on 25 November 2002
Hammill is perhaps Britain's most underrated singer and songwriter, and it is something of a crime that his work isn't better known. Yet he ploughs on - releasing on average an album a year. He has often said that he wishes to avoid repeating himself, and that each new release should be different from the last.
Perhaps with this in mind, in the case of Clutch he set himself a particular discipline: the songs were written and played entirely on acoustic guitars, with the odd smattering of violin/viola and flute/saxes here and there. There are no keyboard sounds at all. The acoustic guitar was his first instrument, and some of the earliest solo and Van der Graaf Generator releases of the late '60s and early '70s were written on it.
The discipline has done him good. These are, purely and simply, wonderful songs. On a first listen they might confound, being lyrically and musically complex. By the third, they are starting to sound familiar.
But the real genius with Clutch is that just when you think you are starting to know it, it reveals hidden depths, and a song can suddenly and unexpectedly become something new. Buying a Hammill album if you don't know his work may sound something of a risk (his voice was once described as the musical equivalent of Marmite, in that it seems to inspire either love or hate but not much in between) but it is repaid in this case, in that by even the tenth airing there is still plenty to absorb and discover - it's almost like listening to a different album each time.
Hammill fan as I am I wasn't expecting anything special with this as I generally favour his piano-penned songs. But I am eating my hat.... It is quite astonishing that an album which on paper is limited by the restraints of its own discipline can be quite so multifarious, in terms of sound, style, lyrics, atmosphere.
The singing is good, the lyrics are good and the playing is good. But the key to Clutch's brilliance is with the power of the song-writing. 'Driven' and 'Bareknuckle Trade' are amongst the best things he has ever done.
on 6 November 2002
"Clutch" is a gorgeously produced, lush sounding collection of nine strong acoustic guitar songs, that can both move and inspire, the way only truly great music can.
Hammill has returned to the instrument that he began with some fifty-odd albums ago, and his intelligent, hugely referential lyrical and songwriting talents are again on display for the discerning music fan here.
The songs are compact, intricately well-crafted pieces of individuality and warmth - the arrangements and accompanying instruments (violin and saxophone with an occasional bit of flute) simply exude class - but this is not easy-listening, nor it is inaccessibly highbrow.
The scope of the album is huge considering the limited instrumentation on display, and as ever, the depth of subject matter is impressive, and clever wordplay is high on the agenda!
Tracks like "The Ice Hotel" and "Driven" are sedate, thoughtful and melancholy, and yet "This is the Fall" and "Bareknuckle Trade" really bite, with his impassioned, lung-searing vocal delivery threatening to shred nerves.
It is Hammill's incredible vocal talents that stand out here. Singularly, his voice is deep and powerful with an incredible range, and yet not content with this, he overlays wonderful harmonies, whole octaves higher at times, to create an almost orchestral arrangement of cascading voices which is often moving and equally haunting.
It is touching, challenging, entertaining, cathartic, beautiful, sensitive, exciting, passionate and simply brilliant.
For anyone who has ever come across Hammill's music before - be it solo or with the mighty Van der Graaf Generator, this is a great excuse to hear him again!
Not only is his music progressive - but it rocks! And yet for an acoustic album, you certainly won't find it in the Folk section of your local record store.
If you have never heard of the guy, then this is a good starting point. Lyrically he is literally unsurpassed (and I mean by anyone!) - and he can strum a tune with the best of them - add to that the incredible and unique vocals and the music that can turn from touching to terrifying in an instant - and you have the work of a genius on show here!
Buy it now!
on 3 November 2002
Before I go any further it needs to be said that I've only had this CD a few days. As people familiar with Hammil's work will know it takes time to uncover the hidden depths of his music. Despite all this my initial feeling when listening to this album is that it contains some of his best work for some time. The decision to make an acoustic guitar only album with touches of violin, sax and flute has had an interesting effect, opening up the soundscape somwhat and putting more attention on the lyrics and Hammill's guitar playing. After listening to this I've decided that Hammill is a far better guitarist than I'd previously thought. The contributions from Stuart Gordon on violin and viola and David Jackson on sax and flute are wonderful and fit the songs perfectly - neither overwhelming the song or staying too much in the background. As for the songs, Hammill's customary skill as a lyricist is displayed on songs such as Once You Called Me, The Ice Hotel, This is the Fall and Just A Child. All in all one of Hammill's more enjoyable sets.
on 27 June 2005
Hammill had already announced that he had plans for an entirely
acoustic album so my expectations were high.
And it surely has been worth waiting for. It contains a few songs that are instant classics, such as "Driven" with its hauntingly beautiful lyrics ("I picked myself up as a hitcher
and it's really quite a deal to see this lifelong journey through his eyes, just as we got going, we've arrived", "We
Are Written" "The Ice Hotel" and "Bareknuckle Trade".
The other songs take a bit longer to grow on you, but this must surely be one of the best albums Hammill has made, and that's
saying something if you look as his very profilic output.
Recommanded to those who are new to his work and a must for