Santa Dog | Norfolk, VA United States | 03/05/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is easily the very best album that VDGG produced. Everything: The writing, the playing ,the arranging and the uncanny guitar of Robert Fripp who functions as a fifth member of the band for this one recording.
The album is divided into two long songs; Lemmings and Man Erg ( each containing contrasting sections ) and an LP side long suite of songs: A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers. Some of the other reviewers have described the songs but this album has a sound all it's own. None of the other VDGG albums sounds like this - to say nothing of other bands ( progressive or otherwise). The feel overall is almost desperate. One feels as though he's hearing a man persisting against impossible odds.
There is a section in Lemmings entitled Cog which gives the sensation of being crushed under a machine gone out of control interspersed with quiet interpolations. Hammill's ability to change his voice from an abrasive intensity to a pure toned vulnerability is very striking here. Fripp's guitar plays a large part in creating the extreme menace with lines and chords of harrowing dissonance played with a very electronic sound. Some people seem to think this is some kind of keyboard...it ain't! - listen again.
In Man Erg we hear a chorale in which Hammill sings of the killer and the angels which live inside him ( and by extension, in all of us ). As the chorale ends the cry of saxophones - sounding like wounded animals - leads into a brutal section in 11 where Hammill sings: " How can I be free? How can I get help? Am I really me? Am I someone else?" Fripp interjects slashing phrases on electric guitar just before the vocal. His playing here is technically amazing - even by current standards ( remember that this was released in 1971..) and utterly original. Toward the end of the piece we are treated to the superimposition of the chorale over the brutal 11 of the middle section in a manner reminiscent of Stravinsky ( Petroushka, Rite of Spring ).
The suite that originally made up side two of the LP is a bit more uneven but still has a lot of exceptional music. I particularly love Presence of the Night which features Hammill singing in his most vulnerable mode along with delicate soprano sax from Jackson and elusive clean guitar filigree from Fripp. The last section is a kind of expansive anthem which underscores the essential ambiguity of existence ( "All things are a part, All things are apart, All things are a part.) Fripp plays a fairly long solo on the ride out to the end of the piece. His ability to make "wrong" notes right is of special note here. His guitar playing throughout this recording ( and there is a good bit of it ) never sounds superfluous and almost always comments on the lyrics in some way.
There are also beautiful moments on solo organ from Hugh Banton and the drumming of Guy Evans is superb throughout.
Highly recommended in this remaster along with some interesting and worthy extra tracks. One of the high water marks of early progressive rock before it descended into caricature."
Daniel J. Larubio | Philadelphia | 02/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Really excellent music. This album was the very reason that I buy music like this in the first place. Forgive my naivete, try to understand I am not familiar with this band but I am familiar with King Crimson (Robert Fripp), Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Mahavishnu, Tony Williams Lifetime, Jack Bruce, & Eno. They have obviously alot of influence with King Crimson (to my ears anyway) as well as Genesis in particular. It is a very refreshing & enlightening experience to listen to this Van der Graff Generator Album (Pawn Hearts specifically). Quite enjoyable actually. I picked up "The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other" by Van der Graff awhile back, & while it is good I will need to listen to it several more times for it to sink in. Pawn Hearts, on the other hand, is EXACTLY what I expected!!! sinister, macabre, with excellent musicianship/masterful performances, heavy organ, & odd time signatures. What more could a Prog Rocker ask for?!?! LOVE IT & that's only after 1 listen!!! I intend to continue exploring the works of this incredible underated band!!!"
The Tempest in My Mind
Joseph C. Helton | 06/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This disc easily earns 5 stars right out of the gate. It takes a bit of getting used to, as it is very eccentric, very British prog rock, but it is well worth the effort. The album starts off with "Lemmings" which features alot of sax from David Jackson, an excellent start I must say, it just rocks, the keyboard floating in the background is stunning. Next comes the anthem "Man-Erg" which features guitar work from Robert Fripp of King Crimson fame. It's a deep, introspective look at our worse and better natures. Peter Hammill does an outstanding job on vocals with this. Very good track, it goes without saying. Next is the epic "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers", clocking in at 23:05, it's time to take a deep breath and completely go over the edge. It's a long track, but holds together very well.
The bonus tracks are a real plus, unlike many times when they are not. They add to the dark, edgy feel of an already outstanding album.
If you've never heard Van der graaf Generator, this is an outstanding place to start, it's classic prog rock at it's very best, and well worth every penny. 5 stars!"