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Van Der Graaf Generator - A Grounding In Numbers CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

3.48 | 531 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Although Van der Graaf Generator has never been my favorite of the classic prog giants, I still regard a couple of their albums among my favorites. Therefore, while I was not looking forward to A Grounding in Numbers as much as I was Yes' and King Crimson's new albums, I still had a fair amount of excitement. Given that I enjoyed the former's a lot and the latter's not very much, it seems fitting that Numbers would fall in between the two and be generally pleasant, if nothing great.

The big news for this album was that David Jackson, the saxophonist and likely to be the most favored member of the band (other than Peter Hammill) would not be returning. True, he had usually provided VdGG's more exciting musical moments, but given that the organist, Hugh Banton remains, the sound of Numbers is still very recognizable. Of course, Hammill is also still here to lead the band with his very unique voice, and his voice seems to have been holding up pretty well over the years.

Since the band no longer has a characteristic lead instrument (as the organ usually is reserved for harmonies, and light melodies), Hammill's voice, even more than in the past, pushes the music forward and is the focus of attention. There is singing on all but two songs, and the two instrumentals are more like light, quiet jamming than true instrumental songs. Luckily for me, Hammill's voice is one of my favorites, and although there are only a couple great vocal moments, I still found his singing to be enjoyable for the most part. There are a few songs that are a little too silly for me, and I'm not a big fan of self-harmonies, of which there are many.

The songs themselves are all pretty short, usually staying around the five-minute mark. They are also pretty simple, though the final and slightly longer song does verge into more adventurous territory. Interestingly though, the songs are not strictly verse-chorus structure, but more often modulate between sections built around different vocal melodies, with some being occasionally revisited. The lyrics are interesting enough to carry the short songs and few musical ideas, though maybe it's my background in math, but singing about numbers just isn't all that cool. While there are only a couple bad songs, there are really no great songs, or any that have something special going for them to stand out much.

Since the music is so vocal-driven, the instruments usually just provide the harmony or continue the vocal melody while Hammill takes a break. The few times when this is not true, the instruments are only granted one or two short ideas to repeat for a while. There is at least a cool texture created by the organ, and a much more frequent use of guitar than I've ever heard from the band. The two instruments are used pretty equally, though usually only one at a time. Piano and harpsichord are used a handful of times to spice things up, but not enough to be considered part of the overall sound.

I've always seen Van der Graaf Generator as more of a conduit for Peter Hammill to get his lyrics and voice heard rather than one to make music, and A Grounding in Numbers is no different. While the lineup is almost unchanged and the sound is unmistakable, the real draw here is Hammill. If you enjoy his singing, there's enough good material to keep you occupied for a while. If not, there's really no reason to check this out.

m2thek | 3/5 |


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