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Van Der Graaf Generator

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Van Der Graaf Generator Pawn Hearts album cover
4.43 | 2460 ratings | 195 reviews | 65% 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of
progressive rock music

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Studio Album, released in 1971

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Lemmings (including Cog) (11:39)
2. Man-Erg (10:21)
3. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (23:04) :
- i. Eyewitness
- ii. Pictures / Lighthouse
- iii. Eyewitness
- iv. S.H.M.
- v. Presence of the Night
- vi. Kosmos Tours
- vii. (Custard's) Last Stand
- viii. The Clot Thickens
- xi. Land's End (Sineline)
- x. We Go Now

Total Time 45:04

The original US & Canada releases contained a fourth track between "Lemmings" and "Man-Erg".
"Theme One" (2:55) was an arrangement of an old BBC Radio 1 theme composed by George Martin.

Bonus tracks on 2005 Charisma remaster:
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) *

# A different mix from the version on the U.S. and Canadian LPs or the UK single
° The February 1972 single used the second version
* Originally intended to be part of the abandoned double disc initial project

Line-up / Musicians

- Peter Hammill / lead vocals, acoustic & slide guitars, piano, electric pianos
- Hugh Banton / Hammond (E & C) & Farfisa Professional organs, piano, Mellotron, bass & bass pedals, ARP synthesizer, Fx, backing vocals
- David Jackson / tenor, alto & soprano saxophones, flute, Fx, backing vocals
- Guy Evans / drums, timpani, percussion, piano

- Robert Fripp / electric guitar

Releases information

Artwork: Paul Whitehead (Cleen Mashine Studio) with Keith Morris (photo)

LP Charisma CAS 1051 (1971, UK)

CD Charisma - CASCD 1051 (1987, UK & US)
CD Charisma - CASCDR 1051 (2005, Europe) Remastered by P. Hammill w/ 5 previously unreleased bonus tracks

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR Pawn Hearts ratings distribution

(2460 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(65%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(23%)
Good, but non-essential (8%)
Collectors/fans only (3%)
Poor. Only for completionists (1%)


Showing all collaborators reviews and last reviews preview | Show all reviews/ratings

Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
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.

Review by Jim Garten
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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

Review by Peter
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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!

Review by lor68
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...

Review by James Lee
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by Proghead
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.
Review by 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.
Review by penguindf12
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.

Review by Eetu Pellonpaa
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.
Review by Fitzcarraldo
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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!

Review by Cygnus X-2
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by Seyo
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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...?

Review by Cesar Inca
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by Trotsky
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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

Review by loserboy
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.
Review by 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!).
Review by greenback
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by Matti
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.

Review by 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.

Review by Andrea Cortese
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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!

Review by OpethGuitarist
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.

Review by Raff
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by Philrod
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
Review by Australian
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.

Review by 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.

Review by ZowieZiggy
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 ā 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.

Review by 1800iareyay
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

Review by Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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

Review by Neu!mann
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.

Review by Queen By-Tor
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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!

Review by sean
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.
Review by Flucktrot
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.

Review by UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars "Pawn Hearts" is the 4th full-length studio album by UK progressive rock act Van der Graaf Generator. The album was released through Charisma Records in October 1971. Itīs the successor to "H To He, Who Am The Only One" from December 1970. Although there is less than a year between the two album relases, lead vocalist Peter Hammill (with the help of his Van der Graaf Generator bandmates, among ohers) had time to release his debut full-length solo studio album "Foolīs Mate" in July 1971, so paired with the bandīs heavy touring schedule, itīs safe to say that Van der Graaf Generator were incredibly busy in those years.

The original vinyl version of "Pawn Hearts" only features 3 tracks. Side A consists of two 10-11 minutes long tracks in "Lemmings" and "Man-Erg", while Side B features the 23:04 minutes long "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers". Further material was recorded during the sessions for the album, and it was initially the bandīs plan to relase a double album, with one album featuring collective band compositions and another with individual compositions. Not completely unlike Pink Floydīs "Ummagumma" (1969) album or Yes "Fragile" (1971) album. Charisma Records said no to that idea though, and the individual compositions were shelved for years until they resurfaced as bonus material on the 2005 reissue of "Pawn Hearts".

Two group compositions from the sessions which didnīt make the album, were released as a single in February 1972. The A-side is a cover version of "Theme One", which is an instrumental George Martin composition, while the B-side to the single is titled "W". Both are also included as bonus material on the 2005 resissue of "Pawn Hearts". While the original UK version of "Pawn Hearts" only featured the three long compositions, some US and Canada editions of the album included "Theme One" as the second track on the album.

Van der Graaf Generator had already established themselves as one of the most unique progressive rock acts of the early 70s with the two albums preceding this one, and their dark, dramatic, and sometimes harsh and experimental sound, made them stand out on the scene. With "Pawn Hearts" they took their sound to the extreme. Both in the terms of the skills required to play the material, but also in terms of the material itself. While especially some sections of "Man-Erg" and "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" are melodic and epic in nature, much of the album is gritty, even aggressive and jagged at times (some of the saxophone and organ parts resemble distorted guitars), and definitely gloomy and eerie (lead vocalist Peter Hammill somtimes sound like his singing from his cell at the asylum). Iīd even dare say the band touches avant-garde territory once or twice during the playing time, and "Pawn Hearts" is generally not an easily accessible album. Itīs an album requiring attention, patience, and an open mind.

"Pawn Hearts" is well produced, featuring a powerful, raw, and organic sounding production job, which suits the material perfectly. Upon conclusion it is a one-of-a-kind type of album, both in progressive rock and in the bandīs own discography. Nothing really sounds like "Pawn Hearts", and itīs probably the bandīs most extreme musical statement and also as far as they were willing to go in terms of experimentation (theyīve released other experimental releases since, but nothing like this). Considering the adventurous and challenging nature of the material on the album, itīs a testimony to the open mindedness of contemporary music listeners, that "Pawn Hearts" charted high in especially Italy, and that the band were received as rock stars when they arrived to tour there in early 1972. The pressure of touring became to much for the band though, and by mid-1972 Hammill left to pursue a solo career, which effectively ended the first run for Van der Graaf Generator. A 5 star (100%) rating is fully deserved for this unique and bold statement of an album.

Review by russellk
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.

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by 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.

Review by 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

Review by LiquidEternity
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.

Review by MovingPictures07
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.

Review by Sinusoid
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.

Review by Hercules
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).

Review by progrules
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.

Review by 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.

Review by The Truth
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by 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.

Review by Ivan_Melgar_M
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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 :-)

Review by Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by TheGazzardian
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.

Review by snobb
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by LinusW
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.


Review by friso
5 stars Van Der Graaf Generator's 'Pawn Hearts' is an album to stir up debates. Had its predecessor 'H to He' remained just safe enough for some symphonic prog enthusiasts; this album is surely an avant-prog album in the vein of King Crimson's 'Lizard' and Henry Cow's 'In Praise of Learning'. Like these two records, it combines that majestic/holy prog vibe with heavy jazz influences and fierce playing by all musicians. These urgent and imposing compositions outgrow their individual parts (hammond, sax, acoustic guitar, drums, vocals), becoming more like a stage play in the listeners mind. This album is quite operatic actually.

With 'Lemmings' the album starts with VdGG casting that instant existential doom. The song has many parts, all very intense, creative and apologetically raw. The ending section is a gradual deconstruction of its main themes - an interesting way of implementing influences of classical music. Singer/performer Peter Hammill sounds like a madmen lost in his own stories, but all his vocals are spot on here. The second track 'Man-Erg' has a more reflective majestic mood and starts of with piano chords and subtle vocals by Hammill. The songs evolves towards a quite heavy psychedelic prog piece after two verses. The ending section has that beautiful avant-prog majestic feel that only progressive rock can offer. The second side is than filled with the avant-prog epic 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers ', which is an extensive journey through a troubled mind. Fear, excitement, confusion, eureka moments, avant-garde explorations, poetic existentialism and the soundtrack to your personal ascension; this track offers it al. I would like to give a special mention to part V 'The Presence of the Night/Kosmos Tours' which offers one of most exciting musical moments I know of.

The album was originally though to become a 2LP and this condensed version with only three tracks is the best the band has to offer. The third side of my vinyl features 'Theme One' and 'W'. The first is a very catchy instrumental tune, the other a great melancholy prog song with some nice jazzy wah wah sax by David Jackson. The fourth side has some atmospheric avant-prog tunes that most listeners won't care much about.

Review by Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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)

Review by EatThatPhonebook
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.

Review by zravkapt
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by baz91
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.

Review by colorofmoney91
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.

Review by BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars After finally "getting" VDGG & Pete Hammill via the H to He, Who Am The Only One album, I can finally revisit and review the band's other albums. 1. "Lemmings" (11:39) rife with plenty of memorable motifs and themes and plenty of complexity in its layers, I find the music too abrasive and irritating making for a rather unpleasant listening experience. I understand the genius of this song, it just fails to connect with me. (17.75/20)

2. "Man-Erg" (10:21) kind of a Hammill reprise-conglomeration of songs 1 & 2 from H to He, the subject is more esoteric, the band a bit more mature. I find Hugh's static organ chords and David's sax play rather cluttering and distracting in the second section. The instrumental section that follows is better, powerful, while Peter's almost operatic vocal in the laid-back jazzy section that follows is nice. Another song that I appreciate but which fails to win me over. (17.75/20)

3. "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" (23:04) despite this song's 10 movements, I can only review it for its aggregate whole because that's how it's always flowed for me: as one. While I used to find this song rather long and tedious, I have learned to appreciate the wonderful melodies and procession of nuances. A great epic and definitely a high achievement in the history of progressive rock music. (42/45) a) Eyewitness b) Pictures / Lighthouse c) Eyewitness d) S.H.M. e) Presence of the Night f) Kosmos Tours g) (Custard's) Last Stand h) The Clot Thickens i) Land's End j) We Go Now

Total Time: 45:04

A-/five stars; though a defining contribution to the progressive rock movement, I consider this a minor masterpiece in the genre.

Review by Warthur
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!

Review by 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.

Review by Einsetumadur
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!

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR 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.

Review by VianaProghead
5 stars Review Nš 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*)

Review by 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

Review by ALotOfBottle
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!

Review by Magnum Vaeltaja
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
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.

Review by Modrigue
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...

Review by siLLy puPPy
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.

Review by patrickq
4 stars Pawn Hearts is a very cohesive record, forty-five minutes of music that fits together?although many of its passages, taken separately, don't sound as though they could possibly be a part of anything consistent. Among the homogenizing characteristics is a pervasive, almost calculated oddness. This oddness is borne out in the lyrics, the singing, the instrumentation, and the production.

I use the term "oddness" here because Pawn Hearts isn't, in my mind, avant-garde - - it's progressive, and ultimately Van der Graaf Generator observes as many conventions as other British prog-rock bands of the time (e.g., Caravan, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull). But chief songwriter/vocalist/guitarist/bandleader Peter Hammill makes less of an attempt than many of his contemporaries to connect directly with the listener. In that respect, Pawn Hearts has more in common with King Crimson or Pink Floyd. But it's still not as unorthodox as, say, Henry Cow.

Pawn Hearts was probably not the first album to contain two long songs on one side and one on the other, but in this respect it prefigured Close to the Edge and Relayer. Similarly, "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers," which accounted for Side Two of the original vinyl release of Pawn Hearts, was not the first side-long "progressive epic." In fact, it was closer to a medley, ā la Genesis's 23-minute "Supper's Ready," which appeared a year later.

But whereas the progressiveness of "Close to the Edge" is encapsulated in somewhat familiar symphonic forms, "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" besieges the listener with aggressive movements interspersed with relatively calm sections. And Hammill apparently resisted the temptation to close "Plague" with an extended, uplifting resolution like that of "Close to the Edge" or "Supper's Ready."

The other two songs on the album seem to be drawn from the same well. "Lemmings (including Cog)" is a strange song, but a fitting one to open Pawn Hearts. At least in its presentation, "Lemmings" seems to be about mental health, or perhaps mental illness. Hammill sings the part of a character who may be both omniscient playwright and hapless actor in a colossal drama.

Not many rock albums open with an eleven-plus-minute track, not even many progressive rock records. By the time "Man-Erg," the second song on Pawn Hearts, begins, Side One is half over. (That's on the original Charisma LP release, and on the 2005 Caroline CD reissue I'm reviewing here.) "Man-Erg" begins calmly enough, but with a lyric which begins "the killer lives inside me." It's actually a relief when the music becomes emphatic, thus assuaging the unnerving mismatch between the music and lyrics. Not knowing much about this band, I wondered whether there was a connection between "Man-Erg" and "Killer," from their previous album, and one of two Van der Graaf Generator songs I'd heard before buying Pawn Hearts. On the other hand, killing and being killed seem to have been common themes for Hammill in the early 1970s. While the UK's official involvement in the Vietnam war was minimal, the individual's role in war may nonetheless have been among his lyrical motivations.

Along these same lines, alienation seems to be a primary, if indirect, theme of Pawn Hearts. Sure, lighthouse keepers are bound to be lonely. But most of the vocal sections of Pawn Hearts seem to be sung by characters who speak to the listener because there's no one else to speak to. Or, in a more chilling possibility, the characters, having no one to converse with, are talking to themselves - - meaning that we, the listeners, are the characters to whom we're listening.

Alienation, or maybe detachment, is also palpable in the arrangements and the production of Pawn Hearts. While truly avant- garde acts actively attempt to alienate the conservative listener, the way Van der Graaf Generator presents its work here implies a lack of awareness of the listener. I get the sense that the band (or maybe just Hammill) are making a recording for cathartic, not commercial purposes - - or even artistic ones.

Pawn Hearts is an excellent work of art, worthy of the claim that it "challenges" its audience. Four stars for an album which succeeded in making me want to here more from this band.

Review by jamesbaldwin
5 stars In September 1971, VdGG finished recording what critics consider their masterpiece, their artistic peak: "Pawn Hearts". it consists of two songs in the first facade and a suite in the second, thus following the fashion inaugurated by King Crimson (Lizard) and Pink Floyd (Atom Heart Mother) in 1970, and continued by EL&P (Tarkus) in 1971.

Side A. "Lemmings". In this song the narrator ascends the hill and sees people jump into the sea, committing suicide like lemmings. The beginning describes this situation with a vocal instrumental crescendo, then the music gets gloomy, Hammill's voice more cavernous because to speak is a person of this people who is committing suicide, who explains his reasons, and concludes by asking "What cause there left but to die?" The music follows the lyrics perfectly, becoming more and more distressing, and the initially grave singing becomes increasingly angry and desperate. The sound is thick, there are keyboards and electronic effects that describe a desolate lunar landscape beaten by winds and misfortunes, and only the acoustic guitar gives some sign of light. Evans's drums combined with the electronic sounds of Banton and Hammill, and Jackson's excruciating saxophone, create an end-of-the- world atmosphere, and one wonders what would add to all this sound, sometimes cacophonous, Potter's bass, whose absence makes the music more silt dry, naked, especially the drums played by Evans. Yet, always with this distressing background, Hammill responds to the suicidal people that lemmings teach nothing and that the only thing left is to live, or at least try. It is a message of hope that arises from despair and therefore is proposed with the same apocalyptic atmosphere but the ending takes place with slow fade, and Gothic mood with flute in very suggestive evidence. First masterpiece, rating 8,5/9.

"Man-Erg". Hammill sings: The killer is inside me, but the angels are also inside me, and I myself are, I do not know who I am and I contain inside me everything, angels and demons. An existentialist text hovers along with an epic piano music from the first note, more melodic than the previous one. Hammill's charge of pathos with his singing making it sublime until Banton fills it with sound effects similar to terrible screams (and perhaps playing bass guitar in the background), and an atmosphere worthy of a horror movie, very rhythmic and menacing thanks to Evans's work, is filled by Hammill's voice with echoes that asks how to be free. It is an artistic moment of the highest of contemporary music. After the fear, returns the melody and the singing of Hammill confirms his path of awareness between epic flashes and menacing progressions, and finally creeps behind the melody the frightening rhythm, which rises in crescendo creating a music on two layers, that melodic-sublime-epic and percussive- looming- terrifying and so Hammill succeeds in the miracle of unifying, to make synchronous two antithetic music, manages to express at the same time and in an intense way, a pathos composed of the two opposite poles: ecstasy and anguish. In my opinion, Man-Erg is maybe the most beautiful songs ever composed. Rating 10.

Side B. "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers", suite formed by ten movements. The lighthouse keeper inaugurates the album suite prophesiing disasters, encrusted with seaweed. behind a melody on the piano that quickly becomes a rabid cry, followed by port noises, perhaps even trains, artfully created by Banton and Jackson: we are in full avant-garde and concrete music, then a solo of organ fades and with the third movement resumes the melody and again the rabid progression, until it begins a much more powerful music in rhythm (S.H.M.) where again the Gurdian-witness growls his despair. Then follows a pause in the music, a suspended moment where Banton is also heard on bass (mixed however always low, not as powerful as Potter used to do), but this is the prelude to the most distressing progression, sung with more pathos than the whole suite, followed by a cacophonous sound orgasm that makes this movement (Kosmos Tour) the most enthralling in the suite. And after the storm returns (for a short time) the serene (Last Stand) with a melody similar to the initial, but this melodic passage, as often happens, is the prologue to the most desecrated and grotesque piece of the record, associated with questions about God as a guide, piece that it ends again in a cacophony similar to the previous, at the end of which Hammill's voice and piano return, which always mark the resumption of the narrative after the storm and the last two movements arrive where hope rises again in the lighthouse keeper, after touching Land's End.

This suite is much more sophysticated and avant-garde than those mentioned at the beginning (Lizard, Atom Heart Mother, Tarkus), which preceded it, and also compared to those of Yes (Close to the Edge) and Genesis (Supper's Ready), released in 1972. This is a real literary poem translated into music, has no refrain, has an unpredictable development that follows Hammill's singing, and can be ardous to listen in various passagess. Compared to the two mini-suites in "From H to He" (Lost and Pioneers), also able to go hand in hand with Hammill's lyrics, this suite has no musical themes that come back, it has no repetitive structures, it is an ever different unfolding, which requires more effort because Hammill's changes in pace and mood can sometimes be exasperating. Rating 9+.

The music of the whole album, characterized by the absence (or almost) of the bass guitar, is much more homogeneous than in the past, and in general the atmospheres of the Lp are less varied: we are faced with the refinement and intensification of a precise songwriting and sound arrangement, which comes here to touch peaks beyond which it would become hyper-accentuated. For all these reasons, I think it is debatable that "Pawn Hearts" is the absolute masterpiece composed by VdGG because "The Least We Can Do" (the most melodic and varied, where the pathos comes directly to hit the listener) is at the opposite pole of "Pawn Hearts" (the most sophisticated and varied in-depth, where the pathos is more filtered and insisted towards a precise sound) but in their complementarity they reach artistic peaks of similar quality, and "From The H to He" possesses intermediate qualities between the two. Therefore, it is difficult to uniquely choose the best masterpiece, among these three artworks, three gigantic operas baked by Hammill and Co. in less than two years: I know no other artist capable of doing the same.

Absolute masterpieces of contemporary music. Rating 10/10. Five stars (and more).

Review by Hector Enrique
4 stars The almost obsessive exploration of the twists and turns of the human mind are the driving force that propels VDGG into dark alleys that seem to have no way out. The storm clouds hang over the heads of the troubled characters that travel through tortuous introspective paths, and "Pawn Hearts", the band's fourth album, reflects this with a stark and painful lucidity.

Three tracks were enough: the hysterical "Lemmings (including Cog)" and its disconcerting ending; "Man-Erg", a beautiful melody in its purest state, which after a few harmonic initial minutes, ends up yielding to the schizoid rampage; and, above all, "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers", the extensive suite that unfolds in a constant instrumental transition between the disturbing (effects like those of "Pictures/Lighthouse" are truly chilling) and the sublime (the weary calm of "(Custard's) Last Stand"), recreating an unsurpassable scenario for the reflections of the conflicted lighthouse keeper on the miseries of his lonely and maddening work in front of the sea. Undoubtedly, one of the best pieces of the band's discography.

Under the leadership of a Peter Hammill in a state of grace, the sound spectrum of the album is enriched by the addition of synthesizers to Hugh Banton's keyboards, symbiotically complemented by the avant-garde saxophone of David Jackson and the jazzy drums of Guy Evans, much more active for the occasion.

The remastered 2005 edition includes the interesting "W", and 3 discarded instrumental tracks from the failed double album project. Small fragments of "Diminutions" can be rescued, and not much else.

"Pawn Hearts", which paradoxically did not have much repercussion when it was released, today and for quite some time has secured a place among the greatest progressive rock productions of all times.


4/4.5 stars

Latest members reviews

5 stars Pawn Hearts came less than a year after H to He and consists of three long songs. "Lemmings (Including Cog)" is classic VdGG from the get-go. It's foreboding and unsettling. Hammill's voice is delicate and powerful, and the instrumental elements are as brash as ever. In its midsection, the song shif ... (read more)

Report this review (#2938679) | Posted by TheEliteExtremophile | Tuesday, July 11, 2023 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Review #9! 'Pawn Hearts' was released in 1971, only savoring commercial success in Italy. Apparently, this album inspired the RPI movement. But despite negative critical reviews, this is one of Van Der Graaf Generator's masterpieces. This album landed #26 on Rolling Stone's '50 Greatest Prog R ... (read more)

Report this review (#2901752) | Posted by Boi_da_boi_124 | Saturday, March 25, 2023 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Van Der Graaf Generator might be the most original progressive rock band from the 70s, along with King Crimson and Gentle Giant. Until this point, they were known for their depressive and deeply introspective music, a sound that either only could come out from lost seas or the emptiest places fr ... (read more)

Report this review (#2894003) | Posted by Rupyrus | Wednesday, February 22, 2023 | Review Permanlink

3 stars After investing many many hours into Van Der Graaf Generator, notably Godbluff and Pawn Hearts, I have to conclude I'm not a fan. They are a great band, just not my taste. I'm not the only one who likes acts like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd but not VDGG. I don't have issues with t ... (read more)

Report this review (#2690562) | Posted by WJA-K | Tuesday, February 8, 2022 | Review Permanlink

5 stars All the greatness that inhabits this album has been described in a thousand ways... and I will try to contribute with my perception. "Lemmings" is one of my favourite VDGG songs. The instrumentation is at all times clever and subtle, giving a very precise place to the existential lyrics of the ... (read more)

Report this review (#2601604) | Posted by Argentinfonico | Monday, October 11, 2021 | Review Permanlink

2 stars Three songs, two ten minute long VDGG standards and a sidelong. This is an album I've tried to make myself like but I just don't. The first two songs in the grand scheme of the VDGG universe are rather average songs, outdone by more powerful songs like Lost or Arrows. Finally "A Plague Of Ligh ... (read more)

Report this review (#2536868) | Posted by Beautiful Scarlet | Tuesday, April 20, 2021 | Review Permanlink

4 stars "The voice" In the second part of the Seventies I was part of a small but fanatic group of symphomaniacs, we had discovered Genesis, ELP, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Camel, and we wanted more. ... (read more)

Report this review (#2205093) | Posted by TenYearsAfter | Friday, May 24, 2019 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#1937807) | Posted by TheDapperFactor | Friday, June 8, 2018 | Review Permanlink

4 stars I went from hating Peter Hammill's voice so much that I found VdGG unlistenable to realizing that I knew their entire discography like the back of my hand (pardon the cliché). This album, I think, is responsible for that. I'd say it's my favorite of their albums, but I can't tell why. I've got a few ... (read more)

Report this review (#1638912) | Posted by KarnEvil2000 | Friday, November 4, 2016 | Review Permanlink

5 stars What can I say about this one? Pawn hearts is part of my Top 10 albums ever. It brings us the idea of an album with a side long suite and two shorter songs of "only" ten minutes long (a year before "Yes" did it). "A plague of lighthouse keepers" is IMO the predecesor of "Close to the Edge" and e ... (read more)

Report this review (#1459067) | Posted by chiang | Thursday, September 3, 2015 | Review Permanlink

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 shoul ... (read more)

Report this review (#1293762) | Posted by Einwahn | Saturday, October 18, 2014 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#1175456) | Posted by MyDarling95 | Thursday, May 15, 2014 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#1091629) | Posted by thebig_E | Wednesday, December 18, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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 trac ... (read more)

Report this review (#1086559) | Posted by The Mystical | Saturday, December 7, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#1009675) | Posted by Mr. Mustard | Thursday, August 1, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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. ... (read more)

Report this review (#993870) | Posted by JCDenton | Tuesday, July 9, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#987957) | Posted by Xonty | Friday, June 28, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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, ... (read more)

Report this review (#981321) | Posted by Lord Anon | Tuesday, June 18, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#964185) | Posted by Neo-Romantic | Thursday, May 23, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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 itsel ... (read more)

Report this review (#873770) | Posted by ebil0505 | Saturday, December 8, 2012 | Review Permanlink

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