Review Summary: ''You may have passed time in happier ways, but there are (still) other mountains to climb''
Van Der Graaf Generator were among the many bands that emerged in the 70's. They commenced with an album that lacked any of their signature characteristics and slowly and steadily constructed a darker sound, full of jazz and blues elements as well as signs of psychedelic scattered all around.
Their career undoubtedly started with their second album ''The Least We Can Do Is Wave to...'' in 1970, when they first incorporated the spirit of progressive rock as it had been established by other bands of the time, such as King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd etc. Long lasting tracks, esoteric and sometimes dark lyricism, complex compositions and layer upon layer of music made VDGG a progressive group in every sense of the word. Experimentation was the target of the progressive movement and VDGG were masters of the art, with uncommon sound, almost complete elimination of guitar, great use of pipes and organs and the theatrical voice of Peter Hammil.
After a short-termed breakup in 1972, aftermath of an exhausting world tour, Van Der Graaf Generator reformed in 1975, under exceptional conditions, that favored the making of groundbreaking albums. ''Godbluff''(1975) and ''Still Life''(1976) showed that the band had matured musically during the hiatus and had tried to make a more consistent and focused sound. Building on their newer approach, ''World Record'' is the last one of their truly excellent albums, with the original line-up that made them famous across the globe.
''World Record'' is a milestone release for VDGG, as it's the album that features extended guitar use, maybe for the first time in their discography. Peter Hamil had outgrown his fear of inadequacy, giving his guitar the space it needed. David Jackson makes for yet another time brilliant work with saxophones and flutes, in perfect cooperation with Hugh Banton, the band's keyboardist.
Each and every song in ''World Record'' is on a par with their previous masterpieces. Every track features great performances by every member. Guy Evans, although a low profile drummer, keeps the parts of the band together, adding groove to their sound. ''When She Comes'' and ''A Place to Survive'' are pure VDGG doing what they know better, jamming the hell out of their instruments. ''Muerglys III'' is a powerful song with extreme guitar parts, a twenty minute beast that stands equally by ''A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers'', their magnum opus from the album ''Pawn Hearts''(1971), as many would claim. It's astonishing how these guys make you forget twenty minutes have passed.
''Masks'' starts off as a ballad and builds up to become an intense, majestic song, filled with ideas, till it starts slowing down again, as the ending approaches, unveiling the sad story it holds. ''Wondering'' is a perfect closing track, that bears a sense of farewell to the audience. Even if it sounds like the least interesting song of all, it still provides with professional pipe work from David Jackson.
Peter Hamill and co. created this album while touring non stop. His anxiety and overall pressure, along with his inner worries and hatred for pretentiousness, gave life to strained heroes who struggle for atonement and satisfaction. ''Masks'' is the story of a man who believed so much in the mask he wore in the presence of others, that in the end he was left faceless. ''Muerglys III: The Songwriters Guild'' tells the tale of a guitarist whose instrument is his ''only friend'', as Peter Hammill used to call his guitar (also, inspired his title from Peter's Guild electric guitar). The protagonist of the opening track is really confused with his girlfriend's behavior and is apparently oblivious as to what to do when she comes. On the other hand, ''A Place to Survive'' and ''Wondering'' are songs shooting for the stars, trying to cross over a message of optimism. The band yells to the listener that even in the darkest times, we are able to prevail.
However, things weren't so easy in real life, which included tiring schedules, a band in dire straits and members getting married. VDGG were unsure of their future, not unreasonably. 1977 would find the band coping with line-up changes, different musical styles and overall philosophy. Forty years later, all we can do is admire them, and be grateful for creating ''World Record'', that worked as an excellent album for closing the era VDGG had conquered the sound of progressive rock specifically and music generally.