Consequences of Language
Van der Graaf Generator aficionados could no doubt explain in detail the critical make-up and mix that made this band, in their initial 60s/70s incarnation and brief rebirth in ‘75/76 [Jackson leaving in ‘76, the group disbanding in ‘78], such a unique and memorable musical phenomenon, but it was and always will be Peter Hammill’s role that dominates in that creative and performance fusion for me, essentially with his distinctive vocals that combine their unique, often operatic sound and always dramatic emotion. I’m not excluding David Jackson’s electronic and electrifying saxophone playing – always a crucial part of the live performances, as well as recordings, I loved in those early days.
This latest solo release, Hammill’s thirtieth, is another entirely self performed and produced recording. The ten tracks are anchored wholly to that hypnotic vocal which at its core narrates each song’s story and/or thesis [the polemical is always somewhere] in the idiosyncratic way Hammill does, breaking into the melody with its suddenness of this, and in most tracks augmented then by the complex multi-tracking of his voice for harmonies and choric developments.
The polemic in much of this collection regards language and what we speak/say. With titles like Eat My Words, Bite My Tongue; That Wasn’t What I Said, and the line Chose your words as if you were constantly overheard from the beautiful song Constantly Overheard, it is clear that there is warning, regret and regard for how we communicate with one another. These narratives make the listening an intense experience, and in this respect Hammill is a demanding artist: it most definitely isn’t easy listening, either in sound or content, but anyone knowing Hammill will know this. Indeed, there isn’t a single track for me that stands above any other in melodic terms – though I have already mentioned the most ‘tuneful’, relatively speaking, in CO – and it is the collective voicing as narration and then soaring emotion that forms the whole experience. Closer A Run of Luck is classic in this respect with solo voice and piano slowly and portentously narrating Hammill’s musing, again focusing on language which when it stays unspoken will prove to be the truer word than any we shout out loud, but then also offering this seemingly hopeful if candid observation life’s still great though the wick’s burnt down.