Possibly the finest "post Pawn Hearts" album by the band
Jeffrey J.Park | Massachusetts, USA | 08/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1976 release would prove to be the last truly excellent release by the band. Although the follow-up album World Record (also 1976) had its moments, it was clear that the steam had run out. Fortunately, Still Life is a remarkable Van Der Graaf Generator album and features those properties that make them one of my favorite progressive bands: Peter Hammill's voice and vocals; Hugh Banton's organ work; and Guy Evans drumming. Come to think of it, this may very well be the finest "post Pawn Hearts" album they released. That of course is just my opinion.
The lineup on Still Life is considered the classic lineup and featured virtuoso drummer Guy Evans (drum kit and percussion); Hugh Banton (Hammond organ; mellotron; acoustic piano; bass pedals; and bass guitar); Peter Hammill (vocals; electric and acoustic guitars; and piano); and David Jackson (alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones (acoustic and electric); and flute). The playing by all members is in top form on Still Life, although David seemed to have backed off from the wild playing that characterized the 1970-1971 period. Peter's voice however, is still loaded with the angst and anguish that made him my favorite prog vocalist - he characteristically alternates between a high pitched falsetto and a heavy metal growl. Although not very high in the mix, Peter plays electric guitar on the album - the liner notes comment on how he felt that he could hold his own on the instrument after releasing several solo albums. Hugh favors a very clean, "churchy" tone on the Hammond, which really makes the album work for me. Guy churns out his usual high quality work on the drum kit and this newly mastered version really brings the intricacies of his playing out.
The five tunes on the album range in length from 7:08 to 12:23 and feature the tense arrangements, odd meters, and strange root movements that characterized much of their classic material. Like all of their best music, there is generally a brooding atmosphere to Still Life, which is saturated with minor keys. However, like Godbluff (1975), the rough edges appear to have been smoothed away a bit and a little bit more room is left for softer textures and melodies. The spacey track My Room (Waiting for Wonderland) is a good example of this and boasts a very nice and melodic saxophone solo by David. One other quiet passage includes the introduction to Childlike Faith in Childhood's End, which features an extremely interesting flute arrangement that does not sound too much unlike the approach used in minimalism. By the way, this track is a superb symphonic prog workout and an excellent way to close the album. I guess it is worth pointing out that although there are some smoothed edges and quiet moments, this album "rocks" - the VDGG heaviness is very much in place along with some metrically complex and blazing ensemble work that kept me on the edge of my seat (La Rossa comes to mind).
This remastered album by Virgin is absolutely, positively excellent. The CD booklet features informative liner notes and the lyrics to each piece. The sound quality is what blows me away - all of the remastered albums sound so much better than the older versions that these may as well be completely new recordings. The bonus track includes a scary and overwhelming live version of the previously unreleased track Gog, which was recorded at a concert held in 1975 at the Theatr Gwynedd in Bangor, Wales. The sound quality is very poor, but the sheer brutal power of the piece more than makes up for it.
All in all, this is the last excellent album by VDGG and is very highly recommended along with H to He, He who am the Only One (1970); and Pawn Hearts (1971)."
Wow-One of the Greats
Phebe Hemphill | Pompton Lakes, NJ United States | 01/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This record should appeal to many people with its straight ahead rock riffs and brilliant twists and turns. Some of the greatest songwriting by Hammill. The remastering is great. Gog(live) is dark, dire and insane with Hammill singing his lungs out. Don't be stupid- buy this record!"
Gareth Davies-Morris | San Diego, CA USA | 07/14/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In response to Onelove's review, I have to say that if you're just dipping your toe into Hammill/VDGG, you're not in any place to make comparisons or give advice. Gentle Giant and Tull are great bands, and they were contemporaries of VDGG in the good old days of 70s prog, but comparing them is pointless as it implies imitation when VDGG (well, all of them really) were originators. "King Crimson with keyboards" might be a more meaningful analogy, because of the complexity and the collaboration between Fripp and Hammill. Either way, if you don't know already, you're way behind the curve. Posting a review here is preaching to the converted, after all. My Room (Waiting For Wonderland) was the first track I ever heard by the band and is still their purest ballad -- a beautiful song. As for the rest, dark, intense prog, with Hammill's voice like Bowie on mescaline and Messrs. Banton, Jackson, and Evans firing on all six cylinders. The earlier Pawn Hearts also gets 5 stars, VDGG fans (IMHO)."