Review Summary: A slight improvement
After the release of The Aerosol Grey Machine
, Van der Graaf Generator dumped the psychedelic sound, and moved towards the dark progressive rock they are known for. Bass player Keith Ellis left the line-up, replaced by Nic Potter. The other member who was added prior to the recording of The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other
was David Jackson, who introduced the group’s signature use of saxophones and woodwind instruments. Being a transition album, the guitar is used less than on the previous record, but still appears mainly as a segue between action in the longer songs, most notably After the Flood
, and occasionally the electric guitar is employed as a distorted drone to enhance the twisted instrumental sections.
There are an amount of improvements that this album made over its predecessor, mainly in emotion and composition, but it still manages to be partially devoid of moments that made the following albums definitive examples of progressive rock. The main issue that The Least We Can Do…
has is a lack of originality. The King Crimson influence is fairly apparent here, borrowing from tracks like 21st Century Schizoid Man
and The Devil’s Triangle
. A clear example of unoriginality is the stereotypical progressive opening wind noise, which was used on later works such as Pink Floyd’s Meddle
, not that this sound creates any negative impact on enjoying the album. Simple subtle similarities also exist in the woodwind use on After the Flood
in which a solo bears striking resemblance to a saxophone part from the “Mirrors” section of 21st Century Schizoid Man
The better moments found on the album come in the form of the early forms of the cacophonies that would often be employed on later works, as well as the inauspicious instrumental sections that were beginning to develop on this album. The ending minute or two of The White Hammer
showcases the development of this, with a fairly rare appearance by the electric guitar, and the use of nearly all instruments employed by the band, save the woodwind instruments. Tortured saxophones flying, this short segment is a highlight and preview of what is to come, with its glorious cacophony implanting a dark mood. Darkness (11/11) also features one such moment, with a twisted drawn out instrumental theme characterized by a crooning saxophone and interesting bassline assisted by a droning keyboard or electrically treated saxophone, which is another highlight of the record.
Of course the real gem here is the magnificent ballad Refugees
. With the use of a cello and woodwind instruments throughout the song, as well as a serene saxophone, this song is a beautiful anthem centered around Peter Hammill’s voice which seems to have developed more here than anywhere else on the album. With Hammill fully utilizing his extensive vocal range, as well as the use of keyboards, a backing vocal, and a delectable bassline suited perfectly to the song, the band manages to create their first truly great track. Singing with pure emotion, this song demonstrates material better than anything up to this point in the band’s history and is one of the bands overall best tracks.
The lyrics are another issue on The Least We Can Do…
, as although they have developed from the nonsensical psychedelic tone of the previous record, Hammill clearly still has trouble articulating his message as poetically as he does on future Van der Graaf records. The lyrics are the only flaw on the near perfect Refugees
, with the word choice of describing the West as “Mike and Susie” could’ve been replaced with something that truly encompasses the glorious image of the West that Hammill paints, and the poor lyric messes up the fluidity of the song. Forgettable lyrics and a forgettable overall tune are the downfall of What Would Robert Have Said?
and Out of My Book
, being tracks that are fairly enjoyable when being listened to, but forgotten almost immediately after they end.
The Least We Can Do is Wave to Each Other
is a transition album for VDGG, in which they ultimately abandoned the psychedelic sound and delved into progressive rock on the majority of the album, yielding inconsistent results, with the standout Refugees
being devoid of any progressive characteristics at all. The guitar was in the process of being phased out as a prominent instrument, and the woodwinds and saxophone of David Jackson began entering the forefront along with the keyboard. While the lyrics can be a bit lackluster, the album is definitely worth a good listen, even just for the beautiful Refugees