Review Summary: While not containing any of the signature VDGG elements, the band still manages to release an enjoyable debut.
Van der Graaf Generator is a progressive rock band from Manchester, England, formed by singer/guitarist Peter Hammill, Nick Pearne who played organ, and drummer Chris Smith, who also played various wind instruments. Hugh Banton replaced Pearne, Smith left the band, and Keith Ellis and Guy Evans joined on bass guitar and drums respectively. Popular mainly in Italy, they incorporated an intense, more dismal sound into their music, similar to contemporaries King Crimson, who also had a jazz influenced sound. Other distinctive elements unique to Van der Graaf are the use of the Hammond organ and keyboards as the main layer of sound, various woodwind instruments and saxophones with an electronic twist, as well as the overall lack of guitar as a main instrument, despite King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp appearing on two of their albums.
Although these characteristics are very strong on the following albums, The Aerosol Grey Machine
is quite in contrast to those albums. The largest difference is that all of the signature instruments the group are known for are absent from this record. The keyboards still play a role on the album, as does an extremely dominant acoustic guitar, a trait that would soon vanish. With a bit more of a psychedelic influence than other albums, the progressive roots are still fairly strong with most tracks over six minutes in length and extended instrumental sections. In The Court of The Crimson King
, is generally credited with ‘inventing’ progressive rock, but among the debut albums of future prog bands, this record is one of the most progressively inclined than albums such as Yes and the debut albums of bands like Genesis and Pink Floyd.
, the two songs in excess of eight minutes in length, show Hammill’s emerging knack for writing longer progressive rock songs that would be so integral in later albums. Orthenthian St.
are two enjoyable straightforward rock songs that show the immaturity of the record, with no real element to hold it all together, which would later come with Hammill’s vocal style and lyrics, as well as brooding saxophones and organs. A few of the songs are quite catchy however, and there are some good bass lines throughout some songs which hold attention, namely on Orthenthian St.
. the longer songs hold a general progressive rock style, with keyboard prominence and instrumental sections. The songs are all worth listening to, they just lack emotion, unlike the album’s successors.
As is expected, there are some unmemorable and throwaway tracks. The Aerosol Grey Machine is completely devoid of any sense, and is similar to ELP’s Are You Ready Eddy"
released a few years later, with an extremely short tune devoted to a fun yet completely pointless melody, with a slight psychedelic feel to it. Black Smoke Yen
is a neat track, but is too short for its own good, being about a minute long. Although the tracks are worthless the combined length of these two songs is about two minutes, so they really don’t detract from the album’s quality. Running Back
and Into a Game
are good tracks, the only problem with them is that after many listens of the album, I still have trouble remembering how these tracks go. They’re still worth hearing, however, and sound good when listening to the album, even though they’re a bit boring at times, since Peter Hammill’s songwriting was a bit lackluster on these tracks, a forgivable offense, with this being his first album.
The main plague in this album is the lack of emotion. Later albums feature bizarre cacophonies and twisted saxophone sections that invoke a certain feeling unique to VDGG albums. This album contains none of those elements, let alone any real emotion. These songs are just rock songs with a psychedelic tinge and a progressive tinge, and have no value or special emotion to bring the listener back to this album instead of other VDGG albums or even other albums in general.
The works of Van der Graaf Generator are generally noted for their dark and unsound style of symphonic progressive rock, and this album has a much lighter mood in comparison. Inflected with elements of psychedelic rock, especially shown in the nonsensical lyrics and short tune The Aerosol Grey Machine, progressive rock, and just plain sixties rock n’ roll, The Aerosol Grey Machine is an immature yet enjoyable start offered by the band. Despite the lack of substance in the lyrics and music, as well as a limited amount of emotion, the album is simply an effort to find a suitable sound and uncover various fortes of the band members, who would soon change anyways, such as front man Peter Hammill’s unique and dynamic voice; not yet utilized, which yields some disappointment for fans of later albums working back through Van der Graaf Generator’s catalogue.