Van Der Graaf Generator- Present (Virgin)
review by Jim Clark

Track Listing

Disc One
1. Every Bloody Emperor
2. Boleas Panic
3. Nutter Alert
4. Abandon Ship!
5. In Babelsberg
6. On The Beach

Disc Two
1. Vulcan Meld
2. Double Bass
3. Slo Moves
4. Architectural Hair
5. Spanner
6. Crux
7. Manuelle
8. ‘Eavy Mate
9. Homage To Teo
10. The Price Of Admission


After nearly a 30 year absence from the music scene, the classic Van Der Graaf Generator lineup of Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton, David Jackson and Guy Evans is back, and with the stellar Present, it’s as if they’ve never left.

Present is divided into two discs – the first is a disc of song-based material while the other disc features a group of improvisational pieces. What’s interesting about this release is that so often when groups reform after an extended absence (the Eagles, Pink Floyd), hordes of session musicians are enlisted to help out, but on Present, only the four key members are, well, present.

Disc one starts with Hammill’s ode to politicians everywhere – “Every Bloody Emperor.” What makes Hammill’s lyric on this song great is that he keeps it vague, rather than naming a specific horrible politician, thus giving the track a timeless quality. For example, even though Pink Floyd’s Final Cut release is brilliant, how many of today’s history-deprived youth are going to know who Haig or Galtieri are? That’s not a shot at Roger Waters lyrics, but it’s just stating that when a lyricist gets too specific, they run the risk of, for good or bad, dating their material. Politicians sucked 30 years ago and they’ll suck 30 years from now, so Hammill’s lyric will be just as relevant when I’m an old man. Musically, “Every Bloody Emperor” is classic Van Der Graaf Generator – Jackson’s medieval flute and manic saxophone, Banton’s swirling organ, Evans’ tasteful drumming and Hammill’s unique vocals – all back in their glory!

Jackson’s instrumental “Boleas Panic” shows off more of his distinctive sax style. He gets some incredible bizarre noises from his saxophone setup, and Banton helps the track with some churning organ.

Present’s absolute best song, “Nutter Alert,” is next, and should immediately become a VDGG classic. The song features an incredible riff, which is driven along by Jackson’s sax and Banton’s bass playing. Evans adds some heavy drumming and Hammill sings as if his very life depends on it. A masterpiece!

The carnival-esque “Abandon Ship!” is another bizarre tune. Hammill’s vocals and all of the instruments are all over the place, going their separate ways, yet the track works. Simply said – a weird song.

“In Babelsberg” sees Jackson’s thunderous saxophone taking center stage once again. Odd time signatures and Hammill’s dark vocals add to the menace of the song.

The first disc closes out with the lamenting “On The Beach.” Hammill sings in a heartfelt vocal accompanied by his electric piano playing and Jackson’s breathy sax. “If we had all the time in the world, we might talk about how it used to be,” Hammill sings, adding later in the song, “All joking apart let’s play from the heart.” Is he singing about the four playing together again? A beautiful song with some nice touches from Banton on bass and Evans on percussion.

The sound of waves that ends disc one resume to start the instrumental second disc. For ten tracks spread out over the course of an hour, you can listen to four talented musicians enjoying playing together again. With its enjoyable improvisations, the disc is reminiscent of 70’s King Crimson with Mel Collins.

Usually, when bands reunite after a long absence, the outcome is less than inspiring. But judging from this release, I sincerely hope that this won’t be a one-off from Messrs. Hammill, Banton, Evans and Jackson, because they still have too much to offer musically. Present is a brilliant disc that easily stands alongside its 70’s predecessors. And it’s easily one of the best CD’s released this year.

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