Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Van Der Graaf - The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome

Van Der Graaf Generator slipped mostly under the radar when I was into prog the first time round, but in the last 20 years or so they have risen to No.1 spot in my list of all time prog acts. This album was the last of the second phase of the band, released in 1977. They would not release another studio album until the third reunion in 2005. Having burnt themselves out physically and creatively by 1972 the first stable line-up split. They reformed in 1975 to release three albums in eighteen months with the same line up. Hugh Banton (customised organs & keyboards & bass pedals) then left again, swiftly followed by David Jackson (saxes, flutes). This prompted frontman Peter Hammill to radically alter the sound and direction of the band, recruiting Nic Potter (bass) who had briefly been in the band at the beginning, Graham Smith (violin), and taking up the guitar himself to become the sonic focal point of the band, and dropping "Generator" from the name to give fans an inkling that this was not what had gone before. This gave the band a more urgent and immediate sound which fitted surprisingly well with the soon to be booming new wave scene.

The Quiet Zone... is the album that most fans flick past when they want to play some VDGG, but it is deserving of more attention in my opinion. Try the twisting funky bass of The Habit Of The Broken Heart, the urgent insistence of Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever (Running)...ELO on amphetamines. Hammill was never one for easy song titles! Lyrical themes are as ever, bad relationships, lost love, the meaning of life, and on Chemical World, a bit of environmental concern thrown in for good measure.

Most folk know of a certain John Lydon's affection for VDGG, but another new wave band who most certainly must have been hugely influenced were Magazine. You can trace Howard Devoto's songwriting style back to Hammill, and Barry Adamson's sinuous bass lines took their template from Nic Potter's performances on this album.

Not their best album, but view it as a different band and it's well worth a listen.

3 out of 5

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