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CHAMELEON IN THE SHADOW OF THE NIGHT

Peter Hammill

Eclectic Prog


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Peter Hammill Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night album cover
4.02 | 236 ratings | 23 reviews | 39% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection


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Studio Album, released in 1973

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. German Overalls (7:05)
2. Slender Threads (5:01)
3. Rock and Rôle (6:41)
4. In the End (7:24)
5. What's It Worth (4:00)
6. Easy to Slip Away (5:21)
7. Dropping the Torch (4:11)
8. (In the) Black Room/Tower (10:56)

Total Time : 50:43

Bonus tracks on remaster (2006):
9. Rain 3am (4:45)
10. Easy to Slip Away (4:47)
11. In the End (7:23)

Lyrics

Search PETER HAMMILL Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night lyrics

Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

- Peter Hammill / acoustic and electric guitars, electric and grand pianos, mellotron, harmonium, vocals
- Nic Potter / bass
- Hugh Banton / keyboards, pianos, bass
- Guy Evans / drums, percussion
- David Jackson / saxophones, flute

Releases information

LP Charisma Records Ltd. CAS 1067 (UK, 1973)
CD Virgin Records Ltd. CASCD 1067 (UK, 1989)
CD Virgin Records Ltd./EMI CASCDR 1067 (2006, remaster)

Thanks to ProgLucky for the addition
and to Geck0 for the last updates
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PETER HAMMILL Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night ratings distribution


4.02
(236 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(39%)
39%
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(37%)
37%
Good, but non-essential (19%)
19%
Collectors/fans only (3%)
3%
Poor. Only for completionists (2%)
2%

PETER HAMMILL Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night reviews


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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Prog Folk
4 stars Very much superior to the preceding one , this came in between VDGG era but if you look at the musicians on this album , you may get fooled that this is a full-fledge Hammill solo. Some of this stuff would could've easily been on a VDGG album albeit rearranged for the group. If the opening three numbers are not that good, from track 4 onward , the rest of the album is almost flawless, my faves being In The End anf What It's Worth but also the Graafesque Blackroom/Tower..

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#17741) | Review Permalink
Posted Friday, February 27, 2004

Review by loserboy
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars This was Peter Hammill's second solo album and IMHO one of the truly most remarkable moments for Hammill. With over two-thirds of the album basically plays like a musical solioquay, as Hammill congers up some pretty sparse and dark imagery put to his emotive voice with gentle guitar and piano accompaniment. The other third of the album features the cast from VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR with Hugh Banton (organ, bass), David Jackson ( sax, flute) and Guy Evans (drums) and takes on a slight more classic VDG vibe. I love the deep personal and soft delicate approach this album takes remaining highly acoustic and quite cerebral. Musically this album hosts some pretty classic moments with tunes like "What's It Worth" and "Slender Threads".

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Send comments to loserboy (BETA) | Report this review (#85625) | Review Permalink
Posted Thursday, August 03, 2006

Review by Peter Pan
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars "Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night" from 1973 can be seen as the first "real" Peter Hammill solo album, the predecessor "Fool's Mate" being a collection of pop songs. With "Chameleon" Peter Hammill digested the split of Van der Graaf Generator.

The first song of the album, "German Overalls", is one of the saddest songs I've ever heard, giving an impression of some of the reasons for the dissolution of the band. "Mannheim: rainy Saturday with no money nor friend; only Tequila can end the boredom. Try to reach London for a pocket of hope (...) What are we doing here?""German overalls" is the first of a few songs to come in which Peter wrote about life on tours. Later he enjoyed touring and standing on the stage, as he revealed in an interview. But the mammoth VdGG tours at the beginning of the 70s seemed to be a horrible experience by many aspects.

After there was no more Van der Graaf Generator, Peter Hammill did not lose contact to the musicians, but had to figure out how o record music without a band, without extensive studio sessions in superb locations like Trident Studios in London. This was the birth of "Sofa Sound" and Peter's efforts in the emerging subject of home recording. The backbone of this album are in fact home sessions from Peter Hammill recorded on a TEAC 4-track tape machine, at the time new on the market, and affordable to a musician whose groundbreaking and innovative work with one of the icons of progressive rock music, VdGG, had left him with no money!

In the booklet of the remasterd "Chameleon" Peter explains that there was lot to learn for him in terms of sound, arranging and composing. For mixing and overdubbing attributions from himself (vocals) and from VdGG musicians (organ, saxes, drums) Peter Hammill could book Trident and engineer David Hentschel for a short time.

The songs have a wide range from typical VdGG-style dramatic tunes like "(In the) Black Tower" to solo arrangements with only voice and guitar.

The remastered edition of "Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night" includes bonus tracks, which sound Peter touts as "strange" and "brutal". But remastering has made them hearable again without "modernizing" them.

"Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night" shows someone searching for his personal and musical future. It offers some nice but unusual compositions. Not everyone's taste but authentic and rewarding.

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Send comments to Peter Pan (BETA) | Report this review (#107013) | Review Permalink
Posted Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Review by apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Neo Prog Team
2 stars The main figure of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR had two parallel careers.One with the band and one on his own (however helped by some VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR members).His first solo release ''Fool's mate'' (1971)contains material from the band's early days,while the sophomore effort ''Chameleon in the shadows of the night'' is a nice collection of post-70's material.The intensity and haunting atmosphere of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR's sound is present again,an expected fact,as Hammill was the main composer of the group.Unfortunately there are also plenty of differences.Gone is the psych and trully progressive atmosphere created by the really heavy use of saxes and flutes in VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR's albums and the slow-tempo interplays (in fact they are very limited).The album follows a song-oriented path dominated by the expressive vocals of Hammill and the mono-instrumental atmospheric passages created by his mellow yet deep piano and guitar work.After a couple of listens this work sounds quite boring to my ears,as the same atmosphere dominates every track.Not a bad album by any means,but not my cup of tea for sure.I would recommended only to fans of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR and vocal-led art rock.

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Send comments to apps79 (BETA) | Report this review (#144592) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, October 14, 2007

Review by ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Even if Peter is surrounded by his VDGG friends (all of them, even Potter is holding the bass), it is not to be noticed in the start of this "solo" album.

To be honest the first couple of songs are nothing too fancy. These fully acoustic tracks are rather dull. My interest started to raise during "Rock & Role". Jackson's input on the sax, the heavier music, the tortured Hammill do relate this song to the band's ones. This song could have been featured on a VDGG album without any problem.

One can also feel all the majesty of Peter's vocals during the intimate and dark "In The End". Again, the atmosphere of "Still Life" is very close and those melodic vocal lines are really touching. I am often moved by Peter when he is responsible of such poignant song writing. An excellent song. I wonder how a full VDGG interpretation of this track would have sounded like.

In his second role (fluting), Jackson is backing up Peter during the acoustic and very soft "What's It Worth". I would have liked him to be a bit more on the forefront, but I guess that this would have led to a more "VDGG" oriented album. Probably what Peter wanted to prevent..

It is still the few pieces that can have some relation with the band that I prefer the most here. "Easy To Slip Away" is another good example of a collaboration between Peter and his mates. Fine mellotron as well played by him. Another fine moment.

No wonder either that one of my fave from this album is the closing number. "Black Room" does bring you into the VDGG world. The power and the might are there, the vocal extravaganza is there, the furious sax notes are there, the tortured vocals are there, the "loose" improvisations are there. What else is needed? The highlight.

If there were not those few weaker songs, I wouldn't have hesitated for the four star rating, but as it is, three stars sound more appropriate. A good album.

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#169659) | Review Permalink
Posted Saturday, May 03, 2008

Review by Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Peter Hammill himself says that "Chameleon..." "was my first proper solo album". He does get help from his VDGG mates on this album, and the full band on two tracks,but this is mostly Peter playing solo with acoustic guitar, piano and vocals.This was the first solo album he released after VDGG broke up. This is a sad and passionate album with Peter's usual emotional, ranting and theatrical vocal style.

"German Overalls" is lyrically about how bad it had become for VDGG when they toured prior to their breaking up. The lyrics are so sad : "Mannheim : rainy Saturday with no money nor friend...Hugh spends his last mark on coffee and cheese". The song opens with acoustic guitar and vocals. Both get aggressive after a minute. Peter would use harmonium on this track as well. Love the organ after 4 minutes. Some interesting experimental sounds to end the song. "Slender Threads" is a little brighter with reserved vocals and strummed guitar to open. He reminisces about a girl he used to know. A reflective and sad tune.

"Rock And Role" is the first song with the whole band of Evans, Jackson, Banton and Potter. In your face strummed guitar to open as sax, drums and bass come in. One of my favourites. Piano before 4 1/2 minutes but sax is what dominantes the sound for the most part. Amazing tune. "In The End" reveal some of Peter's thoughts about the bands breakup. Mostly piano and vocals. A sad tune really. Interesting the line "No more rushing around, no more travelling chess". PARALLEL OR 90 DEGREES' Andy Tillison would name one of their albums "No More Travelling Chess", a tribute to Hammill. "What's It Worth" is mostly Hammill on vocals and strummed guitar with Jackson adding some flute melodies.

"Easy To Slip Away" opens with piano and reserved vocals. It's about losing friends over the years. Peter plays some mellotron 3 minutes in. Sax comes and goes. Some real passionate and emotional sections in this one. "Dropping The Torch" is a sad look at life really. Reserved vocals and acoustic guitar to start. They both get louder at times. "(In The )Black Room / Tower" is the other song with a full band sound. Actually "Black Room" was a song VDGG were playing on their last tour and it would have been on their next album. It never happened though so Hammill uses it here. It opens in bombastic fashion before setteling down with vocals and piano.The contrast of loud and mellow continue. Such a fantastic song. Sax before 3 minutes. A great instrumental section 4 1/2 minutes in. Incredible sax work and drumming. The second part "Tower" starts after 5 1/2 minutes. It begins with piano,flute and vocals. Outbursts of sound come and go starting before 7 minutes. Intense 8 1/2 minutes in. Passionate ending after 10 minutes.

This is the first of Hammill's classic trilogy. Easily 4 stars and a must for VDGG fans.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#187074) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, October 27, 2008

Review by TGM: Orb
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Emotion, and words. When you strip away everything else from an album, when you take off all the context, all the innovation, and all the gimmicks, all the production, that's what's left over. Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night is basically an album built on these two. It's mostly just a man, his guitar, his piano, his words (plus ten minutes of personal epic, but then I did say 'mostly'). The result: the finest singer-songwriter effort I've yet heard. Pure personality. The production may be rough, the structures might verge on simplicity, every now and then a repeat or a 'slip' jars a piece, but all these 'failings' simply add to the personality, the raw, overwhelming emotion entrapped and enshrined in this record. So touching. So powerful. So human. Essential.

The uncategorisable German Overalls opens the album with a pun and a flood of emotion. The acoustic melodies are all memorable creatures, and the vocal is confidently diverse, switching between uncertainty, surety and something in between frequently. The four-track system provides one or two self-harmonies and sound effects a bit more like Hammill's later musique concrete experiments. The lyrics are autobiographical, and I suppose you'll like them if you like Peter Hammill and you probably won't if you don't, but I don't know. A harmonium provides a full wall of sound towards the end, a bit of cathartic electronic/electric flow rounds off the piece. More importantly, the song contains a rare moment of pure electric-guitar rock in the middle, and that remains, after all the various forms of music I've picked up since first getting into it, one of life's simplest and most life-affirming pleasures.

The deeply moving Slender Threads follows this up as the first of three acoustic guitar pieces, and much as the music is top notch, including a couple of extremely neat interludes and an absolutely perfect main melody, the emphasis is on the philosophical and beautiful lyrics. The vocals include occasional moments of harshness and highness, but are by and large a very low-key feature. Subtle, and understated, and beautiful.

Rock And Role smashes in after this, a more Van-Der-Graaf-Generator piece with just a dash of punk, featuring a sharp electric riff and strong performances from Nic Potter, Guy Evans and David Jackson. Tasteful piano additions and ambiguously quiet electrics mark the piece, including an extended, cleverly arranged instrumental conclusion and bridge. Lyrically, it teeters between high-brow philosophising and emotional rawness, and manages to capture both. Classy stuff.

In The End is a piano-and-voice piece, with a great deal of emotion conveyed through the strength of the voice and the piano, and through the lyrics, which are predictably enviable in insight and expression, a sort of clean wailing that Hammill seems to have saved up for his solo material. The vocal is pretty, but nonetheless rather edgy and full of venom and desperation and hope whenever the words require it. And they are such good words.

What's It Worth is perhaps the most musically captivating of the pieces here, with a startlingly beautiful flute from Jaxon, a simple main acoustic melody and a charming, laid-back little acoustic-electroacoustic thing lying in wait at the end of the verses. Though the lyrics are again intelligent and moving in a sort of, the vocal performance accompanying them is so very strong that it almost escapes them, making every use of his high, fluctuating, stylised and backboned (I know what I mean, you probably don't :p) clean vocals, along with one incredibly beautiful harmony. A piece that crept up on me unawares, and pure delight for the ears.

Easy To Slip Away is entirely different. Another piano piece, and this time almost an emotional force in and of itself. The lyrics are simple, autobiographical and yet so damn universally true, Hammill's vocal delivery (I maintain that anyone who can fit that much emotion in 'Susie!' is a virtuoso singer) is heartfelt, powerful and clear, and even a soulful saxophone and an incredible outpouring of mellotron and piano only serve to remind of the vocals.

Dropping The Torch is the album's last acoustic guitar song (and indeed, the last of the singer-songwriter pieces), and is again a simple outpouring of personality. The vocal is clean, moving and well-arranged, the lyrics are universal, well-written, true and affect me on a personal level, and really you need no more than that to make a song. The acoustic is a rather nice, moving thing, and it almost carries along the listener.

In The Black Room (I) bursts in with a stab of dirty, powerful sax/organ wailing, and the full band is back for a concluding monstrosity of personal-songwriting-gone-mad with chaotic keyboard effects, whirling flutes, roaring saxes, imaginative percussion, lots of vocal harmonies, and an always-rather-prominent shocking piano. The lyrics are stunning, creatively arranged, and would fit in as much with the theme of Pawn Hearts as the personality of Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night. The Tower takes the atmosphere to an even rawer level, with one of David Jaxon's finest saxophone performances, a mass of juxtaposed ideas hinged on the piano, and some thunderous cascades of sound. The vocals exhibit all of Hammill's talent. The return of the In The Black Room theme comes with extra punctuating cymbals, and yet more arrangement complexities, and the ambiguity is retained even when all this force comes cascading out. An extremely impressive piece of complex music that balances chaos/control and expresses the conventionally non-expressable. Could well have been arranged a bit more sharply, I guess, but it nonetheless does a surprisingly good job of fitting the album. I'm sure that it'll be the highlight for a lot of the listeners, and I'm sure it deserves more review space, but I'll leave those for whom it is the highlight to explain the merits.

The live piano-and-vox rendition of Easy To Slip Away is probably my favourite of the bonus tracks, not suffering at all from not having many of the elements that made up the original piece, and so soaringly emotional and energetic. The version of In The End is equally superb, with an improvised piano introduction, and all the many strengths of the original, while being different enough to merit inclusion (a bit of not-entirely-serious-vocals, perhaps comparable to some of Peter Gabriel's work... Willow Farm and Harold The Barrel, particularly). Rain 3 AM is also an interesting piece, though I'm not quite sure what I think of it yet. Still, it's only a bonus track, and the other bonus tracks alone are amazing enough (in my opinion) to merit a re-buy, and I feel like putting up a review now rather than later, so, yeah, I might fill you all in on that one later.

So, it won't be cleanly and perfectionistically (is that a word? I guess not) produced enough for some, and it won't be complex enough for others, and it'll be too lacking in gimmicks for others still, and a few people won't like the slow bits, and a few more won't like the fast bits, and Hammill will be too noisy and too obscure for some, and not noisy enough and too emotionally revealing for others. But that's what it is, and I love it.

Rating: Six stars if you're me; five Stars if you like Peter Hammill; three if you don't. I'm rounding to five. Favourite track: I simply cannot choose. Any of the tracks. Maybe Slender Threads, maybe Mannheim Overalls, maybe What's it Worth? Essentially, whichever track I'm listening to at the moment.

Author's note: I'm sure I've confused musicians at some point, since I can't be entirely certain who's playing on which track. Ah well.

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Send comments to TGM: Orb (BETA) | Report this review (#194544) | Review Permalink
Posted Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review by Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Prog Metal Team
3 stars Hammill tries to find his own voice and starts on his long journey of creative and intensely emotional music outside of the Van Der Graaf territory.

This album has such a thin production that I didn't listen to it for years and didn't know what to make of it. (Luckily the 2006 remaster improved this problem a lot.) The problem is that the acoustic guitar and piano, that are the driving forces in most of the songs, sound so thin and flimsy that they mess up much of the potential listening enjoyment. Which is a real shame considering how strong some of Hammill's songs are on this album.

As on the first solo album, Hammill added some Van Der Graaf left-overs (Rock n Roll and Black Room) to complete the album. They are both strong tracks but come out a bit demo-like and unfinished.

In other words, this album tempts us with many gripping moment but there a few songs that don't leave room for improvements. Luckily Hammill is not so much about stylistic perfection as he is about intensity, creativity and integrity. And of those, this album has plenty.

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Send comments to Bonnek (BETA) | Report this review (#237548) | Review Permalink
Posted Sunday, September 06, 2009

Review by The Sleepwalker
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Peter Hammill's second solo album, Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night is the first of a three classic albums, all very much in the sound of Van Der Graaf Generator. The majority of songs on this album are just Peter Hammill with his piano or guitar, no complex dissonance like The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage and In Camera here, despite some small exceptions.

First, I'd like to mention that this album is very consistent. There are no bad tracks on it at all. The true solo performances, with just Peter and him playing only one instrument, vary from good to incredibly haunting and intense. And example of the first is for example "Slender Threads", not a stand out song, but it's very nice. An example of the second, the haunting, intense music, are songs like "In The End", and the magnificent "Easy To Slip Away". Truly dark and astonishing songs.

There also are some clear similarities with Van Der Graaf Generator on this album though. The first is "German Overalls", which most of the time contains just vocals and guitar, but now and then is joined by sax and organs. A great song, slightly better than the fierce "Rock And Role". The song is very diverse, exciting and striking; a brilliant piece of music. The biggest highlight of the album is the longest song, (In The) Black Room/The Tower. (In The) Black Room has some of the best composed verses ever that when combined with the marvelous VDGG like instrumental parts sounds incrediblily striking and stunning. The Tower is less instrument based, but is more ambient and features some powerful expression by Peter Hammill. The song ends with a brief reprise of the Black Room verses, though slightly different.

This is a great album from Peter Hammill. The album has some very emotional minimalist songs, while others are extremely bombastic and epic. This album is not quite a masterpiece in my opinion, but is not far from that.

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Send comments to The Sleepwalker (BETA) | Report this review (#239800) | Review Permalink
Posted Thursday, September 17, 2009

Review by Rune2000
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Prog Metal Team
3 stars I have a reverse type of connection to Van Der Graaf Generator since I originally started by listening to Pawn Hearts which I didn't think much about and basically gave up the idea of ever liking the band. Then I've got a recommendation of listening to the Peter Hammill trilogy that starts with this album and ends with In Camera. This recommendation proved to by highly successful for me since I now consider myself a fan of Van Der Graaf Generator.

This album starts on an acoustic note which took quite some time to get into but after a couple of re-listens I got more acquainted with the sound. Some of the numbers still don't work for me to this day but the general feel of this release has definitely improved.

The biggest highlight of Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night is the 11 minute Van Der Graaf Generator composition (In The) Black Room/Tower which is an epic in true sense of the word! This track has to be experienced by all the fans creative progressive rock compositions.

Overall this album is not as good as the two other parts of the Peter Hammill trilogy but I definitely recommend everyone experiencing (In The) Black Room/Tower since it's classic Van Der Graaf Generator at the hight of their career!

***** star songs: (In The) Black Room/Tower (10:56)

**** star songs: German Overalls (7:05) Rock And Rôle (6:41) In The End (7:24) Dropping The Torch (4:11)

*** star songs: Slender Threads (5:01) What's It Worth (4:00) Easy To Slip Away (5:21)

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Send comments to Rune2000 (BETA) | Report this review (#259876) | Review Permalink
Posted Friday, January 08, 2010

Review by Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars When Van der Graaf Generator split up for the first time following Pawn Hearts, the musicians involved didn't part ways, instead working as session musicians to record Peter Hammill's solo albums - thus giving them a chance to play together without having to undertake the expense of touring as a band.

Hammill's first solo album of this strange VdGG-in-all-but-name career describes a blueprint which I think was perfected with his next album, but is still damn fine here. Seven of the eight songs find Hammill in what is effectively a singer-songwriter mode, putting his lyrics to an acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment with the occasional instrumental interjection from one of the other musicians. Of course, Hammill is no Neil Young or Leonard Cohen - these pieces manage to be as complex, mysterious, and evasive as the best VdGG tracks, despite the change in instrumentation, developing an essentially completely new sound for Hammill's mostly-solo songs. The album is rounded off with (In the) Black Room/Tower, in which the whole of Van der Graaf Generator returns to play the track in their classic style. Roaring, emotive, and raw, it's a great end to a fresh start for Hammill's career. Whilst I do think The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage is a superior rendition of this particular formula, Chameleon is a very, very fine one indeed, and a perfect companion piece to the latter album (and its successor, In Camera, which shakes the formula up a bit).

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#505433) | Review Permalink
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2011

Review by friso
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Peter Hammill - Chameleon in the shadow of the night (1973)

With Van der Graaf Generator on hold after some significant artistic successes Peter Hammill and the other VdGG bandmembers returned in the studio accompanied with bass-player Nic Potter to record the second Peter Hammill 'solo' album. But where to go from the frenzied and intensely innovative 'Pawn Hearts'?

On 'Chameleon' the focus lays on Peter Hammill performing solo in intimate, but not less intensive settings. Instead of heavy instrumentation the impact of the use of a context of silence is exploited. Other bandmembers often play background roles, whilst Hammill openly explores his vocal capabilities in a pioneering fashion. Additional he uses some reverb and delay effects for maximum impact. The song-material is extremely intensive with great harmonic findings and great sounding lyrics and an often dissonant and dark vibe. The song structures are complicated and sometimes troubling in order to get the maximum out of the psychedelic style. Melodically the music shows a strong link with VdGG, but you won't find many slightly distorted organs and impressive drums. Instead the acoustic guitar en the piano play major roles. When present sax and flute player David Jackson has brilliant, yet subtle contributions.

Every song on this album is quite good, but all tracks have moments of excellence. The material is extremely moody and expressive, so it won't be an album friends and family will enjoy - this is the treasure for fans of Peter Hammill. Perhaps I will never know myself what makes the confronting style of Hammill so fascinating, but the music and its expression definitely sound 'relevant' to my ears.

Conclusion. Hammill at his best and his most pure. I'll have to throw around some yellow blinking pentagrams here.

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Send comments to friso (BETA) | Report this review (#753071) | Review Permalink
Posted Monday, May 14, 2012

Review by HolyMoly
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR RIO/Avant/Zeuhl and Canterbury Teams
3 stars Following the landmark recording Pawn Hearts, Van der Graaf Generator was feeling the strain of being a successful band expected to tour non-stop and still have enough energy left over to write and record new material that met or exceeded the already high standard they had set for themselves. The strain eventually became too much to handle, and the group broke up. Peter Hammill, the primary voice and creator behind VdGG, took this opportunity to reinvent himself as a solo act, and this predicament turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Hammill found the low-profile arena more conducive to his creative process, and his decision to cultivate his own self-sufficiency (recording and producing his own material) meant a new level of creative freedom he had only dreamed of before.

The first fruits of this new identity for Hammill was this album, released in 1973. It sits roughly halfway between the extremes of heart-on-sleeve singer/songwriter material and the grand bombast of Van der Graaf's recent material, making it a transitional effort that paved the way for his future direction.

The opener "German Overalls" is kind of his "Solsbury Hill" -- a personal account of the factors leading up to the band's breakup. The arrangement is performed on an aggressively strummed acoustic guitar with minimal overdubs. The lyrics are very direct, very little left open to interpretation, and they employ sharp visual imagery of the hopeless, lost feeling of finding yourself in one lonely town after another, too exhausted (and broke) to find any comfort, a "servant in the Fame Game". It's a well-worn theme in rock and roll, but as usual, Hammill's imagery is so vivid and his delivery so compelling, it's hard not to feel his pain. "Slender Threads", "What's it Worth", and "Dropping the Torch" also feature Hammill alone on acoustic guitar; intimate portraits of loneliness, distance, isolation, and identity crisis. "In the End" and "Easy to Slip Away" show Peter moving to piano, and singing in such an intense manner you can almost imagine his Van der Graaf buddies cheering him on. "Easy to Slip Away" is my pick for favorite song on the album, an open letter to his friends with whom he's lost touch as a result of his fame. Peter adds some Mellotron here for a truly eerie effect, and I think I hear David Jackson's sax way in the background too -- this song is the most direct link between this album and the more fully fleshed out Silent Corner and the Empty Stage released the following year. Excellent track.

There are also two tracks on the album which feature the other members of Van der Graaf Generator: the fierce "Rock and Role", with Hammill on a newly acquired electric guitar, bashing out sharp chords and spitting out spiteful lyrics like "I am the automated arrow, homing on the heat of pain". Jackson and Guy Evans (drums) make memorable contributions here. Finally, the album ends with the Van der Graaf leftover epic "In The Black Room / The Tower", which is sure to please fans of Pawn Hearts, though the production is clearly more simple and spartan than on that multi-layered LP. Its inclusion here feels a little out of place, though it is nice to have another full-band number to balance the solo tracks.

I'm among the Hammill fans who actually prefer his solo work to the group work. It feels a lot more personal and believable, and has a homemade quality that only seems to give his experimental urges a more enthusiastic buttress on which to blossom. This being his first solo flight following the dissolution of the band, it shows Hammill still getting his feet wet and learning how to make an album by himself, so it's no masterwork, but it's fascinating glimpse into his mind and his creative process, and prepares the listener for the even greater works ahead, including the eventual reformation of Van der Graaf itself.

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Send comments to HolyMoly (BETA) | Report this review (#986744) | Review Permalink
Posted Thursday, June 27, 2013

Latest members reviews

5 stars One of the most unique and outstanding songwriters and singers in progressive rock, Peter Hammill, has recorded his second studio album in 1973. It was his first album in years after Pawn Hearts and before Godbluff, both considered to be two of VDGG's greatest achievements, and one could say that Ch ... (read more)

Report this review (#417706) | Posted by Link28 | Thursday, March 17, 2011 | Review Permanlink

3 stars Although Peter is surrounded by his VdGG brethren this varies a good deal from the band's sound. Really besides the obvious meant for VdGG (In The)Black Room/Tower and some moments of Rock and Role little of this will probably appeal directly to fans. What is the same? Besides the previously me ... (read more)

Report this review (#199156) | Posted by Equality 7-2521 | Thursday, January 15, 2009 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Hammills second solo album is hes first masterpiece out side of VdGG, this album is nothing like VdGG its much softer most tracks are acustic and very beautiful and sad. The opener German overals paint up the images of a boring rainy day, Slender Threads is more of the same a beautiful song. Roc ... (read more)

Report this review (#146264) | Posted by Zargus | Sunday, October 21, 2007 | Review Permanlink

4 stars This Record is Peter second solo release but it is his first release as a solo Artists and so in many ways it marked a debut of sorts. Slender Threads ,In the End ,What's It Worth Easy to Slip Away and Dropping the Torch are all certainly Hammil solo efforts and have a pretty minimal instru ... (read more)

Report this review (#95091) | Posted by burgersoft777 | Thursday, October 19, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars This is the first record by Hammill that I heard. It was 1982 and I went into a store that was having a clear-out with many LPs in the bargain bin. When I saw the cover I was intrigued (never heard of him before that time). When I carried it home and gave it the first spin I was instantly hook ... (read more)

Report this review (#77941) | Posted by | Friday, May 12, 2006 | Review Permanlink

5 stars The second work announced in 1973 "Cameleon in the shadow of the night". Music becomes long, and is dramatic overall. It becomes avant-garde musical to make VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR thought in the final tune. It is a masterpiece to invest energy and the idea. It is an aria of the poet of apart ... (read more)

Report this review (#47261) | Posted by braindamage | Monday, September 19, 2005 | Review Permanlink

5 stars I love the PH songs. But as I am getting older I have some difficulties to listen to them. It is the same case with the books of Dostojevskij. I love them but I rather deny reading them, why? They are full of very serious matters, and when your life is as well full of serious events, you rathe ... (read more)

Report this review (#17744) | Posted by | Saturday, October 16, 2004 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Arguably the best PH album ever, it comes really authentic, differing strongly from anything he'd done before with VdGG. Songs like "In the end" & "Easy to slip away" are among the best vocal & piano perfomances, not forgetting the astonishing sax of David Jaxon. ... (read more)

Report this review (#17743) | Posted by The Thin Man | Tuesday, April 20, 2004 | Review Permanlink

4 stars A great record that emphasises many of pH's strengths: his incisive lyrics, his understanding of dynamics and his ability to create memorable melodic phrases without then repeating them ad infinitum. The album is also relatively free of the more over-the-top maudlin stuff that can mar some of his ot ... (read more)

Report this review (#17740) | Posted by Silk | Friday, February 06, 2004 | Review Permanlink

5 stars Although Hammill's prolific career has maintained a high standard, I personally maintain a preference for the initial four solo albums. "Chameleon", the second release, offers a unique blend of acoustic and experimental electric art rock. Not as symphonic as heavy weights like Pink Floyd or Gen ... (read more)

Report this review (#17739) | Posted by | Saturday, January 10, 2004 | Review Permanlink

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