Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Van der Graaf Generator - Pawn Hearts


I'm more than a little biased towards this album. You see, this was one of my first CD purchases after I had gotten my first Bose headphones, and I was just blown away. It was also my first VDGG album. I understand this album isn't well liked among a lot of people, what with John McFerrin and George Starostin giving it a 6 and Capn Marvel giving it a C+,but I think it's just incredible.
Pawn Hearts has only three songs on it; "Lemmings" and "Man Erg" take up side one, while the epic "A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers" makes up all of the second side. "Lemmings" is alternately quiet and chaotic. It's probably the weakest song on the album, but that's not saying much. I did think that the ambient outro was unnecessary (for all of the people who whine about prog songs with lengthy intros, I find prog outros to be poor much more frequently). Then "Man-Erg" is a wonderful tale of mental illness; I love how it switches from a sedate piano song into typical sax-based VDGG madness in a manic-depressive manner.
And then there's the sidelength, which tells the tale of a lighthouse keeper who goes insane from loneliness. Some people think that this is the most ludicrous example of prog this side of "Tales from Topographic Oceans," but I think it's wonderful, spanning a wide range of emotions. Admittedly, some of the middle parts drag a bit, but I can forgive that when the rest is so good.
"Lighthouse Keepers" isn't one of those long songs that feels short, but that just adds to its effectiveness. It's supposed to be dreary and ponderous, and does a great job of evoking that mood. This makes the heavenly harmonies at the end even better, as if the listener is ascending into heaven after a journey through hell.
This is not an easy album to get into by any stretch of the imagination. Don't get it if you haven't listened to much progressive rock before; this one's for the initiated only.

1 comment:

  1. Pugs: I'll agree that PAWN HEARTS ain't 4 Bginners -- if I hadn't heard LOTS of King Crimson I doubt I'd've bn able 2 find my way in here & woulda given up.
    But: I really like a lot of this, especially "Man-Erg." Love David Jackson's sax work, especially the baritone sax. Love Hugh Banton's heavy organ sounds. Even like a lot of Pete Hammill's singing. Had no trouble relating 2 either "Lemmings" or "Man-Erg," & didn't think they were THAT hard 2 get in2. About "Lighthouse Keepers" I'll havta get back 2 U after a coupla more listenings -- still love the sax & organ, but a lot of it's REALLY noisy. I like the chorale "We Go Now" Nding tho, it's worth the trip.
    MayB what I like best about all these is the underlying message -- no matter how bad or how weird things get, there's always hope. Wasn't Xpecting such a positive msg from an album w/ such a dark & doomy reputation.
    On yr scale I'd give this at least a 7 or 8, & I withhold the right 2 revise or upgrade my rating later.... Thanx! -- TAD.