Van Der Graaf Generator’s firs reunion album feels like the first step in the band’s evolution from its dense prog sound of its early days to the almost new wave sound they would have on The Quiet Zone. It’s a notably sparer record, which may seem like an odd thing to say if this is the only VDGG album you’ve ever listened to.
One of the things that seemed to happen between the band’s break-up in the early ’70s and this record is that the lines increasingly blurred between Hammill’s songs for his solo career and his band. (If there had ever been clear lines…) Though these songs are all clearly prog rock songs in their ambition, and one is co-written with his bandmates, their slightly more streamlined nature and relative lack of ambition compared to, say, “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”makes them, at times, resemble songs Hammill might have recorded himself. (That’s not entirely true as, at their most knotty, these are still songs that he would likely not play solo.) I guess what I’m trying to say is that these tracks feel like a bit of a concession towards the more traditional songs of (some of) Hammill’s solo work.
As always, this is the prog rock band that plays with an edge – and Godbluff is no exception. If anything, the relatively sparse arrangements only highlight the edge that both Hammill and the band perform with. There’s basically no other ’70s prog rock band that can compare in this regard and this album is a pretty good example of why. (It also helps that Hammill is a better singer than basically anybody else in that genre.)
As usual, the production is not great, though. I think the mix is definitely an improvement on some of the mixes on their earlier records but there are times when they indulge their love of flange, which just sounds so awful now. I’m not sure there’s another great band from the ’70s that was this in love with this stupid sound, to their eternal detriment. (That’s an exaggeration but at least most bands who loved it in the ’60s had moved on by now.) It’s used sparingly here – fortunately – but it’s still enough to bug me.
But, production touches aside, this is a great band reuniting with a bit of a different sound than they had in their previous incarnation (albeit with the same band members). They haven’t just reunited to reunite – they reunited to do something a little new. And it’s pretty cool.