What does it sound like?:
Robert Fripp used to say that, with some of his bands, he could feel an indefinable presence hovering over them – and he knew that this band could be called King Crimson. Arguably something similar happens with Van der Graaf Generator (VdGG) – something which makes the band more than the sum of its parts; and also provides a clear delineation between solo Hammill material (much of which had Banton, Evans and Jackson playing on it, particularly in the 1970s) and the full-blown VdGG experience. Primus inter pares in a band…..or the total control of a solo artist? Something makes Peter Hammill return again to the VdGG fire, and forge something different from his solo material. The contributions of Hugh Banton & Guy Evans are clearly huge factors….but so is the mysterious ‘I’ which is Van der Graaf.
And so, to the album in hand – Do Not Disturb – VdGG’s thirteenth album, we are told….
I note that some of the published reviews so far have concentrated on the “looking back” aspect – I believe Banton commented that some of the songs reminded him of “Least we can do….” – and the press have picked up on that and run with it. Structurally, perhaps: more than one song starts in a particular meter and style, then has an unrelated and often counter- intuitive central section, before returning to the “A” section to close. However, parts of the sound-world are more like late 1970s solo Hammill – anyone who is familiar with The Future Now and pH7 will recognise the massed chorale of vox and the jabbering synths which are prominent in Alfa Berliner, for example. Hammill seems to be favouring treated or echoed vocals, harking back to Godbluff days.
Forever Falling is a more developed version of The Hurly Burly from Trisector, with lyrics this time; and much of the album sounds purpose-built for the trio to play live. Shigata Na Gai, a peaceful interlude – a palate cleanser before Oh No (I must have said yes) – muscular rock, with an odd “swing” middle section, into which Hammill injects disruptive guitar like a polite English Robert Quine.
With one exception, I confess to being slightly underwhelmed on first hearing this album: however, after the now obligatory six listens….I’m starting to love it. The mood is reflective, melancholy, far from immediate – and no amount of sonic disruption can shift that (Brought to Book being a prime example).
The final track, Go, seems to underline the album as a whole. Understated, droning keyboard; an untreated naked voice; does the song say goodbye after the death of a loved one, or after the subject’s own death? Or a more existential “goodbye” to something emotionally less well defined? Or do the lyrics say VdGG’s final goodbye to their audience? This is the track which caught me emotionally on the very first listen, and hasn’t let go. Dear reader, I had a tear in my eye.
As all the band members approach 70, it’s inevitable that journalistic thoughts will turn to this being their final statement. Hammill counters that every album should be treated in this way when one is writing and recording, and who’s to say at the time that Pawn Hearts or Quiet Zone might not have been the last? I hope that this is not the case: but if Do not Disturb turns out to be the final VdGG album, one could ask for nothing better – and if Go is their last ever statement, it looks out into the unknown future with calm and dignity……
What does it all *mean*?
Passage of time, meaning of existence, aging and looking back over life, howling into the void…..business as usual….
Goes well with…
Hard to say….a uniquely “Marmite” band, who seem to inspire lifelong devotion or an intense aversion….
Might suit people who like…
…..progressive music, as opposed to the lumpen Prog…..