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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hammill enters a new phase with one of his strongest albums., 18 April 2000
This review is from: A Black Box (Audio CD)
'A Black Box', released in 1980, completed the trilogy of 'monochrome' albums that kicked off with 'The Future Now' in 1978 and 'PH7' in 1979. These albums marked a stylistic shift, Hammill largely dispensing with the complex, labyrinthine arrangements that had been the hallmark of his earlier solo albums and his work with Van der Graaf Generator. This new style was stripped-down, concentrated and concise - and fitted well into the punk ethos of the time. One of Hammill's earlier albums 'Nadir's Big Chance' released in 1975 had, in fact, been hailed a prototype punk-rock album. The subject matter of Hammill's songs also became more accessible, and his lyrics more straightforward and direct. This new approach served to heighten the intensity and power of Hammill's writing - as evinced by 'A Black Box'. Every song hits like a punch both musically and lyrically, as a result of the basic electric guitar, bass drums and keyboards instrumentation, as well as the production quality Hammill achieved by recording with only 8 tracks. The sound is jerky, cut-up, grainy black and white and brilliant. The opener, 'Golden Promises' is a no-nonsense rocker, with harsh distorted guitar and a strident rhythm; 'Losing Faith in Words' shouts about the difficulty of being heard above a juddering piano and staccato lead guitar. 'Jargon King' continues on the theme of communication using phased out electronic effects, synthesiser and backwards tape; 'Fogwalking' is a slow stroll through a nightmarish nightime London with gothic keyboard landscapes and eerie saxophone provided by David Jackson; 'The Spirit' is a simple three-chord trick up-tempo rock-song, almost thrown away; 'In Slow Time' features melodic synths and a sinuous melody line; 'The Wipe' a chaotic, out-of-control ambient spasm wraps up what was originally side one of the vinyl album. The remainder is taken up with the twenty minute sequence 'Flight'. Although consisting of seven individual parts, 'Flight' is so precisely constructed that it seems to be no more than a single song. Hammill holds the separate strands of the piece together with strong melody lines and underlying musical themes, overlaid with some of his most imaginative lyrics. The end result is a satisfyingly unified piece that sits at the heart of 'A Black Box'. John Gill, in his Sounds review of July 26, concluded that this was Hammill's strongest material in years: "'A Black Box' carries the achievements of 'The Future Now' and 'PH7' even further. Searching, pushing, outstripping and setting precedents for others."
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gothic masterpiece, Hammill's New Wave album, 12 Aug. 2004
By 
Kees Smit (Amsterdam, NH Netherlands) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Black Box (Audio CD)
A great start of the eighties for Peter Hammill, who already
made quite a few masterpieces in the seventies, as as a solo-
artist as well as with Van der Graaf Generator.
Maybe this is his most difficult album, so it is not a good start of if you know yet know his work. In that case, start with
Sitting Targets or maybe The Lovesongs first.
Flight is of course the perrenial highlight here, twenty minutes
of survival-music which was overwhelming to witness live (which
I did quite a few times in the eighties) and remains one of his
all time classics. But Losing Faith in Words, the Spirit and
In Slow Time are as hauntingly beautiful as anything he's done
before and afterwards. This is Hammill's New Wave album, a start
of the new direction which was continued on Sitting Targets,
Enter K and Patient, three other classics of the eighties.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Peter Hamill's most enduring work, 20 Dec. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: A Black Box (Audio CD)
Black Box by Peter Hamill remains to this day as one of his finest works. Its spare starkness compares well with earlier more grandiose works with Van Der Graff and his ever enigmatic vocal prescence haunts the whole album. FLIGHT remains one of his gretest pieces, although 7 diffferent sections its whole does really provide an "empire of sensation locked in a black box........." although 20 years since it was recorded Black Box can still today produce the same hair prickling reaction as the day it was first released. For the novice this must be the best possible way to investigate the lyrical, enigmatic Peter Hammill for those who know and love his work then this album is the alpha and omega of the many journeys that PH invites us to take.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best along Hammill's flight path., 15 Nov. 2006
By 
Stephen Andrews "salvation21" (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Black Box: Remastered & Expanded (Audio CD)
The remastered 'A Black Box'. Originally released in 1980, this, one of the first 'indie' albums but now an EMI corporate product, completed the 'monochrome trilogy' of albums that kicked off with 'The Future Now' in 1978 and 'PH7' in 1979. These albums marked a stylistic shift, Hammill largely dispensing with the complex, labyrinthine arrangements that had been the hallmark of his earlier solo albums and his work with Van der Graaf Generator. This new style was stripped-down, concentrated and concise - and fitted well into the punk ethos of the time. One of Hammill's earlier albums 'Nadir's Big Chance' released in 1975 had, in fact, been hailed as a prototype punk-rock album. The subject matter of Hammill's songs became more accessible, his lyrics more straightforward and direct. This new approach served to heighten the intensity and power of Hammill's writing. Every song here hits like a punch both musically and lyrically, as a result of the basic electric guitar, bass drums and keyboards instrumentation and the production quality Hammill achieved by recording with only 8 tracks. The sound is jerky, cut-up, grainy black and white and brilliant. The opener, 'Golden Promises' is a no-nonsense rocker, with harsh distorted guitar and a strident rhythm; 'Losing Faith in Words' shouts about the difficulty of being heard above a juddering piano and staccato lead guitar. 'Jargon King' continues on the theme of communication using phased-out electronic effects, synthesiser and backwards tape; 'Fogwalking' is a slow stroll through a nightmarish nightime London with gothic keyboard landscapes and eerie saxophone provided by David Jaxon; 'The Spirit' is a simple three-chord trick up-tempo rock-song, almost thrown away; 'In Slow Time' features melodic synths and a sinuous melody line; 'The Wipe' a chaotic, out-of-control ambient spasm wraps up what was originally side one of the vinyl album. The remainder is taken up with the twenty minute sequence 'Flight'. Although consisting of seven individual parts, 'Flight' is so precisely constructed that it seems to be no more than a single song. Hammill holds the separate strands of the piece together with strong melody lines and musical themes, overlaid with some of his most imaginative lyrics. The end result is a satisfyingly unified piece that sits at the heart of 'A Black Box'. John Gill, in his Sounds review of July 26, concluded that this was Hammill's strongest material in years: "'A Black Box' carries the achievements of 'The Future Now' and 'PH7' even further. Searching, pushing, outstripping and setting precedents for others."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a real gem to discover again, and again, and again, 5 Mar. 2011
By 
as "as" (dilbeek ,Belgium) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Black Box: Remastered & Expanded (Audio CD)
I stopped completely listening to P. Hammill after "sitting targets". Don't ask me why: i don't remember. Maybe I didn't like the commercial aspect of it. Before that, the "Black Box" issue had been so confidential. The lyrics were missing on the vinyl and the album seemed cumbersome to me. I'd been holding "The Future Now" and "PH7" as reference albums and had compared the next ones to those 2, quite in a wrong way. I realize it now.30 years after.
Listening to " A Black Box" in its remastered version is quite an experience: you are really taken away in eeric atmospheres ("slow time" and "fog walking"), assaulted musically ("jargon kings")and driven into an epic "flight"which you keep you fascinated despite it's 19 minutes length, you really feel the emotional power of "losing faith in words",you're surprised by the generally violent mix of the different instruments played nearly exclusively by P. Hammill, especially the drums which are sometimes as invasive as in Bowie's Low.
"A Black Box" surpasses for me all the other works of Hammill , as it hasn't aged at all and doesn't contain ANY weak material.I bet "A Black Box" will still sound actual within 20 years. A real gem that deserves your attention.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Hammill, 6 Nov. 2011
By 
N. Dutton (Newcastle, Staffs, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Black Box: Remastered & Expanded (Audio CD)
This superb CD is the remastered version of Hammill's 1980 classic; there's no additional material here, but this album is worth five stars in its own right. What was side one on the original vinyl release contains seven short pieces, five excellent songs any one of which I would be delighted to hear in a modern live set, one more experimental piece in "The Jargon King" and a brief instrumental. All wonderful stuff. The old side two, however, is in a league of its own, comprising a single nigh-on 20 minute piece, "Flight". Suffice to say that in my opinion this is the best long piece that Hammill has ever done, and is superior even to Van Der Graaf Generator's "Plague of Lighthouse Keeepers". An essentail purchase for any Hammill fan and a good place to start for the curious.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A minor classic, 12 Mar. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Black Box: Remastered & Expanded (Audio CD)
I bought this on vinly when it was released. It was never the easiest to get into back then but improved with age. The production and recording values have not aged as well as the older VDGG material but then it was a tad experimental in style as the good sleeve notes indicate. The album is worth it for Flight alone but the other songs have weathered the storm of time with alacrity. Recommended for completists (probably most PH followers) but might confuse the uninitiated. The remastering is a good piece of work and this scores over the vinly version in almost every aural department. In short, of its time but its time was a good one.
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A Black Box: Remastered & Expanded
A Black Box: Remastered & Expanded by Peter Hammill (Audio CD - 2006)
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