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Peter Hammill - Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night CD (album) cover

CHAMELEON IN THE SHADOW OF THE NIGHT

Peter Hammill

 

Eclectic Prog

4.06 | 354 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars The duality of Van Der Graaf Generator and the solo career of PETER HAMMILL may seem arbitrary on the face of it since often the lineup of the albums of both monikers is identical in most cases, however HAMILL has explained that the main difference between the split personalities of what could theoretically be called "PETER HAMMILL & Van Der Graaf Generator" is that of the democratic nature of the band efforts whereas in comparison the solo endeavors offered complete control and the ability to pursue more commercial sounds not suitable for the legendary sound of the band. The results of which found the band VdGG finding richer band participation and the solo albums finding the proper backup opportunities for HAMMILL's often less complex foray into the extremities of progressive rock. Nevertheless HAMMILL was and always has been the primary songwriter / lyricist / performer of both aspects of this bizarre combo package but in the end found the perfect way to deliver this Jekyll & Hyde dichotomy in haunting beauty.

Following the enervating days that surrounded the album "Pawn Hearts," HAMMILL and his VdGG experienced complete burnout with incessant recording sessions, non-stop touring schedules and frustration by the lack of financial success despite the critics and hardcore proggers raving about the innovative and boundary pushing sounds that emerged from one of prog rock's most revered bands. As of August 1972, HAMMILL broke up VdGG in order to focus on a less hectic solo career. While the first solo album "Fool's Mate" emerged during the "Pawn Hearts" days, it was more of a musical exorcism of sort where HAMMILL finally unleashed the pop oriented songs he wrote in the late 60s and laid them down on tape before they became utterly irrelevant as he evolved into new chapters of his musical development. With no more VdGG to swallow up his days, HAMMILL was free to focus exclusively on his own musical visions. The first "proper" solo album in this regard CHAMELEON IN THE SHADOW OF THE NIGHT emerged in 1973 in lieu of the VdGG album that never came to be.

CHAMELEON IN THE SHADOW OF THE NIGHT however was much more than a solo album but more like a giant VdGG reunion party where everyone was invited displaying the maturity of the band and that no ill will resulted from the breakup but merely a consensus of egalitarian enervation. HAMMILL was joined not only by the classic VdGG lineup of Guy Evans (drums), David Jackson (sax) and Hugh Banton (keyboards) but by early member Nic Potter on bass as well. While this sophomore effort was not only liberating from the overwhelming responsibilities of the VdGG behemoth, it was also the point where HAMMILL created his own sonic laboratory and started the arduous journey of learning how to produce his own albums, therefore this album has a very homegrown quality to it however being the perfectionist he is known to be, HAMMILL entered the properly equipped Trident Studios to add all the final touches. Elegant and darkly different from the cheery sunshine pop of "Fool's Mate," HAMMILL reverted back to the brooding and poetically charged lyricism that had made VdGG stand out from the pack.

The album is quite the wealth of diversity. Not only does HAMMILL strut his folky singer / songwriter roots on tracks like "German Overalls" and "Slender Threads" but also entertains his garage rock leanings sounding like a more possessed version of Neil Young with jazzy touches on "Rock And Role." The opener "German Overalls" evokes the "Space Oddity" era of David Bowie and brusquely narrates the final days of VdGG and the pressures that were cast upon the unsuspecting proggers who forever upped the ante to complete burnout. Likewise the expected piano dominated tunes are in full swing on tracks like "Easy To Slip Away" although the piano is for the most part eschewed altogether as HAMMILL opts to exercise his acoustic guitar playing skills as evidenced by the album cover. Look very closely, he's there in that circle in full folk mode. While the album lacks a consistent flow in continuity, it is saved by the strength of the respective tracks on board.

The best track on board in terms of progressive rock chops is the closing 11-ish "(In the) Black Room/Tower" which was played live on the "Pawn Hearts" tour and intended to be included on the followup to that album that never came to be. And much like that album, the track entertains a dizzying diverse palette of schizoid time signature frenzies, multi-suite attacks and HAMMILL's most dramatic emotive vocal utterances on the album that have been described as "a mosaic of schizoid warblings." However the track only hints at what the proper followup to "Pawn Hearts" could've been as HAMMILL channels the dynamisms and thundering freneticism into a more personal direction that would ultimately lead to the more progressive exorcisms experienced on future releases beginning with the following "The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage." While CHAMELEON IN THE SHADOW OF THE NIGHT may not come off as the most cohesive album and pales when place amidst the magnanimous nature of the albums that follow, it is indeed a stellar collection of tracks that finds HAMMILL feeling more comfortable in his own skin as the sole decision maker and much like "Fool's Mate" has to be accepted on its own terms in which it shines brightly.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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