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Van Der Graaf Generator - Godbluff CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.48 | 1998 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR became quite the rage in the most extreme circles of the prog world in the early 70s having pushed the boundaries exponentially on their critically acclaimed combo pack of 'H To He Who Am The Only One' and 'Pawn Hearts,' the latter of which was so stuffed with musical mojo that even nearly 50 years after its creation still stands proud above the decades of recordings that have followed in its wake and requires some serious dedication to penetrate. So ambitious was the classic VDGG lineup of Peter Hammill (vocals, keyboards), Hugh Benton (organs, bass, bass pedals), David Jackson (sax, flute) and Guy Evans (percussion) during these years that the band literally caved in under the strain of an exhaustive workload that included not only incessant recording schedules but extensive touring that took them on the road in their native UK and across the entire European continent (with Italy proving to be their biggest success).

Having completely burned out, Hammill, the undisputed leader of the band decided to call it quits which essentially dissolved the great VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR and instead focused on his solo career and released a series of solo albums. Saying the band broke up altogether would be somewhat of a misnomer since the entire VDGG team played on Hammill's first three solo albums 'Fool's Mate,' 'Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night' and 'The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage.' In fact, tracks like 'A Louse Is Not A Home' from the latter was initially intended to fit in on a VDGG album but adapted to Hammill's more intimate and less psychedelic band efforts. All was amicable. VDGG was not a band of drama and exuded a sense of professionalism rarely found in the music industry. And although the focus was on Hammill's solo career, recordings have emerged that were intended to be possible VDGG material from this era.

After a few years off, the quartet was getting the VDGG bug again. The band's first phase final effort 'Pawn Hearts' was released in 1971, just as the prog rock scene was really getting started so the temptation to reconvene in the ever more crowded scene must've been irresistible especially since the band hastily broke up at their creative peak. While 1975 was a year that saw the prog scene beginning to wane, VDGG were just getting ready to begin the second chapter of existence. The year was spent crafting the first self- produced album and fluffing audiences in live settings to prepare them for the band's long-awaited fifth album GODBLUFF which emerged in October. Having decided to move on stylistically and create a second phase of the band's sound, the four struggled at first to reinvent themselves but in the end found yet another successful formula that was built around Hammill's singer / songwriter skills.

It doesn't take too long to figure out that GODBLUFF isn't merely a continuation of 'Pawn Hearts' but rather more akin to the Hammill solo albums. Gone was the focus on the multitude of studio effects and psychedelic escapades and in was a more cohesive band sound that still focused on the melodic vocal / keyboard riffs as the main underpinning but found new ways to tease out the multitude of variations in an instrumental band effort that eschewed side long tracks divided into suites and instead created a strong collection of only four tracks that all hovered around the seven to ten minute mark. With the psychedelic and improvisational meanderings out of the picture, the emphasis is placed on Hammill's dark and mysterious lyrical content that tells the tales of tortured minds, ancient battles and fantastical progressive rock escapism in near perfect poetic deliveries.

Perhaps the most psychedelic part of GODBLUFF is the very first notes of 'The Undercover Man' which insinuate a continuation of where 'Pawn Hearts' left off with an echoey flute oscillating into the limelight followed by Hammill's almost whispered vocals, however as the track continues it doesn't drift into psychedelic haze or completely unrelated musical motifs but rather takes the more commercial aspects of verses, choruses and bridges and puts them on steroids to create a revolving door effect of the various melodies that are teased out to the seven minute mark. Likewise the following 'Scorched Earth' finds a more feisty Hammill screaming the lyrics as well as adding those satisfying word extensions while the musical riffs create a repetitive cushioning for them to lay upon. While lyrically driven, the instrumental section finds brilliant ways to express their progressive leanings with time signature rich deviations and instrumental interplay.

'Arrow' begins with a percussion rich jazz motif with resplendent sax squawks before ceding to the melancholic organ and piano melodies that slow things down considerably before Hammill breaks in with a series of call and response effects between the vocals and instruments. This track has an addictive melodic build ups that ultimately reach dramatic climaxes with Hammill finding new ways to torture the word 'Arrow' which reaches some of the most visceral emotional outbreaks on the entire album. The closing 'Sleepwalkers' is perhaps the most seductively sinister as the organ and sax riff slink around and create one of the most memorable tracks in the entire VDGG canon. Hammill's lyrics about some sort of zombie state of humanity manipulated by unknown masters finds his vocal prowess reaching new heights as the band effortlessly augments and outlines the main melodic drive in a progressive rock manner and sounds like no other. This track even adds the surprise of drifting off for a short while into some sort of cha-cha- cha Latin music.

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR was back and proved that not only did this creative band still have yet another masterpiece in them but that these guys were able to create another chapter of their established sound without repeating the studio tricks and trinkets stuffed obsessions of the earlier albums. GODBLUFF not only comes off as more focused but also displays VDGG's ability to create lengthy tight-knit and well-crafted tracks that display the intricacies of Hammill's dark lyrical content into perfectly performed by the instrumental and vocal weavings. While a few naysayers like a review in the Lancashire Evening Post panned the album as being an inferior specimen compared to other similar acts and that Guy Evans couldn't drum his way out of a paper bag, GODBLUFF has stood the test of time and decades of accruing fans to the club. Castigating this album for its lack of Yes-like virtuosity or Pink Floyd lysergicism and not accepting the album on its own terms is missing the point as it is a vocal / lyrical driven album that takes the singer / songwriter approach into the realms of progressive rock. For many of us, this is yet another perfect album and VDGG couldn't have crafted a better followup to their brilliant 'Pawn Hearts.'

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |


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