Review Summary: A refinement and perfection of the model established on Chameleon In the Shadow of the Night.The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage
is maybe the best solo effort of British singer songwriter Peter Hammill, a sort of a lost Van Der Graaf Generator album; A big part of the album features the cast from the progressive rock band Van Der Graaf Generator with Hugh Banton (organ, bass), David Jackson (sax, flute) and Guy Evans (drums) and takes on a slight more classic Van Der Graaf vibe. Each member plays his part very well in the musicality. The melancholic feeling and the emotive, intense Peter's voices are always present, and the listener is involved in a sad and opressive sensation sometimes. Dark and nostalgic, it is the most symphonic solo album from Peter Hammill.
This is the second of Hammill's classic trilogy that issued in the wake of Pawn Hearts
and which starts with Chameleon in the Shadow of the Night
that has more acoustic approach, and ends with In Camera
that carries on deeper in the extremes of sanity and experiment. Albums were released during a hiatus in the activities of Hammill’s band VDGG between albums Pawn Hearts
. That being said, Peter Hammill was much more than just the pianist/ lead singer for VDGG; he was the creative force behind the band. Instead of a guitar as the lead instrument, Peter Hammill and his companions use the masterfully played organs and the killer saxophone of David Jackson to lead the fray. This makes for a very interesting listen if you're not used to anything but a guitar being at the front. The intensity and haunting atmosphere of VDGG’s sound is present everywhere.
Hammill presents some pretty dark imagery with his emotive voice, gentle guitar, and his piano accompaniment. Hammill's imagery is so vivid and his delivery so compelling, it's hard not to feel his pain. He never feared venturing into dark, suppressed parts of the soul. In general, solo Hammill is concerned with more personal matters, while the band's songs deal with broader themes. But the music reminds very much on VDGG throughout the record, specially the dark atmosphere of the songs. The material is extremely moody and expressive and the lyrics are very dark and depressive, but at the same time they are more ingenius and matured than ever. Peter Hammill stamps his authority all over the album, and at the same time he wildly exorcises his own personal existentialist ghosts.
The album, just like VDGG's material, is a very experimental one. Very vocal driven, the music matches the lyrics everywhere. There are a few instrumental breaks, but the vocals are up front almost all the time. This can easily be seen in the lyrics sheet. Musically ahead of his time, Hammill is clearly a master with words, weaving them carefully to fit his vision. As to the Hammills singing, it is obviously a love it or hate it situation. Hammill's voice is a very distinctive element of his music. He sings in an emotional, often even dramatic way. When he wants you to be scared, you'll be scared. He is so full of conviction in his delivery, as he is on all his performances. It must be very difficult to sing an entire show like this, since the voice is going from here to there in many tones, always in a very theatrical way.
The Silent Corner & The Empty Stage
follows in the same vein as its predecessor Chameleon
, only this time assuming a more agressive disposition. The opening track Modern
shows you exactly that right away with its delirious guitar layers (some sound really creepy) and frantic singing about the dehumanizing side of modernization. There are some great moments of sensitivity with Wilhelmin
, a love song that shows Peter’s lighter side, which features some profound insights into how it feels to look into the eyes of your first baby. Next is the dramatic and intense The Lie
. Peter's singing suits the lyrics incredibly well on here. The lyrics have a profoundly religious theme, and with a brilliant echo effect, the track even sounds like it was recorded in a giant cathedral. The use of dynamics in this song is phenomenal, and the grand piano has never sounded quite so grand.
Most of the songs deal with loneliness and isolation in our world, most clearly in Forsaken Gardens
. It’s a song VDGG would play after the Godbluff
reformation. Hugh Banton, Guy Evans and David Jackson can be heard here. The rocky middle section provides the backbone to this track. The release of the next one, Rubicon
is a welcome relief. It is acoustically driven and peaceful with some poetic beauty. Red Shift
is a delightfully eerie piece with spacy psychedelic overtones. The masterpiece as it could easily have been lifted from a VDGG album is the longest and closing track: A Louse is Not a Home
, with its theme of isolation and incipient madness, alternately strangled, spitting and quietly intimate vocals, Jackson’ saxophone and eerie keyboards, strongly deserves a place in the collections of all Van der Graff/Hammill adherents. This one would be perfectly at home in Pawn Hearts
The complex and deeply poetic lyrics require attentive listening and firmly place Hammill in the creative avant-garde. His vocal performances are electrifying and suit perfectly his convolute texts. All of Hammill's best vocal styles are on display, from dark and tormented, to calm and beautiful. The Silent Corner & the Empty Stage
is an almost perfect album and it covers a wide range of emotions and moods throughout. It presents Hammill's art in the best possible way. Once again, it's probably the most VDGG sounding record that he did. The Silent Corner
is an album balancing his uncontrollable urge to rock out with his usual songwriting cleverness with skill, and it’s a good introduction to the world of Peter Hammill.