Review Summary: (Oh no I must have said) yes (to reviewing a legacy album by a band I’ve never listened to before)
The first major shift in Do Not Disturb
, the thirteenth and, at the time of this writing, final album by veteran progressive rock band Van der Graaf Generator, occurs after approximately two minutes and twenty-four seconds. Until that point, the listener has been welcomed in with a relaxing drift of watery guitars and lightly brushed drums. After this, the pace picks up, drums and bass now driving the proceedings, the guitar exiting, replaced by synths and organs as the primary melodic element. The next shift comes a bit before the four minute mark, a somewhat obtuse dual guitar and organ riff taking center stage. The back half of the track reverses this structure, suddenly shifting back to the second section for a bit and returning to those watery guitars for the final minute. The full track runs about seven minutes. In all, a fairly typical progressive rock track, nothing too notable. The opening/closing sections indeed are quite nice, and the second/penultimate are pretty decent, though the middle section is a bit clunky, and the whole track never quite gels into anything particularly convincing or memorable. In short, the band doesn’t sound quite sure of what they want the song to be, leaving the listener confused.
Similar issues plague most of the rest of Do Not Disturb
. Indeed, the opener, “Aloft,” is essentially a blueprint for four of the nine remaining tracks: seven-plus-or-minus-one-minute runtime, open with a fairly minimal, relaxed/pretty/melodic section, pick up the pace, throw a “weird” section in there, repeat. The time spent in each of these modes and the degree of repetition do vary a bit; “Almost the Words” spends a solid five minutes in the relaxed mode and doesn’t bother to return to previous sections. But overall, it’s a formula that grows pretty stale across a 57-minute runtime, especially when the various sections of individual tracks, while often enjoyable on their own, rarely manage to come together into a cohesive whole, and the jammier/jazzier sections often come across as stilted, forced. Many of these are almost
great songs, and probably could have been, had the band chosen to develop the good sections more rather than feeling like every track had to have some
shift to shake things up. Despite being veterans of their craft, working in a genre characterized by its willingness to expand beyond typical idioms of rock music, Van der Graaf Generator end up failing on this album due to their too-slavish adherence to expectations, either those they hold for themselves or those they perceived to be held by their audience, for what they should produce.
It should be noted that some tracks do shy from the territory described above, primarily in the mid-album run of the fourth through sixth track. “Forever Falling” is a slightly shorter and more even-paced rocker, blitzing its way through multiple riffs and getting some good ones in along the way, but like most others, this track fails to establish much of a lasting or impactful impression or purpose. “Shikata Na Gai” is a brief (by the album’s standards), wandering, and minimal instrumental interlude that, even if it serves nicely to break the pace up a bit, doesn’t do enough to justify its presence. And “(Oh No I Must Have Said) Yes” is simply horrible, beginning with a supremely clunky, poorly mixed hard rock section, before shifting after a few minutes to an equally ***ty, generic jazz jam section containing an aimless, somewhat atonal guitar solo, before returning to the hard rock riffing for the final minute.
All that aside, the band manage to end on a high note: “Go” is the shortest vocal track, clocking in at only about four and a half minutes, and it manages to stay in and effectively develop one mode across its runtime. Composed primarily on simply organ and synth, the track gives the listener the space to enjoy and revel in these sounds and the reflective mood they create, as mirrored by the lyrics’ focus on release and letting go. It’s a proper send-off, both for the album and, most likely, for the band as well. If only Van der Graaf Generator had shown the same sense of purpose and self-awareness throughout, one might have been able to say the same for Do Not Disturb
as a whole.