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Peter Hammill - In A Foreign Town CD (album) cover


Peter Hammill

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4 stars OK, this is one of the pH albums I hardly re-visit and perhaps deserves a star less. Very much a child of its time and nowhere as timeless as Peter Gabriel albums of the era it sill has a few noteworthy tracks. Lyrically Hammill is contemplating the acutalities of Our World at the time and at this he's philosophically at his best (hear 'Still Life', 'pH7'). What lets the whole thing down is the flat production and limited musicality. Hammill obviously discovered the wonderful world of computers and the sound just sounds like that: here I am with a string of great songs and I can do it by myself. Not quite! The song-writing deserves no less than all of 5 stars, the music just about two. See (listen): 'Sci-Finance' - heard previously as a punk/prog out-pouring on VdG's rancious 'Still Life' live album - becomes a popsong with message lost. 'This Book' should have earned the songwriter a place in the charts, but hell, this is Peter Hammill, the man who doesn't even get reviews on this site. 'Time to burn' is an eternal classic if only performed with a proper band (and I perhaps grew suspicious of it after hearing the instrumental version of the track on an aeroplane as background music on off-boarding), 'Auto' could be a danceclub-classic, if the DJs would listen toi anything but Kraftwerk, 'The Play's the Thing' refers to his greatest idol (Shakes...I guess) and is a truelly beautiful ballad. I've change my mind now, as I'm re- visiting the album right now, no, three stars minus one is not enough. I can adjust. The 'Foreign town' in the title is most possibly referring to a foreign world we live in, and hey, can't we just relate to this right now.
Report this review (#18107)
Posted Friday, October 1, 2004 | Review Permalink
1 stars Why do so many Hammill fans buy records like this, knowing they aren't all great and that we won't listen to them often? Because between Van Der Graaf Generator and his many solo albums, we know we'll always be rewarded with something worthwhile; even the worst albums usually have a song or two to make the trip worthwhile. 'In A Foreign Town', unfortunately, is the least remarkable album that Hammill has ever been involved with (at least, of the 25 or so that I'm familiar with). I can only recommended it to masochists, like me, who need to hear everything this intriguing artist has recorded. The album is a miserable slog of a journey, bleak and cold tunes made even colder by a sterile recording job. Even the promise of a re-worked V.D.G.G. song, "Sci-Finance", is not capitalized upon, feeling stiff in its dumbed-down new-wave styled production (robotic drums, cheesy guitar sounds, etc.). Things sink much further with "This Book", which I find to be the hardest Hammill-penned song to listen to, flirting too much with new-age adult pop strains for my liking. "Auto" is another offender, hinting at Gary Numan/Kraftwerk sort of stuff, something I can't deal with and something even fans of that sort of stuff probably wouldn't find all that impressive. Most of the other songs arent so much awful as they are faceless. Only "Time To Burn" is up to the man's usual standards, a song with a real depth of wisdom, an introspective downbeat to the rest of the album's more upbeat, dance-able (yes..."dance-able") material. Inexplicably there's an instrumental version of "Time To Burn" at the end of the album, an idea he would later employ to better effect on 1996's 'X My Heart' album with "A Better Time". "The Play's The Thing" is also quite you get two downcast bits of beauty on this otherwise way-too-dippy album.

No, I don't hear a lot on 'In A Foreign Town' that can be recommended to any but the most rabid Hammill completist. Part of the problem is the fact that Hammill generated all of the sounds, as opposed to having real live musicians with real wood-and-string instruments lending a hand. This helps give the album that sterile quality noted earlier, but it also isn't his best clutch of songs either.not by a longshot.

Report this review (#18109)
Posted Thursday, March 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Peter Hammill's "In a foreign Town" is not an album, that you should start your adventure with a PH's creative power. Problem is not with a bad or hard songs that this one include, but rather interpreations. Mr. Hammill write on His page, that using of rythm ("plastic drums") in some tracks was a mistake, and I have to agree with His opinion. From the other hand "In the foreign town" is still a strong LP - just listen to the memorable songs like "The play's the thing", or "Time to burn" and "Invisible ink" to understand that Hammill's form is still on the highest level. I'm personally a little disapoipointed (for the first time!!) only by the vocal on the "Invisible ink", because when you compare it with the "Peel sessions" version (which is full of expression) it sounds much weaker. To sum up - very good album, don't be afraid to buy it.
Report this review (#48463)
Posted Monday, September 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars For those of us who make Midi-music, this album was an early inspiration and example of composing and arranging expressively with samplers & sequencers, combined with live guitars. It has some wonderful song- writing, including biting political satire that's more than relevant today (Hemlock, Vote for Brand X) and lovely ballads (Time to Burn). I disagree with those who characterize the sound as cold and sterile, he was one of the first to really dive into the possibilities of composing and arranging via MIDI and samplers. Many artist's efforts of this period carry the drawbacks of being the first to go this route, even Zappa's earlier Synclavier efforts, and some of Gabriel's Lind drum & sequencer stuff. The only real drawback is the the overuse of big, loud snare drum samples, a typical flaw of the Midi music of the late 80's (see Kate Bush), but NEW WAVE it ain't! As Mozart says to Harry in Hesse's "Steppenwolf" (about Wagner's over-orchestration) "it was a fault of the times". But the song-writing and singing is first class, and that's what pH has always been about.
Report this review (#63737)
Posted Sunday, January 8, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars "In A Foreign Town" is definitely NOT an entry album to Peter's solo repertoire. Peter was experimenting with computer sounds and I'm kind of mixed with the result.

Very much "eighties" oriented (Hemlock, "Auto"), it is very difficult to apprehend. I've tried several times, without great success, I'm afraid. If you're looking to the delicate Hammill, you won't find it here. If you're looking to some VDGG substance, forget it as well.

So, what's left?

Well, not too much, I'm afraid. Some political messages, a couple of covers.And these synthetic sounds almost all the way through. Not too great. Even Peter's voice seems to have changed. It sounds flat, with very little emotion ("Invisible Ink").

Peter does play several instruments on this album and frankly, having him as a percussionist is not the best musical experience you could expect. No highlights, at best a couple of good songs like "This book" and my fave one "Time To Burn" which features some very pleasant background keys. Actually, this song is very emotional and is an homage to the recent deceased Tony Stratton-Smith (the founder of the extraordinary Charisma label).

Even if the album gets better towards its end ("The Play's The Thing") it is one of the weakest that Peter has released so far. And I've reviewed fifteen or so prior to this one.

Only for die-hard fans who are curious to discover each facet of this great man. But he isn't on this album. Just listen to "Under Cover Names" to get the confirmation.

Report this review (#172701)
Posted Saturday, May 31, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars In A Foreign Town would be the most obvious choice if you want to slate a Hammill album. Upon its release it didn't go well with the fans and it's only valued for serving as a reviewer's dummy to try your critical talent on. It's especially useful to test your skills needed to knock an album to death with vicious words and slander!

Well I wonder why that is. Apart from a few questionable sound choices (widely discussed in all other reviews already) and a few dips in the song writing, this is a collection of enjoyable rock songs of the slightly more commercial type, similar to Skin, but far more convincing. In fact, this album should easily please you if you liked Sitting Targets and Enter K. And really, I doesn't sound all that bad.

Hemlock is an epic opener. Brooding synths serve as an intro for a strong tune with great steady processed rhythms. Invisible Ink and Sci-Finance are good Hammill rockers. This Book isn't really great though and hardly survives its cheesy drum computer and weak vocal melodies. It's one of the disappointing moments. Another one would be the inadequate Sun City Night Life.

But with Auto and Under Cover Names Hammill continues to deliver good rock songs. All they need is a real band to execute them really. Time to Burn and The Play's the Thing are new hits in the ever expanding canon of tasteful Hammill ballads.

With some more attention to detail and a bit of self-scrutiny, Hammill could have culled one 4 star album out of the material present on Skin and In A Foreign Town. Instead we're stuck with two unaccomplished albums. 3.5 stars for this one.

Report this review (#253141)
Posted Friday, November 27, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars I have always been intrigued by the music of Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator. Peter's music is powerfull, emotional, creative, original, but pretty dark. There have been years that I was waiting for a new album to release. At a certain moment, I realised that Hammills music was mostly appealling to the moments that I was in a more or less dark mood. Sometimes, music attaches to things that happen in your life which impress a lot. By a coincidence, this album was released in the time that my oboe teacher (and my wife's oboe teacher !) committed suicide. Time to burn is the song that attaches to this tragedy. Maybe this is the reason to avoid listening to this album for quite some years. But now listening for the third time in a row to this album again, I realise again that this is really good album. It has do with sadness, it is dark, but pure, emotional, certainly one of the best of Hammmill. End in the end .... "smile"
Report this review (#260751)
Posted Wednesday, January 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars I guess some people like this stuff, but dated production and average songs spoil it for me.

Perhaps Hammill was feeling left behind by this time and wanted to try out the new ways of music, or wanted to update the do it yourself style that made The Future Now so irresistible. But whatever it is, In A Foreign Town does very little for me in almost every sense.

Sure, PH is one of the best singer-songwriters ever, but here he just sounds like trying to rip-off every artist from the 80s while trying to maintain the path he began to tread with Skin. Sure it isn't so, but the territories he explores here where already done in a much better way by other musicians and bands, and Hammill almost always sounds fake when covering universalist themes, because when he does so he rarely includes feelings of his own.

The highlights for me are "Hemlock", which is very ominous and would be much better if not in this context; "The Play's The Thing" is a relief since it's only Hammill and his piano; "Invisible Ink", a catchy number with one of Hammill's best identity-related lyrics since "Mirror Images" perhaps; and "Time To Burn" written as a tribute to deceased Charisma boss Tony "Strat" Stratton-Smith, is a classic, moving, song, even if the drum machine does everything except keep time. As for the rest, I guess it all has to be taken as a product of it's times, but "Sci-Finance" works better as a punk tune, here, with a new wave treatment, it's almost a new Talking Heads song including a bridge with the riff from "Money (That's What I Want)", and "Auto" is too weird to come to life in an environment this synthetic, but the rest of material ain't much better either.

Looking at the good side of things, there's finally a place for the fans of synthpop to become acquainted to Peter's music, and Hammill himself grew to a better producer and learned how to make decent drum machine patterns, but better yet, he quickly got away from this sort of record.

Report this review (#453591)
Posted Sunday, May 29, 2011 | Review Permalink

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