Review Summary: Early 70’s eclectic-prog, renowned masters, release one of their greatest artistic efforts to date, leaving an emotional impact and innovative milestone for years to come.Pawn Hearts
proved to be quite a ground breaking album amidst the preceding conceptual H to He Who am the Only One
. That’s not to say that HTHWATOO
wasn’t a stellar album in itself but multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Peter Hammill showed a more mature, yet explorative outlook on his songwriting and extraordinary vocal approach with what we have here. Hammill’s sociable personality rings forth in a kind of love it or hate it type of fashion. He’s, without a doubt, a rather forceful and passionate type of vocalist whose dynamics range from calm and peaceful fashions to those that are eruptive and aggressive. These qualities really began to let loose and complement the efforts on Pawn Hearts
to a superlative degree. This and the predecessor share a measure of quality in the realm of beauty but Pawn Hearts
makes use of discordant or clashing passages that reek of avant garde. To some these traits may be foreign and abrasive at times but the way how each musical passage here transitions into each and how the lyrics mirror each atmosphere just feels meant to be. For instance, one of the most memorable moments can be found on “Man-Erg” where an engrossing tempo crescendo matches the courteous synth leads of Hugh Banton before degenerating to a spacey-airy musical landscape of relax-inducing vibes, which Hammill lends his undertone vocal talents, allowing for David Jackson’s saxophone skills to play off such dynamic shifts. These convulsing movements, although extraterrestrial, create the perfect platform for a rewarding experience to be had with Pawn Hearts
. One should not expect this to be the typical casual musical experience of something ‘laid-back’, rather, VDGG aim to provide their listeners with something in depth that their audience can come back to again and again with the prospect of gaining something new with each visit; which have most certainly succeeded in doing so.
This three track wonder also holds great lyrical depth and touches on contents of political matters, human nature, objective power, and self-reliance. Certain lyrics at times may convey disturbing metaphors with the purpose of explaining things as how they really are but overall the lyrics always seem to tend to something positive overall. Hammill is trying to get individuals to think for themselves and make long term decisions that may be conducive to our reproductive offspring or to our future generations. Phrasings such as “what choice is there left but to try” and “save our little ones” confirms Hammill’s positive outlook, pointing towards light at the end of the tunnel if we choose to take action and accept personal accountability for excellence. By example, the opening masterpiece “Lemmings” touches on the frailties of our corrupt human governments and how we as subjects foolishly follow them. The track is appropriately titled as a Lemming which is an actual rodent who exudes such behaviors of oscillation in which they scatter away from themselves in all different directions every four years, following this or that, only to greatly reduce their strength in numbers; and at many times, coming close to near extinction. It’s truly refreshing to hear such thought-provoking poetry displayed in such an innovating fashion, which both raises its lyrical content of pursuance and musicality to matching levels.
Nothing short of an epic masterpiece, the 23 minute closer “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” is often regarded as VDGG’s paramount masterpiece, and it’s not difficult to see why as this nine-part track contains some of the most intriguing-illustrious fusions of sound/compositional quality known to early progressive eclectic music. Its conceptual nature follows the thought processes of a regretful lighthouse keeper who recounts his past decisions as he overlooks the outcomes of his choices. Here we are treated to the some dark and weird saxophone pastures from David Jackson who creates some very eerie and disturbing moments; much like the feelings associated with the boat tunnel in the movie classic “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. There’s a time when all sense of the term ‘music’ are lost and a circus-like chaotic eruption takes place until it fades out as a mellow section of lyrics sings forth of ‘can I reach the door’ and ‘I want to walk on the sea so that I may reach a better shore’. ‘All of the grief I’ve seen leaves me seeking solitary peace’ creates some of the most perfect interludes into more frenetic convulsions. Truly, this barrage of dimension is the perfect way to manifest what it must be like for a person to be psychologically experiencing such despair and grief over this chaotic and sometimes loathsome life that many experience. “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers” ends with a piano section which ascertains itself as something positive in feel and Hammill’s eluding lyrics of “I think the end is the start, I begin to feel very glad now” hints towards the prospect of inner peace when his life ends whether intentionally or naturally. And, without further ado the music fades out with sounds of electric static leaving the listener, as they should be, in complete awe.
In conclusion, Pawn Hearts
is an emotionally captivating album and is not for the casual progressive listener. This album demands attention and respect and in order to get the most out of it I highly encourage following along with the lyrics at least a few times to get the gist of what’s being conveyed. The music contained herein has the ability to evoke deep-personal emotions, and for those wishing to hear what separates VDGG from its contemporaries, Pawn Hearts
is the perfect place to get a feel for what eclectic prog can really do.