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Van Der Graaf Generator - The Aerosol Grey Machine CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

3.28 | 622 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
3 stars In a rare moment of strange happenstance, I agree with Van Der Graaf Generator fans: no, I do not like this album very much either! Weird, huh? Not that there’s anything wrong with the album. It’s okay, mind you.

It’s really quite hit and miss for me: take the slow paced opening ballad, “Afterwards.” I like it. Hell, it might be my favorite track on the album (it is the first one I heard, naturally). The vocals are pleasant, the lyrics are nice, and the Doorsy keyboard soloing is a very good way to start off the record. However, while "Orthenthian St., Pts. 1 & 2" is a nicely constructed epic attempt (and it’s obvious where the part 1/part 2 split is). The first part kinda passes me by; and the second part does too, and I pause only for Hammill’s powerful vocal delivery.

“Running Back” presents us with another atmospheric groove, and interesting one, but once again, it’s Hammil’s vocals and lyrics that are the song’s main fixing point. “Into a Game” is the first time so far there’s been energy on the album, which is good, but the musical delivery ends up being a little too schizo and aimless for my tastes.

Anyway, “Aerosol Grey Machine” is the most memorable thing on the album. Fifty seconds of psycho pop. Hilarious, in a Bonzo Dog Band sort of way. “Black Smoke Yen” is also short; less than two minutes. A whacked out instrumental. And, once again, the energy it provides is welcome.

“Aquarian,” now there’s a strange one. The verses are a Syd Barrett psycho mess, but the booming, glorious chorus is pure Bowie. The tune is good, combining the atmospheric aspects of the first couple of songs with the energy of the latter couple. I don’t quite trust the Hammill vocals; somehow, hearing the man sing about hippie ideals (oh, the lyrics are pretty trashy this time around) isn’t quite believable, giving the whole affair a depressing, rather than uplifting, note. Anyway, definitely a highlight, and the most epic piece on the album.

“Necromancer,” however, I don’t buy at all. A fast, keyboard dominated theme, but the lyrics are absolute trash. And somehow hearing a screwed up pop melody about black NO, WAIT, NO, WE’RE WHITE MAGIC! Yes, screwed up pop about white magicians. Hmm. Didn’t expect this kind of thing until Uriah Heep got on the scene. Anyway, it’s dumb, and I don’t like it. “Octopus” is probably the most freaked out of the lot; and it’s also the most representative of the later V der G sound. Whacked out but interesting lyrics, solid but dull organ riffage, and an attempt to disguise lack of musical variety with shifty, “atmospheric” sections. I think it’s “dull but interesting” (read: okay but not good), but maybe you’ll eat it up.

But therein lies the problem! Okay, therein does not lie the problem. The problem lies with a couple of factors, and all of them can be best explained by talking about other bands.

First off, its’ obvious that Peter and the gang have been paying attention to the world around them. Aerosol is built out of spare parts: Procol Harum-ish song construction, Barrett/ Floydian stylistics. This means that, unfortunately, there’s no real innovation to this record. This is pretty basic art-psycho pop, circa late sixties. Decent, but not shocking.

Which wouldn’t matter so much, if the record were honestly fun to listen to. Which this isn’t really. The band sound like they’re still in “tune-up” mode most of the time, and when they come around, it’s usually a mess. The overall sonic effect is pleasant, but never that memorable. Moody, but not really atmospheric. The only saving grace is Hammill, and even that’s a crap shoot. Half the time he’s vocally inspiring and lyrically interesting, the other half the lyrics are stupid and he sings like he’s embarrassed of it.

Which brings to mind another connection I could make. This album is a lot like the first Doors album. That was another case where the band was unsure and the powerful vocalist took center stage most of the time. Of course, in the case of Aerosol Grey Machine, the band isn’t just unsure, they sound like they don’t quite know how to play their instruments, so they play them as little as possible. And without the Doors’ sense of memorability, they stick mostly to atmospheric side of things. The result is a lot of songs that have the overall vibe of “The End,” but none of the power. And the vocalist...well, I discussed his pros and cons up there. Basically, Morrison, Kreiger, Manzarek and Densmore these guys are not. Recommended more for fans of the era rather than fans of band; tread carefully.

(There are two bonus tracks usually awarded to the Aerosol Grey Machine, and neither of ‘em’s that good. HA! I jest. No, not really. They are sort of bad. Actually, most people hate these two tracks, “People You Were Going To” and “Firebrand.” As for me, I sort of like the first one. Some bouncy piano work and lyrics about people dying and leaving the narrator at home alone while go on vacation all set to a jaunty psycho-pop theme might be silly, but I kind of dig it. However, I can utterly understand the hatred towards “Firebrand.” An attempt at sounding “serious” and “moody,” this bloated organ rocker makes the album’s “Necromancer” sound like a good idea. Oh, and, the guy singing the chorus? HILARIOUSLY BAD. No other way to put that. So, neither track is really necessary (And “Firebrand” sucks hard), but you’ll have to recall that...meh.)

The Whistler | 3/5 |


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