Softer, but no less emotional
mianfei | 06/12/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After recording two albums in H to He, Who Am the Only One and Pawn Hearts that after being forgotten for many years were seemingly rediscovered in the late 1980s by the prototypes of the post-rock genre, Van der Graaf Generator, owing to numerous internal conflicts, were forced to disband. Peter Hammill, however, released four solo albums that featured, though on different tracks, every other member of the classic Van der Graaf lineup.
It was only natural that Van der Graaf would reform in 1975 and when they did, they began work on new material, which eventually formed "Godbluff". In comparison to their two previous albums, "Godbluff" has never acquired the same reputation, and this no doubt prevented me from investigating it for some time. However, when I listened, it did not take me long to realise that "Godbluff" deserves every bit as good a reputation as Van der Graaf Generator's two previous masterpieces.
It is true that Van der Graaf Generator do not achieve the hard rock sound without guitars they masterminded without emulation on "Pawn Hearts". The opening track, "The Undercover Man" in fact is largely dominated by the flute and Hugh Banton's newly melodic organ work - until Hammill sings with a growl that creates drama purely because the rest of the piece is as soft as it is. The next track, "Scorched Earth", is dominated by a groove-like saxophone/drum interplay that gives a hypnotic, but extremely emotional quality. At the same time, keyboardist Hugh Banton plays the organ with a tunefulness that could almost put John Tout to shame.
"Arrow", the third track, is sparser but perhaps even more melodic, being more than nay other song the band had ever recorded a showcase for the dramatic vocals of Peter Hammill, which will no doubt scare some but create tremendous drama that fits the lyrics he writes perfectly. Whilst his lyrics are less obvious in their dark quality than those of Roger Wootton of Comus, they are more potent because of their greater overall depth. The final track of the original album, "The Sleepwalkers", continues this trend of nearly locked grooves over which Hammill sings incomprehensible laments of loss and dark violence. "The Sleepwalkers" is more nearly classic progressive music than the first three tracks and consists of numerous multi-part sections which feature a variety of texture more like earlier Van der Graaf than the first three songs - though still with more of the soft organ textures than before.
The bonus tracks are live and of a quite different tone from those familiar with classic Van der Graaf sound because there is clearly no multitracking whatsoever. Both tracks feature the same recognisable players but Hammill's prominence is increased with acoustic guitars on the sad "A Louse Is Not a Home". These two songs will take some getting used to even for big Van der Graaf fans like myself, but they show another side of Hammill and the band that rarely receives much attention.
All in all, "Godbluff" shows a probably more mature and wiser band still playing with all the passion, uniqueness and fire that made it into the pioneer band of the early 1970s."