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Van Der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator


Eclectic Prog

4.43 | 2468 ratings

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5 stars -Historical Information

After the amazing two records, "H to He, who am the only one" and "The least we can do is wave to each other" released in 1970, Van der graaf generator, release "Pawn Hearts" in 1971. The same year, Hammill had also released a solo album, "Fool's Mate" (which may be considered as a Vdgg release since it features Vdgg's members and the music is very much like what Vdgg did at the time).

Keeping the classic Vdgg line-up from the previous "H to He" consisting of Hugh Banton, David Jackson, Guy Evans and Peter Hammill, Vdgg intended to release a double album with one side of oldies done more or less live, and one side of individual pieces by Hugh, Dave and Guy.

"We had mixed feelings about 'Pawn Hearts' because we'd recorded a double album and it had been decided that it was not 'prudent' to release a double LP at that time, so it had to come out as a single album. There was a track called 'Archimedes Agnostic' I think, and Guy had a backwards drum piece. The other titles are lost to oblivion though, as is the master tape. It's the biggest mystery of all: what happened to the lost half of 'Pawn Hearts'? We put a lot of work and ideas into it, one time we went into the studio and set up everything and then played a Van der Graaf song live straight off, recording it in mono and putting it onto one track of the 24 - then we did the same thing on the second track with a totally different song and so-on until at the end of the day, we had twenty four Van der Graaf Generators all playing simultaneously. We mixed it all together and used a section of it on 'Lighthouse Keepers' near to the line '...maelstrom of my memory' although to be frank, hearing it back now it hardly seems worth the effort." Said David Jackson on an interview in 1990.

The name comes from a rearrangement of the words "horn parts". Pawn hearts was becoming really popular in Italy holding number 1 in Italy for 12 weeks in 1972. The original vinyl in the US and Canada, contained a fourth track between "Lemmings" and "Man-Erg". "Theme one" was an arrangement Vdgg did of an old BBC Radio 1 closing theme composed by George Martin.

-Gatefold photo

Peter Hammill's statements on the inner sleeve picture with the infamous 'Nazi salute' image:

"The picture inside was completely spontaneous (in form!) - originally we'd intended a picture of us playing Crowborough tennis, a VdGG invention involving the table we're standing on and the football under Dave's arm... I won't try to explain the rules, as it's quite complicated, but a very energetic game of skill!! So we took lots of shots of that (all of which are equally weird, and some of which may yet be used) and then had a few frames left, so got into the psychedelic Nazi's trip! When we saw the effect, the pose, infra red film and all, we instantly overcame any inhibitions about freaking people, and knew it HAD to be that! The black shirts and yellow ties, incidentally, are not as directly connected to it as might be thought... they arose from conversations in the making of PH, in which we decided that we were going so far out inside (you can take that any way you want, musically, emotionally, psychically), that all we could do was have a "blackshirts" society to denote our outsanity. It's a bit of a self-defeating concept, but only 1/4 serious!! So for this cover, this idea came back! I hope all that makes some sense, but it's difficult, because people know us through the music, yet this is only peripherally in the music, and has more to do with the unrealities in which we live....(guarded) explanations in song on the next album, I hope!!" - Peter Hammill in a letter to Jem Shotts, 21st February 1972

"The pose was in ironic reference to a statue in Kaiserslautern which had given us chills." - Peter Hammill in an interview with Mju:zik magazine, February 1998

-The music

Pawn Hearts is one of the biggest reference points of 70's English progressive music. Pawn Hearts is considered to be the best Vdgg release. Peter Hammill has stated: "As human beings, writers, musicians, we were quite out there for that one". "Only when we met up to release a boxset did we discuss what happened - that we'd all gone bonkers".

Pawn Hearts is amazingly complex compared to other Vdgg releases but at the same time it sounds so fluid. It's as "Bryan" has written in his review 'effortlessly complex'. Complexity however, is amazingly combined with amazing compositions, truly wonderful lyrics, great musicianship and emotions. All four members show their skills, their unique sound and the musical connections they have with each other. Maturity but also experimental tendencies are two big characteristics of this album. All Vdgg characteristics from the previous albums appear here as well as new ones.

I am not going to do an analysis of each song (I never do that anyway) not to ruin the surprises of those three amazing tracks. An album that everyone should have. Many won't be able to digest it, others may not stand Hammill's voice (really usual phenomenon), others may not like the dark feeling of the compositions but there will be many to appreciate and love this true masterpiece.

sularetal | 5/5 |


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