, and could very easily put a newcomer off VdGG for life if you introduce them with this Behmoth. My personal favourite VdGG album is Godbluff, you're probably much better off starting with that as it gives the exact same mood and emotional impression as this three song monument, in a much more accessable streamlined manner (without sacrificing 'progginess').

Pawn hearts certainly doesn't take the straightforward approach, but many prog fans will possibly feel familiar with the epic+two format which has yeilded stone-cold classic prog albums in the past, and as this suggests, it certainly is the most adventurous and daring. It just doesn't pull the punches, is all I'm trying to say- it's unlikely to convert any newcomers to the VdGG cause. The new listener should expect mind-rending on a high scale. (in all seriousness, i wouldn't recommend anybody of dubious or unstable mental state to listen to it on their own, especially not in the dark, or before going to bed.)

But Pawn Hearts is a masterpeice, well deserving of its five star rating (It has excellent performances from all musicians involved, via truly inspired songwriting) because it dares to tread where other bands rarely set foot, into the raging void, it stared straight into the dark abyss and shouts until it's collective throats are dry and bleeding. Lemmings eases you into the madness, Man-Erg tricks you and teases you with its insanity and Plague of Lighthouse Keepers attacks you, forces your head under and violently drowns you on its utter lunacy.

The maelstrom of my my memory is a vampire and it feeds on me, now staggering madly, over the brink, I fall.

Report this review (#261534)
Posted Monday, January 18, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars I know i give five stars to some of the discs that i review but on comenting these one im seriously thinking that i should lower them all at least one point ( except Floyd,s first one). Anyway "Pawn Hearts" is over five points album. Just three songs ( i dont count the remaster bonus tracks because as Hamill says in an interview the disc is much better without them, in fact i consider to include the bonus tracks almost a sacrilege, something just for the historic researcher), but their content is like three hundred discs. All your life in three songs, everything thats really important, is possible?? Well i thought it wasnt but "Pawn hearts" is the living proof. First i want to analize some of the context first: "Pawn hearts" is Generator fourth disc, the last one before the breakdown. For my part, i consider the posterior reunion to be an altogether different group. The music still more or less the same but something is absolutely wrong were it should be right, everything is turned upside down, and you can see it especially in the lyrics. How its possible the same genius that make something like "Pawn Hearts" did something so utterly propagandistic simple-minded comun and nasty ( silly demi-modern nietzscheanism if you ask me) as "Childlike Faith in Childhood's End"?. Well a matter of discusion i agree but.. I would not dare to say....... if Hamill didnt give me a clue. In an interview ( in a page with the bands name from uk ) he said that they split because the loose the special cohesion they have after "Pawn Hearts", he says literaly that thay felt like there was a fifth member of the band, a gosthly one if you want to put it these way, and these member left just after the disc, everything is done. Once you know Hamill you know he is exscesive so its not strange such fluctuations between discs, but to be honest theres something pure that comes to fruit in the disc that is all that Hamill could really give and a little bit like they tune into a divine and raw radio frecuency. In another interview he compares Van der Graaf with Hawkwind and in their comeback you notice they are trying to reach the Hawks public: the music is rockier heavier more pagan more cliche-like more nihilistic...they are definetly more comercial and accesible to the Proto-punks. But "Pawn Hearts" is another bread, is a hundred percent art masterpiece wich disregards accesibility and temporal and market terms. In fact, financial troubles where a crucial part of Van der Graaf disolution, but not the main one as i explained. I admit that seeing the thematic enfasis of Peter Hamill ouvre is sincere that Pawns hearts admits at least to interpretations: the pagan existencial stand and the a unavoidable cristian one, the magic is the way they blend a incredible intense trip that leads some to one place and anothers to a really close but absolutely different one..because biased thinking is the too human inevitable characteristic of personality i just decided to plainly give the richest interpretation for me.

But going back to the disc, its like a ultradramatic essential condensation of the best philosophy and its core is the main philosophical trouble: i mean the problem of freedom, of trascendence and inmanence. "Lemmings" starts in the most strange almost ridicul way as Hamill utters the first words in his affected manner. But the lyrics are know everyone he loves is a Lemming and they trying to suicide ( negative nhilism) , the Lemming army says things like "For if the sky is seeded death What is the point in catching breath - EXPEL IT! What cause is there left but to die" -these last part is amazing, so moving!! You have the impression that Lemmings are a revolutionary party wich in fact can just offer fear and desilusion ( false unity and choice rejection). The music is thundering and great. Then comes the weird part wich is lyricaly an inflexion wich ends with "no life lies in the quicksand". Then enters the spooky incredible section of the technohell were "Mind and machinery box-press the dreams" is for so to speak the presentation of the ultra-ordered chaos wich the forces in the universe wich are opossing freedom impose. Then Hamill expose a kind of positive nihilism, a call for hope and braveness ( "Unite our blood, abate the flood, avert the disaster") were he states that death offers no hope. Then evreything is turned: the only choice is to live. The final try, try, try is wonderfull, aerie and lives you wanting more and intrigued.

Then starts "Man-Erg"...anyone knows of a greater song than these?. Please tell me! Is just the most moving real beatifull song that have been made IMO. Hamill is touching the Founding Stone, the Secret..You can fell it in every pore, it always makes my spine chill and my heart trembles. The first two verses comprise a whole world: all creation is played between the killers, the angels and the human traped and free in the middle. The whole human being is exposed in its essence, Freedom that is quoting Schelling "the human capacitie for (supersensible) Good and Bad". But not you can hear the confussion the very question for these freedom, nothing is taked for granted. Is the hard section with the most incredible begining, really disturbing. The music starts to lower its speed graduately, like giving room for these passion to die. Then enters the pastoral section with genius lyrics so moving in all overall aspects. Then returns the first theme closing the most perfect songs with the most perfect lines "I'm just a man, and killers, angels, all are these: Dictators, saviours, refugees In war and peace As long as Man lives" Whoaa, too much.

"A Plague of LightHouse keepers" one of the first prog "tour-the-force", but is not musical over-pretentiousness what is behind these milestone, is a thematical developement, wich ends the disc making it relieves you and getting to unkonwn heights. The first part is about the dready and confuse human condition with lines so great as "im a lonely man, my solitude is true" or "I only have blunt scissors/I only have the bluntest home". The music is a hipnotic ritornello. Then comes the part wich ends with "You'll begin to wonder if the points of all the ancient myths are solemnly directed straight at you" ( !what a line!). Then starts a musical frenzy, chaotic and disturbing, wich transform in a quiet avantgarde part were you here like ships getting near in the night. Then starts "eyewitness" the lyrics are getting to the point were the secret is going to be revealed..but not yet again...lines like "So I only think on how it might have been, Locked in silent monologue, in silent scream" give you a clue. Then starts a rockier section were putting it simple the forces of Evil present to him for their "Only intent on destroying what they've lost". Theres a metaphore of the sea and life thats going to be so important in the final unraveling of the song, hes now sended inevitably into the sea with "no harbour left to gain". Then starts a incredible section with a requiem feeling that goes into a incredibly emotional phase that leads to genial music and lyrics in an strange tempo of the "Myself won't let me Just be myself and so I am completely alone...." part. "Last stand" starts with a church-like organ with a great feeling. "The Clot thickens" is a heavy punky industrial section with lyrics like "I don't want to be one wave in the water but sea will drag me deep One more haggard DROWNED MAN...". The metaphore of the sea ( universe-life) and the wave ( individual-existence) developes. Then the character (Hamill no doubt) have to choose if he joins to the Lemmings ( notice that what is necesity in the first song is now a matter of a kind of choice). Then the final stand, the last section, that resolves everything in the disc ( musicaly and lyricaly) into positiveness: The Human is saved, he feels the pressence of God ( "I feel you around me...I know you well") and its hand reaching to help the man in a Michelangello Capilla sixtina fashion ("I feel I am drowning...hands stretch in the dark"). The mistery is firstly showed in its essence ( "Camps of panoply and majesty, what is Freedom of Choice? Where do I stand in the pageantry...whose is my voice?") and then revealed in the most simple and clear way ( "It doesn't feel so very bad now: I think the end is the start. Begin to feel very glad now: ALL THINGS ARE A PART ALL THINGS ARE APART ALL THINGS ARE A PART.) Of course evrything goes with these sliding of the A ( Unification in the sea- universe, and separation of the individual) We feel that Hamill have really grasped what the fuss is all about, we fell that hes blesed and he finaly have seen the light. Theres a really anti-modern motive in the disc ( not in the music of course), a Chestertonian look freeing itself from the confusion of psychedelic era. Its what an artwork is suposse to be and it affects you in the most intimate and positive way. Have these unique, authentic seal. Is magical, something true is expresing ( and these is utterly difficult to achieve). Hamill, I thank you.

Report this review (#266369)
Posted Monday, February 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars This is the most well-recognized Van Der Graaf Generator recording but does that automatically mean that it's their best release?

It took me a lot of time to truly appreciate this album and I had to go through quite a few revisits over the course of the last 8 years for it to grow on me. My biggest problem has always been related to A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers suite and my feelings toward it literally went from unbearable blabber, at first, to eventually recognizing certain patterns and appreciating the piece as a whole. It wasn't I until I heard almost all of the band's back catalog that I truly began to understand and appreciate it's status among the fans. Still to this day I can't rank the suite among my top 10 favorite Van Der Graaf Generator compositions, but it wouldn't surprise me if it would reach that position in a few more years!

Lemmings was a complete polar opposite of A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers for it started off as my favorite composition but then I sort of grew tired of it over the course of these few years. The composition and its structure has very little new to offer once you've heard it at least 10 times. Let's move swiftly on to something really spectacular instead!

For me, Man-Erg actually managed to surpass the two other compositions since it was easy to enjoy the soft intro and outro sections the first time I heard them and the crazy jam section hit the right spot after a few more spins. Ultimately it offered a steady linear curve in growth of appreciation in relation to the play count. Hope that the last part made sense!

Let me conclude by establishing that Pawn Hearts is not an easy work to approach for beginners and I would rather recommend the albums before and after it as a proper introductions to the Van Der Graaf Generator sound. Still this record features a mature band on the top of their game and it's probably their most daring album to date so it should not be overlooked by fans of challenging and ambitious music!

***** star songs: Man-Erg (10:20)

**** star songs: Lemmings (Including Cog) (11:37) A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers (23:04)

Report this review (#266738)
Posted Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars It took me years. No let me rephrase that. It took me Eons to begin to even accept VdGG. But when the hurting came, it came hard. Peter Hamill has something in his voice which makes you stop and wonder what kind of a wacko is trying to make a scene in your scene. Then there's Banton and his organ which are continually intent on affecting your day in some major way. Finally Jackson's sax cannot, I repeat cannot be ignored, no matter what type of innoculation you may find. Lemmings and Man-Erg make statements which are difficult to ignore, but APOLK that's where the wall becomes thoroughly breachable. Hamill's vocals are magical, and the concept makes you wake up in the middle of the night asking the omnivorous and eternal question: why? No matter how you feel about yourself this is the album to turn to if you feel like putting it all back on to the betting table. Magical, disenheartening, troubling, refreshing, dislillusioning, curious; yes, yes, all of those, and so much more....
Report this review (#266773)
Posted Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Pawn Hearts holds only 3 long tracks, on the european version i'we got.

Those few long tracks, can sometimes be an boring obsession of prog. artists, but with Pawn Hearts the format works out perfectly. Every track becomes a "symphony for Sax and Orchestra". Not that this is typical symphonic prog., as genre it could be descriped as dark prog. rock. with a Jazz touch.

Those long setup's perfectly mixed, between quiet parts of beauty and heavier upbeat parts. Also the album as hole, very well balanced, realy comes out as a unit.

Arrangements are very Sax driven, on a foundation of organ/piano and Great drumming. Amasing how complex it seems, and how well it works without the dectinct Bass and Guitar playing, expected in a Rock setup. Robert Fripp (King Crimson) does appear's on Guitar, but not affecting the overall picture that much.

Vocals from Hammill as allways an important part of the full picture, and as allways they are sometimes a bit Theatrical, but on this album, that is not a major problem, on most parts he is dooing a great job.

Saxophones Keybords & Drums, together does a stunning job on the album, only thing I do miss, is a great bass player, that would lift this to new highs.

Im not able to pinpoint why im not rating the album, a 5 star, but something is missing from lifting it up to my top 50 (or so), prog albums. Think its just a matter of my personal taste.

It is a great album, and everyone should defenitely give it a go.

Report this review (#277866)
Posted Wednesday, April 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars 10/10

"Pawn Hearts" is a landmark album that every rock fan should listen to.

1971: what a year. Gentle Giant's "Acquiring The Taste", Genesis's "Nursery Cryme", Jethro Tull's "Aqualung", ELP's "Tarkus", Can's "Tago Mago", and, of course, Van Der Graaf Generator's "Pawn Hearts". This last one represents the zenit of one of the greatest progressive rock bands ever. As a consequence, I consider this album one of the most important and best album of this genre we love so much. Pawn Hearts has the structure of the quintessential prog rock album: three songs, one above twenty minutes. For this reason this album can be compared, in this point of view, to other progressive rock albums such as "Close To The Edge", "Relayer", "Anabelas", the first Faust album, or even "1001 Centigrades". But musically speaking, "Pawn Hearts" is a totally different universe, compared to the two mega symphonic Yes albums, the heavy avant garde of "Faust", or the Kobaian "1001 Centigrades". Schizophrenic, tense moments are cleverly alternated with spacey and dreamy moods, alternated as well with beautiful piano-ballad moments, all of these parts incredibly dense and breathtaking. This thanks especially to the heart of the band, the legendary and one of the few "Mister Progressive", Peter Hammill, singer of great talent and originality. Not to push aside all the other musicians, but Hammill IS VDGG. The album starts with a bomb, the fantastic piece "Lemmings", which creates a complex sequence of themes and moods: From a nervous, keyboard driven melody, comes a soft but dense moment, where Hammill is the center of the music. Every scond of this song is great, very well done, for it's complexity and at the same time for it's memorable melodies. "Man Erg" starts as a ballad, similar to one of the ballads they wrote for "H to He Who Am The Only One", "House With No Door". It goes on like this for a few minutes, until a tense and kind of creepy part comes in. Indeed, this song is just as complex as the previous one, and it maintains the same levels as well: the song is probably one of he very best VDGG ballads.

"A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers" is one of the band's greatest and most epic songs. Twenty three minutes, extremely complex, made out of different shades and atmospheres, from the typical soft VDGG melody, to an eerie ambient parenthesis, to a wild and intense tune, to a soft ballad, to another weird ambient parenthesis. "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers" is rightfully considered one of the best prog rock songs ever written, due especially to the complexity and eclectic style. As a conclusion, I'm happy to say that only after a few listens ( 5, for being more precise) I completely acquired the taste of this album, and now I consider "Pawn Hearts", like I previously said, an essential masterpiece, a landmark album that every prog rock fan should listen to.

Report this review (#279099)
Posted Friday, April 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Van der Graaf Generator is one of the most underestimated bands from progressive history and their peak is considered as Pawn Heats. But why?

Album starts with the strong, complicated song called Lemmings. "Lemmings" is hard to follow and in the first listening you may find it very complicated and far away from melody. But like all of VDGG material, chaotic environment of the song is reflected through lyrics and music perfeclty. The genuity of Hammil's poetry shows itself again. Hammil use the Lemmings story in this song with the concept of "running always" and mass "suicide". Like lemmings running, the song starts with a "rush" and strong vocal continues until the end. Lyrics starts with hopelessness and and the end it ends with a little hope by mentioning "What choice is there left but to try?" This kind of poetry may resemble the early song "Killer", like its ending as "We need love", with an opend door.

Man-Erg is my personal favorite in this album. In the first part of the song, musically all instruments plays "soft" and there is great harmony between them. This "softness" is relatively due to Hammer's vocal. Many people find its vocal style very "strange", but in this song it's rather considered normal. Then before the second part and there is a transition section with sax and screaming vocal of Hammil. Afterwards, the lyrics started to be complicated (even I used dictionary frequently), and Saxon's great performance shows itself. And this part of the song (both poetry and musically) makes the listener calm till the killing end part of the song with a dramatic realism. The lyrics emphasize the simplicity of "the man" by saying "I'm just a man" and consider "man" as the source.

The final long-run song, A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, is a masterpiece itself. It startes and continues with Hammil's unique vocal. The harmony at transition between different parts of the song is very well arranged with different instrument usage. The poetry (if it's considered as whole) resembles the other songs of this album. Lyrics start with dark, chaotic reflections and ends with kinda "happiness." This happiness is due to an end of the whole dark, depressive and painful part of the song by saying "All things are a part". Within the song, lyrics also refer to the other two songs by saying "I can see the lemmings coming, but I know I'm just a man". This kind of poetry also enriches the completeness of the album itself.

As a final remark, it can be said that album is full of Hammil's unique vocal and the great harmony of sax and other instruments. Moreover, the complicated poetry adds virtue to the album dramatically.

Report this review (#283515)
Posted Tuesday, May 25, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars A unique album

This is Van der Graaf Generator's 4th album, and what many call their best. I'll have to disagree with those who say that, but this is still a wonderful album. Like the legendary Close To The Edge, this has 3 songs. Here you'll find two songs around 10 minutes, and one 23 minute song.

A description of the music: This is a very unique release with traces of psychedelia and some jazzy saxophone bits. "Lemmings" begins with a happy sounding acoustic guitar riff, and goes through angry moods, and has some brilliantly emotional vocal work from Peter Hammill. The majority of this song is keyboard and saxophone driven and it contains a chorus sang in a rather odd way, but is quite memorable. "Man-Erg" begins like a beautiful piano ballad, but like in "Lemmings," we are mislead and we quickly go through many mood changes. Some parts of this song are chaotic and very dissonant, but it is intended as a moodsetter for insanity, so it works well. Brilliant saxophone sections are also present in this track.

And then the third song. The 23-minute epic, "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers." It is split into 10 different sections. It begins with "Eyewitness," which starts out slow and spacey with calm vocals from Hammill. The organ then comes in as Hammill gets louder, and the mood rises until the section ends. "Pictures/Lighthouse" is more of an ambient and psychedelic section with the sounds of trains, water, and saxophones imitating foghorns. "Eyewitness" then returns for a very short time. "S.H.M." is a loud section with Hammill sounding like a maniac. "Presence of the Night" is an absolutely gorgeous section with quiet saxophone solos and a spacey mellotron riff. "Kosmos Tours" is utter chaos. It starts out sort of quiet until Hammill begins to shout. A keyboard riff is then repeated until the song slowly changes into completely disorganized mayhem. Once again, it sets the mood, so it works well with the song. "(Custard's) Last Stand" is another beautiful ballad section. Hammill sings just beautifully here. "The Clot Thickens" begins when the previous section suddenly explodes into complete noise and Hammill screaming for his life. This section never quiets down and keeps up a constant assault on your ears. "Land's End" this section is just piano and vocals. It is absolutely beautiful and works great with "We Go Now," a great concluding guitar solo, and ends the song happier and beautifully.


Songwriting: Hammill's songwriting here is nothing short of flawless. The lyrics to "A Plague Of Lighthouse" keepers are some of the best I've seen.

Uniqueness: There aren't many bands that have such chaotic sections as "The Clot Thickens" and 2:59 of "Man-Erg." The utter musical chaos in these sections rival some death metal bands.

Vocals: Hammill is a master at singing with great drive and emotion. He can sing, scream, shriek, and do pretty much anything else under the sun to make sure you completely feel the music.


The chaos: Not everyone is going to like screaming, saxophone blaring, heavy drum banging, and chaotic keyboards all assaulting their ears at once. Not even I like it sometimes. Also, in "The Clot Thickens," it can be just plain annoying and almost non- musical.

Diversity: While this band showed their uniqueness from others here, they tend to sound a little more bland here then they do on other releases such as "Godbluff" and "Still Life." For instance, bits of "Lemmings" and "Man-Erg" sound pretty similar.

Song ratings: Lemmings: 8.5/10 Man-Erg: 8/10 A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers: 10/10

Recommended for: People looking for an odd sound in their prog. People who don't mind sudden explosions.

My rating. 4 stars. All the songs are great and "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers" is probably the best song they've released, but the album as a whole lacks the diversity, and some of the utter beauty you will find in their next two releases. Another note: For those looking to get into the band, this is DEFINITELY not the place to start.

Report this review (#289280)
Posted Monday, July 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Van Der Graaf Generator's fourth offering to the world is highly regarded by many as one of progressive rock's most popular and esteemed albums. I am in that majority as well, as I do believe this is one of the pinnacles of VDGG's discography. An exquisite album filled with enough raw emotion and power to stir one's soul, "Pawn Hearts" is certainly not for the faint of heart, as it will require some patience and an open mind (and ears).

"Lemmings" starts things off with some gentle guitar strumming and then shifts into a one-of-a-kind amalgam, blending Hammill's ranging voice with the rest of the band's superb musicianship. The song's last minute is a bit weak, with features some flute doodling from Jackson, making it the weakest track on the album, but by no means a bad one.

"Man-Erg" takes "Pawn Hearts" to a completely different level than "Lemmings". Drenched with heavy sax riffs courtesy of Jackson and Hammill wailing like a madman, the result is a truly intoxicating track, heavier than any metal song. The density of "Man-Erg", with the heavy sax, ominous keyboards, banging drums, and the otherworldly voice of Hammill, is absolutely astonishing, making for one incredible song.

We arrive to the epic "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers". So many things I could say about this 23 minute track but at the risk of sounding wordy, I will keep things short. Starting off eerie and then taking off into a roller coaster of feelings, "A Plague..." keeps the listener on edge throughout its duration, instilling fear and wonder in the mind. Truly, one of the more revered tracks in prog.

in addition, 5 bonus tracks accompany the album, of which only 3 are quite good. These tracks are "Theme One" (apparently a George Martin composition), "W" , and "Ponker's Theme". The other two, "Angle of Incidents" and "Diminutions" are okay, but do not match up with the 3 better songs. If you get the chance of obtaining the 2005 reissue, I would recommend to do so.

I find myself in a rather difficult position. I am stuck between awarding "Pawn Hearts" 4 or 5 stars. If it were possible, I would most likely rate it 4.5 stars. In this case, I'll rate it 4 stars, as there are minor flaws that at times make the listening experience less than pleasant.

It is still an excellent edition. Not to be missed.

1. "Lemmings" - 8.5/10

2. "Man-Erg" - 9/10

3. "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" - 9/10

26.5/3 = 88.3% = 4(+) stars

Report this review (#295826)
Posted Sunday, August 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Wow what a controversial album. Maybe not as well known as the controversy surrounding Tales from Topographic Ocean but still quite tumultuous. Some people say this album is a masterpiece, the defining statement by VDGG and an album they never topped. Some, including George Starostin and even the prog friend John McFerrin say it's Faulknerian (sound and fury, signifying nothing). Does the truth lie in the middle?

Probably. This was the first album I heard by VDGG and it really defined what they sounded like to me. I didn't hear another album for awhile after this one. It is a really terrifying and frightening album to contemplate if you aren't predisposed towards Hammill's mania. After listening to H to the He I thought I GOT VDGG, so I came back to it. Then, I would have given it a three stars and been fine. Having heard everything and grown to love most of it, I can give it a firm four stars.

How does one even begin with this album? All sense of pop or pop song craft goes out the window. Hammill has never been one to dabble in really strong, classic pop formats but here it almost feels like complete musical anarchy. Instruments float in and out of the music, riffs coalesce briefly, disappear, Hammill screams complex gibberish, the drums pound, the saxes honk, organs drown and suddenly all is quiet as the piano plays a brief dirge, the saxophone is processed, the organ choppy, the drums roll, Hammill screams some all floats in and out of the consciousness, nearly like a dream.

I am overstating for effect. There is obvious forms to these songs but they are really stretched out and really difficult to memorize. Man Erg actually has a pretty simple form: the first piano led part builds and builds to the wild saxophone section and comes back to pretty piano. However, melodies, riffs, lyrics, arrangements and sound effects change rapidly throughout the album. If you hate pop, this is the album for you. It's incredible that this album came out the same year as Nursery Cryme or Meddle. While I think Nursery Cryme is better than this, it's certainly many leagues less musically complex than this album, for better or worse.

The lyrics are essentially meaningless but that is okay. It is probably the most uncompromising prog album by progs most uncompromising band. Of course it's a tad terrifying!

This is a really confused and confusing review, which befits a confused and confusing album. Naturally, the atmosphere on this album is incredible: it beats down on the listener and sucks them into a very schizophrenic and claustrophobic world view. I have the remastered version with the bonus tracks but I can't listen to them. They're good but once I've been trapped in Pawn Hearts, drowning with the "ONE MORE HAGGARD DROWN MAN" I feel I have to escape. Essentially, this is an album that dares you to like it and comes to no middle ground. You must make the effort to be entranced as it certainly isn't going to try to convince you to like it.

And even though it's definitely mostly gigantic nonsense and completely anarchistic, it is an incredibly daring album, especially given the time. It is definitely the definitive album for VDGG in the sense that they never went this far out, epic or uncompromised again. It gets four stars because it's not something everybody could love which is important for a masterpiece: it must be complex, innovative but also enjoyable by a large amount of people.

Report this review (#300007)
Posted Tuesday, September 21, 2010 | Review Permalink
Post/Math Rock Team
5 stars The artistic peak of Van Der Graaf Generator. As good as their later albums were, there is just something missing on them. Here you have VDGG at their most crazy and experimental. The band originally wanted this to be a double album but the record company axed that idea. These guys didn't sell a lot of records in the early '70s, but had a huge impact on the few that bought them. The first VDGG song I ever heard was "Lemmings" and it was love at first hear. I didn't get the 'love 'em or hate 'em' mystique this band had about them. The vocals of Peter Hammill never turned me off and he was a big influence on later vocalists ranging from Johhny Rotten to Bruce Dickinson. Maybe it was because I was already familiar with the Sex Pistols and Iron Maiden that I had no problem with the vocals. I could imagine that for some people listening to this album in say, 1972, it could be an acquired taste.

VDGG is basically a bass-less group like the Doors. In both cases, they recorded bass parts for the studio albums but played live without a bass player. Which is a major reason why I can't get into live recordings by either band(Gimme Dat Bass!!!). Vital, of course, is a huge exception because Nic Potter's distorted bass on that one is so integral to the overall sound. Again we have Robert Fripp adding some guitar parts to this album as he did on the last one. However, I think he is much more noticeable on H To HE than he is here, where he just blends into the scenery. The real highlight of Pawn Hearts to me is Hugh Banton's modified organ work. This guy is one of my favourite organ players along with Keith Emerson and Dave Stewert. David Jackson's sax takes the place of guitar and Guy Evans was one of the better British rock drummers at the time.

"A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers" was admittedly an influence on "Supper's Ready", but "Plague" is much darker and more inaccessible. You will find some of Hammill's best lyrics and singing here. I love some of the crazy time signatures they use on this epic. You hear a little bit of synthesizer here as well. Nice. "Man-Erg" is the closest thing here to being mainstream sounding, but even it has those trademark VDGG weird time signatures in the middle of it. I have always loved "Lemmings" and there is a sax part in the song that I get stuck in my head sometimes. It sounds like a guitar riff, but probably harder to play on saxophone. If you have never heard this album it is really hard to describe what the music sounds like here. Imagine a more sinister sounding Genesis mixed with a less jazzy Soft Machine. Pawn Hearts will not be for everybody and is probably not as good as a place to start as H To HE or Godbluff is. But it is a prog classic and is worthy of 5 stars.

Report this review (#304955)
Posted Sunday, October 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars I found this band primarily through this website, so I put a note to give them a listen. One day, while simply browsing through a store, I actually found a used (but nearly new) copy that was pretty cheap, so I bought it. After first listen, I wasn't entirely impressed, but I persisted. This album eventually became a near masterpiece for me; each track grew vivider and had more of an impact with every listen. Soon, the imagery through Peter Hammill's wonderful vocals and arrangements came to life, so to speak. Of course, my revelation with this album stems from the epic A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. Although it receives criticism for lack of direction and length, I find it's rather perfect. The saxophone, which by far is not my favorite instrument, adds new layers to the depth and creates wonderful harmonies. Peter Hammill provides a heartfelt performance, taking on the persona of any character or role or whatever he is trying to bring to life. The other two tracks are fantastic as well, and I soon realized this after "discovering" A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. While they don't reach the same heights, they manage to be worthy additions to this excellent album. All in all, this is my first, and most definitely not last, album from VdGG.
Report this review (#314551)
Posted Thursday, November 11, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the last album that VdGG recorded before they temporarily split. It is the culmination of everything the 'first generation' VdGG were all about, musical and technical experimentation, including multitrack recording. It also guests Robert Fripp of King Crimson on at least 2 of the songs, although he makes very little impact to the sound at all, and you need to strain to hear him. With only 3 tracks, each of which are over 10 minutes long, this is not the most accessible Van der Graaf Generator album by any means, but it is certainly one of the most rewarding!

-Lemmings- This song has a very 'studio' feel to it, as if there was a lot of mucking about with tapes and loops and other equipment to make it sound this way. In fact I found this the hardest song to get into. However, it is still a very good song after repeated listens. At about 5 minutes in, we reach the 'Cog' section, which is one of the darkest scariest moments of 70s prog I have heard. Progressive rock that is actually disturbing. The outro does go on quite long, although not to the point of ennui. It's my least favourite track from the album, but its still a bloody good one.

-MAN-ERG- If I had to pick one song to introduce people to VdGG, it would be this one. At 10 minutes, this a stunning track. It also happens to have penetrable lyrics (a rarity in prog rock): my interpretation is that this song is about a schizophrenic, and the different musical moods reflect his different personalities, one being 'the Killer'. I say I'd pick this song to introduce people, because on the whole it is quite easy to listen to, being very beautiful in some parts. However the 11/8 'Killer' part of the song that sets in at around 3 minutes is likely to turn a lot of people off. For any prog fan though, that section should be a definite boon. This song is very moving, and is my favourite on the album.

-A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers- The reaction you might get from listening to this 23 minute opus for the first time is comparable to the reaction you'd get from simply reading the title: 'WTF!?' However, that's not to say this track is bad. Far from it in fact. Just like their Charima label buddies Genesis, VdGG decided to put together 23 minutes of song by piecing together several shorter songs. And just like 'Supper's Ready', this track is awesome! There are a whole range of emotions flying around this track, but they are all rather dark emotions, which is standard for any VdGG piece. The track itself is very intricate with all the different parts interlocking quite well, although some of the changes between parts are rather abrupt. If you give this a few repeated listenings, and love every part of this epic masterpiece, you will find the rewards very satisfying.

This album is a definite must-have for progressive rock fans, although I would recommend listening to 'H to He, Who am the Only One' before trying this. It still deserves each of its 5 stars though.

Report this review (#401181)
Posted Tuesday, February 15, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars And much has been said about this album, so what I can say that does not have a different value in terms of opinion..... I have listened to this band like only 2 years a classic in the genre .. and I can say that I am impressed by the great voice of Mr. Peter Hammill, he is the whole personality of the band and gives it a mystical sound incredible to VDGG ..

PH although is not my favorite album from VDGG, this album is a really mysterious, dark, with a mixture of jazz and a strong psychedelic moments .. indeed is worth listening to this album in a relaxed state to appreciate the great works of these amazing musicians .. .. A solid album, but who knows why I can not give it 5 stars .. there is something that is empty when i am listening to VDGG unlike other bands .. may be the lack of the guitar? .. maybe a more prominent guitar sound on the album would be more great or something else ..


Report this review (#402601)
Posted Friday, February 18, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars My God, how can I give this masterpiece 10 stars?!!!!!! This is just simply perfect art. So much has been written here in Progarchives and elsewhere that a description is unnecessary, as probably is this review.

Every year I go through my "Absolute Perfect Prog Albums" - although I shouldn't, I keep it to English groups - and this "Pawn Hearts" is equal to all of my heroes. I will list (pardon the abbreviations) my albums here that I listen to absolutely in no order (except Tull - always the last one) , in each years listening:

Genesis: Selling England. ELP: ELP (first). King Crimson: In The Court. VDGG: Pawn Hearts. Yes: Close To The Edge. Gentle Giant: Glass House. Strawbs: Grave New World. Jethro Tull: TAAB - again, always the last one, and always (as it was again this year) my favorite. I realize that everyone else would have their own different choices, but these are the (whether financially successful or not) foundations of Progressive Rock for me.

So back to Pawn Hearts. In my original yearly listenings, I didn't even include VDGG's Pawn Hearts as I just "didn't get it." Now, this is absolutely is equal to this list of heavenly offerings. It brings tears of violence and wonder to my eyes when listening. It does what the best music does: It makes me think, feel, and want more, yet totally drained upon the end of the listening.

Thank God for England. And starting with The Beatles, thank God for their Rock Music explosion. And thank you and Progarchives for reading my dribble here!

Report this review (#408791)
Posted Sunday, February 27, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars 3,5 stars for "Pawn Hearts ", a good album, with some flawed moments that hinder. Peter Hamill is certainly a great singer, but his voice still breaks me sometimes.

My main problem with this album lies in the final moments of the first track, "Lemmings (including Cog) " in a jam that seems to be confused with elements of jazz-fusion that did not please me so much (seems like the sort of improvisation that King Crimson always does and I hate), and end with the epic "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers", which in general is the weakest track, not that she did not have good moments, but overall is quite irregular. "Man-erg (the middle lane), however, is impeccable and is the best track on the album.

Like I said, 3,5 stars for an album that to me is a masterpiece

Report this review (#418200)
Posted Saturday, March 19, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars After being mostly disappointed in VDGG's previous album, I decided to try again, being the persistent music lover that I am. Pawn Hearts is an exceptionally better album that doesn't manage to come off as goofy sounding as the previous album, but I'm still not sold on this band being as terrific as they are made out to be.

"Lemmings" is instrumentally captivating and very dark in atmosphere, but like the last release, Hammill's voice is insufferable. Some love it, some hate it. I definitely hate it. Lots of dark organ fills the atmosphere and gives the track a haunted house kind of feel. In the middle is a great acoustic-gone-avant-garde passage that is exceptional.

"Man-erg" starts off beautifully with piano but soon turns into a goofy and patriotic sounding song with Hammill's goofy vocals dominating. The music eventually turns dark and avant, and then jazzy. This avant-jazz tendency apparently is a way for this band to redeem the musical integrity of their songs after the clowny vocals give way. This keeps the music from being awful, in my opinion.

"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" is an epic-length track at just over 23 minutes and is probably the best track on the album. It starts off sounding like Argento-film horror jazz. There is a long droning organ passage through the first half of the track, and it really sets a creepy mood that is exceptionally enjoyable, and I think it was during this portion of the song where I realized that VDGG was indeed pretty damn good, but the vocals ruined the mood. Gross. This epic maintains a fairly dark atmosphere throughout and is very convincing as an epic piece. Definitely one of the best moments in the VDGG catalog.

I feel that I can safely say that I recommend this album highly, only I wish there were instrumental versions of the album available. VDGG's vocal passages are just awful in my opinion, but the music itself is crafted masterfully and is really quite dark compared to most progressive rock. If it weren't for the vocals, I would feel compelled to give this a masterpiece rating.

Report this review (#431090)
Posted Monday, April 11, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars In my opinion the best prog album ever. It 's amazing to think that this album has 40 years, because the emotions you feel in listening to this masterpiece are still very unique and there is something new to discover every time you play it. This is music that comes from some hidden part of a universe that we don't know. As a musician I wonder what could have inspired at the time these guys to create a work of this kind, which leads the imagination towards places always different between them: unknown planets, windy seas, misty seaports, abandoned factories, empty and silent rooms... Certainly, the lyrics have a key role in this album, but I have to say that I never paid much attention to the meaning, what has always struck me is only the music, especially the magical plots between Banton's keys and Jackson's winds, a real trademark of VDGG. Personally I don't like too much sax and woodwinds in general, but Jackson's playing is perfect for the music of VDGG and creates a unique atmosphere. The 3 songs on the album are basically three suites, among which stand out the 23 minutes of "Lighthouse Keeper", a succession of sweet melodies, neurotic part, captivating and mysterious effects; the song structure is reminiscent of Supper's ready, but "Lighthouse" excited me more. But here we are in "Man-erg ', one of the most beautiful songs in history: the wonderful voice of Hammill, angelic and devilish at the same time, rising to unexplored worlds, piano and organ drawing enchanted melodies, a mad and dissonant interlude with organ and saxes that leaves you amazed, an ending worthy of a symphonic work. There are no words, this album is a masterpiece of modern music and beyond.
Report this review (#432671)
Posted Wednesday, April 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars I grew up in a great area for rock music.Seattle had two great radio stations KISW and KZOK both played great hard rock and yes Viginia prog is hard rock.Saddly however most of the Prog we got was the mainstream stuff like Yes,Pink Floyd,Rush,Kansas,Styx ELP and Jethro Tull.These bands are great but bands like VDGG,Gental Giant,Nektar and Gaberial era Genesis where not played.I never heard VDGG until I read a great review of Pawn Hearts in progression magizine in 2004.The review said this was one of the greatest prog albums in history so of course I had to have it.I paid nearly forty dollars of a Japanese import over the internet.Ouch!The thin that strikes me the most is the fact that even without a strong guitar this album rocks.What makes VDGG unique is the anger.With the possible exception of Animals and The Wall by Pink Floyd no other prog as angery as VDGG and Pawnhearts is no exception.A Plauge of Lighthouse Keepers is a alltime classic.Lemmings is very dark and angery.The light and dard elements are brilliant and very unpredictable.This album had to concidered one of the best rock albums of all time.too bad these albums wernt released in the USA until 2007.
Report this review (#434179)
Posted Friday, April 15, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars I don't get it.

People like what they like, and don't like what they don't like. When I hear VDGG (any album--I'd rate H to the as the most (sic) original piece from this band, which in my eyes, isn't saying much. Sure the guy has a great voice, but so does the guy from Rare Bird, and they get low(er) marks. Sure the instrumental interplay is good and sometimes fascinating, but so is the interplay from Gryphon, and they get low(er) marks.. Maybe the players are cool off the stage and virtuosos on, but so are the members of Kraan, and they get low(er) marks.

I'm not trying to hate, and the music on most of their albums is good, but I don't hear greatness, especially 4+ stars great. Perhaps I represent the minority, like many of Camel's albums (I prefer Breathless and I Can See Your House From Here). But VDGG doesn't resonate with me like any album from Genesis, Caravan, Yes, King Crimson, Gong, Brian Auger, Nucleus, Atomic Rooster, Gnidrolog, Hatfield And The North, Colosseum, Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper....

3 stars for pedestrian work......I'd rather listen to Moonmadness--that goes for any VDGG release in the golden age of prog...............

Report this review (#474220)
Posted Saturday, July 2, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars The final album of Van der Graaf Generator's first run (they'd come back for another go with Godbluff after a rest) sees all the promise of the previous albums coming to a head, with some of the band's darkest, most emotive, and most complex material on display. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, being the sidelong track, gets a lot of attention, but props have to also be given to Lemmings and Man-Erg; between them, the three tracks give a series of different musical and lyrical takes on themes of loneliness, social conformity, and the contradictory impulses that live in all of us - pretty timeless affairs, all told.

I'll leave it to others to sing the album's praises further and just point out that if you have the remasters of this and H to He Who Am the Only One, you can make a neat little playlist of the main tracks and the last three bonus tracks from this one (which are three solo compositions by Hugh Banton, Guy Evans and David Jackson) and the awesome live-in-the-studio rendition of Squid 1/Octopus/Squid 2 from the bonus tracks to H to He, to get as close to a reconstruction of the original double album concept as we're ever likely to get. Amazingly, this actually enhances the experience; the solo compositions are simple enough to cleanse the palette after the emotional rollercoaster of Plague of Lighthouse Keepers whilst at the same time having sufficient experimentalism to feel like they belong here, whilst the workout of old Aerosol Grey Machine represents some of the most furious VdGG playing ever captured in the studio, lending a new aggression and polish to the piece. Give it a try!

Report this review (#486418)
Posted Tuesday, July 19, 2011 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
5 stars 'Pawn Hearts' - Van Der Graaf Generator (10/10)

The last album that Van Der Graaf Generator would release before breaking up (for their first time), 'Pawn Hearts' represents the artistic peak of everything that this band had done up to this point. Although they had certainly released some great music in the three albums before this, 'Pawn Hearts' not only dwarfs previous achievements, but also stands both as being one of the greatest prog albums of all time, and one of my personal favourites.

This is an album set up in the same three-song format that Yes' opus 'Close To The Edge' would achieve critical immortality with. Van Der Graaf Generator may be prog rock, but they take a different tone to their music than many of the contemporary bands that were taking rock music to new heights. Most notably, Van Der Graaf Generator has a much darker atmosphere, brought on in no small part due to Peter Hamill's disturbing lyrical content. In any case, we are presented with three songs- err, epics- that are distinctly Van Der Graaf material. 'Lemmings' opens the album on a subtle note, with acoustics chiming in, but its not long before this piece of music evolves into something a bit more diabolical. There is little guitar in the music, with the instrumentation being driven by the keen keyboard playing of Hugh Banton, and jazz-infused percussion of Guy Evans. The true highlight to the music though is Hamill's voice itself. As is best shown on the album's highlight 'Man-Er-G', Hamill's delivery can be both aggressive, and graceful within the context of one song. The piece starts off with pleasant pianos and organs, and Hamill's pronounced British enunciation leading things on into a bombastic 'chorus' of sorts that screams all things epic. Then out of nowhere, Van Der Graaf Generator's jazz leanings kick in and contrast the melancholy with something chaotic and proggy.

Maybe the track that this album is best known for is the twenty minute long 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers', an epic that is seen to be on par with other greats like 'Supper's Ready', or '2112'. Van Der Graaf's chief contribution to the epic catalog certainly amounts to them on a musical level, although it has a more scattered sensibility to it. Instead of sounding like a traditional epic, 'Plague' is a chaotic, almost rhapsodic piece that cycles through a number of different interesting ideas and places on its journey, ending up somewhere very different than from it started. Much like the first two tracks, Van Der Graaf Generator ranges from lightly theatrical passages to craziness that sounds quite a bit more 'out there' than something you might here from Yes or Genesis. Some of the transitions between ideas feels rough, but taken as a whole, the musical quality of the ideas and performance warrants nothing less than an essential rating in my books. 'Pawn Hearts' is absolute gold, and I wonder if prog rock will ever see an album that manages to be so adventurous, yet so emotionally splendid at the same time.

Report this review (#554321)
Posted Saturday, October 22, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars 4.5 stars

Pawn Hearts is my absolute favorite VDGG album, although I'm sure it is for a lot of people who like VDGG (which isn't a lot of modern day music listeners, aka my friends). This album is truly like an amazing nightmare. It contains many catchy, but at the same time eerie, melodies.

"Lemmings" is a great song in general. The saxophone here is great, and adds so much to the song. Although, it is probably my least favorite track. It doesn't amount up to the epicness of either of the other two songs. A great track, worth many listens. 4 stars.

"Man-Erg". I absolutely love this song. The middle section in 11/8 is surprisingly catchym, despite its time signature. After listening to this album, that melody is one of the ones that sticks in my head. From the gentle acoustic beginning to the crazy middle to the jazzy end, and a recap of the gentle beginning, this song truly deserves 5 stars.

"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" is the side-long track here, and is certainly the most nightmarish one, especially once you get to the section about 15 minutes into the song. My favorite section is about 11 minutes in, and is the other melody that really sticks out on the album. Peter Hamill's vocals are twisted, here melodious at the same time. A trip through the depressing, yet whimsicle (with section near 10 minutes) journey through a nightmare. There is no great way to describe it, but it deserves 5 stars, no doubt.

This album gets my highest recommendation to fellow proggers, but I don't suggest this album for your average pop music listener. You MUST like some progressive music before even attempting to enjoy this true masterpiece of progressive rock.

Report this review (#645801)
Posted Sunday, March 4, 2012 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is a great album. The lyrics, although very dark, are extremely well written, and give the feeling of a very tourtured, demented, and troubled man on the brink of insanity and/or suicide. The music is well written and exciting, and is played very well.

Favorites from the album: All three on the standard version (There's an extra track on the US version, which is okay) are pretty good.

As long as you don't mind the very dark lyrics, I reccomend it. 4/5 stars.

And now I'm going to add some extra words because Prog Archives dosen't post anything under 100 words. Is that enough? No? Here we go!

Report this review (#752083)
Posted Saturday, May 12, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars If someone asked me what was my all time absolutely favorite albums and not only in prog rock, Pawn Hearts would be one of them. There's no mistake about this masterpiece, for me. Of course, it is not music for everyone, it claims few times to listen to it. But once you come through and you understand, Pawn Hearts can give a lot to you. All three songs seem to me fantastic. The very intelligent lyrics and the music couldn't be better. They are inspirating and helped me lots of times to have a new taste to live ang get through some psychical illnesses. It really made me love Van der Graaf Generator. Definitely one of 5 vinyls I would take to an empty island.


Report this review (#772419)
Posted Saturday, June 16, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars 14.5/15P. Unapologetic - nothing more and nothing less.

There are many bands which make it absolutely difficult for later bands to take up their very own style. But this band, at least in this particular state, created an album which forbids any musician to even think of getting acute inspiration from the substance of this music. Everyone who imitates Peter Hammill, his deliberate anti-singing and the omnipresent deranged roaring, is clearly bound to make a total prick out of himself - unless he covers Hammill's compositions with a sufficient amount of respect.

Over 45 minutes these four savages bluster recklessly through a set of compositions which don't sound like any kind of music which came before. A misty-eyed hymn about concepts of human spirit (such as the main theme of Man-Erg) leads into avantgardistic jazz fusion based on riffs without any sensible pattern which in turn segue into paranoid crying on top of a manic drum rhythm. This doesn't only precede the whole death metal genre, but also betters all I heard from these bands in terms of intensity and sheer power. And when you think that the song must now end in a complete cacophony, Peter Hammill surprises you with another melody which would be too sweet and blissful to actually like if you had not stood through lengthy reflections about futility and death in all supposable forms before. Even if you were able to mix up Earthbound live version of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man with Mikael Akerfeldt's Bloodbath tracks and Genesis' Who Dunnit? you wouldn't get a depiction of anger and human faultiness half as vivid and remarkable as this album.

I am aware of the fact that most of the people reading this review already own this album. But those who don't, and especially those who are rather frightened off by these descriptions of the featured music, should know that this album is rather cathartic than disquieting. You can analyse this album, the meaning of the weird Mellotron solo in A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers or the concrete number of overdubbed vocal tracks in the loudest parts of Lemmings, but you might as well listen to the music and concentrate on the feelings it evokes in you. This album - pretentious, inspired and totally convincing at the very same time - beats most of the other progressive rock epics easily, serves as a prototype of not only a few genres of music and hence should be part of any serious music collection, not only the record shelf of a progressive rock fan. It could only have been surpassed by the original Pawn Hearts double album idea of the band. Listen to the live-in-studio-version of Squid/Octopus on the band's previous album which was originally scheduled for this release and you'll see what I mean. Not only recommendable, but obligatory - buy!

Report this review (#825802)
Posted Friday, September 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Pawn Hearts. One of the indispensable albums of the prog rock universe. A true treasure. I bought this cd when I was a teenager in the 80's and it took me some time to get into. To me it was completely off the wall. Once in sank in, I was hooked for a lifetime. Like Yes's Close To The Edge, Pawn Hearts was VDGG's pinnacle of a trilogy of amazing albums and coincidentally contains three extended pieces. To my ears this is the only VDGG album that appears to be a high budget album that marks the apex of their creativity. All three tracks are bona-fide prog rock masterpeices.

Lemmings starts things off in a hurry. Once the acoustic guitar, flute, wind and organ passage opens things up, Peter Hammill begins his observation of humanity's Lemming-like behavior as human progress sends us towards our impending doom. Amazing song that's inquisitive, panic stricken and offers a glimmer of hope. The music is so powerful and effortlessly executed despite the challenging time signatures and moods. This song's structure is indeed unconventional to say the least as the song ends in a languid, descending manner.

Man-Erg. One of Hammill's many introspective pieces dealing with different characters inside his mind. Starts off mellow with piano with Hammill introducing the killer an the angels inside him. A cry for help in the middle section with wild saxes and keyboards . After this he is able to see more characters of his personality of mischIef and wisdom. I absolutely love the dreamy sax solo eventually intertwining with Robert Fripp's minimalist guitar producing an amazing effect. The song culminates with Hammill finally asking himself if he is able to coexist with the many parts of himself it still without definitive answers.

A Plague Of LightHouse Keepers. After two brilliant pieces comes the coup de grâce. Where very few pieces in prog rock can rival. Due to the deft tape editing (of it's time), studio wizardry and above all instrumentation, they were able to take on a monumental task of matching music to the imagery of a person in isolation dealing with so many evils, insecurities and mayhem. Almost as if his mind is devoid of the filters that keep one sane. The whole setting of a lighthouse keeper depicting loneliness, true solitude and being "too far out I'm too far in" really evokes the madness of extreme inner turmoil. Many different parts make up this song like truncated songs, if you will, sketching out the detailed mania.

So there you have it. I will admit that Hammill's voice, although incredible, is not conventional. But in a prog rock atmosphere, it is voices such as his own that can take music much further or to different places. Hugh Banton's textural organ guides most of the work with his undaunting skill. David Jackson augments the music with his truly original sax work often providing moods of his own. A special acknowledgement goes to Guy Evans. Music's most underrated, under appreciated drummer.

Report this review (#871425)
Posted Tuesday, December 4, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars What a masterpiece of Prog! Close to the Edge's shadowy counterpart, this album strikes with a terror and fury right alongside sorrow and lament. Riddled with passages that seem to bray upon the ears, over time these strains serve to enhance the better moments; a reflection on the trial of man itself, which some argue is the concept behind this album.

Though I may not consider it a concept album, Pawn Hearts does exploit feelings that many people (including myself) would normally choose to ignore. The division of morals within one's own mind (Man-Erg), the guilt and contemplation of blindly following peers (Lemmings), and spiraling depression that ends with a soulful releasing suicide (A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers); this album is something not to be approached lightly.

VdGG presents with us an album as tragic as it is beautiful, and each moment of each is unique in and of itself and does not take away from the album as a whole. Whether it's the prominent saxophone in place of lead guitar, the maddening yet expert keyboard work, or Guy Evans' complex drumming, Pawn Hearts makes its name in Prog history as the tragic album that, in my opinion, cannot be paralleled by any other in its own right.

Report this review (#873770)
Posted Saturday, December 8, 2012 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#964185)
Posted Thursday, May 23, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars By this stage, VdGG were easily rivalling King Crimson for most insanely heavy prog band, and Pawn Hearts is without a doubt their most demented work, with vocalist Peter Hammill screeching and wailing like a complete madman. However, what sets this album apart is a sense of theatrical drama, evoked not only through Hammill's roaring vocals but also through deft use of psych organ and some Frippian guitar riffs & solos. There's a palpable sense of dread when listening to the evil "Man-Erg", and a sense of psychotic downward-spiralling from "Lemmings". You can really feel your mind fracturing as you listen. "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" is the band's longest epic yet, and is thoroughly dramatic and affecting, a painful lament interspersed with instrumental insanity. So, this is definitely one of the best prog albums ever made, and it's also worth picking up the version with some of the bonus tracks, like the epic orchestral "Theme One", for extra prog goodness.

Utterly superb.

Report this review (#981321)
Posted Tuesday, June 18, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Pawn Hearts" gets better every time I listen to it, and is probably my favourite "Eclectic Prog" album at the moment. The musicality and chemistry on the album is just magnificent! The chords look quite mediocre on paper, but Peter Hammill REALLY brings it to life with his iconic vocal style. He's probably most in his element on this album, and the saxophonist David Jackson has also changed to a more interesting and lively direction, later refined on "Godbluff". The album cover is also very intriguing, and by one of my favourite album designers "Paul Whitehead", who also brought to life my all-time favourite: Genesis' Trespass!

Anyway, "Lemmings" is a great opener; lots of melodies with quite a nice and unique twist, and the squealing saxophones contrasted with the almost gentle purring that David produces. The tone becomes more aggressive, and about a minute through, you hear a very majestic feel after a series of confused chord progressions (in a good way). It feels so dementedly symphonic, and the lyrics fit so well even though I have no idea what they could possibly mean. Some great solos also pop up throughout, the likes of which I would have loved to have heard more of on "Godbluff". About 5 minutes, it just goes insane and so deliciously dissonant, with great areas of light and shade. I really don't know what else I can say, just an outstanding piece, and probably the perfect length.

"Man-Erg", the following track, begins as a sort of sequel to "House With No Door" (with similar lyrics to "Killer"), but includes a very indulgent churchlike organ, which goes into one of Van Der Graaf Generator's high points at "Slice my mind". My favourite track on the album, easily, and the chords, the power, the talent, the rhythms, the harmonies, are all just legendary. Of course, the song transforms into an even stronger 11/8 saxophone/organ riff, which works brilliantly, especially into those melodies at around 5 minutes ("And I am doomed"). Luckily, they don't overload you with material, and play out the track with some sophisticated piano flicks and solos before returning to the verse with an even stronger lyrical attack than earlier. The structure on here is very underrated, and the whole thing is just blissful

Right, "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers". I was dreading to review this! A 10-part 23-minute prog rock classic. Once again, more excellent lyrics, melodies, harmonies, and this time chord progressions too. Everything is there, but one criticism would be that it doesn't completely flow towards the last few sections (although they did an outstanding job!) Also goes a bit "off topic" towards the end, and perhaps becomes too forward-looking for VDGG, but I'm more than used to it now! You get haunting saxophone riffs throughout and VERY manic, stormy sections contrasting with the uneasy calm that could change at any minute. You sort of feel an empathy for a lighthouse keeper potentially becoming schizophrenic or going insane or something, because it's so delicate and detailed. Just brilliant. I really have no idea what I can say about this - it's just one of the greatest pieces of work created by any group of human beings ever. It may sound pretentious but the whole song, along with the album, can reach right to your heart and your spine in both the glorious whites and sombre murky blacks.

A+: A very risky but almost perfect prog rock album in what it sets out for. One of the most unique existences ever! An unquestionable masterpiece.

Lemmings: ***** Man-Erg: ***** A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers: *****

Report this review (#987957)
Posted Friday, June 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Lemmings" (8.5 / 10) - Peter Hammill has a liking to imitate or sing in unison with a guitar line. It's a cool texture, as is Hammill's voice. It's such an odd tinge about it.. It may be found obnoxious by some, but it's one of my personal favorites, a sound that belongs specifically to this band. With the saxophones and variety of keys accompanied by an expressive drummer and bass for a solid rhythm section, it's a really cool blend of sound. This piece is dynamic and has some unexpected jumps between dissonant sections and more melodically accessible ones. It adds to the chaotic and unsettling sound of Van der Graaf. The song still has catchier moments but a good amount of hectic, rushy moments. The final section is an interesting choice to end the piece on. My friends usually find it weird and anticlimactic. I found it to be a dark descent into a calm aftermath of uncertainty. It is unsettling and it rocks. Not for all ears, but I really like what they've done in this track.

"Man-Erg" (8.5-9.0 / 10) - I love this tune. The opening movement sounds hopeful and has a feel about things being "right". In fact I remember reading somewhere that "erg" means "in the right place, at the right time, in the right state of mind, etc." (that may have been somewhere on this site years ago or so..) Yet the song is about a man who's insane, with "a killer living inside" him, which just adds to the irony of the title. But then the song breaks out into a section in 11/8 with tritones and saxophone (note: the man plays two saxophones at once!) dissonant chords, almost sounding randomized, as the man wails about his insanity The song does settle down into a confused, but at times resolving minor section played in swing. Then we become fully settled down back into what was the intro piano chords and verses. The song reaches its climax, which still has its moments of whole-tone and other dissonant movement between intervals to keep us on our toes, before combining the 11/8 section with the chorus, making a thickly-textured polyrhythm that really pushes the song to true insanity before the 11/8 comes back to make its final statement. It then ritards, and the notes then descend unstably into a final major resolve to conclude this great, GREAT track!

"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" (9.0-9.5 / 10) - This dark masterpiece is one of the most memorable moments of this band and the genre as a whole, if you ask me. Again, Peter Hammill mocks his melody of the keys in the gloomy opening. The music makes an almost disturbing turn with powerful saxes with a bass texture, giving it extra presence, in what turns down to dissolve into some very dark, spacey playing on the keys. Many unusual intervals. It's hard to locate what could be considered the tonic, our resolve in this section. It's gloomy and wonderfully done. It finally resolves as the opening section returns once again. The song then turns into a more rocking, driving section. The open high-hat set a cool groove here. But once again we take a turn into darker territories into a minor key with some sax improve and moving lines from the keys and bass. It fades as a reverberating Hammill provides the creeping transition with the line "Would you cry if I died?" The transitions all come in confused and rather irregular fashions, but they cannot be described as awkward. The music obviously has heavy imprints of insanity all over it. The madness continues through the next two sections before the ever hopeful (by comparison tho the previous sections), and melodically pleasing Custard's Last Stand. But one more descent is made into the most chaotic part yet. It's intense and very unsettling. Golly, this is a really dark song all around. The final resolve is so very abrupt, but rewarding, for the ending minutes of this song are just gorgeous. A very hopeful glow is about them as the character finally settles down and feels glad about where he is now (I honestly didn't delve into the lyrics too deeply. Just know it's all dark and ominous). This is a great track. Very much seeming scatterbrained at times, but the song is insane in manner.

I'm sorry for the rambling of that last track. I just tried to cover what all flies over in the song. This album is very solid. I love the moods, performances all around, and every idea is developed and expanded upon just enough if you ask me. There are many excellent moments to be had here.

Report this review (#993870)
Posted Tuesday, July 9, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Pawn Hearts is another essential album from the band, and is a logical progression in the sound and style from the previous albums. This one is very much identical musically to the previous, with a large focus on complex instrumentation, diverse song structures and instrument use (with the Sax taking the primary role), and Hamill's exuberant, theatric vocal delivery. This time around however, the music is divided into three longer tracks, all of which are special and exciting in its own way.

'Lemmings' and 'Man-Erg' are classic VDGG songs. Neither conforms to any form of simple structure, yet also manages to keep interest due to the repetition and development of their melodies. The instrumentation is also complex, especially rhythmically, with tons of odd time signatures, for example the aggressive 11/8 riff beginning at around minute three of 'Man-Erg.'

But the real treat here is undoubtedly the massive epic, 'Plague of the Lighthouse Keepers.' I've always viewed this as the band's answer to Genesis's 'Supper's Ready.' Both represent the pinnacle of musical creativity and musicianship, but also have a similar length and song structure. The song is mostly through-composed, that is to say much of the music is different from section to section, with few repetitions. What this really means though, is that the song is just jammed with one great melody after another. To say this is a diverse song would be an understatement; the number of tempo and intensity changes throughout is what makes the song as good as it is. The dramatic change from the beginning 8-minutes of aggressive Sax and vocal work, to the mellower, atmospheric section, and then back again to the more uplifting, intense, all-over-the-place section to follow is the perfect example. Not to mention the gorgeous Sax melody about 14-minutes in, and the exciting ending. It truly is a rollercoaster of different sounds and emotions that the band doesn't seem to achieve with any other song as much as this one.

Overall, Pawn Hearts, along with Godbluff, is the definitive Van Der Graff Generator album. The compositional genius that embodies each song is astounding. And despite my lack of fondness for the band's overall sound, and despite my relatively low score, I believe this is a must listen for any prog fan.


Report this review (#1009675)
Posted Thursday, August 1, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Van Der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts

Pawn Hearts is very different to my usual progressive rock favourites. The general sound of the album is dark and aggressive, and these are not attributes that are generally found in my favourite prog albums. All three of the Pawn Hearts' epic length tracks are a brutal assault on the ears and the conceptual ideas are communicated with a jazz-tinged rhythmic drive, which gives the album an aggressive touch. The compositions in this record are infused with avant-garde harmonic ideas, and the album's dark sound is characterised by juxtaposition of timbres, emotive lyrics, and a heavy emphasis on rhythm.

The exact concept of Pawn Hearts is unclear. However, main themes that are visited by lyricist and vocalist Peter Hammill are clearly those of power and control, human nature, and one's identity as a part of society. There is a clear protagonist who is explored in each of the three tracks, and his character undergoes development that is communicated through Hammill's vocal flourishes and timbre. The lyrics of the album could be said to represent different perspectives of Nazism, dictatorship, and other such methods of control. The most obvious reference to this idea is the opening track, Lemmings, where the protagonist witnesses those that he is close to, following the crowd as they jump to their doom. The whole album revolves around the protagonist's resistance to the crowd of "Lemmings" as they fall to their fate, presumably at the hands of leaders, and the emotional turmoil that is caused by the solitude that follows. Hammill wastes no time in establishing the metaphors that the story is based around, with an immediate reference to a "game", where the "Lemmings" are used as "Pawns", jumping to their doom in a scenario that is left ambiguous.

The album opens with the hostile and dramatic Lemmings, a perfect beginning to the album. This track is both composed and performed with conviction and aggression, and Hammill's performance remains one of the most convincing vocal deliveries in progressive rock history. The "Cogs" section is as close as any 70s band can get to a death metal breakdown, combining a slow tempo with an aggressive rhythmic emphasis and dissonant timbres to create a very disturbing musical portrait of a dystopian world. Guy Evans' superb drumming is featured here, his meticulous approach to timing giving the piece a solid backbeat and highlighting the jazz influences that characterises the band's sound. Despite the abundance of hostility, there is still an air of positivity in the message of the song, with the protagonist's final message being "What choice is there but to live, to save the little ones?"

Man-Erg is a welcome contrast to the malicious sound of Lemmings. The track opens with a gentle piano opening, which is followed by Hammill's soft vocals. This track visits the idea of conflicting feelings, personalities or ideals, with the protagonist describing the "killer" and the "angels" that live inside him. The character, arguably the same character that is explored throughout the album, is experiencing inner turmoil and could be said to be struggling with an important decision. There is a more melancholy flavour to this track, which is supported by the musical allusions to the previous track, which provides musical contrast. The song develops into many different sections, each with their own contrasting musical characters, and these are all combined and revisited in the final minutes of the song to provide dramatic juxtaposition and to bring the piece to a fitting conclusion. Side one is brought to a dramatic close with Hammill's final wailing statement, "I'm just a man, and killers, angels, all are these, Dictators, saviors, refugees, In war and peace".

A Plague of the Lighthouse Keepers is a very different creation. This side-long epic combines the emotions that are visited in the previous tracks, only this time there is a sense of manic urgency and an increased use of dramatic tension (most notably the saxophone's imitation of a fog horn). There is an unfortunate lack of consistent motifs throughout this piece, but fortunately this allows room for development and exploration of new melodic territory. The collaboration between the vocals and keyboards really shines in this piece. This final chapter sees the protagonist watch from his "lighthouse", as all of his peers jump like Lemmings into the untold situation, which he has struggled with in each of the tracks. He feels lonely in his decision to defy the crowd, and seeks signs of direction and significance in his solitude ("You'll begin to wonder if the points of all the ancient myths, are solemnly directed straight at you..."). Toward the end, our protagonist surrenders to the control of the crowd and jumps into the situation that he has defied, seeing the epic concluded in a swirl of keyboards. The music here is more extreme in its juxtaposition of moods, but it is less effective in creating dramatic tension than the subsequent tracks. There are many more dissonant passages here, contrasted with several emotive collaborations between the keyboards and Hammill's vocals.

It is very rare to find an album with such raw emotion as Pawn Hearts. Both the composition and the performance of this album are drenched in unconventional emotive devices, creating an album which is brooding, aggressive, and desperately melancholic. Hammill's vocals are in top shape, and his performance on each of these tracks is outstanding, emphasizing each contrasting section with a unique approach to timbre and extended vocal techniques. The sound of this album is much more mature than the band's previous releases, yet there remains a freshness that adds excitement and vigor. It is evident that each of the members of the band were fully engaged in the recording of the album, and Peter Hammill's vocals are delivered with excitement and engagement that can come only from a passionate connection to the lyrical content.The standout track is "Lemmings", with its frantic and aggressive delivery and its eternally relevant message of the defiance of mass manipulation.

Pawn Hearts is the darkest musical experience that the genre of progressive rock has to offer, and is an essential addition to any serious progressive rock collection.

Report this review (#1086559)
Posted Saturday, December 7, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is usually not my type of progressive rock, but for this album I have to make an exception. All of the songs start off nicely and soon go into dissonance and darkness; maybe not the music for me since I like Yes and Genesis. Some of the softer parts like the "killer lives inside me" bit in "Man-Erg" are really good. The group's members are all talented and I will admit Peter Hammill has an interesting voice. He acts with his voice in a similar way to Peter Gabriel.

Track 1: "Lemmings (Including Cog)" - This is a good opener. It sets the dark tone of the album right away. One issue that I have with it is that the song doesn't really end so much as die down. It is still a very powerful opening track. 8/10

Track 2: "Man-Erg" - As I mentioned before, the "killer lives inside me" chorus is very good; emotional and dramatic without sounding preachy. It actually reminds me a bit of Elton John. The track slows down a bit at the 5 minute mark and has some lovely saxophone playing in this section. 9/10

Track 3: "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" - This is one of prog rock's most highly praised songs, and I would have to agree with the hype. The song starts out as another ballad like the previous song but goes into the gloomy atmosphere again. The section at the end with the line, "all things are a part", followed by guitar solo and static electricity noises is probably the best part of the song for me. It's about as operatic as this band gets. 10/10

Pawn Hearts took a long time grow on me for sure. Several years ago when I first heard it, it flew right over my head. Now it just might be my favourite album by Van Der Graaf Generator. For those who want to take a journey into the dark side of prog, Pawn Hearts is highly recommended.

Report this review (#1091629)
Posted Wednesday, December 18, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars What can I say for Pawn Hearts? It is mind-blowing, one way or another! Many people find Van Der Graaf's records irritating, confusing and mad, but come on! That is the special flavor of this band, and it is over the edge in this one. Each and every song is filled with the pure essence of this band, from the classical sax's play of Jackson to the insane voice of Hammill.

Pros: +Lemmings: I cannot say this is beautiful, yet it is exciting and enjoyable. +Man-Erg: another crazy voyage from the mellow to the crazy and back and forth... +A Plague...: a real reference to prog!

Cons: -Wierd (I have to say it). -Takes a lot of listens to get into it.

Veredict: although this one stays a little short for me compared to my favorite VDGG album, "H To He, Who Am The Only One", I simply cannot give "Pawn Hearts" anything less than 5 stars, it is a complete masterpiece, a prog rock reference and 3 songs that stay in your mind a long, long time, cheers! It isn't the correct album to start, but every VDGG album from "The Least We Can Do..." to "World Record" are worth to be checked.

Report this review (#1175456)
Posted Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Pictures/Lighthouse = S:econd H:and M:ussorgsky?

Imagine you are the only child of a disintegrating marriage. In total loneliness you have become hyper-sensitive to the earliest signs of an impending altercation that will once again tear apart the foundations of the love and security that should comprise your infant world. In the imagery of the children's game of paper-stone-scissors, you only have blank paper, you live in a stone tower prophesying disaster, you only have blunt scissors. In bed, in the presence of the night, you hear them rowing again and again, and internally your world is disintegrating. Only when you reach maturity do you realise that you can escape and see your childhood unhappiness in perspective; all things are apart/a part. But deep inside the damage persists - all the grief you have seen leaves you chasing solitary peace. The maelstrom of your memory is a vampire and it feeds on you. And so you only think on how it might have been, locked in silent monologue, in silent scream.

Fans of 'Pawn Hearts' will realise that I am hypothesizing one possible real-life scenario to explicate the tortured psychodrama of the major track on this album. A plagued psyche that is like a lighthouse keeper who will be destroyed by a disaster that is merely observed. And of course the child in this putative ill-fated family is a pawn whose heart is being broken.

'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers' is structured as a suite that, in my opinion, bears the hallmarks of a contemporaneous piece by another band who, in 1971, were much bigger than VdGG. In that year I saw VdGG perform on the stage of the Manchester Free Trade Hall, where six months previously I had had the great privilege to attend Emerson Lake & Palmer's 'Pictures at an Exhibition' concert tour (three days prior to its recording in Newcastle). Although the ELP live album was only released in November 1971, and 'Pawn Hearts' in October 1971, ELP had been performing PaaE since the famous Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970.

Consider the analogies between these two progressive rock suites. The similarity of the titles, not only in phrasing but also in the shared concept of an observer; in one case as an observer of an art exhibition, and in the other a lighthouse keeper. Both open with sedate and haunting keyboard melodies that recur later in their suite, and are titled with, again, observer themes: 'Promenade' and 'Eyewitness'. In both the opening is followed by a ponderous and dissonant section, which in the case of PoLK is actually entitled 'Pictures/Lighthouse' - literally spelling out the connection, with what I suspect was Peter Hammill's working title. As each suite unfolds, dramatic and dissonant sections are interspersed with a calm melody (PaaE: 'The Sage'; PoLK: 'Presence of the Night'), and both culminate in anthemic sections with the theme of departure (PaaE: 'The Great Gates of Kiev'; PoLK: 'We Go Now'). Most intriguing for me is the PoLK section called 'S.H.M.'; why give a piece such a meaningless title unless it is a band in-joke? I speculate that it stands for 'Second Hand Mussorgsky' - for those who don't know, PaaE is based on a classical suite by that composer. Two thoughts in case I am guessing correctly: (1) the VdGG track is ultimately inspired by a 19th century Russian Romantic composer (I mention this as occasionally it is questioned whether VdGG are truly a Prog Rock band); and (2) the ELP piece has much greater significance in Prog history than generally acknowledged.

There are of course two further tracks on the album, and they can be interpreted within the same psycho-theme: 'Lemmings' rushing over a cliff could represent a family heading towards internal destruction; and 'Man-Erg' may represent a self-analysis of the psychological consequences of past experience of such trauma.

And I mustn't forget the music - truly incredible!

Verdict: A serious artistic masterpiece.

Report this review (#1293762)
Posted Saturday, October 18, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars In early 1971 Van der Graaf Generator toured for the promotion of ''H to He, who am the only one'' with fellow Charisma bands Genesis and Lindisfarne, receiving good feedback by the audience, that should have been a real show back in the day!During their live performances they started writing material for a fourth album and actually their intention was to come up with an ambitious double LP.However Charisma believed it was not a good idea, so the band had to make a selection of songs for the upcoming release, the tapes from the unreleased pieces are said to have been lost.Upon returning to the Trident Studios around July most of the album was ready and the band finished the recordings in just two months, inviting again Robert Fripp to contribute on guitars.''Pawn hearts'' was the title and the album was launched in October 1971.

Three very long cuts was Van der Graaf Generator's brand new delivery on this album and the opening ''Lemmings'', nowadays considered a classic of the band, sets the tone for the whole album.At this point they sounded a lot like KING CRIMSON, just a bit darker due to Hammill's unique, sensational voice with the theatrical extensions, making heavy use of sax and flute and exhibiting tons of jazzy elements in their arrangements next to the sinister sound of Hugh Banton's Hammond organ.This is mostly impressive jazzy Prog Rock with a few folky underlines and a strong psychedelic nature.The 10-min. ''Man-Erg'' sounds even better to my ears, it contains the beautiful poetic feel of PETER HAMMILL's solo albums along with the band's flawless inspiration from Psychedelia, Jazz and Classical Music, the soft opening theme with the slow organ and the insane lyrics about Good and Evil is followed by everchanging climates in a great contrast of dark and romantic offerings with symphonic and jazzy overtones, filled with powerful piano and organ and mellow sax soloing.The 23-min. ''A plague of lighthouse keepers'' is among the best compositions ever recorded and performed by the band, talking about a lighthouse keeper, who sees people dying offshore and can do nothing about it.His state of mind is masterfully reflected on the music and lyrics of the piece, which contains several movements.I can compared this one only to Italians OSANNA, it goes from mystical jazzy interventions to Theatrical Rock and back, the music is very complex with grandiose segments and lighter tunes and a very dark feeling overall, featuring some fantastic interactions and preludes, propelled by a lovely Classical background and an even more obvious love for abnormal musical constructions, based on constant breaks.

A true classic of Van der Graaf Generator's discography.An excellent display of sinister and softer climates with a tremendous instrumental background.Beware, this not an easy one to handle, but once you find yourself understanding the evolution of the group, spins will become endless.Highly recommended.

Report this review (#1388531)
Posted Friday, March 27, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Review Nş 26

This is my first review of a Van Der Graaf Generator's album. Usually, my favourite album by any band corresponds to what I think to be their best album. However, in this case, this doesn't really happen. With this group, my favourite album from them is their fifth studio album 'Godbluff'. Although, I sincerely think that probably their best album is really their fourth studio album 'Pawn Hearts'. This probably seems to be a little bit incoherent, even for me, but sincerely, this is what I feel. Logically, I would begin my first review from the band by one of them, and so, in this case, I decided to begin with 'Pawn Hearts', leaving 'Godbluff' for my next review on Progarchives.

'Pawn Hearts' is the fourth studio album of Van Der Graaf Generator and was released in 1971. The line up of the band on the album is the traditional, and in my humble opinion, is their best too. So, we have Peter Hammill (lead vocals, acoustic and slide guitar and electric and acoustic pianos), Hugh Banton (backing vocals, Hammond and Farfisa organs, piano, mellotron, ARP synthesizer, bass guitar and bass pedals), David Jackson (backing vocals, alto, tenor and soprano saxophones and flute) and Guy Evans (drums, percussion, tympani and piano). On the album we have also the presence of Robert Fripp of King Crimson on guitar, as a guest musician.

'Pawn Hearts', was originally conceived as a double album. The first side of the vinyl LP would be the album as it came to be released, and the second side would be divided between personal projects and live studio versions of the band's members. By some reason, this project never met the daylight. Probably it was the best thing to do. However, when the album was remastered in 2005, some tracks from the missing project, were added, as bonus tracks.

'Pawn Hearts' has three tracks. I'm talking about the European release, which is mine. The American and Canadian releases contained four tracks. Squeezed between 'Lemmings' and 'Man-Erg' there is the fourth instrumental track, 'Theme One'. In Europe, 'Theme One' was released as a single with the song 'W' as the B side. So, the first track 'Lemmings' written by Hammill has very powerful vocals with different harmonies and strange vocal passages, and musically, it has parts with extended saxophone work, keyboards and guitar passages. The track is pretty calm but contains some long musical dissonant parts, but is very pleasant to listen to. The second track 'Man-Erg', also written by Hammill, is sung by him with in a more traditional way. It's a song with a beautiful piano introduction and is followed by Hammill's voice. On the track we can hear Banton's organ work accompanied by Evan's very expressive drumming, great Jackson's saxophones works and some very pretty acoustic and electric guitar works made by Hammill and Fripp. Probably, this is the most beautiful song on the album. The third track 'A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers' takes the entire side B on the vinyl LP and is divided into ten parts: 'Eyewitness', 'Pictures/Lighthouse', 'Eyewitness', 'S.H.M.', 'Presence Of The Night', 'Kosmos Tours', '(Custard's) Last Stand', 'The Clot Thickens', 'Land's End (Sineline)' and 'We Go Now'. This is the monumental track on the album, and is, without any doubt, one of the most innovative and creative pieces ever made by them. The twenty three minute of this conceptual piece is very epic and is finished by a great guitar solo by Fripp. All the parts were written by Hammill, except 'Pictures/Lighthouse' written by Hammill and Banton, 'Kosmos Tours' written by Evans, 'The Clot Thickens' written by Van Der Graaf Generator, 'Land's End (Sineline)' written by Jackson and 'We Go Now' written by Banton and Jackson.

Van Der Graaf Generator toured extensively until 1972, but a lack of support from the record company and some financial difficulties, forced Hammill to split the band and pursue his solo career. Despite that, the apparent end of the band, proved not to be permanent. Two and a half years after, the group returned to record more four studio albums, 'Godbluff' in 1975, 'Still Life' and 'World Record' both in 1976 and 'The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome' in 1977.

Conclusion: 'Pawn Hearts' is an emotional and captivating album and isn't surely for the casual progressive listener. It demands attention and respect, in order to get the most of it, which is usual in all band's albums. Lyrically, I highly encourage the future listeners to following along with the lyrics to get the real spirit of it. Musically, it has the ability to evoke very deep personal emotions. Both things together, show perfectly what separates Van Der Graaf Generator from its contemporaries. 'Pawn Hearts' is a perfect place to start to see who Van Der Graaf Generator is. Surely, 'Pawn Hearts' is one of the best and most innovative masterpieces of progressive rock, but I'm afraid that it cannot be for everyone. It's very rare to find an album with such raw emotion as 'Pawn Hearts'. It's one of the darkest musical experiences the progressive rock as to offer, and is an essential addition to any serious progressive collection.

Prog is my Ferrari. Jem Godfrey (Frost*)

Report this review (#1476484)
Posted Friday, October 16, 2015 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
5 stars Van Der Graaf Generator's beautiful, dreadful, evocative, and challenging Pawn Hearts is rightly one of the highest rated albums on this website... and I feel sort of ashamed that it went noticed by myself for as long as it has! This ambitious album is packed with so much artistry, musicianship, and unapologetic noise that it deserves to be held up alongside the best of the best, even though it doesn't give one the same experience as the pinnacle of Yes' or Genesis' output. If you're familiar with VDGG, then you probably know why. If you're just discovering prog music, or haven't yet explored this sometimes forgotten classic group, here's why you should check out this album.

Pawn Hearts makes great use of VDGG's unique instrumentation: keyboards, percussion, bass, and woodwinds. The absence of guitar seems at first like a gigantic risk, but the holes it leaves opens up so many musical opportunities explored by the group. Organ, piano, and mellotron often take the lead, but very differeantly than that "other" keyboard-led prog band (ELP). The keyboards weave a complex, moody, and often times dark tapestry of sound that pulls the listener in deeper and deeper. The excellent drumming of Evans provides an equally complex and nuanced performance, creating patterns and rhythms that must be explored to be truley appreciated. The woodwinds provide the most unique flavor of all, giving the album those not-quite-jazz moments that add one more level of originality to the songs. The players are all exceptional and play very tight together. While there are solos, they are rare and not attention grabbing. The end result is a sound that is very unique when compared to other bands that form the core of classic prog.

The songs and their composition are amazing. At times abstract, others beautiful, and others still manic or intense, there is genuine creativity and depth to these works. More so than say, Yes, who as a band often rely on very strong melodies or driving rock moments, Pawn Hearts is much more abstract, daunting, and unapproachable. It takes guts to listen to this album, but its rewards the listener constantly with powerful, sweeping moments of dramatic pay off. Outstanding writing and implementation of the group's talents make for many wonderful musical moments adrift in the moody darkness.

Hammill's lyrics are poetic and dense, telling introspective stories. His voice has a dynamic range and is full of emotion, though again is a factor that will challenge many listeners. Don't expect the sweet sustains of Jon Anderson, playful tenor of Ian Anderson, or theatrical polish of Peter Gabriel. Hammill instead sounds raw, even unhinged at times. As a prominent sound throughout Pawn Hearts, vocals may be the thing that turns listeners away from this work. In the past I've had guests be weirded out when approachable classic prog like "Close to the Edge" and "Supper's Ready" come on my music list... I can guarantee that any song on Pawn Hearts will make people leave the room. Now that's prog rock!!!

This is an experimental, musical, and complex work that should belong in every prog fan's library. Though VDGG doesn't have quite the legacy of some of the other bands that got me into prog, they're every bit as creative and important to the genre. Take the challenge and check out Pawn Hearts.

Songwriting: 5 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 4 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 5

Report this review (#1499231)
Posted Monday, December 14, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars Van Der Graaf Generator were always in their own universe and had a precise, distinct vision of what their music should sound like. After a groundbreaking album H to He Who Am The Only One, which was one of the first works to present the band's "classic" sound, the group recorded Pawn Hearts. The name comes from Dave Jackson's soporenism on his task of recording "horn parts". The iconic album cover was designed by Paul Whitehead.

Van Der Graaf Generator take their musical vision one step further. Thes album contains just three tracks. All of them are eccentric, dark, theatrical, literary and very challenging epics. Conceptuality is one of Pawn Hearts' strongest point. Moods are proficiently expressed with one-of-a-kind musicianship. The music is very smooth, lush, spacey and watery. The group's instrumentation is much different than any other progressive rock group. It does have a strong symphonic element, notably at the end of "Lemmings". However, influences of free jazz and even some world music are put on the first plan. The mixing of the album is great and very dynamic. Pawn Hearts goes from light percussion touches supported by gentle acoustic guitar to Ornette Coleman-like sax solos.

The highlight of the album would probably be a side-long suite "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers". This one in particular presents all of the elements of Van Der Graaf Generator's music we came to know and love. "Man-Erg" is the most ballad-esque of the three, while "Lemmings" draws one the most beautiful musical textures to be seen in progressive rock. This track in particular gives me goosebumps. A beautifully twisted trio!

This is a highly complex album, so it naturally won't be a great experience to newcommers. It was the same with me. It took me quite a few listens to figure out what Pawn Hearts is all about. Regardless, it is an iconic prog rock album and really one of top ten most renowned works of the genre. Highly recommended!

Report this review (#1547143)
Posted Saturday, April 2, 2016 | Review Permalink
Magnum Vaeltaja
Eclectic Prog Team
3 stars Van Der Graaf Generator is a bit of a touchy subject. On the one hand, they're an incredibly influential band and if there were a prog award given out for most original sound, they'd be a strong contender. That, combined with their complex, dark, and cerebral soundscapes, makes it very easy to see why they've achieved the cult following they have. On the other hand, this band that has a lot going for it in theory happens to have the most marmite-like, controversial vocalist on the planet, Peter Hammill. For some, Pete's vocal work can strike their ears and permeate into the deepest reaches of their souls, conjuring emotions that they didn't even know could be felt, let alone articulated. For others, Hammill's vocals strike the ear in much the same manner as a cheese grater.

So, like I said, Van Der Graaf Generator is a love it or hate it type of band and "Pawn Hearts" is probably the most extreme example of Graafian excess. Peter takes centre stage, giving little room for the rest of the band, a competent bunch of musicians, to carry out any extended instrumental passages, which would be a welcome respite on this record. Hammill, on the other hand, gives himself plenty of liberty to go off on tangents, often far, far longer than I'm comfortable with. Perhaps I'm being a little harsh (not that you couldn't say the same of Hamill!), because Peter Hammill's voice truly is an acquired taste for most. This certainly isn't an instant gratification type of band, and it will almost certainly take a strong commitment to visit and revisit this work before you can truly revel in its intricacies. So if you've listened to other Van der Graaf Generator works and really enjoy them, then I'd strongly recommend picking this one up as soon as you can, because it satisfies just about every niche that Van der Graaf fans may be looking for. But for the greenhorns? Stay away.

So while I concede that this album is a well-crafted and significant piece of prog, I can't bring myself to consider it essential on the basis that it's just too controversial. As an aside, I leave a word of advice for new listeners: it wouldn't do the band any justice to use this as the starting point of their discography, even if it is one of their most highly rated albums. Instead, try for "Still Life" or "H To He..." as more suitable gateway albums. All things considered, I'll give "Pawn Hearts" 3 stars. Very good, but certainly not essential.

Report this review (#1557252)
Posted Friday, April 29, 2016 | Review Permalink
5 stars Heart touching progressive music

Fourth opus by Peter Hammill and co., "Pawn Hearts" marks the end of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR's first era as well as its pinnacle. After three interesting but somehow uneven and still experimental albums, the band fully defines its own musical identity and proudly enters the heights of the progressive sphere, in 1971. Driven by saxophone and keyboards instead of guitars, their style and sound are unique, tortured and delicate, depressive and beautiful, exploring the depths of the human mind. This was completely different from what other prog bands were proposing at the time.

Initially planned as a double album, only the first half of the recordings was finally released as "Pawn Hearts". These three lengthy, sophisticated and varied songs were composed one year before major progressive milestones such YES' "Close to the Edge" or GENESIS' "Supper's Ready". Maybe not as accessible as the aforementioned suites, but certainly as inspired and magical.

The first mini-epic sets immediately the tone. Oppressive and frightening, "Lemmings" offers complex structures and rhythm breaks for calm floating passages and plaintive anguishing moments. Organ and saxophone create a particular troubled watery atmosphere that supports perfectly Hammill's haunting and aerial vocals. Great, easily one of the best tracks from VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR! "Man Erg" is a musical transcription of our internal conflict between good and evil. The first part alternate melancholic and glorious passages representing the opposition of the "angels" and the "killers" inside us. Opening like a piano ballad with a beautiful melody, the pace suddenly accelerates, the instruments start a brutal fury illustrating the battle between the two entities. Cosmic and jazzy ambiances then interlace until the rhythm slow downs for the ballad reprise and a quite terrifying finale. What a journey!

The record concludes with THE VdGG epic, the band's "Supper's Ready" before it even exists: the satiric "A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers". The story narrates the helplessness of a lighthouse keeper to save the stranded bodies on the coast. Its spacey powerful overture mutates into a mysterious sonic chaos, letting the listener lost through the immensity of the sea. Unpredictable, this suite features numerous changes, slow and fast sections. Sublime, dark, touching, depressive, demented are one of the few adjectives that could describe this unbelievable piece. Beware: combined with Peter Hammill's possessed voice, you'll find yourself at the gates of despair and delirium. The finale is just not of this world...

Although lesser-known compared to the other progressive milestone records, "Pawn Hearts" shines like a lighthouse inside the night of the obscure side of prog. A creative and pioneering album, that may have influenced the representative bands of the genre in 1971. The songs offers a wide range of different atmospheres as well as delightful melodies to cry for. No weak passages, every section stands at its right place.

Demanding, intimidating but not the least accessible from the band, "Pawn Hearts" is undoubtedly VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR's best album, with "Godbluff". An essential and major opus, resembling no other. If you don't know Hammill and co., you'll discover a new universe of truly progressive 'non-rock' music. You may not fully appreciate it at first listen, but its treasures will reveal themselves over time...

This fourth effort will gain a surprising success in Italy. One year later, Peter Hammill will embrace a solo career and other members will go their way. Fans of this unconventional prog will have to wait three years until the band reunites...

Report this review (#1600956)
Posted Thursday, August 25, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars Brilliant, but not without its faults.

This album is a must listen for any prog fan. I remember when I was in my infant prog days, I looked up bands to listen to. VDGG was one of them. The first song of theirs I listened to was "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers". I was frankly bored by the song at first (in retrospect I have no idea how that happened). The only entertaining portion for me at the time was at 16:40 (Where's the god that guides my hand...). I was a bit weirded out by that part. It took me a while to truly appreciate the brilliance of the song. More on that later.

Lemmings| 6.5/10 I've never been able to really feel anything with this song. In fact, writing this review required me to listen to it again because I could not for the life of me remember what it sounds like. Before I trigger fans who swear by this album, let me say I do not dislike this song. When I am consciously listening to it and assessing every detain, i can honestly call it a good song. But it is just unmemorable to me (perhaps because it is surrounded by two far superior songs).

Man-erg| 8.5/10 A solid song after the sort of shaky "Lemmings". Begins with a beautiful vocal section and transcends into an intense saxophone section. For me, this is really where the signature "Pawn Hearts" sound comes: Hammill's screaming, Jackson's sax, etc. It all feels so chaotic (in a good way). The song is not perfect though. It just doesn't have the adventurousness of "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers"

A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers| 10/10 As I said before, i was not blown away by this song when i first listened to it. The second time I listened to it was about a year later, after I had gained more prog knowledge. THIS is the listen that made me fall in love with this song. I have yet to find a song that it derivative of this, let alone as innovative or abstract as it. Are the lyrics pretentious? Sure. However in my mind, pretentiousness is far overused in prog criticisms, its become meaningless. All I can say for the songs lyrics is that they are dense, and I struggle to comprehend exactly what Hammill meant when he was writing them ("Unreal, unreal' ghost helmsmen scream And fall in through the sky"). I dislike the general nitpicking of lyrics and claiming them as "pretentious", because I find the assertion that the author is speaking "out of their boundaries" to be quite an arrogant assumption. Overall, a brilliant song with brilliant, dense lyricism from Hammill. Hell, Hammill could sing [&*!#]ty lyrics and make them sound good. The man is innovative in his vocal delivery. A true original.

Average: 8.33/10

Weighted Average: 8.75/10

Report this review (#1937807)
Posted Friday, June 8, 2018 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
5 stars In just a few short years, Peter Hammill's VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR project had evolved from a de facto solo effort ("The Aerosol Grey Machine") to an early progressive rock band ("The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other") and then up another few notches to one of the most innovative and boundary pushing pioneers within the prog world on "H To He Who Am The Only One." And as if the world were coming to end in the foreseeable future, this outlandish quartet that consisted of Peter Hammill, Hugh Benton, David Jackson and Guy Evans went for the jugular on their fourth album PAWN HEARTS, an album so gorged full of musical ideas that it seems like it's ready to collapse under its own bloated grandeur in a shriveled heap of sonic sesquipedalian entropy. But it did not and instead created a beacon of complexity that would continue the arms race of proposing which band could compose the most challenging and daring music set in a rock context possible. The album's title resulted from a humorous spoonerism where Jackson stated "I'll go down to the studio and dub on some more porn harts", meaning "horn parts".

It is without question that PAWN HEARTS ranks as VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR's most complex album and arguably one of the most demanding listens within the progressive rock paradigm. Often a rather love or hate sort of affair in no doubt due to Peter Hammill's Bowie-esque schizoid vocal style, this is a band that prog fans love or hate but perhaps the hate side of the equation is a result of simply not being indoctrinated fully into their own little private club of the prog universe. While my first exposure offered intrigue, i can't say that i loved it. What it did was make me want to investigate and delve into its idiosyncratic charm in order to unlock the secrets that await like an ET Bhuddist monk holding the key to longevity in some mysterious underground fortress in Mongolia or something. The virtuosic and tightened band effect was due to the fact that VDGG hit the road and relentless played their material from "H to He?" on the infamous "Six Bob" tour which featured other Charisma Records acts like Genesis and Lindisfarne. The band was said to be almost impossible to top as they reached their creative peak live performances as well as in the studio with the emergence of PAWN HEARTS, an album so sublime that it is one of the rare sonic portals into a truly alternative universe.

Despite the precarious balance of elements on board, somehow like a lion tamer in the circus, these musical pioneers subdued their wild and adventurous beast into one of progressive rock's most elegant displays of pomp and awe with an ever changing eclectic carousel ride through multi-layered suites that more often threaten to derail the melodic tightrope act but somehow emerge from the chaos like an egg dropped from the top of the Empire State Building only by happenstance to land on someone's lost down comforter. PAWN HEARTS has emerged through the decades as one of the pinnacles of progressive rock with its undulating relentless pursuit for complexity that takes the seemingly innocent although demented melodies of Peter Hammill's keyboardist singer / songwriting skills and teasing and torturing them until monstrous mountains of sound meander about in psychedelic hallucinations that realize the potentials of the 60s but taken to the proggy promised lands by raising the bar so high that very few have dared even tread these exalted elevations of exuberance.

While the late 60s was ground zero for the most experimental and adventurous musical explorations to have emerged since the dawning of recorded music, few took this opportunity to heart more than VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR. By 1971, the somewhat rotating cast of members had stabilized into the classic lineup with mainman Hammill forging his role as lead vocalist, keyboardist and conductor of everything demented, dark and dangerous. In accord, Benton would follow suit with his double role as bassist and second keyboardist which was one of the features that allowed VDGG an over-the-top and in-yer-face musical approach. And likewise Jackson, the band's one-man wind section provided the appropriate jazzy touches with healthy doses of the avant-garde in the forms of tenor, alto and soprano saxophones and flute would often bedazzle audiences with an uncanny propensity to play two different wind instruments simultaneously. While Guy Evans would provide the varied percussive sounds, he would also provide an extra layer of piano strewn throughout. Through the relentless tours of 1970, VDGG caught the attention of King Crimson's Robert Fripp who signed up as guest guitarist making PAWN HEARTS a veritable classic of the ages indeed. Granted, i agree with those who find the guitar duties a little underwhelming as they hardly take the limelight but if one listens attentively, they are there!

Despite the relentless strive to go where no musicians had gone before, in VDGG's native UK, it was a bit too much too soon, however Peter Hammill's passionate vocal style and rather symphonically driven eclectic prog was a major hit in Italy where PAWN HEARTS hit #1 on the album charts while failing to make even the smallest dent in Britain. And so it was VDGG's destiny to find solidarity in Italy where they would find themselves touring and pleasing their largest fanbase. The Italians were right on board with the outlandish, overwrought and passionate vocal styles coupled with classically infused progressive rock tendencies that pushed the limits as evidenced by some of the biggest Italian acts to follow. While Genesis got much credit for their symphonic pastoral contributions in the Italian prog scene, VDGG was in fact one of the main contributors with their ability to shapeshift pleasant yet seductive melodies into progressive powerhouse performances that let loose the full fury of psychedelic rock infused with the complexities of jazz, classical and the furthest reaches of the avant-garde.

PAWN HEARTS consists of a mere three tracks (except for the US and Canadian releases) but in reality contains more creative ideas than most bands muster up in their entire career thus making it not only VDGG's most ambitious and complex album of their entire career but also ranks way up there in terms of most intrepid, inspiring, emulous and zealous albums released in the entire era of recorded music with a burning desire to go where no musical entity had gone before thanks to the big bang of progressive rock inspiration fathered by the great Robert Fripp and his King Crimson outfit. I would be remiss to omit the contributions of Tony Stratton-Smith whose further explorations into the development and arrangements of PAWN HEARTS would have gone nowhere without his involvement. Despite the claim that PAWN HEARTS as well as any VDGG release is a Peter Hammill dominated one-man show, nothing could be further from the truth as much of the structural edification of the album was brought to life by the contributions of others. For some reason in the US and Canadian releases there was a fourth track added after "Lemmings" called "Theme One" which was written by none other than fifth Beatle member George Martin but has been demoted to merely a bonus track on newer versions.

"Lemmings" including "Cog" (11:39) While "H To He Who Am The Only One" seemed to castigate the powerful elite for their overweening misuse of testosterone in their relentless domination of humanity, on PAWN HEARTS, the opener "Lemmings" seems to take a jab at the populace themselves for relinquishing their freewill and allowing these tyrants to have their way. This opener immediately screams that VDGG has come of age. They have relentlessly nurtured their freak flag talents and taken them to the next level or two. While the backbone of the tune revolves around Hammill's usual piano based vocal style, the track takes no time at all to delve into schizoid dissonant segments that implement a psychedelic synthesized frosting with jazzified prog stabs and admittedly totally far out weirdness that is beyond bizarre even by modern day standards.

********** "Theme One" (2:55) Another mystery of the universe comes in this surprise. One that i wasn't even aware of until i started this review. Surprisingly this was written by George Martin, yeah that George Martin, producer or "fifth member" of The Beatles who wrote this track which only appears on the earliest of US and Canadian vinyl editions. This bouncy jazzy pop track has since been nixed as it totally feels out of place. Perhaps a slightly more digestible track to attract interest? I dunno. Shatters my personal experience for sure. NOT RATING THIS ALBUM on the basis of its inclusion. I'm going to pretend i never knew this existed.

"Man-Erg" (10:19) is perhaps the most "normal" track on the album. While beginning with a seemingly innocent piano ballad style that would become a Hammill solo staple, it retains a sense of melancholy and darkness. While the piano riff is recurrent it's not until the track shifts into the schizoid and jittery angular and bizarrely timed heavy rock section that alternates abruptly that things get really wild and out of control. It has been suggested that the title is an anagram of "German" and in actuality about Hitler, which in retrospect, 1970 was within an era not totally removed from the reality of the period. Perhaps about the duality of good and evil, the possibility that any man can attain a god complex and find a way to justify any atrocity. Some of the most thought provoking lyrics in conjunct with a dualistic compositional approach. The ultimate Jekyll and Hyde composition.

"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" (23:04) is not only the album's magnus opus but even claimed by the band members themselves to be the pinnacle of creative fortitude. While the side long vinyl track that in reality was a multitude of individual musical pieces composed by the various members that were only later in the studio stitched together to create a meaningful unified theme as it was in essence a batch of snippets that were recorded between gigs only to emerge as the progressive behemoth that appears on the album. While deep analysis of a deeper meaning can spiral into a fertile imagination to infinity, the truth is that Hammill claims the track is really very simply about the story of a lighthouse keeper and the experiences of life and death and the psychological baggage involved. While the storyline is clear, the musical construct is anything but as it navigates through ten distinct movements with none logically connected to the others. However the main opening melodic riff recurs throughout offering a stabilizing factor to an otherwise nebulous journey through the sonic universe. PAWN HEARTS seeded the musical universe in unforeseen ways and many future bands would pick some of the ripe fruits that were never really further developed by the band itself. For example, at 16:37 this musical monstrosity develops into a schizoid marching band type of frenetic outbreak which seems like the blueprint for the spastic zolo style adopted by the Cardiacs and other bands like Oingo Boingo down the road.

Despite VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR receiving lavish praise from some UK critics, the band unfortunately fell to deaf ears in their homeland and concentrated their efforts on their lucrative success in Italy where they engaged in a grueling tour schedule which ultimately led to burn out and the first break up of the band. Hammill continued with the other members on his less crazed solo albums and after a few years of recovery would return for 1975's lauded "Godbluff," but they would settle into a more streamlined prog sound and leave behind the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. PAWN HEARTS remains one of the pinnacles of progressive rock and a fan favorite as it exudes a brash bravado that transcends the time and space from which it was created. Desert isle pick if there ever was one.

The eerily constructed melodies are sadistically addictive and the labyrinthine compositional approach means that you can literally listen to this one over a hundred times and still be surprised by how it zigzags around through its many movements and schizophrenic outbursts. If you think you can understand PAWN HEARTS by a single listen or even ten, you'd be fooling yourself as this is one of those albums that is so bold and so daring that even for hardened proggers such as myself, it took many years to finally come to grips with. However in its wake it has emerged as one of my top 10 favorite albums of all time and i can say that despite not making such lists due to my preferences changing frequently. Needless to say, PAWN HEARTS is not only VDGG's creative peak but one of progressive rock's crowning achievements. You better believe five stars in every way. Compositionally, lyrically, performance-wise and creatively weird as bleep. It just doesn't get better than this one especially for the year it materialized.

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Posted Friday, June 15, 2018 | Review Permalink

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