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Peter Hammill - The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage CD (album) cover

THE SILENT CORNER AND THE EMPTY STAGE

Peter Hammill

 

Eclectic Prog

4.31 | 858 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars 'Maybe i should de-louse this place, Maybe i should de-place this louse.' And so the poetic prowess of PETER HAMMILL continues on his third album THE SILENT CORNER AND THE EMPTY STAGE. The relationship between PETER HAMMILL's solo career and Van Der Graaf Generator was always a murky one dating back to VDGG's earliest releases but due to an overload of touring, studio time and scant financial payoffs VDGG decided to take a hiatus after 1971's overachieving spirit of 'Pawn Hearts.' Despite the break, the band had been working on the next album and after the decision to call it splitsville, HAMMILL found a surplus of material that he could use on his solo releases which he promptly reworked so he could do that very thing! HAMMILL's prolific and restless nature was in some ways unleashed with the excessive grandiosity of VDGG out of the picture and he started cranking out solo albums at a steady stream. 1971's 'Fool's Mate' was basically a bunch of holdovers from the 60s and showcased HAMMILL's earliest recordings in a much happier mood but beginning with the sophomore release 'Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night' a darker melancholy had completely usurped control and there would be no going back.

On the third album THE SILENT CORNER AND THE EMPTY STAGE, the stylistic approach of the predecessor was retained with piano based melodies teased into slithering emotional beasts that displayed HAMMILL's uncanny modulating abilities of emoting pure sadness to excitation in the drop of a hat. With his fellow VDGG band along for the ride, this album is like many of the early ones and barely distinguishably from the mighty Generator's own manic depressive technically infused emotional rants however HAMMILL remained careful to focus on the singer / songwriter attributes first and foremost no matter how wild and crazy the accoutrements that followed would become. SILENT CORNER is clearly where HAMMILL came of age as a solo performer and one where he displayed his talent of creating a product as magnificently divine yet kept the intimacy of a solo artist's endeavor perfectly in tact. With HAMMILL's piano and vocal talents firing at all peaks, SILENT CORNER remains one of his finest achievements both in and out of VDGG.

Emotional changed and frenetic to the core, SILENT CORNER offers a roller coaster ride of HAMMILL ups and downs as heard on classics such as 'Pawn Hearts' but while the piano rolls and compositional unorthodoxies rule the roost, SILENT CORNER was more willing to adopt some of the more adventurous aspects of Van Der Graaf Generator such as crazy electronic enhancements, unhinged reverb and distortion and schizoid mood shifts from calm and introspective to explosively unhinged and raging ferventness. As reflected in the rather eye-catching album cover, the dramatic themes tackles the emotional depth of the self, loneliness, isolation and above all exists in HAMMILL's own poetic universe of his making. Firmly in command of the compositional structures, with his conductor's hat on, HAMMILL directs the VDGG cast along a uniquely pensive musical experience that exhibits the same roller coaster prog universe epic flair while offering the more tamed down versions of intimacy of a man and his instrument. While the VDGG team of Hugh Benton, David Jackson and Guy Evans play on the entire album, they are allowed to forge new territories outside of the VDGG paradigm and there is even a guest guitar playing performance by Randy California of the band Spirit on 'Red Shift.'

Graced with seven excellently strong tracks SILENT CORNER begins with 'Modern,' a delightful acoustic guitar frenzy with HAMMILL's excitable vocal style lamenting the impermanence of the achievements of the human constructed environment. The track wastes no time slinking around off-kilter time signature rich passages that morph into psychedelic free-for-alls suitable for an Amon Duul II album and then back into the melodic constructs from whence they came. The following 'Wilhelmina' takes on a more intimate approach with a simple piano and vocal performance laced with a contemplative narrative that takes on a few symphonic and heavier stances but remains a rock free moment. 'The Lie (Bernini's Saint Theresa)' continues the piano focus but takes it into more turbulent territory with violent stormy piano noise and atmospheric cloud covers that was inspired by the 17th Century Baroque sculpture 'Ecstasy of Sin Theresa' by brian Lorenzo Bernini. Perhaps one of the moodiest tracks on SILENT CORNER, HAMMILL generates a rather dramatic performance that alternates between soft spoken and demonically possessed.

One of the highlights in my world is 'Red Shift' which is the closest track to a fully fueled Van Der Graaf Generator band reunion performance. Laced with a cyclical saxophone riff and oceans of reverb and echo effects, the track is one of the few true rockers that features Spirit's Randy California offering a guitar performance amongst the crashing tidal waves of recurring musical motifs augmented by HAMMILL's vocal ratcheting effects. The track sort of swings but pummels the senses with heavy pulsing waves of sound and Guy Evans' most dynamic percussive performances on the album. 'Rubicon' calms things down with as an acoustic guitar cooling down period that tackles a progressive folk stance with more insightful lyrics but sounds like a fluffer for the album's most dynamic track of all, the over the top gusto of 'A Louse Is Not A Home,' which was one of the leftovers from the 'Pawn Hearts' followup that never came to be. Not only is 'Louse' one of the best HAMMILL tracks ever but one of the best tracks ever recorded PERIOD. Chock full of a never-ending flow of vocal intonations and mood enhancing drama, the track is actually based upon a rather simple yet effective piano motif but HAMMILL's brilliance is that he dances around it vocally, melodically and by implementing contrasting stylistic effects. The track is a powerhouse of lyrical subterfuge, vocal dynamism and progressive rock divinity.

While HAMMILL had proved himself as the leader of the VDGG band of his making, THE SILENT CORNER AND THE EMPTY STAGE was the point where he hit his stride as a solo artist and proved not only his prolific output was in no danger of burning out any time soon but that he diverse range of subject matter and musical ideas was somehow generated from a fully intact creativity pool. SILENT CORNER built upon the ideas from 'Chameleons' but launched them into the full power of the progressive rock pomp and awe of the early 70s with impunity. Through a wide-range of powerful vocal antics and dramatic stylistic shifts THE SILENT CORNER exorcized the demons from the simple pop melodies that undergirded the melodic flow and twisted them into lengthy edifices that perfectly illuminated HAMMILL's poetic virtuosity, melodramatic theatrical vocal gymnastics which were accompanied by psychedelic overtones and production experimentation. When all is said and done, THE SILENT CORNER is perhaps the most masterful example of HAMMILL's ingenious fusion of progressive rock with his singer / songwriter tendencies and all accompanied by the most outrageous displays of musical accompaniments. Despite HAMMILL's prolific nature that has gone well into the present, SILENT CORNER remains one of his most dynamic and mind-blowing examples of his unique genius and one of the few album's of his canon that i can never grow tired of no matter how many times i give it a spin.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |

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