This has got to be the best-produced Van Der Graaf Generator record, at least among the albums of their first few eras. It’s clear and there are fewer instruments – or, rather, fewer effects on the instruments, I guess – and things don’t bleed together like they do on basically every other record this version of the band made. I bring this up to start because it’s a bit of a revelation. I don’t really understand how the same guy produced the other records. It sounds completely different.
It’s important because I think that their production has got to be one of the things that prevents most people from getting into this band. They are one of the best prog rock bands ever, and are certainly the edgiest of the original prog rock bands. But people just don’t know them, as they were not very commercially successful. Yes, that’s from the length of their songs. But it’s also from their murky-sounding records. (I should point out that I often find that murk appealing but I do think it’s likely off-putting for most people. And if all of their records sound like this one…)
There are two tracks here that stand among the best but the others are still pretty good. This is a band that did not take long to find its sound and they don’t sound like anyone else. Yes, a lot of that has to do with Hammill – the best singer in progressive rock and one of the best of his era – but it also has to do with their curious makeup as a band, and their ambitions.
I like the material on Pawn Hearts more. And I probably like the matetial on The Least We Can Do as well (or at least I’m more familiar with it). But this record sounds so much better than those two that I am going to have to sit down with all three at some point and figure out which is best. For the most, I’ll say this one isn’t the best, it just sounds the best. But that may change with time.