Van Der Graaf Generator: Do Not Disturb
Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1062
2 Alfa Berlina
3 Room 2010
4 Forever Falling
5 Shikita Ga Nai
6 (Oh no! I must have said) Yes
7 Brought to Book
8 Almost the Words
Revitalised as a trio of Hugh Banton, Guy Evans & Peter Hammill since 2008’s Trisector, this is the latest (and maybe last) album from one of the most innovative, exciting and original bands from progs first wave.
This was released back in September and it has taken me a while to get round to writing this review, due to as previously mentioned life getting in the way, and of course I needed time to live with and digest this album.
With the added shadow of this potentially being their last album, the mood of regret, or closure and a sense of finality hang over the record, which for my money is one of the finest they have produced in this latter period of their mighty career.
Aloft, with Peter Hammills mighty voice, which like a fine wine has matured with age, and each song on the album feels like a musical postcard from somewhere, a snippet of a life liven, a personal vignette.
Nothing more so than on the evocative and beautiful Alfa Berliner, with Hammill himself stating he’s got
‘a lifetimes library of unreliable mementoes’
As he takes us on a musical journey to long ago and far away, with the bands music being perfectly in tune with his sentiments and imagery, you almost feel like you are there, on this unspecified journey in a classic Italian car.
The atmospheric Brought to Book, with it’s ominous keyboard tones and piano interludes brings the groups 70’s work to the fore, whilst the lyrics follow the overriding theme on the album, I am sure there’s writers out there better than I who can theorise about where Peter Hammill is taking us lyrically and thematically, all I know is these lyrics are more direct, more personal and more emotive than on albums like a Grounding in Numbers, and remind me very much of the style of writing on Peters classic 70’s album Over.
With a career as long as VdGG have had it’s inevitable you find yourself comparing current triumphs with past glories, (look at articles about football teams, about TV shows) and it’s human nature for us to look nostalgically and see what’s gone before and how the shadows are cast long, and on (Oh No! I must have said) Yes, Peter is almost asking us to not to do so, with lyrics like
‘I don’t want to talk about the old days anymore, I’ve set aside all the unsettled scores, but nonetheless the past still casts a shadow over me’
Whilst the music is almost the kind of prog that VdGG performed in their heyday, til, as so often on this record, they wrong foot us with a spaced out jazz interlude.
The musical connection between the trio is sublime and has that power, that intimacy and surety that you only get from three people who’ve been so musically intertwined one way or another for nearly half a century.
Almost the words, has some amazing contemporary atmospheric keyboard sounds that then launches off into classic old school Hammond and seventies sounds, at over 7 minutes long (like the majority of the tracks on this album) gives it space to room and grow and build up.
With it’s moods and tones and the emotionally direct lyrics some other online commentators have compared this to latter day David Gilmour led Pink Floyd, I am inclined to disagree, I think this is the closest that Peter Hammill the solo songwriter and Peter Hammill the member of VdGG have converged since La Rossa made an appearance on Over.
With it’s closing couplet of
‘There’s the thing, for all you know,
It’s time to let go’
Go ends the album on a pastoral reflective note, it’s muted electronic synths almost hymn like in their ethereal beauty and a complete contrast to the sound and fury of some of the earlier tracks, and if this is the last album, then it’s one hell of a way to say goodbye, a simple, moving and effective coda to an astonishing album and a mighty career.
As you survey the current progressive scene in all its disparate forms, and the strength of new releases this year, it’s telling of the class of this record that in the final act of 2016, one of the legendary bands on the scene produces one of the most emotionally and spiritually uplifting albums that I’ve heard and one that has firmly implanted itself as a defining record of 2016.
If you’ve heard then you’ll understand, if you haven’t then listen to it, as my words could never do this the justice it deserves.