Creo que este es el preciso instante para re-postear "Pawn Hearts", aunque los links estén perfectos... Creo que este es el preciso instante para hacer una alegoría a la obra ya citada...
Artista: Van der Graaf Generator
Artista: Van der Graaf Generator
Álbum: Pawn Hearts
Género: Progresivo ecléctico
Género: Progresivo ecléctico
Lista de Temas:
1. Lemmings (11:39)
2. Man-Erg (10:21)
3. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (23:04)
b) Pictures / Lighthouse
e) Presence of the Night
f) Kosmos Tours
g) (Custard's) Last Stand
h) The Clot Thickens
i) Land's End
j) We Go Now
1. Lemmings (11:39)
2. Man-Erg (10:21)
3. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (23:04)
b) Pictures / Lighthouse
e) Presence of the Night
f) Kosmos Tours
g) (Custard's) Last Stand
h) The Clot Thickens
i) Land's End
j) We Go Now
- Peter Hammill / lead vocals, guitars, pianos
- Hugh Banton / organs, piano, mellotron, bass pedals, bass guitar, synthesiser, vocals
- Guy Evans / drums and percussion
- David Jackson / saxes, flute, vocals
Robert Fripp / electric guitar
- Peter Hammill / lead vocals, guitars, pianos
- Hugh Banton / organs, piano, mellotron, bass pedals, bass guitar, synthesiser, vocals
- Guy Evans / drums and percussion
- David Jackson / saxes, flute, vocals
Robert Fripp / electric guitar
Como comentario de la entrada "Anunciando La Resistencia" nuestro amigo D'nilson nos regala una reflexión de aquellas asociada a éste disco, y no podemos hacer oídos sordos a su pedido... como dice el Mago Alberto: "la música da para todo". Yo lo reformulo y digo: "el arte da para todo lo mejor del ser humano"
Hoy en día se demuestra que la gente está totalmente sedada, y que cualquier destello de realidad despierta su necedad, cualquier destello de realidad arremete directamente en su orgullo (su delicada hoja de vida "conservadora") aborreciendo inmediatamente la reminiscencia al entendimiento.D'nilson
Entonces ¿que causa repulsión casi generalizada?, como ya dije andamos sedados, andamos tras las luces coloridas y el maquillaje (¿?).
Me explico, el sistema, el estado, nos "entrega" un modelo de vida absurdo y utópico, que siempre se verá opacado por los intereses propios tanto en esferas "superiores" como en la propia ciudadanía.
Me pregunto ¿estos "opinólogos" que argumentaban su vacuidad poseen alguna función social?, tal vez...
"¡¡La música de las masas!!, ese es mi estupefaciente” (ven únete). Tu pretenciosa música es demasiado compleja para mi mente gris".
Tengo suficientes argumentos para fragmentar cualquier esquema social, podría abstraerlo más, pero quiero hacerlo entendible (eso espero)
A ver muchachos ¿perderán su tiempo convirtiéndose en críticos racionales de la música?. Ciudadanos pulcros ¿seguirán irritándose ante el arte evocador de entendimiento de sus mentiras?
En conclusión, yo no poseería la comprensión que tengo por sobre lo subjetivo si no fuera gracias a las obras conceptuales tanto musicales como literarias. Además en ocasiones la música hace el trabajo que la esclava mente no quiere hacer... "entender". Este espacio me hizo conocer ese maravilloso arte (música), acá encontré obras significativas y comprendí que la música nos mantiene cuerdos en un mundo donde se da cabida al perfume y a la mediocridad desde todo punto de vista. Uno decide ser un peón más de los ideales disfrazados carentes de credibilidad ya que detrás de todo existe alguien que mueve los hilos...
¡Gracias por seguir resistiendo Cabeza de Moog!
Siguiendo el festival de VDGG, debo decir... ¡qué experiencia sonora de puta madre es este disco!!... Impresionante!
Pawn Hearts es un álbum del grupo de rock progresivo Van der Graaf Generator publicado en 1971. Pawn Hearts fue grabado en Trident Studios, Londres (Julio de 1971). Es uno de los discos más importantes del rock progresivo y también de la banda. El grupo muestra una gran clarividencia musical y combina momentos de paz y armonía con auténticos estallidos de furia musical y también vocal por parte del cantante, Peter Hammill.Wikipedia
Esta es una de sus obras magnas; nada menos que "Pawn Hearts", el cuarto disco de estudio de VDGG. Elías lo pidió en el chat cabezón, bueno, acá lo tiene. Es fundamental remarcar que "Pawn Hearts" apareció en el año '71, cuando grupos como Genesis o Yes todavía estaban de algún modo definiendo el estilo, con discos buenos, pero nada similar a lo alcanzado por Peter Hammill y sus compañeros, quienes ya estaban a la delantera de todos con el vanguardismo y la experimentación más arriesgada.
Pawn Hearts es una obra conceptual, casi no hace falta aclararlo, desde la tapa se intuye. ¿Sobre qué exactamente? Sobre cómo somos peones en el juego de vaya-uno-a-saber-quien, que mueve los hilos, mientras nosotros, robotizados, asistimos lentamente hacia un fin lento e inexorable. ¿La salvación? Dentro de nosotros mismos, por supuesto. ¿Pertinente? ¿Contemporáneo? ¿Pretencioso? ¡Seguro! Pero quienes estén en contra de la grandilocuencia, mejor ni se asomen con VDGG, van a salir espantados. Aquellos adeptos al riesgo, al desenfreno musical y al (¿Por qué no?) sinsentido utilizado como recurso discursivo… Bienvenidos sean.Mariano Sterpetti
El disco, estructurado en tres largas piezas, empieza con "Lemmings", bien a modo de introducción, arranca solemne, lenta y misteriosa. Casi en seguida aparece la voz demoníaca tan típica de Hammill “profetizando desastre”. Justo antes del primer “estallido musical”; luego de unas notas de teclados y flautas y un clima de suspenso, aparece otro pasaje completamente diferente, muy similar a la estructura de las formas tradicionales de la música clásica, pero con la pequeña salvedad de que se utilizan instrumentos de rock. Hay dinámica, hay sorpresa, intensidad y musicalidad. No es fácil “digerirlo”, es verdad, y menos en tiempos de inmediatez, de ir “a toda velocidad hacia la nada”. Bueno, el título es "Lemmings"… cierra por donde se lo mire.
Más o menos lo mismo (con todo lo bueno y lo malo que eso significa) sucede con "Man-Erg" la segunda sección (¿Canción? ¡No!) del lado A en el LP original; otro paseo ciclotímico por el fascinante mundo de Van der Graaf Generator, incluyendo uno de los pasajes más desquiciados de toda la producción discográfica de la banda británica.
La tercer parte, que originalmente ocupaba toda la cara B del disco tiene el siguiente título: "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers: Eyewitness/Pictures/Lighthouse/Eyewitnes" y, como su nombre bien lo indica, es una especie de suite con diferentes secciones que fluyen y se mezclan con diferentes recursos (y efectividad). Pero también sigue en la línea de los dos temas anteriores; despliegue instrumental admirable, momentos de calma, ciclones eléctricos completamente disonantes y algunos de los fragmentos vocales más espeluznantes que jamás se escucharon a cargo de Hammill. "A Plague…" es un caleidoscopio musical. Lo tomas o lo dejas, es así de simple.
Con toda su inmensa cantidad de contradicciones y aciertos, este disco dividió, divide y dividirá opiniones, pero nadie en su sano juicio puede negar el coraje, las agallas y la materia gris que hacen falta para concebir una bestia deforme y sicótica como Pawn Hearts, de una banda que habitaba otro planeta diferente al nuestro; Van der Graaf Generator.
Un disco que trata de temas como la alienación, la soledad y la desesperación de la vida moderna de una manera que sólo podía Hammill puedse llevar adelante, aún conservando su sentido del humor y del absurdo. Letras furiosas, llamativas, melancólicas y sobretodo profundas que se entremezclan con unos matices armónicos densos, oscuros y potentes, músicos de una calidad impresionante demostrando toda su emoción, talento e inteligencia, en un disco compuesto de tan solo tres canciones con una duración de 45 minutos (sin contar las bonus tracks que se le agregaron luego). Luego todos los grupos progresivos copiarían esta fórmula de hacer suites-rock, y que se lo denomina rock porque ya su estructura no tiene mucho que ver con el género pero al menos tocan con instrumentos de rock, y de algún modo hay que denominarlo, con llamarlo "arriegado", "temerario" y "experimental" no alcanza.
Antes de este album Hammill inicio su carrera en solitario con Fool’s Mate, un album lleno de canciones sencillas y cortas, que en realidad son piezas antiguas compuestas antes que Aerosol Grey Machine. Pawn Hearts es la culminacion de los anteriores albumes del grupo, y uno de los mejores discos de la historia del rock progresivo. Los componentes amplian definitivamente la variedad de instrumentos, pasando Banton a tocar tambien sintetizadores y mellotron, ademas de los habituales organo, piano, bajo y pedales de bajo, Hammill se ocupa aqui tambien de piano y piano electrico, ademas de su habitual guitarra acustica y de cantar, por supuesto, Evans toca tambien algunos pianos, ademas de su bateria y Jackson sigue con su gama de saxos y su flauta. Vuelve a colaborar Robert Fripp con su guitarra.Ferran Lizana
Tan solo tres temas, dos de alrededor de 11 minutos y uno de 23. Lemmings es pura dinamita, un tema con muchos cambios en estructura e instrumentacion, una avalancha sonora continua, organos psicodelicos, saxos realmente duros y un Guy Evans que demuestra que no es un bateria cualquiera, una brutalidad. Man-Erg es otro espectacular tema lleno de contrastes, se inicia con preciosas melodias con piano tras la calida voz de Hammill, para dar paso a explosiones de fuerza y rabia, en una avalancha sonora donde podemos oir la inconfundible guitarra de Fripp. A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers narra los pensamientos y sensaciones de un guarda de faro, solo en su torre. Es, tal vez, lo mejor que ha hecho nunca el grupo, una suite compuesta en varias partes muy diferenciadas, como si fueran varias canciones unidas, que van desde piezas cantadas melodicas con el tono pesimista y depresivo tipico de Hammill, a pasajes psicodelicos, partes caoticas, sonoridades tortuosas, atmosferas tetricas de mellotron, piezas muy ritmicas y de gran fuerza, otras muy suaves y atmosfericas. Todo el universo vandergrafiano concentrado en un solo tema. La musica de Hammill no es siempre bella, a veces puede ser fea, lo cual no es ningun inconveniente, por que tal como dijo el mismo Peter, su musica es como su vida, y esta no es siempre bella o hermosa, a veces es inhospita, desasosegada o deprimente, y esos momentos tambien los quiere interpretar en su musica. Una obra maestra indiscutible.
Despues de este album el grupo saco un single con el tema Theme One de George Martin, el unico cover que ha grabado Hammill nunca, y en 1972 se separo cuando estaba en su cenit. Al parecer uno de los motivos fue el agotamiento tras sus giras, pero lo que esta claro es que fue una separacion amistosa, lo cual queda demostrado por la colaboracion de todos los miembros en los discos en solitario de Hammill.
Sobre el disco, se nota que mueve neuronas y corazón, porque ha provocado comentarios jugosísimos en todos lados, yo aquí copio algunos para no hacer tan largo el posteo, pero les sugiero que lean hasta los comentarios en inglés que posteo, porque este disco inspira muchas cosas. Aquí, VDGG ha alcanzado su pico artístico aunque financieramente estaban en quiebra... lean los siguientes comentarios:
Desde luego, intentar poner un calificativo preciso a la propuesta musical de Van Der Graaf Generator sería bastante arriesgado. Más allá de gustos o preferencias, me atrevo a suponer que nadie les negaría el epíteto de “originales”, o al menos, “arriesgados”. Y lo que es más, lo fueron en 1971 cuando parieron este “Corazones de Peón”, y siguen sonando igual de únicos hoy en día.Anin Jadas
Fue el batería de la primera formación de Van Der Graaf Generator, Chris Judge Smith, el que sugirió el nombre para la banda basándose en un equipo eléctrico diseñado para producir electricidad estática, el Generador de Van de Graff. Al parecer, la supresión de la segunda ‘f’ fue accidental.
En un principio, Smith intentó hacerse con el liderazgo de la banda británica, algo inútil ante el arrollador talento y personalidad del que sería el verdadero “generador” de Van Der Graaf a través de las sucesivas formaciones y épocas: Peter Hammill, a la sazón cantante, pianista, guitarrista y compositor de la mayoría (por si acaso) de las creaciones del grupo.
Para muchos críticos y conocedores de la obra de VDGG, Pawn Hearts, con sólo tres temas, es su obra cumbre, o al menos la culminación de lo que sería la primera etapa de la banda. Además, también se considera a la formación que grabó este disco como la más clásica de VDGG. Un excelente puñado de grandes músicos comandados por las excentricidades vocales de Peter Hammill, que aportan a VDGG un sello inconfundible y extraño.
Si a ello añadimos la colaboración del Crimson Robert Fripp en las guitarras y las delirantes y existencialistas letras del carismático Peter Hammill, el resultado es un disco oscuro en sus conceptos e intrincados pasajes musicales, pero brillante y deliciosamente complejo, una delicatessen para paladares que gustan de la intensidad y de, no hay que dudarlo, la calidad musical.
Al parecer, algunos sectores y personas no consiguieron digerir las propuestas artísticas de Peter Hammill y su Generador y llegaron a calificarlos de “extremistas” y “subversivos”. Incluso en esos años, los primeros 70, a los conciertos de VDGG acudían con cierta frecuencia neonazis e izquierdistas radicales, cosa, que en ninguno de los casos, agradaba a Peter Hammill.
De cualquier modo, nos encontramos frente a un disco excesivo (y lo digo en el mejor sentido del término) y que, en principio, puede no ser fácil de asimilar, lo que en mi opinión, lejos de restarle méritos lo sitúa como una obra imprescindible y única: toda una experiencia sonora para degustar poco a poco, entendiéndola “progresivamente”.
Y antes de meternos un poco más a fondo en los temas, dos curiosidades: en algunas de las ediciones de Pawn Hearts aparecía una cuarta pieza musical más breve, compuesta por el célebre y genial productor de los Beatles, George Martin. Y también debemos mencionar que el disco alcanzó el número 1 de las listas italianas, por cierto que menuda lista de lujo gastaban en Italia en aquellos momentos…
TEMAS DE PAWN HEARTS:
Lemmings (Including Cog) - 11:37
No cabe duda, desde el principio, de que es la increíble voz de Peter Hammill sobre la que recae el peso del tema. La canción comienza con su fuerza vocal a tope. Con sus fluctuaciones maravillosas y sus espectaculares cambios de intensidad nos introduce en una historia extraña e inquietante, un tanto depresiva por lo poco que deduzco de las letras.
Hacia la mitad del tema, los teclados de Banton y el genial saxo de Jackson que hasta entonces se limitan a arropar la voz de Hammill, toman el protagonismo en una secuencia claramente progresiva, que a mi me recuerda bastante a algunos pasajes de King Crimson.
Llegando al final, la canción tiende a relajarse y la voz de Hammill baja de intensidad, sumergiéndonos en una atmósfera musical suave y delicada que se va reduciendo cada vez más en una coda que remata un toque de batería.
Man-Erg - 10:20
Quizá este tema sea mi favorito del disco. Los teclados con que comienzan dan paso a un apasionado Hammill que canta como los ángeles una preciosa composición bastante melódica, pero de gran fuerza lírica.
Eso sí, la letra no es nada tranquilizadora como pretende ser esa entrada: muy al contrario habla de un hombre dividido interiormente entre asesinos y ángeles, un hombre sicótico que busca ayuda con desesperación. Un hombre atormentado por varias personalidades enfrentadas.
Y la música refleja muy bien esa dicotomía, pues pronto esa relajada entrada deriva en un desesperado grito de ayuda al que acompaña una música repetitiva y desquiciante, perfecto reflejo de la locura que acecha al protagonista. Y otra vez vuelve el hombre calmado a tomar posesión, una vez más la música se vuelve deliciosamente apacible y perfecta. Hay que destacar de nuevo la gran labor de los diferentes saxos en este pasaje.
Un tema perfecto para mi gusto. Genial la música y genial como refleja la pasión del Hombre Ergio el señor Hammill. Un 10.
La canción termina de nuevo entre la paz y la locura. Entre la calma y la tormenta de una mente enferma. I'm just a man, and killers, angels, all are these: dictators, saviours, refugees.
A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers - 23:04De nuevo es la voz de Peter Hammill la encargada de meternos de lleno en esta trágica y desesperada canción acerca de un solitario farero que se va introduciendo más y más en la locura y nos arrastra en su descenso a los infiernos y la muerte.
e. Presence of the Night
f. Kosmos Tours
g. (Custard's) Last Stand
h. The Clot Thickens
i. Land's End (Sineline)
j. We Go Now
Por su parte, el resto de la banda parece echar el resto en el acompañamiento instrumental de este impresionante tema y ejercen de perfectos partenaires de Mr. Hammill.
Una de las partes más exquisitas para mi gusto de este tema es Presence of Night, en la que los ritmos cambian de intensidad a la par que la voz de Hammill, y nos retrata con letras y música la agonía del protagonista: “Solo, solo, dijeron todos los fantasmas apuntándome en la luz. La única vida que siento del todo es la presencia de la noche”.
En Kosmos Tour el farero se lanza al vacío tras un arrebato de locura que refleja a la perfección la música en una progresión cada vez más intensa y que da paso a (Custard's) Last Stand, cuando el protagonista se acerca a la luz y encuentra aterrorizado que no hay Dios que le guíe (The Clot Thickens), lo cual se refleja en una enloquecida secuencia musical y vocal de un trepidante ritmo hasta que llega el final de la tierra (Land's End (Sineline) que refleja el momento en que el protagonista se reconcilia con su suerte y comprende que es una parte de un todo y, por fin, sabe dónde se encuentra: “Pienso que el final es el comienzo. Empiezo a sentir feliz ahora. Todas las cosas son una parte”. La voz de Hammill es gloriosa en estos momentos y se dobla a sí mismo acompañado de teclados y guitarras en un celestial ‘grand finale’ titulado: Ahora nos vamos…
Un experimento realizado con algunos miembros de mi familia. Sin que se apercibieran les puse Pawn Hearts individualmente en distintos momentos de modo que les fuera inevitable escucharlo:
Hermana 1: ¿¡Podrías quitar esa música que me está dando dolor de cabeza!? Joe, que mareo…
Hermana 2: Vale, no está mal, pero por mucho que te empeñes, prefiero el pop inglés, es más, no sé, ¿melódico? Y esas canciones tan laaaargaaas….
Madre: Huy si parece que estés más delgado, te he preparado unas albóndigas para que te lleves…, blablabla…
Padre: ¿Eso que suena qué es Iron Maiden? Donde se ponga la voz de Antonio Molina… (Todos los grupos que escucho se reducen a dos para mi padre: Iron Maiden y Pink Floyd)
Abuela: Hay que ver ese avión que no deja de dar vueltas por encima del pueblo… (Experimento frustrado: fallo en el sonotone)
"Pawn Hearts" es un logro brillante. Ojo, de ninguna manera esun álbum "fácil", ya que requiere de muchas escuchas para cazarle la onda, es un disco difícil, agrio, oscuro pero no por ello deja de ser bello y gratificante como el que más. Es la belleza de la oscuridad, la poesía de la soledad, es el mejor Van der Graaf Generator en acción.
Hay vocalistas y vocalistas, y bandas y bandas. En muchas bandas de rock progresivo, el vocalista no destaca mucho, quedando de lado frente a la potencia de la música. En estos casos, la voz es un simple adorno más para la gran composición y desarrollo de las obras. Este no es el caso de VDGG. Pese a la complejidad de la música que realizan (que es muy, pero MUY compleja y difícil de escuchar), la voz de Peter Hammil es única. es como Freddie Mercury para Queen, o Peter Gabriel para Genesis (el rial genesis, no esa bazofia de Phil Collins). Su voz es muy característica. Un acento británico muy marcado, una voz profunda y nasal, y al mismo tiempo, potentísima. Puede llegar a altísimos tonos, pero su principal brillo es la modulación que puede realizar. Momentos musicales de tensión extrema, reflejados en la totalidad con su voz, se ven cambiados en un instante a situaciones de calma, tranquilidad y reflexión. Su voz llega incluso a rozar la teatrealidad en si misma. Es un espectáculo asombroso escucharlo.David
Siguiendo el hilo de la complejidad musica, a la que hice un poco de alusión atrás, esta no es la típica banda de rock. No está ni por al lado. Carecen de bajo y guitarra. La banda consta de una batería muy jazzera y técnica (Evans), un dueto de teclados (Hammil con Banton), y un saxofonista-vientista, David Jackson. La banda teje amalgamas de sonidos densos con increíbles y densas capas de melodías, trazadas una tras otra con canones interminables, que se llegan a alargar más de 10 minutos. Se mezclan momentos de paz total, muy representada en su música, con caos total y distorsión pseudo esquizofrénica y lisérgica.
La música es muy difícil si no estás acostumbrado al género, pero con el paso del tiempo y las escuchas repetidas, se vuelve un gozo. Los 3 temas del disco original son increíbles y verdaderos clásicos del rock progresivo, a la vez de ser el apogeo compositivo de la banda. A su vez, en este, su cuarto disco -y tras el que harían un hiato de 3 años-, se puede ver la madurez musical que alcanzan. Un disco sólido, compacto y potente. Las letras también son de otro mundo. "The Killer lives inside me. Yes, I can feel him move", "How can I be free? How can i get Help? Am I really me? Am I someone else?" en Man-Erg, "what cause is there left but to die", que cambia al final del tema por "What cause is there left but to live, What cause is there left but to try?" en Lemmings, y muchas más. Super voladas.
Cabe destacar la participación de Robert Fipp en Man-Erg y Plague of the Lighthouse Keepers, la suite del album.
No me lean más y escuchen esta obra maestra.
Y para terminar, vamos con los comentarios en inglés, que a diferencia de los demás posteos, ahora invito a leer porque realmente me parecieron altamente probechosos.
Van Der Graaf Generator's third album, Pawn Hearts was also its second most popular; at one time this record was a major King Crimson cult item due to the presence of Robert Fripp on guitar, but Pawn Hearts has more to offer than that. The opening track, "Lemmings," calls to mind early Gentle Giant, with its eerie vocal passages (including harmonies) set up against extended sax, keyboard, and guitar-driven instrumental passages, and also with its weird keyboard and percussion interlude, though this band is also much more contemporary in its focus than Gentle Giant. Peter Hammill vocalizes in a more traditional way on "Man-Erg," against shimmering organ swells and Guy Evans' very expressive drumming, before the song goes off on a tangent by way of David Jackson's saxes and some really weird time signatures -- plus some very pretty acoustic and electric guitar work by Hammill himself and Fripp. The monumental "Plague of Lighthouse Keepers," taking up an entire side of the LP, shows the same kind of innovation that characterized Crimson's first two albums, but without the discipline and restraint needed to make the music manageable. The punning titles of the individual sections of this piece (which may have been done for the same reason that Crimson gave those little subtitles to its early extended tracks, to protect the full royalties for the composer) only add to the confusion. As for the piece itself, it features enough virtuoso posturing by everyone (especially drummer Guy Evans) to fill an Emerson, Lake & Palmer album of the same era, with a little more subtlety and some time wasted between the interludes. The 23-minute conceptual work could easily have been trimmed to, say, 18 or 19 minutes without any major sacrifices, which doesn't mean that what's here is bad, just not as concise as it might've been. But the almost operatic intensity of the singing and the overall performance also carries you past the stretches that don't absolutely need to be here. The band was trying for something midway between King Crimson and Genesis, and came out closer to the former, at least instrumentally. Hammill's vocals are impassioned and involving, almost like an acting performance, similar to Peter Gabriel's singing with Genesis, but the lack of any obviously cohesive ideas in the lyrics makes this more obscure and obtuse than any Genesis release.Bruce Eder
The growth of VDGG doesn't know any stop. Pawnheart is still better than the wonderful H to HE. Refering it as prog rock is very reductive, it's one of the best album ever!!!bungle77
Van der Graaf Generator's 1971 release Pawn Hearts is simply a Progressive Rock masterpiece. It is without a doubt one of the greatest Progressive Rock albums ever released. Pawn Hearts only has three songs on it, but every one is a knockout, they are all wonderful and expansive multi-part epics. The greatest of the three is the twenty three plus minute long A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers which is one of the most amazing songs you'll ever hear. Five Prog-Drenched stars.DarthKarl
one of the greatest album of all time. desperate and poetic, hard and dreaming, resembling nothing and inspiring everyone.jester28
A mix of feelingsVinceTehMan
I experience a wide array of feelings by analyzing and thinking about the album.
First, let's establish a connection between some concepts:
Pawn Hearts > Lemmings, rodents known for mass suicide by jumping off of cliffs > album art, where a lot of people trapped inside chess pawns seem to be jumping from a cliff, falling through the sky > "I stood alone upon the highest cliff-top" > "Unreal, unreal, ghosts helmsmen scream, falling through the sky" > suicide attempt by jumping from the place where a lighthouse is in (a cliff, eh) > A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers > "I can see the Lemmings coming, but I know I'm just a man" > Man-Erg > German (thanks por pointing that out, inpraiseoffolly) > inner sleeve art, where the members of the band salute each other with a "Hail!" > letter written by Hammill in which he says the band was into a psychedelic Nazi trip > Van der Graaf, this name is teutonic!
This web of connection between tracks, concepts and art of the album is just enough to catch a glimpse of what the album looks like: a complex net of songs. Lots of meanings, lots of interpretations. But, as I have thousands of different thoughts on this albums, I'll choose only one, the one that seems the rightest to me.
So, you start your listen with Lemmings. It is, for me, the hardest listen of the album. This 11-minute song starts with a man standing on the top of a cliff and hearing a strange voice that speaks to him for some minutes. Three, I think. There's a groovy saxophone riff here, and it goes on until the fifth minute. The subject matter and the sound gets harsher, we get another cool saxophone riff and some disturbing imagery (like young bodies impaled on steel spokes or cogs tearing bones; that's gotta hurt) and then we get back to the groovy saxophone riff. Then, the music starts to get real quiet, while Hammill sings about a certain kind of revolution (that's what it seems to me). Then it fades and fades, in a quiet long outro.
It's not my favorite song, so there isn't too much more I can speak of it.
A soothing, beautiful piano tune begins (this is another track already) and Hammill sings those powerful lyrics in a calm voice, like they were a confession: "The killer lives inside me; yes, I can feel him move". The first three minutes of the song are, probably the best instance of a perfect organ-voice duet EVER. Man, that organ sound is simply awesome, and I mean it.
So, backed by that incredible organ, the Man describes how the killer simply surges, stares through his eyes and slices his mind. However, in the following verses, he antithetically says that angels live inside him and how he can feel them smile. He ends this part knowing that he "shall be caught (or cursed) while the angels live". The melody stops and a wild duo of saxophone and guitar blows alternately in your left and right ear. This leads to a fast section where the Man, driven by despair (you can see that in Hammill's odd voice) questions himself: "How can I be free? How can I get help? Am I really me? Am I someone else?" The awesome riff lingers for some time, and at certain point it slows down. Then slows down. Then slows down. This part of the song is, probably the best instance of how heavy can a progressive band be EVER. And you can actually feel the suspense in this section.
Like any other progressive song, we are presented to another section. We get a jazzy melody along with some thoughts of Man. The melody is quiet but so intense, that you feel like you are in a quiet battlefield alone, and you don't know from where will your enemies jump out and kill you. The best thing to do in the two minutes you'll be listening to this part is just relax. And watch out for the enemies.
We get back to the start. The awesome organ is still there, a little bit more faded, while Hammill sings "I too live inside me, and very often I don't know who I am". Do you know someone more troubled than him?
The ending of the song blends this quiet theme along with that other one (the uptempo sax/guitar duel). I take this as being the fight of his good side (angel) against his evil side (killer). And guess what? Killer wins. Finally the song gets its well deserved ending, and it is very great too.
A perfect, epic track, should I say.
The last song of the album begins, and it is longer than the first two songs combined. My thoughts on this song changed too much since I first heard it... I remember that I only noticed the melody of the song when it was ending (more details on the totally ulttra-incredible ending much later, naturally) and I felt guilty for not understanding the song's structure and getting to the ending like this. Also, I was using very crappy earphones, and - oh! - I suffered a lot! There are loud, then calm, then loud, the quiet parts there...
Yes, the song starts with a amazing piano (or organ/keyboard, what is this sound?) that evokes the oceanic environment. It's the story of a man still waiting for his savior, while the storms tears him limb from limb. As he sings despairingly sings about his suffering you begin to feel... there. (hey, that's what I felt and that's what matters) Then it all fades to...
If you look for the lyrics of the song, you see for this instrumental part (yes, the pictures are painted so smoothly with sound that there are even lyrics): "eddies, rocks, ships, collision, remorse." Yes, just by listening to it, I drew a lighthouse in my head (the lingering keyboard part is a sea, for sure), with seagulls flying around it (the sax reminds me of the cries of those birds). The keyboard starts to revolve (eddies) and harsh saxophones represent the horns of the ships and rocks at the same time. We hear a loud drumming (collision) as the song fades. Then a awesome keyboard solo is heard. Man, it's got to be the greatest organ solo EVER. You actually FEEL the remorse, I mean it. Keep your mind strong as Remorse plays, it has a very strong suicidal feel to it!
We hear the first part again (its name is Eyewitness, by the way). The guy in the ship finds out that he is finally overcome.
A very jazzy and groovy saxophone riff leads this next section, "S.H.M.", where ghosts haunt a poor lighthouse keeper (yes, you're now in a world where ghosts exist), appering and trying to dig their way through the windows. Hm, that's tame. Hammill lowers his voice and his torment ends.
"Alone, alone, ghosts all call." Yes, you are listening to a world where ghosts are so real they taunt you about your loneliness. This part, "Presence of the Night", is the greatest section of the whole song (and the longest too, at just 3:51). The only life the protagonist stills feels is the presence of the night. A pleasing, but still suspenseful melody slowly drags on.
And it stops. This part is very scary. We hear a faded, eerie sound. "Would you cry if I died? Would you cry if I died?" Man, it is scary, seriously. It represents his extreme loneliness. But after this horror scene, comes the greatest part of the song, it is simply awesome. "Would you catch the final words of mine? Would you catch my weeeeeeerrds" (that's what he sings like). His voice, of someone psychologically tortured by ghosts, now scream in anger that "I don't want to hate, I just want to grow; why can't I let me live and be free? but I die very slowly alone". Then the song start to go insane (for the first of a lot of times). It's the Kosmos Tours. If you are using earphones THAT SUCK, bring the volume down. Or you'll suffer.
Then, a real soothing melody (Custard's Last Stand) plays on the keyboard. "Lighthouses might house the key, but can I reach the door?" He ponders about his job, the deaths he has seen and etc.. It lingers for a while, so just relax. Because some time after...
(EDIT: Oh, I was rereading this... what an awesome review, eh?! Oh, well, this was the only part I felt like editing. How could I oversee Custard's Last Stand? The organ on this part is simply magical, and the section has a strong marine feeling, you actually feel at a lighthouse by here. Peter Hamill's vocals are awesome too. And it just feels like that Pit-stop by the side of the long winding road... wrapped by the confusion of Kosmos Tours and the madness of Clot Thickens. Yes, after The Presence of the Night, my new favorite part of the song.)
The Clot Thickens. The sheer madness that was stuck inside the lighthouse keeper's head is unleashed, and between mad instruments, he madly questions life itself. "Where is the God that guides my hand? How can the hands of others reach me?" The suspense builds as the songs gets more and more aggressive. "I don't want to be one wave in the water, but sea will drag me deep. One more haggard drowned man..." Hey man, that was just disturbing, please. The clot thickens once at all when Hammill sings "I can see the lemmings coming, but I know I'm just a man; Do I join or do I founder? Which can is the best I may?" I was reading the reviews on this album, and apparently no one ever got this connection between the three songs; come on, it is so obvious! This is one of the most disturbing parts of the song because some people say that this is a concept album and all three songs tell the story of the same man. And that is quite disturbing to me. You have been listening to the last minutes of a man, and that man is the same man from the first two awesome tracks. And did you get it? He is considering suicide right now. He's wants to put an end to his life. NOW.
The clot thickens and thickens and then... we hear a very peaceful, feel-good piano. After all this madness, the protagonist finally finds peace.
Yes, he decided to JUMP OFF OF THE CLIFF. And he describes how it feels, take that. "It doesn't feel so very bad now, I think the end is the start. Begin to feel very glad now: all things are a part". He falls through the sky. He is a pawn heart. He's just a man. "All things are apart."
Now you are gift with the MOST AWESOME song ENDING of ALL TIME. Relax. He's dead.
But he has found peace, at least. The 45 minutes of thrills are gone. Forever.
Wow, this has taken too long to type. I listened to the whole album plus 36 minutes of assorted songs here while I wrote this. Sorry it was a very long review, yes, it may not seem to much for you to matter, but when Anonymous, 2112 killed himself, I was struck deep in the heart for some days. Ah, and sorry too if the arguments seemed too weak, I'm new to this stuff of reviewing albums. Oh, and sorry if bad English too, I'm just practicing my writing skills in another language, please.
Final words? Oh. I still haven't heard a lot of full albums, but this one was for sure crafted with much care. And I must thank Van der Graaf Generator for making this wonderful music for me to hear: thank you, guys.
EDIT: Ratings? 4,0 for Lemmings, (EDIT: it has grown on me after some time); 5,0 for Man-Erg and 5,0 for A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. Oh, those songs are perfect, two of the greatest songs I've ever heard in my life. I honestly can't decide which is better, I usually see anthropomorphic versions of those songs wrestling the title in my head.
My final rating is 5,0. BEST ALBUM EVER MADE!
I had a revelation about this album this morning. I finally figured out what it really means. I could have told you before that it was a concept album. I could even tell you what each song means. But I couldn't put them together, nor could I make out the title. Something happened this morning, though, as I listened to A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers (notably the line "I can hear the lemmings coming, but I know I'm just a man" - but more on that later), and everything clicked. And this album, which was already a clear five star choice for me, suddenly became one of my top 5 albums. Well, it probably already was, but it solidified that mark.inpraiseoffolly
Pawn Hearts is the Van Der Graaf Generator's fourth release, and clearly their best. After completely changing their sound between the Aerosol Grey Machine and The Least We Can Do Is Wave to Each Other, they progressively built up towards this album, after which they disbanded. Upon regrouping, Peter Hamill, the main songwriter for the band, basically said, "well, we can't beat Pawn Hearts, so let's just play." Because, to tell the truth, it would be incredibly difficult to beat Pawn Hearts.
When I first heard this album, I hated it. I absolutely despised it. I thought Hamill couldn't sing, the band couldn't produce a single decent melody, and that, in essence, this was a worthless album that everyone ought to avoid at all costs. Thanks to a review on www.progarchives.com, I forced myself to reexperience the album. I got to liking it, and rated it 4 out of 5 stars. Well, I listened to it more, and liked it more each time, eventually giving it my rare (7 or 8 so far) masterpiece rating. And that brings me up to my revelation.
The title of this album is Pawn Hearts. A strange title, to be sure, but one that piques your interest. So does the cover. If you notice the cover, there's a cliff, and tumbling over it are a bunch of chess pieces, notably: PAWNS. Each one, instead of the bulb at the top, has a face in a bubble. Pawn Hearts. There is one main character in the album, and his story spans across all three songs, which I just figured out this morning. In Lemmings, the first track, the man sees the control exerted over these Pawn Hearts as they blindly follow political leaders, who use propaganda to twist their hearts and minds, and play off their emotions in order to control their actions. The man sees “those that [he] would dearly love to share with crashing on quite blindly to the sea,” and tries “to ask what game this was, but knew [he] would not play it.” They answer him only vaguely, more concerned about rushing onward, off the cliff. As they say, “what choice is there left to die?” To no avail, the man tries to talk them out of it: “I know our deaths may be soon, but why do you make them sooner?”
In the next song, Man-Erg, the man contemplates his own future, and whether he should go along with the lemmings (or pawn hearts, either one). He feels isolated, and wonders who he is. In one case, he is a killer, in another, an angel. In one, a dictator, in another, a refugee. So how do all of these relate. Well, to answer this, we must look to the title of the song. Man-Erg. Rearrange those letters. German. The lemmings are people who blindly follow Hitler. The man does not wish to be a Nazi, but is not sure he can overcome the tide of Nazism that threatens to overcome him. He is both a killer (a Nazi) and an Angel (not a Nazi), and he cannot decide which he wants to control his actions. He is both a dictator (a Nazi) and a Refugee (not a Nazi). He cannot decide how he would rather live, in power, but wrongfully so, or always on the run, but with the knowledge that he was a good person.
This brings us to the final song, the masterful epic A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. He is one of the few people in Germany not yet a Nazi, and he is thus a beacon of light and humanity amidst the raging sea. Thus, he is a lighthouse keeper. He guides people in from the sea to the land. But there is no one for him to show the way to. There are no ships still trying to overcome Hitler’s propaganda and the sea of Nazism. His conflicting emotions come to a full force, a raging battle in his mind. He has two options. He can either remain the lighthouse keeper, never used, and never seemingly worthwhile, or he can jump. He can leave his lighthouse and enter the sea, joining the lemmings he was just recently condemning. He can remain pure and lose, or he can sacrifice his dignity and win. After an agonizing internal debate, he jumps. And he regrets it almost immediately. But, there are no other lighthouse keepers left, they have all jumped as well. There is no guiding light to show him back to land, no ship that can save him from the raging sea. He has no choice but to watch as he becomes a dictator, a killer, a lemming, a PAWN HEART.
On to the music. At first, it can be quite disconcerting and amelodic. It mostly just takes getting used to, and then it becomes a love. Lemmings opens relatively accessibly, with Hamill singing over the little guitar that appears on the album. After that, the album is almost entirely keyboard dominated, with some excellent drum work as well, and sax that is hard to classify. The sax isn’t bold, in your face sax, it’s defeated sax, soft sax that perfectly fits the mood of the album. Lemmings, after the intro, descends into a madness of inaccessibility, but it’s not at all bad. In fact, it is masterfully done, every note in it’s place.
Man-Erg opens with some beautiful keyboard/piano, and then some excellent singing by Hamill, which lasts for about three minutes, until the song simply freaks out (sounds especially excellent on headphones) for the next minute and a half, with some odd vocals. Then, it’s back to the beautiful keyboards and singing. This is the only truly accessible track on the album, and at times my favorite (though all three have been my favorite at some point).
A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers is a 23 minute journey, dark, bombastic, and amazing. Hamill’s singing here is very theatrical, and highly inaccessible until that moment when you just “get it.” It takes time, but it’s well worth the wait. The defeated sax is very common hear, and Hamill gets into your mind like no other lyricist I know.
This album is truly a masterpiece. It manages to rock with little guitar, Hamill is simply one of the best vocalists at expressing himself, and one of best lyricists at putting you inside the main character’s head. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, Hamill is a master lyricist, and a contestant for my favorite lyricist. Every note is perfectly placed here, and though the album is tedious at first, it’s truly an album you can’t live without. It all simply depends on how much patience you have, and how many chances you’re willing to give it. One of the best albums there is that you can buy. Highly, highly recommended, and a full five stars. A MASTERPIECE!
Though Robert Fripp and King Crimson are probably most widely-known as the dark lords of 70's progressive rock, I think Peter Hammill (who I've already introduced with Over) and Van der Graaf Generator do a better job of combining an ominous sound with focused lyrics that actually conceptually match that dark sound. I won't go into the group's needlessly convoluted history, but suffice to say that this was the last of the first four of their albums recorded before the band went on effective hiatus until their other masterpiece, 1975's Godbluff. Amongst the landscape of 70's prog bands, Van der Graaf Generator are known for being one of the best bands to largely avoid guitar in favor of a sound that combines unusually aggressive-sounding keyboards (Hugh Banton) and saxophone (David Jackson). The group additionally distinguished itself by being much more successful in Italy than in its native Britain, and by having a few of the worst-realized album covers in all of the progressive boom (and that's really saying something).Elliot Knapp
In my view, Pawn Hearts makes good on the promise of its predecessors, especially H to He Am the Only One, insofar as the band manages to flesh Hammill's lyrical and songwriting vision more cohesively and provide some of the most interesting, intense and engaging music they'd so far committed to tape. As I've kind of already mentioned, Peter Hammill is the deal-breaker for Van der Graaf Generator--you either like his balls-to-the-wall, theatrical, choirboy-cum-chainsaw vocals and find his perpetual interest in the blurry borders between psychology, metaphysics and science fiction compelling, or you simply don't. For me, his style is so original and varied that I'd probably like it even if I didn't find it aesthetically appealing, though I do occasionally feel he treads familiar lyrical thematic pathways a little too often (isolation being one). So, the Van der Graaf Generator sound is often expressed using Hammill's vocals as the prime melodic device, placing especial emphasis on his words and the drama of his delivery.
Like so many hallmark 70's prog albums, Pawn Hearts consists of only three tracks. The first two, "Lemmings" and "Man-Erg" could accurately be described as refined summations of where the band had already been. "Lemmings" is a sweeping expression of the album's concepts, describing mankind as lemmings rushing toward a clifftop. After a brief atmospheric introduction featuring Hammill's understated acoustic guitar strumming, the band launches into an odd-meter unison riff (one of their most distinctive devices) that powerfully joins Hammill's voice with the organ and saxophone. I'll readily admit that most everything Hammill writes is dark to the point of dourness and humorlessness, but I'll be damned if the hairs on the back of my neck don't stand up on end every single time I hear him sing "There is no escape except to go forward!" Though the subject matter is bleak, I think there's far too few lyricists willing to face up and address the particulars of humankind's ultimate destination and looming self-destruction. Not that they need necessarily be addressed so grandiosely or even darkly at all, but for me it's a refreshing change of pace from the blithe escapism offered by most pop music. Across the song's mottled landscape (there are all kinds of great singular moments built into the composition) Hammill's desperation grows to the point that he pleads, "What choice is there left to die/in search of something we're not quite sure of?" The song's rousing middle section combines an interlocking riff based on Jackson's dual saxophone (he'd play two at once) and Banton's juicily-overdriven organ. By the time the song winds back around to its recapitulation and climax, it's apparent that Hammill's outlook isn't quite as pessimistic as it originally appeared--in the face of an indifferent universe, he decides, "What choice is there left but to live/In the hope of saving our children's children's little ones?" The humanistic message rings in the air over one of my favorite parts of the song in which two of the melodic themes overlap and repeat, warping each time into an uncertain haze, musically complicating Hammill's conclusion.
"Man-Erg," perhaps best described as a power ballad, weaves a well-trod style for the band with the Pawn Hearts concept (which I interpret to generally encompass the unsure and unstoppable motion of the human race and each human's seemingly insignificant role in it--both externally and metaphysically). As the lyrics quote from the band's earlier works (both "Killer" and "Refugees"), Hammill passionately treads the floorboards over his dual nature as a killer and an angel, eventually realizing that he encompasses all aspects of human nature. The song's deliberate but anthemic pacing as well as another aggressive and dissonant middle section with some frenetic vocals set the track apart from some very similar earlier ballads in the group's history, and some jazz harmony in the second half adds a welcome dimension to the relatively straightforward ballad style.
"A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers," the album's 23 minute-long second half, is predictably less focused. The epic track trades straightforwardness for some of the album's most spacious atmosphere, though, and it's also got some of the most musically progressive composition of the band's entire output. I've heard a number of listeners write the song off as directionless, which I think is easy to do when a song is over 20 minutes long--personally, I think it takes quite a few plays and some close attention before songs like this really open up and I try to withhold judgment until I've at least listened enough to recall from memory the song's general structure and some of the melodic elements. If I'd written this review six months ago (even after having heard it many times over the course of two years), I'd be far less kind to this song, but I've come to appreciate its many nooks and crannies, wealth of melodic ideas and repeated brazenness much more in the interim. I still don't feel like I've got a strong grip on the lyrical subject matter (the beauty of forming a long term relationship with good albums), but I think the song's strengths certainly outweigh its weaknesses, with some breathtaking unison arpeggios, some of the most searing dissonance on the album, and some genuine scariness. I would say, though, that the 70's progressive period did produce a few more cohesive epics; "Lighthouse Keepers" at times plays like several nearly-a-song sections interspersed with musically interesting but somewhat unrelated vignettes. For an epic of this length, I'd hope for a little more unified purpose, but the parts are of high enough quality that it's still pretty engaging.
I've maintained for a while now that, though it may not accurately be described as the way "forward," atonality in both melody and harmony seems to be the most shamefully underutilized 20th century music advancement of all when it comes to pop music. Instead of passing the last 100 years retraining our ears to appreciate the innumerable combinations and "millions of colors" possible through the varied application of atonality, we've clung to practically the same conservative, inflexibly traditionalist, oh-so-Western, "16 colors" conception of harmony we've been fearfully clutching more or less since Beethoven. It's with great pleasure that I welcome this group's experimentation with atonality in "Lighthouse Keepers'" more violent sections as well as the depth it adds to some of the more ethereal passages. Though 70's progressive rock eventually became hated by some for its less attractive aspects and exponents, to the point that the word "progressive" almost exclusively conjures sounds of Hammond organs, Moog synthesizers, romantic composition and 20 minute songs, I long for a future in which the word "progressive" returns to its literal meaning and can be used to describe music whose intent is to continue music's progress and (ideally) perpetual journey to become something it wasn't already before. Sadly, we've instead got "Art Rock," "Experimental," "Post-Rock," "Post-Punk" and "Noise" all using increasingly vague synonyms to distance themselves from the period flavor of 70's progressive music when in reality they're often attempting to achieve similar goals. That said, I think Van der Graaf Generator (though obviously of the 70's in sound) puts a distinctive spin on the period's common tropes and provides enough interesting experimentation that they're still worth checking out and deserve their cult status as one of the best of the original waves of progressive bands. While I don't think any of their albums are flawless, I do think the uncommon number of risks they take more than adequately justifies the flaws.
In celebration of the horrible album art, here's the back cover.
Note: “I know I’m not a killer, but I hope that I’m not DAMNED!!!” When Peter Hammill sung these words on 1972’s PAWN HEARTS, I believed he sung them directly to me. It was a theme that was to surface throughout my first twenty-five years on this planet, during my teenage years, but especially through the experimental LSD times spent in the manipulative hands of Bill Drummond and Dave Balfe, both of whom regularly called me evil to my tripping face. However, unlike Hammill, this speak tore down my self-belief and, furthermore, helped to replace it with the kind of teflon-coated heathenism that exists to this day. Peter Hammill appears to speak to everyone he touches with the same level of cosmic power. Those who don’t plug in, well he ain’t no evangelist so screw ya! But if it’s soft-hearted hard-voiced CS Lewis-baiting pastoralism you need from your rock’n’roll, look to Pete Hammill as the Ult – a weird psychic combination of Bruce Lee and Bruce Easily.Julian Cope
A Kelt in a Krautrock Style
First time I ever heard PAWN HEARTS was in a shitty Torquay hotel where I was working in summer 1972. I was drunk on QC sherry and freaking out an 18-year-old girl called Karen, who was acid tripping and convinced that I was bringing her down. I was 15 and didn’t know what that meant, but the music was such a cack-off cacophony that I had to inform her “It ain’t me, babe!” It was the first time I’d thought what a racket progressive rock could be. Yet I already knew Faust and early Magma, so this lot (British too, so they shoulda known better) were surely just trying to be cantankerous. How I adored this record. However, thirty-one years and a coupla hundred spins later, I’m still genuinely disorientated by this extremely everything LP, and even more in Shock’n’awe of Peter Hammill than I was all those ye-hars ago. For one thing, I now know the technology he had at his group’s disposal and STILL it sound fucking well weird. Dear me, Pete, you were on the famous Charisma label with good old Lindisfarne and Genesis and the Nice and Audience - couldn’t you have tried a bit harder to fit in?
PAWN HEARTS is progressive rock the way the East Germans played it. Not even the West Germans really managed such truly minging combinations of Brecht and primal scream therapy. This was rock’n’roll only because no other category would fit, and rock’n’roll was slack enough to accommodate this mongrel gang of weaners whose only common ground was that everyone hated them all. Peter Hammill sounds so posh you almost think he’s a council kid putting it on to wind up everybody. He played the same funky Hohner Clavinet that Sly Stone wa’d into Stonkerville, but Hammill reduces it to a damp and tortured Scando-Germanic post-folk harpsichord reminiscent of one of P.V. Glob’s strangled Iron Age bog victims. David Jackson doesn’t play sax for Van Der Graaf Generator, he plays saxophone and two of them simultaneously and extremely well. His melodies play the Mainman riffs usually reserved for fuzz guitars and contained no blues notes whatsoever. Jakson – as he was occasionally known - was like Chris Wood on JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE as played by Derek Guyler. Unfunkeh! Hugh Banton looked like and WAS an ex-choir boy, but his Godspell backing band attire and pouty gob belied his total immersion in undermining everything achieved by the sum total of all other prog keyboard players. Guy Evans had been in the later (and shit) version of the Misunderstood, but he was the best bassless drummer this side of John Densmore and played with the freedom of one who knows that the bass – what there is – will have to be added later in the session, and always around him. Ain’t no bass sucker gonna follow this rollathon, says Guy, coming in on the 7th beat. Indeed, half the time, the bass was supplied either by Hugh Banton’s low organ notes, or the occasional plucked Fender bass. In many ways, Van Der Graaf Generator bore the same relationship to other prog groups of the early 1970s as the Doors did to contemporary garage and psychedelic bands of the mid-1960s. In other words, not a lot.
Van Der Graaf Generator were punks in a prog-rock style1. They had a visionary leader who wrote umpteen songs per week and released new LPs without even telling his record company. But Hammill had no idea when he was good or bad, and the first few releases were patchy dry runs for this remarkable statement called PAWN HEARTS. Indeed, the big surprise about Van Der Graaf is not that they were shit when they failed to come up with the goods. No no, more suprisingly they were just bland and a bit dismissable. Their first LP AEROSOL GREY MACHINE looks great and makes all the right moves, then you take it off and never listen ever again. Their second LP THE LEAST WE CAN DO IS WAVE TO EACH OTHER again looks great and contains one great song called ‘White Hammer’, which is portentous psycho-drama of the first order. However, the rest is self-immersed drywank with only the occasional deeply embarrassingly twee moment thrown in for listeners to gnash their teeth over (“West is Mike and Suzie”, anyone?). Their third LP was the mysteriously-titled H TO HE WHO AM THE ONLY ONE, which looks just fabberoo and even opens with the ‘struthly mossive “Killer”, which is the kind of bedsit prog Marc Almond shoulda covered instead of that obvious stuff by Sydney Barrett. But the rest is contemptible window dressing that comes and goes without ever coming at all. Dammit, they even managed to release a 45 called “Theme One” written for them by George Martin, the Beatles Guy. Shite Attack? U-Betcha! Not a hit? Rather! Nowadays available only on some rare US edition LP? Correctamundo! Y?
Becozz they woz shitty shit shit until PAWN HEARTS and then they became great. Great? They become mega-nificent on this LP. Reet youth, so it were plain sailing from here? Nope, then they split up… Hammill goes on to make reems and reems of deeply weird solo LPs and they get back together in 1975 and… they’z even better! Yup, they are probably the only band to re-form and be better than when they went away. However, as they’d only got a 25% score from the first 4LPs that’s not too hard.
But Van Der Graaf Generator returned with a dry new sound that took that long drawn out LOW SPARK OF HIGH HEEL BOYS meets SHOOT OUT AT THE FANTASY FACTORY-period Traffic stuff (the 14-minutes of “Rollright Stones”, the 7-minutes of “Sometimes I Feel So Uninspired”, and the 12-minute title song “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”), and Hammill trotted it out on to the Western Iranian plain and played Zarathustra with it. Suddenly, that morbid self-absorption that Stevie’s hollering becomes, in Hammill’s gonzo’d brain, the lone voice of the deserted shaman taking on the Bronze Age chariot-boys from Hell. It’s so damned magnificent I’m convinced Peter Hammill got close to THE TRUTH sometime around that period. Like a Neolithic ridgeway walker who grasps the sky and discovers that it’s actually a false-ceiling just 18 inches above his head, Hammill pushed through the soft barely-coagulated 3-minute egg that separates us from Heaven, and managed to (at least temporarily) live in both places at the same time. The comeback LP was GODBLUFF and it was faultless. Even nowadays, it exists on an entirely different plain to other music. STILL LIFE followed and was just as ruddy out there and unjudgeable. By WORLD RECORD, even I was getting wall-eyed by such 20-minute long titles as “Murglys 3 The Songwriter’s Guild”. But listening now it was me who never got it and Hammill who was just getting going.
The Stone Things are Broken!
But enough, let’s get back to the Album of the Month action. After all, the decision was made to shine the spotlight on this sucker. So just what is it that makes PAWN HEARTS so amazing? Well listen and see what you think. For a start, it’s the beginning of Peter Hammill’s bizarre but successful artistic co-habitation with himself. He’s not singing about anyone else but himself, yet the duets he does with himself actually sound like there’s a bunch of other singers in there too. When Hammill talks about waiting for his saviour, he seems to mean the castrated Attis as much as Jesus the Pastor. His Goddess seems to be both Cybele AND the Virgin. He’s like a newly Christianised Saxon: still willing to invoke Woden when he has to make the journey but content with the shiny guy for 90% of the daytime. Hammill’s a river traveller and a pastoralist, a bringer and a revealer, a giant and a flea AND the most misunderstood man in rock’n’roll – a Kim Fowleyan Loki bound by his accent and an inability rather than a refusal to change it. Look at the gatefold sleeve and that about sums it up. Four make-shift fascistic footballers in black shirts and white ties, in a post-psychedelic super-realist Narnia (Give C.S. a kick from me while you’re there, Pete, will ya?)
“Lemmings” opens the LP drifting in on sweet-voiced acoustics and Mellotron 400 flutes, before a sarcastic Utnapishtim saxophone tells you it’s the fucking Epic of Gilgamesh, and those fucking stone things are BROKEN!!! Ararat is submerged and the last temples of Urartu will never see another fire ritual. The difference between this LP and their previous ‘effort’ is the difference between THE WORLD OF DAVID BOWIE and ZIGGY STARDUST, without any of the graduations in between. In one fell swoop, Hammill has leap-frogged several stages of humanity and clawed, nay bestrode his way up on to Jahve’s own volcano and dumped his own hand-scribed tablets of demands down the God’s own smoke stack.
Also remember when you hear this stuff that Peter Hammill is, on this recording, only about 24 years old though getting decades older by the hour. “Man-erg” was probably the first example of Hammill’s soon-coming tendency to appropriate religious themes to his own ends, paganise them, and send them back-at-ya with such Victorian mawkishness that U-Cannot-fail to blart your head off. Then, the Hammill formula deems thou must cop as un-R&B a saxophone lick as never did roam this planet and play it strident and bavarian with a small ‘b’. Soon, Hammill’s clanking his clavinet as VDGG summon up some o’ that old thyme Brechtian soul from the Nederland Plain. Now, he’s John Hurt as John Merrick screaming “I’m just a man”. I think not, Peter. Where’s the evidence, even amongst your contemporaries, for your being ‘Just A Man’? Yooz a hooligan cleric, a tonsured Viking, a Daft Vader with the voice of Todd Rundgren, David Bowie, Hall & Oates, John Inman, Quatermass and Pet Shop Boy all rolled into one.
Remember the first time you heard “The Soft Parade” title track and wondered when it was all gonna kick in, only it never did? Well, here, instead of berating your earhole sergeant-major-like all the way through (as Hammill is well wont to do), “A Plague of Lighthouse keepers” drifts in and out of control for 23-minutes of standing-on-the-verge-of-getting-it-on-ness, occasionally unleashing ridiculous stentorian extremes, then backing right off into passages of near meditational drift. It should also be noted that this lot use Mellotrons 400 and Mark 2 like they SHOULD be used. Sound FX, train choogles, stampeding elephants, bain’t nowt too gimmicky for our boys. If it was guaranteed to invoke the ancient Gods, then they’d even steep the ARP synthesizer in tea.
PAWN HEARTS is a masterpiece in the old-fashioned sense of the word, that is: it is a musical blueprint on which to build in the future and has as sensibly structured an anti-structure as you could wish for. It is in turns beautiful, ridiculous, foul, overwhelming, irritating, mutating and magnificent. So don’t use this LP to irritate the wanker neighbours when you go out or you may return to find them clad in saffron robes, on a mission both to befriend you and to help you co-host evenings of Mellotron 400-based Pan-Eurasian re-constituted fire festivities. Be forewarned!
Punk and prog don’t mix? Think again, and think hard. And if so, then how come Mark Smith auditioned for Henry Cow, and was still so hurt by their rejection that he called them anti-New Wave snobs in a 1978 letter to me? And how come Howard Devoto and John Rotten ripped Peter Hammill vocal inflections off note-for-note not just in Magazine and PIL but even in the early Buzzcocks and Pistols days? Prog wasn’t all Genesis and Gentle Giant, baby. Ever heard ‘Close to the Edge’ in isolation? Without the wide-eyed George Formby-isms of ‘And you and I’, it’s a massive (though horrible) stun attack clawing and yammering its barbarian way to some kind of enlightenment. It’s Magma’s fascinatingly bad 2nd LP 1001 DEGREES CENTIGRADE mercifully de-loused of all the Blood, Sweat & Tears jazz. Chris Squire never lost his psychedelic roots even if Bill Bruford never gained them, and there’s plenny more out there without having to resort to the kind of Canterbury cup-of-tea Gong/Caravan/Hatfield tosspottery beloved of so many.
Pregunta, el que está abajo en la imagen... ¿es Marcelo Tinelli o el Gauchito Gil?
Y no hace falta decir que les recomiendo este disco... en realidad se los super recomiendo, una maravilla dura, áspera, densa y muy disfrutable. Todo el arte y poder creativo de grandes músicos liderados por el genio de Hammill en su mejor forma.
Elías, vos lo pediste este disco alucinante, y lo terminan teniendo todos los cabezones. Disfruten y disfruten y disfruten y disfruten y...