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Van Der Graaf Generator - Present CD (album) cover


Van Der Graaf Generator

Eclectic Prog

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4 stars I'm a great VDGG's fan and i had great expactations from their new release because the last Hammill's cd, clutch and incoherence were great. In this new release the voice of Peter is great, the Jaxon's sax wonderful as the Hugh's organ. Only Guy is not at his old levels. Highlists are for me Every bloody emperor and In Babelsberg, 2 VDGG's classic songs. I don't give the five stars because the second cd, all instrumental improvvisations, is not at the level of the first. the purchase is a must for every old Vdgg's fan!!!! I see Hammill's gig in the Cluth's tour and I'll go to see their show in Italy.Ii'm sure it would be one of the greatest gig of my life

Report this review (#34801)
Posted Thursday, April 28, 2005 | Review Permalink

Okay, I'm a die-hard Hammill/VdGG fan, saw pH in concert for umpteenth times, got orgastic at the 'Still Life' performance of the original line-up at the last Elizabeth Hall Gig and never expected anything after that. But the old guard are back and still have it in them.

PRESENT is uneven, rough at times, with just five seemlingly composed tracks, the rest is improvisation: the listeners first impression. But with Hammill/VdGG first impressions do not count. You will have to listen again, and all of a sudden even the vague-st of moments makes sense. 'Every Bloody Emporer' starts off as a casual Hammill composition, but soon trancsents and all of a sudden the listener finds him/herself well in 'Godbluff, 'Still Life' and 'World Record' territory. 'Bolearus Panic' is the first of the instrumentals, a first whiff of the session feel of the record and a real treat at that. Here comes 'Nutter Altert', a rocker and an instant classic. Here comes the old guard, here for good (hopefully). Hammill is on top form for this track, doesnt't falter for a second, the backing as tight as it could ever has been (and was), Evans works his way through the beat with relentless energy, Jackson blows his heart out and Banton keeps it all together, as it is and was and ever will be. A truelly inspired 6+ minutes. 'Abandon Ship' is another magic manic power display with a heavy riff and predominant guitars and there is no let off with 'In Babelsberg': by now get the feeling that age doesn't necessarily mellow you, quite to the conterary, the older you get and are in Van Der Graaf the rockier you get. Marvellous! They actually mellow down on 'On the beach' but somehow you get the feeling that the guys believe they have to let the listener off for a few minutes.

Because on it goes with an inspired set of improvisations, as powerful and intricate as anything you would expect from a prog monster like VdGG. Here, on the second disc one could get lost without the guiding light that are pH vocals, but soon you get lost in the magnificent soundscapes of 'Slo Moves', 'Crux', 'The PRice of Admission' and so on.

Listen and learn, aspiring new 'Prog' Bands, this is where you come from, this is where you are going. Until we find you, we have Van Der Graaf Generator. Again. Still. A blast!!!

Report this review (#34802)
Posted Thursday, April 28, 2005 | Review Permalink
Peter Pan
3 stars The music of Peter Hammill has accompanied me for nearly 30 years now, published solo or in various combinations with VDGG, The K Group, The Noise. Noone other has influenced me quite as deep as this extraordinary artist with his music and with his lyrics of high literature quality. With the exception of a few compilations and one or two live recordings I own and know every published album.

With Peter Hammill's solo albums there have always been some weaker ones. Is it a wonder for a time of 35 years? There are some albums I listen to over and over again for literally decades like "The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage" (1972), "Over" (1976) and amongst the newer ones "Fireships" (1991) or "X my Heart" (1996). And some I hear once or twice and keep them in the shelve for the next 10 years until I try again.

Over all in my opinion no other contemporary pop artist offers this deepness and complexity in his music and words. The vocals are still unreached.

The various band releases after VDGG also had different quality. In my opinion "Present" doesn't belong to the best VDGG albums. It's interesting but not overwhelming. I miss the typical PH-like melody lines in most of the tunes. Some of the songs even of CD 1 have improvisation like charakter like the whole CD 2. Two exceptions: "Every Bloody Emperor" and the excellent "Nutter Alert" which alone are worth the purchase. The dramatic "Nutter Alert" is the more breathtaking the more I listen to it. Hugh Banton plays the distorted organ in the old Canterbury style like I haven't heard it for a long time. Will be an all-time VDGG classic. [In the reunion concert on 6th May 2005 these two songs - and only these two new songs - were part of the new VDGG playlist.]

My advice is to purchase and compare PH's last solo album "Incoherence" (recorded 2003, published 2004) which I like much better with its high musicality, its compactness and inner unity. Topic and melody line of "Emperor" are lent from "Incoherence". Once again a great cover and booklet design by Paul Rideout.

Report this review (#34813)
Posted Tuesday, May 17, 2005 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars When I bought this album with my eyes closed and without wanting to hear it at the shop, (I knew this was going to be good since there was no reasons that VDGG would do something lame and tame), I brought it home and the first thing I did was to spin it in my deck. From the first second it started playing, I was hooked! Right from the first moment Hammill's vocals filled my speakers and ears, shivers ran down my spine, goose bumps stated appearing all over my starved body.

A month later , I am definitely hooked to Every Bloody Emperor and the very next song the Jackson-penned Boleas Panic which is a breathtaking (and rare in VDGG career) instrumental switching from one wind instrument to the next (actually there is a lot of flute on this album compared to the other ones). Nutter's Alert is another superb but very aggressive track but it seems to suffer from at times from poor sax recording and even for a moment in Peter Hammill's singing. Abandon Ship and Babelsberg cannot hold the tempo set by the first three tracks but are still fine in the VDGG mould. The studio albums ends on a beautifully reflective track On The Beach but it is a bit overstretched/endless and would've better fit on a Hammill solo album.

The second album is full of improvisation, which is a bit surprising when you know that VDGG's writing standards for tightly arranged and intricate measures were sort of a rule (the notable exception being the Reggae-ish end to Meurglys III on World Record). The fact that I mention that track is no coincidence as most of this second disc will make you think about that very album and track especially on Manuelle. But if the improvisations from the Graaf clan are fascinating (most notably on Vulcan Meld and Architectural Hair), a whole record of it is a little too much, really!!!! They might have cut down those 60 mins to half of that and then stuff the first disc to the brim and have made it a single CD affair. The last track Price Of Admission may be a little conceited and overstated but ends in a flurry of waves as had ended the first disc.

Report this review (#34815)
Posted Tuesday, May 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars They did it again. There's hope for mankind with reunions like this. The first cd sounds ballsy and modern withot losing the usual VdGG style, the second is something new, a fly on the wall experience with the band doing some instrumental improvisations. There's no age for excellence and for artistry and for this fantastic group. Their reunion concert was something out of this world. Long live the Generator!
Report this review (#34817)
Posted Wednesday, May 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars 4.5 stars actually 28 years passed since last studio album (taking not into consideration Hammill's solo works here), and these guys are coming back with another musical treasure. This album falls very short from being true masterpiece due to only few weak points like track no.5, and probably liitle bit too much on improvisational disc 2. Otherwise album is brilliant. Very very impressive come back, showing us again what genius musicians VDGG are, with lots yet left to say to their loving audience. Nowadays when Grands of the genre, such as Arena, Spock's Beard, James LaBrie (DT to be listened to yet..) are coming up with absolutely unimpressive commercial rubbish, it is really great to hear that VDGG are writing another golden page in history of progressive music. "Present" is essential, very close to the masterpiece, and by all means an excellent addition to any prog music collection. Recommended!!!
Report this review (#34818)
Posted Sunday, May 29, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars Van Der Graaf's "Present" is an excellent example of how a group of musicians can be honest to their past and at the same time offer new direction in their music. In other words, other progressive bands, when returned after their break-up, failed in one of these aspects (Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer are the most proeminent examples, King Crimson at his 80's incarnation comes in second place). The "honest" side is, of course, CD 1 at it's entirety, the "new directions", CD 2 and some fragments of CD 1: "Boleas Panic", Jaxon"s instrumental, and the lyrics for "On the Beach" (Peter Hammill makes mentions to a comic book character - "Silver Surfer"). As a VDGG fan, I am more than pleased with this collection, and maybe we can get a live album taken from the concerts that promote "Present" - let's keep fingers crossed. To all prog rockers: give this album a good listen before dismissing it. Highlights: "Every Bloody Emperor", "Boleas Panic", "In Babelsberg", "On the Beach", "Spanner", "Crux", "Slo Moves". This album should be a 5 star if it was a single one, because CD 2 improvs are a bit tiring in some moments.
Report this review (#37446)
Posted Friday, June 24, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars The classic line up is back with another fine album. It's worthy of four stars IMO, but in trying to review with objectivity, I feel I should award three. In fairness this album will only appeal to VDGG fans. I cant see it engaging the enthusiasm of anyone who hasn't previously embraced their work.

But, I am a fan and I was delighted to hear that they have not lost their magic, or changed their formula. 'Present' benefits from modern production, whilst not losing any of the bands fine, chaotic and nostalgic charm. Hammills voice is as youthful, quirky and emotional as it ever was, and when it first touched my ears, I couldn't help but smile and get a bit of a shiver. The opener 'Every Bloody Emperor' is my joint favourite with 'Nutter Alert' Two fine VDGG songs, with memorable choruses, fine organ work from Hugh Banton and great sax work from David Jackson, infact 'Boleas Panic' is some of Jacksons best playing IMO. The improvisations on the second disc take some getting used to, even for a fan like myself, but they grow slowly on you.

A good package and a welcome return, although I would reccomend for fans only.

Report this review (#38570)
Posted Tuesday, July 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars What a storming 'come-back' album! Present contains all of the key elements that make VDGG such an original band. The album deserves air-play to show to a new, perhaps younger audience just how influential these guys have been, and indeed still are. There is a comfortable feel to the music, and by this I mean it really sounds as if the band really enjoyed playing together and creating something which should be up there for album of the year! The music contains a hard edge, whilst still sounding like VDGG, to my mind time has caught up with the guys because 35 years ago they were so far ahead of the game! Every Bloody Emperor is a superb piece, but my favourite track is On The Beach. CD2 is excellent, loose in the best possible way, a lot of improv, but again, the CD sounds as if the band were just having fun.
Report this review (#38837)
Posted Friday, July 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The real big generator of prog is back! Van der Graaf Generator gave done such a great job with this second comeback album. The sound and spirit of "Present" are firmly rooted in the artistic ground of their "Godbluff" and "Still Life" albums, but instead of self-cloning, the strategy used in this new repertoire is one of renovation within the band's own musical own confines and in their own terms. This album combines the raw energy of the aforementioned classics and the more ethereal approach that Peter Hammill created in his late 90s-early 00s albums ("This", "What, Now?"): this is what the listener has to expect from the material contained in CD 1 most of the time. 'Every Bloody Emperor', 'Boleas Panic' and 'On the Beach' have one main feature in common, and that is a reflective vibe; regarding their particular marks, it is pertinent to point out the polite angst displayed in the former during its second half and the eerie density that goes all the way through the second one. The other three songs are closer to the home of rough intensity and passionate discord that the generators used to inhabit back in the 70s - 'Nutter Alert' and 'Abandon Ship!' bring back the old weird prog with aggressive jazzy undertones and abundant psychedelic adornments, a line of work that they fabulously mastered and still master [given the "Present" evidence], while 'In Babelsberg' sees the band wandering robustly along a rockier territory. As a whole, CD 1 sounds equally typical and refreshed. The wholly instrumental CD 2, despite its stylistic connections with the CD 1 material, is another story. What happens in CD 2 is that the band opens a window of their intimate self to us listeners. and what we find is that VdGG, when stripped out of any kind of compositional structure and clear melodic frame, is basically an avant-garde jazz act. The improvisation revolving around less than half baked ideas and taking them to an indefinite place (as opposed to developing them around a given focus) shows that Hammill, Banton, Jackson and Evans are still capable of recreating that same old magic even in their meandering moments. All of us familiar with the jams compiled in the "Time vaults "album will find more of that here, only with a tighter sound production and a more proper management of sound effects. The most solid examples of organic deconstruction are contained in tracks 5, 8 & 9, although it's fair to say that weirdness and half-controlled chaos are the common goals to each and every one of these instrumental excursions. All in all, this album is a real for all hardcore VdGG-heads that have been hanging around for years waiting for their chance to hear something new from them, and, in general, all lovers of gutsy, tense, emotional prog; this is also a present from VdGG to themselves, and what better present could any band give to themselves than stay young and healthy 35 years after the release of their first album? My present for "Present" is an honest 4.5 star rating - no doubt about it in my mind, Van der Graaf Generator still rules.
Report this review (#39206)
Posted Monday, July 11, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars Too bad VDGG decided to present 'Present' as a double-CD studio album, with the first disk being written/composed pieces and the second disk consisting purely of improvs. Too bad, because the improv half is unremarkable, lacking memorability or anything that will make the listener return after the first listen. I found the improvs hard to sit through and I never want to hear them again. It was probably great fun for the band, considering they were renewing acquaintances again after a very long time. It probably would have even been fun to watch and listen, if we were granted admission to their jam room. But for at-home listening, the improvs don't cut it.

As for the real meat of 'Present', the 6 tracks offered on the first disk, it easily feels like VDGG picking up where they left off with 'The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome'-- music that is difficult, challenging, obtuse and captivating. The big surprise is Hammill, who slips into his more volatile band personality on these songs. He may not sound like the youthful god who laid down some of prog's best-ever vocals on the band's early '70s work, but his persona on 'Present' is more dynamic and kinetic than he has been on much of his latter-day solo work. The musicians sometimes sound tentative, looseness looking for an anchor, yet the overall attack does wield plenty of heaving force at times. The songs amble through maze-like arrangements, and only become well-formed after many close listens. You have to give it to VDGG: they didn't take the easy comeback road. This stuff is as provocative as ever. But only two songs sound like total VDGG classics to these ears: "Every Bloody Emperor", pairing politically-pointed lyrics with walloping sax/organ/drum chemistry from mssrs. Jackson, Banton and Evans...and the great, Great, GREAT "Nutter Alert", an engaging piece of magic right from the start, proving Hammill still possesses the vitriol he so regularly spat in the '70s.

For me, VDGG are one of the Top 5 prog bands of all time. And they seemed to be one of the last hold-outs for any kind of reunion (Gentle Giant being the #1 "never to return" band at the moment). 'Present' does the VDGG legacy spots. It's the extra CD that messes up the momentum set by the much better first disk. CD 1 would rate a 4 were it presented on its own, but as a one-sitting 2CD studio album, I can only muster up enthusiasm enough for a 3. But I'll be first in line to buy studio album #10, should it ever emerge.

Report this review (#39934)
Posted Thursday, July 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars 4.5 Stars, after almost thirty years, I was overjoyed to find out that VDGG had reunited and am hoping they will come to Montreal. The material on their new double album present, is some of best new music I've heard in years. They have lost none of their hard edge or sense of musical adventurism. The first disc standouts in my opinion include Every Bloody Emperor, which also sounds great live judging from the tour versions I've heard and includes some biting social commentary from Peter Hamill. Boleas Panic, an instrumental, is another standout, funky and heavy. Nutter Alert, Abandon Ship, and In Babelsberg are also excellent. My personal favorites on the album however lie in the instrumental and improvisational second disc, including Vulcan Meld, Double Bass especially the latter half, Manuelle which is an excellent reggae influenced number in the vein of Meurgly's III off of World Record. The best song on album, and one in my humble opinion one of the best songs I've heard from VDGG and certainly one of the heaviest songs I've ever heard is Architectural Hair, which has to be heard to be believed. Although the guitar riff is almost punkish in the rawness of the sound, the great interplay of drums, bass, guitar and saxophone gives this song a killer groove which I would best analogize as "hitting you like a heart attack" and not letting up throughout the song, one of the best songs I've ever heard to drive to. The quality of interplay between the band on this song and others makes this far from your typical rock reunion cash grab album tripe i.e. Yes's "Union." Definitely worth the purchase.
Report this review (#41977)
Posted Monday, August 8, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I'm fairly new to the world of VDGG but this seems to me to be a fantastic comeback after so long. There is a real great feel to this album - look at the picture of the music room in the CD booklet, then listen to "On the beach" which starts off with a bit of studio chatter, then you'll see what I mean. You can just picture these guys playing together as a band, rather than just multi-tracking everything.

I have found the second CD a bit hard going so far, but the first CD is great, particularly "Every Bloody Emperor" (great lyrics) and the gorgeous "On the beach", which is my favourite track here.

From what I know of VDGG, this isn't far short of their earlier work and it's great that there is still music like this around in 2005 when we're all under the threat of the Crazy Frog.

Report this review (#42474)
Posted Thursday, August 11, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Twenty seven years is not a short time at all since the band last studio record in 1977 with The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome album but again the band still can create an excellent music like twenty seven or thirty years ago. Well, actually the band members still regularly meet and get together but only this time the made it happen to reform the band with a tangible result: "Present" album which was released in 2005. If you were there at the band's debut album during late sixties or early seventies, I'm sure you feel excited with this album as is the case with me. Not eaxactly, because I knew the band quiet late i.e. through Godbluff album if I remember correctly. But then I chased other albums by the band. And now, they are reformed. Yeah! Prog never die.!!!!!!!!! Who knows, Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford reform Genesis and record another album in 2006?

Every Bloody Emperor (7:03) [Hammill] kicks off the album wonderfully with an ambient music and cymbals and flute works to welcome powerful voice of Hammill in low register notes, very typical old days Hammill's singing style with "By this we are all sustained: a belief in human nature .". Oh man . what a great opening! It sounds to me that I'm listening to the band's seventies album with new recording technology. As usual, Hammill's voice brings the music into variation of high and low points wonderfully. The music that comprises flute, organ and soft drum work with mostly use cymbals and soft snare sounds. Again, Hammill's voice accentuates the music while the flute and organ seems like following the lead from Hammill. I would say that this is a vocal-oriented song. During interlude, organ and sax play their parts beautifully. It's a masterpiece track.

Boleas Panic (6:50) [Jackson] is an excellent instrumental track that features improvisations of sax work by David Jackson accompanied with a floating music that flows wonderfully throughout the song. I like especially on the time signatures used during this track where the drum beats really help articulate them and have enriched the textures of the song. You can also hear some distorted guitar sounds which are actually very rarely happened at early music of VdGG. Melody-wise, this song is oriented towards simple melody but the sax improvisations and increasing sounds of rhythm section have made the song seem rich in arrangements.

Nutter Alert (6:11) [Hammill] starts with a punch of keyboard followed with a music that features sax sound in a distant voice followed with energetic Hammill's voice in high register notes. Hugh Banton's organ work is soaring at the background featuring saxophone fills during singing verses. Banton also gives his simple solo organ in the middle of the track. Yes, it's simple but it's very nice especially when Jackson's sax continues the solo while the rhythm section does seem to change a lot from the beginning of the track. Another excellent track.

Abandon Ship! (5:07) [Evans/Hammill] sees the band's exploration into avant-garde music. It starts off with distorted guitar riffs followed with intermittent drum work and full music with sax and organ enters the music. Hammill's voice enters the music while the rhythm section sounds like disjointed but they form good harmony. The interlude part with more obvious organ sounds and sax is really good. Hammil's voice turns into high register notes. The song seems unstructured at the ending part - that's why I call it avant-garde due to the ending part.

In Babelsberg (5:30) [Hammill] continues the distorted guitar exploration like it was featured previously with preceding track. In this track the band continues its venture into an unstructured composition but it sounds really nice. There is still intense improvisation for each instrument especially sax but Hammill's voice is also improvised here.

On the Beach (6:48) [Jackson/Hammill] is a mellow track that features dominant vocal accompanied by improvised saxophone, using organ and soft drum work as main rhythm section. Like the opening track, this song is led by the singing style of Hammill and saxophone during interlude part. In terms of style this song is flowing in ambient with organ and sax as main contributors.

Overall, Disc One contains excellent music that represents the music of old Van der Graaf Generator style with brilliant composition and delivery. The beauty is that even though all members are pretty old already by now but they still can make excellent music like they did in the seventies. I would rate this album with four stars rating for Disc One only. Disc Two contains jamming session by members of the band and it does not attract me at all. In this review, I omit my opinion about disc Two. This review only applies to Disc One. I don't want to comment disc two as I do not like the jamming sounds - it seems to me unstructured and has no direction at all. So, why bother spinning the Disc Two? If there is a version that contains Disc One only, I would highly recommend you to purchase the CD. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Report this review (#43741)
Posted Sunday, August 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I've allowed time for the novelty of a new VDGG album to wear off before posting my review, and I have to concur with the majority view here; this is a fantastic comeback. Hammill and VDGG have brought out the best in each other, and if Present isn't quite up to the standard of Pawn Hearts or Godbluff it's still one the strongest sets they've released.

Other reviewers have already analysed the songs in detail, so I'll keep my own comments brief. Every Bloody Emperor is a superlative start to the album, vintage VDGG and you can almost see the veins standing out on Hammill's forehead as he delivers one of his most impassioned vocals in years. Nothing else quite matches this in intensity (though Nutter Alert comes close) but it's still rivetting stuff - other highlights include David Jackson's instrumental Boleas Panic, and the closing track On The Beach which is one of VDGGs mellower songs with a Marvel comics namecheck (The Silver Surfer) for good measure. The only song where the standard dips (slightly) is In Badelsburg, which sometimes sounds like noodling.

The improvs CD is a welcome bonus - while there's nothing essential on here it's nice to hear Banton, Jackson and Evans flex their musical muscle a little, and it's a worthwhile reminder that VDGG is much more than Hammill's backing group.

Equally recommended to newcomers and established fans.

Report this review (#44351)
Posted Friday, August 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars More like 3.5 stars -- 4 stars for the first disc and 3 stars for the second one.

This is as good a reunion album as could be hoped for! The first disc of songs are classic Hammill, and the band sounds like they never went away. An absolutely worthy addition to the catalog. The topical "Every Bloody Emperor" and zany "Nutter Alert" are standouts.

The second disc is a bunch of jams recorded during the album sessions. Some of them are interesting, but on the whole this second disc just seems superfluous -- like a bunch of throwaway b-sides.

The recording is very raw and in-your-face, a bit like the "Vital" era sound (only the mix isn't bungled the way that particular album's was -- Jaxon's sax in particular sounded horrid on that one, but sounds great here.) Some might complain about this, but I think it was wise for them not to try to duplicate the 1970's-style production of their earlier albums. For this reason, "Present" doesn't sound dated at all.

Report this review (#51019)
Posted Sunday, October 9, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars What to say about this album: masterpiece for sure!!!! It's so sad to see so many groups with wonderfull technical skills not able to release such incredible album!!! These guys, after 30 years without releasing an album together, are able to release so unique album with a strong and autentic atmosphere, that competes with any new prog-rock group and albums! Hope that we will come back to these days - i.e. 70's! Long life to 70's, ahah!!!
Report this review (#58082)
Posted Sunday, November 27, 2005 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars It's tempting to get totally euphoric about this album. After all, when it was announced that the classic VDGG line-up would hook up for their first album in nearly three decades, it seemed like a gift from the Gods. And when Hammill works his way slowly through the opening of the sublime first song Every Bloody Emperor, the band really roll back the years. This absolute explosion of joy reaches its zenith halfway through the biting third song Nutter Alert, when David Jackson and Hugh Banton exchange solos ... creating what seems to an absolute masterpiece of an album.

Unfortunately, it proves to be beyond the reformed VDGG to maintain that exquisite level of composition and by the end of the second disc, and a full 16 tracks, one could very easily conclude, as I have, that this album's greatest moments are its opening four tracks ... the visceral power of Nutter Alert and sublime mixture of political satire and despondency that is Every Bloody Emperor being complimented by the energetic instrumental Boleas Panic and the jazz-rock savoir faire of Abandon Ship!.

After those tracks though one clearly gets the impression that this wonderful band gradually runs out of steam. There's nothing really bad about In Babelsberg and On The Beach but I feel these songs take the album to the "wrong place" ... and then before there's time to restore the momentum, we are taken to the giddy second disc, which contains a whole hour from improvised music by Hammill, Banton, Jackson and Evans.

Even allowing for the strength of some of the jams (the menacing Slo Moves, fervent Spanner and darkly funky The Price Of Admission are my standouts), I can't help feeling that the second disc gives Present a distinctly imbalanced feel. The "planned" studio disc runs for less than 40 minutes while the improvised section clocks in at more than 65, and the similarity of the avant-jazz jams can wear even down the most fervent VDGG fan (in fact I dare say that part of it is more Henry Cow than classic VDGG). I'd like to have seen this portion of the disc trimmed down ... maybe even have some of the improvisations incorporated into the structured studio songs to create an epic!

Still there's definitely about an hour's worth of quality VDGG music on offer here, and for that alone I am eternally grateful. It may be too early to pass judgement on this album, but I have no doubt that this is the group's strongest effort since Godbluff ... they've clearly mastered the art of making a comeback album! ... 65% on the MPV scale

Report this review (#64738)
Posted Saturday, January 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars I listened to this album with more than a little trepidation. I was half-expecting to be disappointed.

I needn't have worried. From the very start, a strummed chord, a keyboard flourish, a drum roll and a parp on the sax - the intro to Every Bloody Emperor says : We're back!

The opening track is for me already a classic VDGG track - right up there with La Rossa and Sleepwalkers. Rarely have VDGG wandered into political territory, but here Hammill invective an spin-based politics shows his lyric writing at his best. Musically, the song progresses from an intimate Hammill solo track into a full blown VDGG arrangement - bloody marvellous!

Sadly for me, the rest of the album fails to live up to the opening track . "Booleas Panic", while being an interesting instrumental in the "Now and Then" mould, lacks the edge that PH's vocal would bring. The menacing "Nutter Alert" is probably my second favourite track. I'm not over keen on "Abandon Ship" - it pushed the boat out (geddit??) in an experimental direction just a little to far from me. I like "Babelsburg" a lot - I think it shows that Hammill's voice, while having matured, still has the power to move. "On the beach is a pleasant floating ditty, (which always remind me of "Ophelia" from PH's "Sitting Targets").

All impro is bound to be a bit of a curate's egg and Disc 2 is no exception. I have t say I don't listen to it nearly as much as disc 1, but I can still derive a lot of pleasure from it.

All in all, I liked the album - it was still distinctively VDGG, but with a thoroughly modern twist. A reunion after such a long gap was always going to be a risky undertaking, and hats off to the guys for pulling it off!

Report this review (#78591)
Posted Thursday, May 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars As a long time fan of VDGG, I was quite astonished to hear about their reformation and recording of a new studio album - the first one after 1977 "Quiet Zone"! But somehow I felt these guys could not miss the target whatever they do. Unlike the bunch of other prog groups who used to produce crappy music, VDGG were always too serious, to experimental, too avant-garde and too dark to dare follow the straight path of some of their peers. "Present" is a wonderful comeback and certainly one of the best albums in 2005. It falls short of masterpiece only because it is too extended over 2 CDs and much of the second, instrumental disc is more of a challenging listen, even for the fans. But, the Disc 1 is surely matching their classic masterpieces from the early 1970s. These grey- haired guys can still kick many younger would-be "prog" or "alternative" asses!
Report this review (#78601)
Posted Thursday, May 18, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars Like any VdGG fan I was excited about the news of their reunion. Even more so when a double-CD was announced. Perhaps I should have remembered my initial excitement many years ago every time a new Peter Hammill CD was announced, which eventually was always followed by some feeling of disappointment. Good, beautiful music often, but something vital was missing. Not to mention his concerts, which eventually became torments of boredom and made me decide not to bother anymore, even though he was performing just ten minutes from my home. Yes, perhaps my disappointment with Mr. Hammill should have been a sign to be suspicious, but somehow I thought the reunion would put PH back on the right track. But alas, my excitement dropped firmly when I heard the second CD would be filled entirely with improvisations. No excitement at all was left after hearing CD 1. Was that all? I know it´s not realistic to expect easy listening from VdGG. But then I didn´t. But I did hope for something memorable. God Bluff and Still Life were instant favourites that needed no repeated listenings for me to like. Of course they did get many repeated listenings, but only because there was something magic about them that made me want to come back. Not with Present, though. None of that magic at allI. It has a few good songs, enough for two stars, and no doubt I will play the album once in a while, but nothing that blows me off my socks. And it only lasts some 37 minutes! Perhaps after many listenings it will grow on me, but somehow I doubt it. And that´s just CD 1, the one with the actual songs. I haven´t even managed to listen to CD 2 in its intirety, it's such a waste of time. Contrary to part 1 this CD could be a decent length, about 65 minutes, but it's not difficult to fill a full CD if you just record sounds, is it? No compositions, no lyrics. Just play at will. Sad to think that Hammill soon declared that the reunion had been a one off thing. Even sadder to think that that one opportunity had been wasted on this half-hearted effort. I envy everyone who disagrees with me and hope to see the light one day. Until then, I consider this the worst album ever recorded by this once great band.
Report this review (#80591)
Posted Wednesday, June 7, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars VDGG is the unique group... Album Present is an example that rock never die...and musicians never get old... Piter Hammill is page of world history and this name will be known in future as ''god'' of rock...

VDGG is not famous all over the world such as Pink Floy of Deep Purple but the number of listeners it's quiet enough to be VDGG infinity...

Album Present is 103 minute and in every seconds we can hear various melodies and we can guest professionalism of these artists...

VDGG is group which HASN'T INFLUANCE of other groups...

Report this review (#83020)
Posted Friday, July 7, 2006 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars .and then, one fine day some twenty-eight years later, Hammill and company decided to reform Van Der Graaf, and record a new studio album....

Yes, 2005 saw one of prog's most welcome reformations of a classic band: Van Der Graaf Generator were back with a surprisingly strong comeback album in PRESENT, their first new release since 77's THE QUIET ZONE/THE PLEASURE DOME.

As with all albums that vocalist extraordinaire Peter Hammill puts his hand (or gilded throat) to, PRESENT is decidedly not for everyone. VDGG always did make "difficult," often disturbing and sometimes dissonant progressive rock, and this elder version of the band is no exception. This is deep, dark, discomfiting stuff, and (as other reviewers have noted) if you're not already a confirmed VDGG/Hammill fan, you'd best stay away: PRESENT will almost certainly not convert you. Hammill's voice and vocal contortions are as haunting, unnerving and just plain strange as ever, and his lyrics here are among his most bitter and biting. Add to that some truly dangerous, edgy music from Mssrs Banton, Jackson and Evans (fleshed out with some guitar and piano from Hammill), and you'll see that the ol' Generator hasn't mellowed one whit with age.

There's plenty of bang for your prog buck to be had here, including a full second disc of instrumental improvisations which, for me at least, is best taken in small doses. It would be great to see the band do this dark musical magic in a small dimly-lit basement club, no doubt, but for day-to-day listening, Disc 2 would perhaps work best as a late-night sonic backdrop for reading some horror or dark fantasy. Have you read Moorcock's latest Elric novels yet?

The album proper is contained on Disc 1, and standouts include the cynical political commentary of "Every Bloody Emperor," the terrific organ & sax exchanges of "Boleas Panic," and the paranoid perfection that is "Nutter Alert," which finds Hammill almost spitting out his bilious lines as only he can. The potent songs of Disc 1 can stand shoulder to shoulder with some of Van Der Graaf's best classic material. (Speaking of potency, in these days of endless Viagra ads via your email, my favourite line on the cutting "Abandon Ship" is "It was only the medication that was keeping them erect." Ha!)

PRESENT is no masterpiece like PAWN HEARTS, perhaps, but it is still fine Van Der Graaf, and a worthy, convincing comeback. 3.5 stars, rounded up to four, just because these "old" guys can still do it, and do it darned well. Rock on Van Der Graaf - Los Vegas won't be calling anytime soon!

Report this review (#84686)
Posted Monday, July 24, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars This has to be the greatest comeback in rock history in terms of quality. The VdGG greybeards return in their classic lineup, and it's like they were never gone. If anything, Present is even more menacing than Godbluff! Peter Hammill hasn't lost an iota of vitriol, as the lyrics to Every Bloody Emperor and Nutter Alert attest. All the elements are here: honking sax, bellowed vocals, odd rhythms, discord alternating with glorious melody, giant slabs of Gothic organ. Hammill's guitar playing is more prominent than in the past, but also much improved (25 years of practice will do that). I could do without the occasional digital piano sounds, but that's a small quibble. I'd give this a five if it weren't for the mostly unnecessary second disk of jams. These have some good ideas but tend to noodle around in a modern jazz way that isn't my cup of tea. I'd rather have heard a single 70-minute disk with all the songs and the choicest jams. Nonetheless, there's at least an hour of classic VdGG venom on this cathartic album that fimly disspells the notion that over 50s can't rock like they did as youngsters...unfortunately, too many choose to sink into soft rock oblivion, but VdGG have affirmed the faith of their devoted following in a big way.
Report this review (#101595)
Posted Monday, December 4, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well, what can I say? Certainly the best comeback album I've ever heard from a rock band. The first three tracks are classic VDGG. As good as anything from their second phase albums (but not as good as anything from their first phase albums............but how could they really top those, and would they really even want to try.....though were certainly a product of manic youth that really couldn't be reproduced by their older selves). They certainly picked a good track order, as the songs more or less go from best to least on CD1. Though the first 2 are a toss up for best track for me, as both are fantastic songs, the only big difference being one is instrumental and one sung (and one by Jackson and one by Hammill :-) But they are both fantastic. The third track is excellent, but not quite as good as the previous two. Tracks 4 and 5 are good, but sound more like a typical comeback album type of tracks. In other words, decent, but not capturing the glory of the old days as well as the first three. The final song is a bit out of place sounding, being quite mellow and relaxed. I suppose they did have a few mellow songs in the old days, but this sounds nothing like any of them. Still, a decent track and a nice way to end the album softly (perhaps a reflection of themselves mellowing in old age?).

The second CD is interesting, but is a bit much to get through in one listen. It is not something you pay attention to and focus on. If you do, as I did, it is quite hard to get through. Still, fun to hear the improvs and just how ferocious a group of old geezers can get! Maybe not, again, quite to the standard of the early incarnation, but certainly more than most young groups now can manage. Probably not a disc for repeated plays, but worth hearing once or twice, preferably in small doses.

Overall, it is amazing that any band could come back after so many years, particularly one of this this type of angst ridden power, and pull off even one song that is comparable to the best of their earlier work. Let alone 3! A job very well done. On the whole, I'd be inclined to give this 3 stars, mainly because of the second CD. But because I've always loved this band, and because CD 1 is such a stunning comeback album, I'll go ahead and bump it up to 4 stars. Long live the mighty Van der Graaf Generator!! :-)

Report this review (#101598)
Posted Monday, December 4, 2006 | Review Permalink
Man With Hat
Jazz-Rock/Fusion/Canterbury Team
4 stars And this is the definition of a comeback. An album fans were waiting for for literally decades...and it was certainly worth the wait. Present shows off VDGG in full glory. The boys haven't missed a step, even after twenty plus years. This album also spotlights two very different sides of VDGG, composed and improvised music. So there really is something for every fan. Needless to say the musicians are top notch, as is the music. And I must throw in a nod for Jackson (although it really is not needed). For me that trademark sax is the backbone of this album. Now on with the show:

Disc one: Songs. From the first moments of Every Bloody Emperor, you can VDGG were back in full form. Hammill's lyrics and voice are standouts as always, and (if anything) have only gotten better with time. The first three songs could be considered classic Van Der Graff tracks, right away. And again, Jackson really steps up in the limelight for Boleas Panic. Instrumental, and penned by the sax man, this could be considered his finest moment in the history of the band, and his pinnacle on the album. Nutter Alert is an intense piece, that really get Hammill's vocals soaring. The only song thats sub par (and thats comparitivly to the rest of them) is In Babelsberg. While not bad, it really doesn't measure up to the rest of the disc. Part one closes on a gentle note with On The Beach, a beutiful song really, that once it sinks in is blissful.

Disc Two: Improvs. This second disc is more of a mixed bag then the first. It also takes a bit longer to get into. Many of the songs are grittier and harder then on the first disc, which isn't a necessarily a bad thing. Though, some of the pieces do feel as if they drag on a bit. However, I won't say much about it, being I have always found the best way to appreciate improvs is to listen for yourself and see what you can get out of it and how it molds itself for you personally. Highlights include: Vulcan Meld, Crux, Manuelle, and Spanner.

All in all this is a great addition to any prog collection and essential in a VDGG collection. My only qualm with the album is the production. Even in the 21st century the sound isn't as good as I think it could be. Granted it addes atmosphere, so it isn't a total loss. Definitely worth the wait. 3.8 stars.

Report this review (#112534)
Posted Sunday, February 18, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars A gift from VDGG.

Two cds, improv tracks, classic VDGG sound, count me in. From the opening lines of Every Bloody Emperor, it is quite clear that the band hasn't lost its touch and they still have an artistic gift. The improv tracks become a bit hit or miss, but some of them are quite enjoyable and are recommended, especially to musicians who wish to learn more about band chemistry and the like.

Several of the tracks here are masterpiece quality that could easily be placed on albums like Godbluff and Still Life without a second thought, daresay some might be better than those great tunes found on those albums. Regardless, if you are a fan of the classic VDGG second era sound, I believe you will be quite pleased with this release.

As such with all VDGG albums, you need a stomach to deal with Hammill's vocals, which are nothing short of love/hate. This ranks right up there as one of the bands top performances however, and no old fogie should miss this new release.

Report this review (#115824)
Posted Tuesday, March 20, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Probably one of the most anticiapted reunions in years but could VDGG live up to their legacy?

Consisting of two discs, the first containing six songs all around the six minute mark and the second is ten jams. My first thought would be that although interesting to hear these jams, maybe they should have developed a few of them into songs and added them to disc one. The second disc is not something I will play that often.

Moving onto the first disc, by todays standards it's a little on the short side being more like the length of a traditional vinyl album. But that's no bad thing if the quality is there right? Of course some of the best Prog releases are this length.

Listening to opener "Every Bloody Emperor" you'd think they'd never been away. This is classic VDGG and Hamill is in fine voice. Next up we have "Boleas Panic" which is an instrumetal and although perfectly listenable it doesn't really go anywhere. For me album highlight is the absolutely brillaint "Nutter Alert" which is the equal of much of their seventies output. "Abandon Ship" and "In Babelsberg" are both worthy aditions but fall short of being classic VDGG by some way.

Final track "On the Beach" is a bit of a let down and with the exception of "Boleas Panic" is the weakest song on the first disc.

So overall, great to have them back but in general not up there with classic VDGG. However, "Every Bloody Emperor" and "Nutter Alert" proves they're still capable of greatness and I'll look forward to the next release.

Report this review (#136741)
Posted Friday, September 7, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars "Present" is Van der Graaf Generator's first studio album for nearly 30 years, the band having decided to record again together following a number of impromptu performances at various functions. Unlike their last album together, 1977's "The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome", the album features the classic VDGG line-up of Peter Hammill, Guy Evans (drums), Hugh Banton (organ, bass) and David Jackson (saxes and flutes) and the soundscape returns to more traditional VDGG territory than on that 1977 album.

"Present" is not quite the double-CD that it purports to be as disc 2 is, as Hammill calls it in his sleeve notes, "a whole slew of improvisations". I've heard this disc once and will never do so again: frankly, for me, it would have been better left in the recording studio.

However, I actually think that the "album" is meant just to be the first disc and it is on that basis that I am reviewing it. Containing 6 tracks, one of them an instrumental written by David Jackson , it compares well with the body of VDGG's work from theor 70s period. There were often shades of jazz in their sound during that period and that is perhaps more prevalent here, in particular on the excellent closing number "On the Beach", but it's a style that fits in well with the band's overall sound in my opinion.

The other track that I would highlight would be "Every Bloody Emperor" - surely to take its place as one of the band's finest songs with its venomous lyrics and surging music.

Overall a very good album, not their best but a very worthwhile and welcome return from a great band.

Report this review (#164099)
Posted Sunday, March 16, 2008 | Review Permalink

I've been waiting for a long time before posting this review since I was quite embarrassed with this release. Should I ignore disc II of this set to avoid bumping into some favorable a priori or provide my feelings about the whole picture? I have now chosen for the latter, so be prepared. And I will deliberately start with the one too much.

It is one of their most boring stuff ever recorded. On par with "Time Vaults". A useless jam almost all the way through as if the four of them couldn't cope with more than forty minutes of music after a twenty-eight's year break. Come on!

The opening "song" is totally awful: a pure and long cacophony from start to finish some seven minutes later. Good gracious! This "Vulcan Meld" is such a suffering! But unfortunately "Double Bass" is not any better. Sax noises for 6'33". Quite a long time in such an occasion. But at this time you think: "Well, things are going to improve, these are just two mistakes".

VDGG has been a companion of mine since I was fifteen years old (I am now heading fifty, you can do the math). And even if their music was rather hard to get into for a young kid, I fell in love with "Man Erg", "Refugees", "House With No Door", "The Emperor" etc. And when "Godbluff" was released; it was some sort of illumination.

So, when I listen to this second CD, which is very scarce to be honest, I can only feel fooled. It goes on with the totally unstructured "Slo Moves". If the band had decided to release an experimental CD, they could have integrated it as a bonus CD and not ask the top price for this double album. If you wouldn't know that the band playing such crap is VDGG, you wouldn't give a penny for this.

Things are slightly improving during the second part of "Architectural Hair", although it belongs to their weirdest side. But at least the cacophony sounds more "organized". The powerful sax playing from Jackson brings me back to some sort of VDGG music I can cope with. It is the first track of this second and painful CD which deserves two stars IMO.

Unfortunately, VDGG reverts to the most miserable sounds (can't call this music) for the next "Spanner". A noisy jam. Press nextT to reach "Crux" which is the second good track. A heavy and repetitive beat, hypnotic, powerful. If only this whole improvised CD would hold more of this type (the only worth three stars IMO).

The seventh improv "Manuelle" is also more coherent; almost sounds as music. Still, this is nothing to write home about. Maybe that the band was having fun while releasing this type of work, but I can't feel this.

We are getting back to the worst level again with "Eavy Mate" which isn't any better than "Spanner". But I am heading to the end of this nightmare.That's the only positive aspect even if it is difficult to swallow "Homage To Tea".

One more to go.Almost nine minutes of experimentation. A musical cesspool. I have been listening to the second CD of this package only five times (of which three for the purpose of this review). I am sure that I won't listen to any bits of it till I die (the later the better). It has been a complete waste of time as far as I am concerned.

If I am adding the star(s) for each individual improvisations, I reach the phenomenal sore of fourteen. Divided into ten makes 1.4. Great!

As most people would do, the listening of this work would start with disc one. And the magic is operating of course. The listener is brought back to their hey days ("Godbluff") as anyone here admits. "Every Bloody Emperor" holds the comparison with their greatest songs and is the only one from this album deserving the masterpiece status IMHHO.

This is though a flash in the pan since "Boleas Panic" reverts to their improv style of disc II. But you still don't know this since you have started with disc one. To be honest, it is far much better than the majority of these improv. A good number after all.

Disc one is of course far much better than its second counterpart. The mighty VDGG is back on very good tracks with "Nutter Alert". Enormous sax play, wild drumming and Peter as convincing as always. A very good song which shows that these men can do it when they want to. But there was little doubt about this of course. This song is almost on par with the great "Emperor". It is also the only two songs selected by the band to be performed during their reunion tour. Are they in-line with me?

It seems that the band is playing with our nerves, including only a few great songs here and there and mixing them with very average material. I was not expecting any "H To He" or "Still Life" but a song as "Abandon Ship!" would have hardly fit on there. Heavy and incoherent. To a certain extent, "In Babelsberg" is made of the same mould but less hectic.

The closing number is also an excellent song. Closer to Peter's solo career, it is more intimate and accessible. This ends this CD on a very pleasant mood. Seven out of ten is my rating for this part of the album.

Do I need to add that disc one represents just over one third of the total amount of music represented on this work?

Still, I will upgrade this album to three stars. For what the band has represented to me since 1973. But "present" isn't a great album.

Report this review (#169824)
Posted Sunday, May 4, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars I have been looking at the previous reviews for this album, the comeback LP from one of the genre's greatest exponents. I love this band, but will post a very generous three stars and a warning to all who don't own it that if you weren't a fan before, this will not make you into one, and, further, if you are loooking to purchase VDGG for the first time, then download side one only.

The first side is stunning, like they have never been away, with Every Bloody Emperor finding Hamill in scathing political form, and Nutter Alert being a gem of a track, amongst the band's best.

However, side two is a continuous block of over an hour's pointless noodling, to absolutely no pleasure or thrill to the listener at all. Great if you like that sort of thing, awful if, like me, you can't stand it.

Health warning attached to this, therefore. Five stars for the brilliance of CD1, only one star for CD2 - three stars overall.

Report this review (#202963)
Posted Monday, February 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars It's taken me an age to get around to reviewing this record. The reason for this is quite simple I didn't want to do a knee jerk job on it. Frankly when I first got the CD home I was very disappointed by the music. However I had felt the same when Godbluff came out, only for it to grow on me. The trouble is Present hasn't, if anything it is more disappointing today as when I first played it. To me it sounds exactly like a Peter Hammill record and lacks the polished finish of a proper VDGG set. It sounds rushed and half finished. The Jams disk is simply awful with only a few interesting moments. I cannot understand what all the fuss is about. I would have described myself as a very big fan of VDGG but this record doesn't seem to be a band effort at all despite the credits. Peter Hammill has been less inspired for at least 15 years and this record seems to be more about putting money away for retirement than a restating of the very real musical passion that used to make this group so good. The best track is the instrumental otherwise there is nothing here that comes close to their best work. Trisector is another story though and is far stronger but that's another story.
Report this review (#211830)
Posted Monday, April 20, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
4 stars Speaking of a present. VDGG lives up to all possible meanings of that word here.

First of all this album is a gift. A present to so many fans that never had seen this one coming nor hoped it would ever happen anymore.

Next, the album is really 'there'. It's not a half-hearted attempt to resurrect old glory but it's a collection of songs that they can be proud off and that can hold their own ground in the VDGG repertoire.

Finally, the album delivers an updated version of VDGG. Without shedding off or even changing their identity much, they still manage to sound 'off the present', contemporary, or should we say timeless? Because, even back in the days, VDGG never really conformed to the dominant 70's sound and never aged badly like other bands did.

I acknowledge that it is an album made a a gift for the fans. So I will simply say "Thanks!"

Report this review (#236932)
Posted Thursday, September 3, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Great comeback! I was pleasantly surprised first after I found this CD in shop, and second- after listening of it! After many years of silence, great classic prog band released double CD in it's classic line-up!

The music is complex, quite melodic, rich in sax solos, mainly instrumental. And, what is most important, still has this prog magic old prog bands had in seventies. It's so rare for nowaday!

And I am happy to listen that original music, without flirting with pop or modern sounds. But from another hand, no nostalgy in that sound at all. They just greatly doing what they do best - creating prog of highest level!

Only negative comment regarding album format could be done: first CD of original songs are only 37+ minutes long.Second CD is longer but consists of improvs, a bit unfocused. So the best decision will be just to put everything on one CD , making it more concentrated. But I understand that business rule: everyone interested in first new VDGG album in 28 years will pay for double album as well .

Very recommended for all prog fans, especially for young generation, just to hear, how real prog could sound even in 2005 ( to compare with bloodless neo-prog clones of nowaday).

Report this review (#244697)
Posted Thursday, October 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars 4.5 stars. It had been close to 30 years since Banton, Hammill, Evans and Jackson made a studio record together. And what's so amazing about "Present" is that you would never know they had ever been apart. I have to admit I got a little giddy the first time I heard this double album all the way though. They did not compromise in any way, in fact with the second disc they made me extremely proud because they went in a direction that very few bands go these days.The second disc is over 65 minutes of improvs. No lyrics or structure, just a flavour of Free Jazz jamming with that Krautrock spirit I love so much. When I heard that second disc for the first time these guys became my heroes. So proud. Having said all that, the first disc is really classic VDGG and my favourite one to play. After all, Hammill's writing and singing for me are beyond reproach.

"Every Bloody Emperor" opens with keyboards, drums and sax and no real melody until the vocals come in. Flute and piano join in this mellow beginning. Check out the organ after 2 1/2 minutes. Sax is back before 4 minutes. This is so intense. It settles after 5 minutes as the vocals become the focus again. Great lyrics as usual from Peter. "Boleas Panic" is a Jackson composition.This instrumental is dominated by the sax and drums early. The tempo picks up after 1 1/2 minutes. Powerful stuff. It settles before 5 1/2 minutes as flute and organ take over. "Nutter Alert" opens with some nasty organ as sax and a full sound join in quickly. Vocals follow and are passionate. The sax is incredible on this amazing tune. "Abandon Ship!" opens with some distorted organ. Wicked stuff right here from Banton. Vocals a minute in. This is quite Avant and dissonant. Nasty. I love when Hammill yells "Abandon ship!" over and over around 4 minutes. "In Babalsberg" opens with more fuzz as drums come in and vocals follow. Nice bass. Great sound 3 1/2 minutes in as sax is blasting away. "On The Beach" is where I was today. Ok it's not beach weather, I just like being down there. Anyway the song opens with people talking until we get vocals with keys before a minute. Sax then light drums join in as well. It gets fuller. Cool track. Love the sound of the waves to end it. Ok so they pulled no punches on the first disc, well on disc two they hit even harder.

Check out the intensity before 3 minutes on "Vulcan Meld". Raw and nasty organ follows. "Double Bass" features these ground shaking fuzzed out bass lines as sax plays over top and drums pound. Not worthy ! "Slo Moves" is kind of spacey until the dissonance and drums take over. The remaining tracks continue with experimental sounds, distortion, dissonance and even melody. They jam and improvise in ways that leave me speechless and overjoyed.

So close to 5 stars. Maybe one day i'll bump it up. The next one "Trisector" left me shrugging my shoulders, it was just ok. "Present" left me in awe.

Report this review (#247747)
Posted Sunday, November 1, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Present is the 9th full-length studio album by UK progressive rock act Van Der Graaf Generator. It´s the first studio album release by the band since The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome (1977), so Present falls under the comeback album catagory. Compared to The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome, Present features the classic Van Der Graaf Generator lineup of Peter Hammill (lead vocal, guitars, piano), Guy Evans ( drums, percussion), Hugh Banton ( organs, piano, Mellotron, bass pedal/guitar, synthesizer) and David Jackson ( saxophone, flute). Present is a 2 disc release. Disc 1 features 6 new studio compositions by the band while disc 2 features 10 improvisational tracks. The latter is actually quite a surprise as Van Der Graaf Generator´s songs have always been tightly constructed with little room for improvisation. It´s always exciting to hear how the music sound on comeback albums and in the case of Present, I´ve been VERY excited. I mean 28 years is a long time and to be honest I´ve been a bit worried about my reaction to this album.

The music on Present is so unmistakably the sound of Van Der Graaf Generator that it hurts. The band haven´t lost an inch of their bite and dark intriguing approach to progressive rock in the 28 years since The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome was released. The overall quality might not be up there with the best of the band´s output from the seventies but there are some high class compositions on Present. Disc 1 starts out really well with the excellent Every Bloody Emperor. That song imidiately sucks me into the world of Van Der Graaf Generator. Peter Hammill´s clever vocal lines and paatos filled voice, Hugh Banton´s dark atmospheric keyboard/ synth playing, Guy Evans strong drumming and David Jackson´s great sax and flute playing. This is how we know Van Der Graaf Generator and it´s like they were never gone. Boleas Panic is a bit different as it´s an instrumental track with soloing. Very unusual and while it´s a great track I would have preferred a "real" composition as there are enough improvised pieces on disc 2 to satisfy my need for that type of music. Nutter Alert is another dark and excellent track on the album but the quality drops a bit on the next two tracks Abandon Ship! and In Babelsberg which I guess incorporates too many regular rock elements to really make my blood boil. They are both quality compositions though. The last track on disc 1 On the Beach is a more subtle song. Beautiful but not really excellent. Disc 2 is as mentioned filled with improvised pieces and it´s a great disc in it´s own right. At 65:21 minutes it might be a bit too long for its own good though.

The production is overall very good. There are a couple of issues here and there that I´m not too fond of, but it´s good.

Present is a good album by Van Der Graaf Generator and it even reaches excellent a couple of times, especially Every Bloody Emperor and Nutter Alert scores high points with me, but when that it said I could have wished that the whole album was on the same high level as those two songs. A 3.5 star rating is deserved. This one is close to 4 stars though.

Report this review (#273506)
Posted Monday, March 22, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars A great record and certainly a great comeback from one of my favourite bands of all times. The music is quirky and full of dark nuances. And that what you can expect from the band at their best. The second disc is solely compromised of studio improvisations and though its a little difficult to hear at first it grows on you, as any great record should. When these four musicians are together something great happens. You Can't explain it but it happens. A great record from an extraordinary band. Recomended for fans (both CDs) and first time listeners (probably just the first record for starters!)
Report this review (#306467)
Posted Sunday, October 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
2 stars Although the reunion album of the classic Van der Graaf Generator lineup impressed me at first, it ended up pulling off the reverse of the trick all of their 1970s albums did; whilst they grew on me with listen after listen, this one's shrunk on me. The composed songs on the first disc are nowhere near the quality of the material on, Godbluff or Pawn Hearts, and whilst having a disc of improvisations is interesting, I've never been able to listen to it all the way through without tuning out. On the whole, it's my least favourite Van der Graaf Generator album to feature this lineup (if you don't count Time Vaults).
Report this review (#684445)
Posted Sunday, March 25, 2012 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars A very welcome return to the progenitors of prog!

Van der Graaf Generator returned with "Present", this 2005 album, that comes after the final studio album in 1977. It was a long hiatus and one may have been forgiven for assuming that the band would have become stale or lost their prog roots and ultimate weirdness, of course great bands like this will always provide something very special. They are definitely back and are as progressive as ever. The line up is such a nice surprise featuring of course visionary genius Peter Hammill on lead vocals, guitar and piano, and he is joined by the big three; Guy Evans on percussion, Hugh Banton on organs, piano, Mellotron, bass pedal/guitar, synthesizer and the biggest treasure for me, is the return of the extraordinary David Jackson on saxophone. The sax was absent on the last few studio releases so it was a terrific addition to include it here.

'Every Bloody Emperor' kicks it off well and sounds like vintage VDGG with that cool sax, and Hammill's vindictive serious vocals. Even the lyrics have that distinct VDGG style. This is followed by a wonderful dreamy sax and measured tempo on the instrumental 'Boleas Panic' that is kind of slow and haunting.

A highlight is definitely 'Nutter Alert' that pretty well sums up this eclectic music. It has a moderate tempo sax driven time sig, and some Dracula organ, providing a trademark VDGG sound. The lyrics are typical Hammill such as "is it the pricking of the conscious, is it the itching of hair shirt, is it the dictionary definition, of a precipice to skirt?, It's the nutter alert." I love the instrumental break with grinding keyboards, and the time sig is a progger's delight. Jackson is delightful as he blasts out a sax inferno in the freak out of organ phrases and off sync percussion. Hammill sums it up beautifully, "You're a car crash in the making, head-on, that's a racing cert, It's the nutter alert".

'Abandon Ship!' is a lot of fun and has the same type of thematic content as 'A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers'. It has a scratchy raw guitar riff and this is joined by sax and organ blasts over the odd meter of drumming. The lyrics are the kind that can only be found on a VDGG album. Who the heck would use the words "Oh, the heptagenarians got behind the decks, while the skeleton crew went through the motions, it was only the medication that was keeping them erect, Yeah, the devil got the best tunes so god knows what comes next." The sig goes all over the place in a kind of jazz meltdown, with sax coming in impromptu outbursts and very bizarre drum beats over hectic keyboard phrases. This is a sheer delight, as quirky as the band gets; they certainly have not lost their quirkiness and unbridled charm. When Hammill yells "Abandon Ship!" he is not kidding!

'In Babelsberg' follows on, a rather messy track with too many Hammill vocals before we are finally released into some punked up guitar and off kilter sax and organ. Again I love the sax sound and the way the song builds into a steady pace with some hi hat work and cymbal splashes. It actually sounds as though two separate songs are being played together at one stage, with sax competing against the other instruments, but that's the way we love our VDGG; served up chilling and cold with unpredictable fractured signatures and arrangements.

'On the Beach' ends it with a 6:48 composition, that includes some studio banter that is kind of cool to hear in the intro; "a cross between cool jazz and surfing safari, it has that kind of sinister vibe". Hey, who's reviewing this album anyway? When the band shut up it moves into a minimal organ and a Hammillian piece of reflection, a nice part of the VDGG repertoire. The squeaky sax is nice and the lyrics "even the Silver Surfer agrees" is a cool touch for comic fans. A weird low key way to end this album but nevertheless a very pleasant journey.

CD Two is VDGG 'IMPROVISATIONS' where we can listen for just over an hour to some of the studio improvs and sound check kanoodling of the band that ranges from okay to fair to awful, but it is only a bonus and if treated as such it is a nice way to spend an afternoon. Similar to the improvs unleased on "Time Vaults", there are some really weird oddities here including the sax and organ battle on 'Vulcan Meld' that clocks 7 minutes and features waves on the beach effects that are soothing to the senses and augment the music very well. There are lot of ideas scattered in the sound and it could be aptly described as swinging jazz math rock mixed with eclectic avant RIO.

'Double Bass' has a nice synth run and a funky bass with some spacey squelches and an incessant drum improv sig. I like the sax and the way it builds to a free form swing, the band obviously enjoying themselves with a few "ooh yeahs" thrown in. The melody kind of sounds familiar as though from "Godbluff" but I can't place it.

'Architectural Hair' is a heavy repetitive thing numbing your ears for about 9 minutes, if you can endure it. 'Eavy Mate' is kind of fun nonsense that fades up mid way through with sax squeaks and squawks and scattered percussion. It is just the band unleashing their instruments and occasionally it sounds as though they are melding together to form some semblance of a song.

'Spanner' is a drummer's paradise and has some chilling sax. 'Crux' is a slow tempo piece with a raw recording sound and delightful sax, and guitar strums. The sound is more together than other tracks and works as a pleasant instrumental. 'Manuelle' is grinding keyboards that irritate after a while but it is nice the way the drums and sax build over. It sounds a lot like 'Meurglys III' from "World Record" when this lineup was last heard. Once again it is too lengthy without any vocals and no actual melody to lock into.

The absence of Hammill's vocals is not a very welcome aspect as it his vocals that carries most of the best VDGG songs. None of the tunes are memorable and feel like a very rushed afterthought, and only with tinges of inspirational genius. Tracks such as 'Slo Moves' that overstays its welcome by about 4 minutes are dull, and a lot of this music is really crying out for some kind of lyric or at the very least a melody. 'Homage To Teo' is another weird one with no meter and just a lot of sax and avant garde sounds; perhaps some may call this genius, bit I can't hear it without wanting it to end. 'The Price of Admission' is a 9 minutes snorefest of noisy avant RIO and capped off with waves crashing. It is more of a curio then a true document of the band at their best. I guess I feel more like a fly on the wall in a studio being privy to hearing the raw unfinished material, that perhaps should have never seen the light of day. But it is still interesting to hear what these genius's get up to at work while us mere mortals are occupying our time trying to make ends meet.

This bonus CD was included on the special edition but not on others and comes across as unnecessary at times, and is one CD I won't return to often, however it is far superior to the latest 2012 "ALT" album that is all improvisation and sold off as an actual album, which is really unforgiveable. In any case "Present" is a satisfactory album that has been surpassed since by "A Grounding in Numbers", and it is well worth seeking out for VDGG addicts, of which I am one. It is great to see these visionary progenitors of prog back, recording new material when we were all under the impression they had finished long ago.

Report this review (#803727)
Posted Monday, August 13, 2012 | Review Permalink
2 stars It was nice to hear VdGG reforming in 2005 and giving us a new 2-CD set, Present, with the classic lineup, Peter Hammill, Guy Evans, Hugh Banton and David Jackson. Unfortunately this album really left me cold. Now I don't expect it to be on the level of H to He Who Am the Only One or Pawn Hearts, even Godbluff, besides how can you? Those were very difficult to top by any standard. But at least still make the music well worth hearing. I realize this was 2005, not 1971, so I expect a bit of an updated approach, which I do get here. Except for "Every Bloody Emperor", with some really scathing lyrics on politics (recording during the middle of the George W. Bush administration in the States), the rest of the album really felt like they simply didn't have it in them. The second disc seems to get the most maligned as apparently VdGG doesn't do to well as an instrumental outfit (although they were responsible for a killer rendition of George Martin's "Theme One", which appeared as a single, but this was back in their early '70s glory days). That same reaction gets applied to ALT, the instrumental companion to A Grounding in Numbers. Nothing on that second disc to Present leaves an impression on me so I can see why reactions to their instrumental stuff isn't so hot. But to me I didn't find them any worse than the vocal numbers on the first disc.

To me, I really think Van der Graaf Generator could have done better, given their track record. I know they didn't have to be just like Pawn Hearts, nor do I expect anyone else to think that, but they could do better than what they did on Present (I hadn't hear the others they released since, though).

Report this review (#1729571)
Posted Friday, June 2, 2017 | Review Permalink

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