If absence makes the heart grow fonder then it clearly can do something for revitalising creativity, too. Witness the rebirth of Van Der Graaf Generator after a three year split from one another's company. Where the last album of Mk1 VdGG was a triumph in successfully delivering enormously ambitious material of epic construct, 1975's return was by way of a scaling down and a perhaps more judicial packaging of their writing capabilities into a format that would be easier to replicate live. So fertile were the sessions for the acclaimed 'Godbluff' that pretty much half of a further album was in the can by their end. After another European tour, financially upended in Italy by political tension tipping into loss of van and gear and an early return home, the band forged on into the studio in the New Year and got to work on this, quite simply the most satisfactory of this period's VdGG. 'Still Life' has five tracks and each is a perfect turn in revealing writing capabilities (of Peter Hammill in particular who had been honing his skills with solo ouput) and their conversion into faultless ensemble playing. 'Pilgrims' (a return to an early Hammill interest) and 'La Rossa' arrive perfectly formed from the Godbluff sessions to be joined by the title track and 'My Room (Waiting for Wonderland)' and 'Childlike Faith in Childhood's End'. A confidence and self-knowing pervade these carefully assembled pieces that though darkly observational are startlingly diverse in tone, one moment cooed, the next screamed into our ears and then hammered home. Mixed reviews at the time reflect perhaps how demanding and unnerving this music was (for elves were still to be found peeking from the cover art of some of VdGG's progressive contemporaries' efforts). Well, this album plays just fine today: freshly re-mastered, and with a 10 minute unreleased live bonus track - 'Gog' - shot through with passion and energy, it shines on as an original and memorable showcase of a creative collective at the height of its powers.
I love this album, and it was one of the first that I bought on CD to replace my LPs (although I still prefer the album picture on a 12" LP!). The music is in some ways typically VDGG - but somehow slightly more mellow (I'm not sure that's the word for VDGG, but it will do), particularly "searching for wonderland". I always loved intelligent lyrics that you get with VDGG and tracks like "pilgrims" and "Childlike faith" don't disappoint here. Nor, in spades, does the title track, "Still life". As a 16 year old, I always hated "La Rossa". I never knew why, it just didn't work for me. Then, as a 40 year old, I actually started listening to the words and music - and was blown away. This is a brilliant album, often sadly under-rated by VDGG fans, but very definitely worth buying.
Five fairly lengthy tracks that capture the band at their mid 70s peak, after they'd reconvened in 1975 with the almost-as-great Godbluff. Everything went right for this album, notably the recording of Peter Hammill's voice; he whispers, shrieks, cries out, and sings in the normal fashion too. It's also got what is probably his best set of lyrics.
The rest of the band don't come to the fore quite so much as on previous albums, but there is organ and sax in abundance; they are there more to support Hammill's wonderful and weird songs this time. And what a great set of songs, notably La Rossa and the massive philosophic reflection that is Childlike Faith in Childhood's End. Both go through a multitude of changes and end on massive crescendos. Both wonderful. My Room is quieter, more sad and reflective, while Still Life itself is a dark and disturbing look at what immortality might actually entail.
But do turn it off after Childhood's End. The "bonus" track here is a live version of Gog, from 1975. This would be interesting, as it's actually a Hammill solo piece from his In Camera album, were it not so badly recorded. Doomy organ, muffled drumming, a barely discernable sax, and a totally incoherent, screaming vocal make this a bonus fans could do without. But I'll not let it stop me giving this classic five stars.
"STILL LIFE" 1976, was the second of three comeback albums by VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR, sandwiched in between the brilliant GODBLUFF and the defining NEW WORLD RECORD. "STILL LIFE" represents the high water mark of an incredible back catalogue of superior material. Always pushing the boundaries of music in their own immeasurable way, VDGG excelled on an album of sheer beauty, more refined than previously ( PETER HAMILL sounds more restrained and Gothic than usual ) giving "STILL LIFE" a real quality and classy feel. Even the striking album cover of an actual Van Der Graaf Generator machine discharching on an acrylic background says everything about the album, the energy, the power, the colours, the textures the superlatives abound. "STILL LIFE" is my personal favourite VDGG album, a superior release of untouchable soundscapes and musicianship, which surely made a mockery of the banal music press who had the audacity to lambast this remarkable piece of original and refreshing piece of work. A must buy CD of major mid-70's Prog Rock.
This is one of Var Der Graaf Generators best albums, starting with the powerful "Pilgrims", which really shows off Peter Hammills' amazingly powerful vocals, followed by "Still Life", with thought provoking lyrics about Immortal Life, and finishing (as is common on VDGG albums) with a massive crescendo track "Childlike Faith in Childhood's End" which, if played loud, really does something for me.
Dare I use the word 'mellow' here? Perhaps not. But, in relative terms, 'Still Life' is softer than VDGG's early material, especially 'Pawn Hearts'. By comparison with other established rock bands circa 1976, however, VDGG were still mining a deep seam. 'Pilgrims' is a fine opening track, lengthy and deftly-structured, like all the tracks here. From the beginning, though, the melodies and textures are noticeably gentler than on their uncompromising early work. It's the same story right across the album, though 'La Rossa' makes you sit up a bit more. The simple opening repeated sax riff on 'My Room' is, however, the kind of hook they didn't used to trade in. Even Peter Hammill's man-in-a-crisis vocal tone seems lighter. The inclusion of the live 'Gog' only highlights the change. 'Still Life' isn't, in my opinion, what made VDGG great, but it is, on its own terms, still a fine album.
This rubs shoulders with Pawnhearts as VdGG at its best. The songs are long but very wordy, so the music is not as adventurous as on other VdGG albums. Each song is carried by Hammill's vocal performance and those evocative lyrics. This album really is essential prog listening. Still Life (the song) is amazing.
"Still Life" was the second of Van Der Graaf Generators three mid-seventies albums which show them at their absolute peak. This album is surprisingly good even for long-in-the-tooth VdGG fans like me because the sound quality on these remastered versions is so much better than my faithful but somewhat worn vinyl version. There's a bonus track too (a poorly recorded live version of "Gog" from 1975), but frankly it's not needed- the original album material stands magnificently on its own.
The hippy-esque existential lyrics of some songs make me squirm a bit, but you can't fault Hammill for not being refreshingly honest. At least he isn't singing about Hobbits or Dragons and never would. My favorite track in the Album is still "La Rossa" - great lyrics and wonderful Hammond organ playing from Mr Banton.
strange mix of complex music and ideas - almost existential and relevant to our modern saturated lives. Takes several listens to get the meaning and the soul of VdGG on this record but once hooked never forgotten!