Van der Graaf Generator
Pawn Hearts


5.0
classic

Review

by e210013 USER (121 Reviews)
May 30th, 2017 | 36 replies


Release Date: 1971 | Tracklist

Review Summary: It’s one of the greatest masterpieces of the band and represents the peak of their career. This is one of the most heavy, insane and bizarre albums I’ve ever heard.

“Pawn Hearts” is the fourth studio album of Van Der Graaf Generator and was released in 1971. The line up on the album is Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton, David Jackson and Guy Evans. The album had also the participation of Robert Fripp on electric guitar.


Van Der Graaf Generator is one of those obscure groups that unfortunately only a very small and faithful bunch of fans and specialized critics in the progressive rock music, really heard something about. Even in the progressive rock world, Van Der Graaf Generator is one of those bands that fans don’t speak constantly about. However, many references to Van Der Graaf Generator’s music can be found in a lot of other works from so many different groups. The albums from the group have tended to be, both lyrically and musically, darker in atmosphere than many of their progressive rock pairs. About “Pawn Hearts”, we can say that it represents certainly the crowning achievement of the group. It’s majestic, complex and often times psychotic, capturing in the entire perfection the group’s very own musical world. If we have to describe “Pawn Hearts” we can say that it sounds more like music that was composed and performed by a genius locked in an insane asylum. This is really a very unique and special album, even inside the band’s discography.

“Pawn Hearts” is Van Der Graaf Generator’s most complex and challenging album. The track listing consists of just three titles, two ten minutes long suites on the first side “Lemmings (Including Cog)” and “Man-Erg” and a twenty-three minutes long suite on the second one “A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers”, further subdivided into ten different subsections, a trick used later by Genesis on “Supper’s Ready”. These three long tracks on the album are all stuffed with the typical Hammill-sounding melodies and themes relieved by a progressive, complex and disharmonic energy of a kind that will leave you breathless. Personally, I think these variations between structured melodic themes to ugly, noisy and disharmonic parts, often places the music of Van Der Graaf Generator in the same vein as King Crimson but, of course, with a sound totally of their own. So, may not be really a great surprise the presence of Fripp on this album.

“Lemmings (Including Cog)” contains lyrically some of the most uplifting, revelatory and extraordinary messages in rock music, descrying the incessant hopelessness of society. By calling for the preservation of human livelihood, the song rails against the collective suicidal tendencies of the human race. Musically, it begins with an acoustic guitar, which is soon joined by a gradually increasing of music. The song progresses in a true fashion through entirely before ending on an almost unfinished note. This is a great track with a very deep and complex content, both lyrically and musically. “Man-Erg” is no less complex and it also deals with insanity. The character questions who he really is, and he contemplates the differences in men, which ultimately leads to his realization that in all men is the same, regardless of what an individual man might stand for or has accomplished. In other words, a man is just a man. Musically, this is another gorgeous track with soulful vocal deliverance by Hammill. Jackson also shines on this song. His saxophone accompaniment enhances the composition in a unique and extraordinary fashion. This is another excellent track. “A Plague Of Lightouse Keepers” is a musical suite divided into ten parts and represents the epic track of the album. Lyrically, it’s about the lighthouse keeper’s loneliness that slowly leads to their eventual insanity. The imagery and terror of this track far transcends the normal rock lyrics, and the lyrics would seem more fitting as an Edgar Allen Poe’s poem. Musically, it’s an amazing track that is all over the map and features some great performances from all involved, including Fripp who ends the track with a really outstanding and beautiful guitar solo. This track is musically and lyrically a masterpiece and is mainly dominated by Hammill’s lyrics and vocals and the saxophones of Jackson.


Conclusion: “Pawn Hearts” is the most complex and challenging album from Van Der Graaf Generator. This album has all and is a perfect work, if you’re already a progressive rock fan. The three long tracks are all stuffed with the typical band’s sounding melodies and themes, relieved by a progressive, complex and disharmonic energy of a kind that will leave you breathless. It has incredible dense lyrics, extremely diversified instrumentation and great dark overtones. It’s rather curious, but this is one of the heaviest albums I ever listened to, and yet, it has nothing to do with metal. It’s just so dark and insane that it has an extremely heavy feel to it, and it will burn up your ears, if you aren’t ready for it. Sincerely, I really think that “Pawn Hearts” is simply one of the best albums ever made in any musical genre. Which is most interesting, bizarre and dramatic is that with “Pawn Hearts”, Van Der Graaf Generator has reached their peak artistically, although financially they were broken and they needed to split during a couple of years, for the first time.


Music was my first love.
John Miles (Rebel)



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user ratings (338)
4.3
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other reviews of this album
TheMystical (5)
The darkest musical experience that the genre has to offer......

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Comments:Add a Comment 
e210013
May 30th 2017


2562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Another classic masterpiece by another less loved prog band. They're probably with Gentle Giant and King Crimson into the three most creative prog bands ever. As it seems there is, on Sputnik, a small but a faithful fan club of Gentle Giant. So, I hope that will happen the same with VDDG.

Your comments will be well received, as always.

wham49
May 30th 2017


4815 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

have heard nothing but great things about this band for years, I guess it is time to dive in

e210013
May 30th 2017


2562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Go ahead man. They're simply one of the best and most influential prog bands ever. However, you must have a very open mind to them. Particularly on this album.

CaptainDooRight
May 30th 2017


4122 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

gd al

Digging: Creeping Death - Wretched Illusions

e210013
May 30th 2017


2562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks, Captain.

TheIntruder
May 30th 2017


427 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

After all, it seems there isn't great love for this band here. It's a pity, The album deserves much more revisits. Excellent work. In the same line of the album. Pos.

e210013
May 30th 2017


2562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks, dude. It seems you're right. Unfortunately I was wrong. There isn't great love for this album and group, here on Sputnik. It's a pity, indeed.

TheIntruder
May 30th 2017


427 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, but this isn't a surprise for you. Prog is no more a priority of the site and VDGG and the album are hard to get into. Still, you must go ahead with your good work.

e210013
May 30th 2017


2562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Oh, I have no doubt about it. I'll go ahead with my path on this site. I'm a bit decption due to the album and group. They're some of my favourites of the 70's. Anyway, thanks for your words of support. It's always nice to see them.

Jethro42
May 30th 2017


15960 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

According to me, H to He Who Am The Only One is a better album for a starting point, wham, and I'm warning you, band is dark and unconventional. Vocals are not for everyone. They often adopt a dramatic mood, and they are theatrical. Music is rather symphonic and centered around organ and sax, and the structures are most of the time based on rhythms instead of being a melodious band. But there are also great melodic passages to be found.

''Lemmings'' and ''A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers'' are pretty hard to get into. ''Man-Erg'' is more accessible and is an instant win.

You're right, guys, the site isn't progging as hard as it used to. I guess it's another generation of sputters that is emerging. A lot of progheads have left the site unfortunately, so don't be surprised if you don't have many visitors, e21. But your good work is not done in vain. Sometimes, you probably put on your review in a bad time of the day, and so the proggers have not seen it yet (so the timing is perhaps not always good).

Good review, buddy.

Divaman
May 31st 2017


4298 Comments


Nice review, as always, e. I recently picked up a copy of "Godbluff" after seeing you and other prog rock fans say nice things about them on this site. It's in my "To listen to" pile. (I chose that album just because it has the highest rating of any of their albums on this site). Also just today received my copy of Pollen's lone CD, another band you turned me on to. So your good work is having some effect, anyway.

Digging: Barns Courtney - 404

e210013
May 31st 2017


2562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@ Jethro

I agree with you. "H to He Who Am The Only One" is perhaps the most accessible work from them and one of the best too. "Still Life" and "World Record" are also very accessible.

I agree with all your warnings about this band. We must have a very open mind and very patience to acquire the taste for their music. If we can get it, it's perfectly sublime.

About "Pawn Herats", it's clearly their less accessible work but is probably their best work too. However, I think I prefer "Godbluff" and "H to He Who Am The Only One". Anyway, "Pawn Hearts" always had and always will have a very special place into my heart. When I bought it I was having a hard time in my life. I was a little depressed and it helped me a lot to get through this phase, strange as it may seem, with an album like this.

About some absence of progheads that has left the site I'm very hopeful that some others, with time, appear.

Still, this isn't really an easy group to listen to.

Thanks, buddy.

e210013
May 31st 2017


2562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@ Diva

I'm very glad you do that. As I said before, "Godbluff" is perhaps my favourite album from them. "Godbluff" is probably the peak in their carrer. They were abble to manage to have tracks with many dissonante parts with extremelly beautiful parts too. And it happen all over the album. This is an album perfectly ballanced.

One more thing. Since you're a newby with VDGG, patience and attention to the vocals of Hammill. They're ver theatrical, sometimes very depressive and dark and the tone of his voice isn't for everyone. Another thing. Pay great attention to the lyrics. Hammill is really an extraordinary lyricist. It can be seen in all discography of the band. The lyrics are all very deep, existential and philosophical, some times very personal too. Finally, pay attention to the keyboards and saxes. All the music is around both instruments, guided by the vocals of Hammill. You also can see that this is a band without a guitarist and usually without a bassist, which is a strange and curious thing too.

I'm also very glad that my review about Pollen have some effect on you, making you buy the album. You buy a nice album and this will please Jethro too. A band of his home town.

Yeah, it seems my work have some effect. Another member, Sabrutin, bought also an album brought by me to the site, "Halloween" of Pulsar. Nice.

Thanks, buddy.

wham49
May 31st 2017


4815 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

"wham, and I'm warning you, band is dark and unconventional. Vocals are not for everyone. They often adopt a dramatic mood, and they are theatrical. Music is rather symphonic and centered around organ and sax, and the structures are most of the time based on rhythms instead of being a melodious band. But there are also great melodic passages to be found."



thanks am planning on starting with this, and moving out, like dark stuff, vocals can throw me off sometimes so maybe if I am aware and bracing myself for it, it should not be too bad

Divaman
May 31st 2017


4298 Comments


I have to say, I appreciate both you and Jethro giving me a taste of prog rock I wasn't previously familiar with, including some outside of the English-speaking world. It's always good to learn about new bands (new for me, anyway). Thanks.

e210013
May 31st 2017


2562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@ wham

I hope not. At least Hammill hasn't a female voice. I think you dislike female voices, in general.

e210013
May 31st 2017


2562 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@ Diva

You're always welcome, man.

Jethro42
May 31st 2017


15960 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

@wham, I hope you enjoy the band. I could see you digging song ''Man-Erg''. Here is my top 35 list;

https://www.sputnikmusic.com/list.php?memberid=280733&listid=158322



@Diva, the site is there for sharing between us everything we know about music, and you contribute a lot yourself with your reviews and your participation in general. Annnd very good purchase in Pollen, a band from my dear Montreal ;) Cheers mate.

@e21, Sabrutin also bought Pentaclon - La Clef des Songes

I think the best way to go with Van Der Graaf is chronologically, except for their debut which I would listen to much later since it's different with its psych nature. Still Life is more accessible than Godbluff or Pawn Hearts. Godbluff and onwards are more polished albums. Gifted of good production, they sound crystal clear.

wham49
May 31st 2017


4815 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Don't hate womens voices just some, and it is not the voice but delivery more, hate the over dramatic, over done, doesnt match the music womens voice, one reason it took me years to like Priest and still have an issue with Salsibury from Heep. Like Ann Wilson, Carol King, Crissy Hines, Girlskool and others

wham49
June 1st 2017


4815 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

got through the first song, and I do not have an issue with the voice at all, seems to be right up my alley



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