Van Der Graaf Generator were at the cutting edge of the progressive rock movement and this album, released in February 1970, is a wonderfully crafted, often tortured work of considerable merit. Peter Hamill's lyrics are challenging and his vocal delivery fits the material extremely well in my opinion although I am prepared to concede that it may not suit all listeners. The 6 tracks featured on 'The Least We Can Do...' all have much to commend them; 'Darkness', the opening piece, moves superbly through the gears, 'Refugees' is quite lovely whilst 'White Hammer' is, for me, the most powerful and effective piece featured. 'After The Flood', which closes the album, has some marvellous sections but, for me, is perhaps too long at 11½ minutes. If you like highly adventurous, progressive music then VDGG could well be of interest to you.
If you exclude "The Aerosol Grey Machine", which was really a Peter Hammill solo album released under the VDGG name for contractual reasons, then "The Least We Can Do...." was the band's first album release.
I would say that it's one of my favourite VDGG albums because it is one of the most accessible ones; there is discernable melody here and plenty of it too. That is always important to me, more so than lyrics (but there may be many VDGG/Peter Hammill fans who fixate on his lyric writing as one of their favourite aspects) and this is one of VDGG'd most melodious albums. Tracks (not sure I can call them songs) such as the opener "Darkness (11/11)", "Refugees" and "After the Flood" are good examples, with the music on "Refugees" being quite beautiful at times.
The songs are complex, long and not in a usual rock format or beat at all but another feature of this album that I find enjoyable is the wonderful rhythm that Nic Potter (bass) and Guy Evans (drums) can set up - quite jazzy in a modernistic sort of way (not in an Ella Fitzgerald way at all!). Hugh Banton on keyboards and David Jackson on saxes and flute add wonderful aural textures and energy, as well as melody. These four create a wonderful musical soundscape for Peter Hammill to deliver his "sung" lyrics - well, if you've ever heard peter Hammill "sing" then you will understand that his is a delivery that will not suit everyone. It suits this music and I like it.
I used to have the version of the CD released before the millenium and the sound on that was pretty poor but I'm pleased to say that it is of excellent qaulity on this remastered CD - so well worth getting again for any of you fans with the old copy.
So - melody, drive, invention, energy, wonderful musical soundscapes and a vocalist that demands your attention - this is one of the great VDGG albums from a career that has delivered a strong set of albums - including the recent "Present", released after an interval of some 25 years from what many thought would be their last, "The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome". And there is another studio album in the offing for 2008!! Great - can't wait!
I absolutely love this especially Refugee's which is by far the best track, also Darkness is great too. If you want too buy something by Van Der Graaf, i would buy this first or just buy H TO He and Pawn Hearts too. There a nice price for all 3 albums. Highly recommended if you like ogan prog rock from 70s.
The moment I heard the opening chords of Darkness (11/11) I knew I was listening to something very, very special. I was 16 and still at school. I can't remember how I came across this album (I think I saw the cover on display in the window of a record shop and bought the LP on the strength of the artwork) but it stayed on my Dansette portable record player for the rest of 1970. I just couldn't get enough of it: Peter Hamill's incredibly passionate, yearning voice; Keith Ellis's powerful, fluid bass playing; Dave Jackson's strident, earnest sax breaks; Guy Evans's muscular drumming and, finally, Hugh Banton's integral keyboards, never flashy or over-dominating. Each song was intense, serious, intimidating, even the beautiful ballad Refugees, which even to this day brings me to tears. Each track was beautifully formed, with the lyrics tackling a wide range of subjects with intelligence. Considering I had been listening to what was to become heavy metal (Sabbath, Zepellin etc) and pretty, neo-symphonic stuff by the Moodies, VDGG provided something different, an immersive, no-holds-barred listening experience. For me, the guys couldn't replicate The Least We Can Do and their sound evolved (Ellis, then Jackson, left) became denser, heavier, more rhythmic but always melodic, always challenging and always enjoyable. There is simply no other album on the planet like this: call it prog if you like, for it certainly fulfills certain criteria, but I would call it Van dear Graaf music. Always original, never imitated. Forty-six years later I still play it regularly and still get chills from the experience. Without doubt it is a classic and a must-have for anyone who enjoys quality rock music - with brains.
'White Hammer' has been my favourite VDGG track since I first heard it; as ever the record veers from sweet neo ballads like 'Refugees' to epics like it and 'Darkness (11/11)', which are 'progressive in that the group doesn't eschew solos but the themes are darker and more serious that the standard 'prog' fare and Hamill is one of Rock's finer talents, possessed of a pure voice and a charisma well beyond most. The sound is ambitious, definitely with a modern jazz influence but very surely rock; I guess their musical cousins would be pre 'Dark Side' Floyd and pre Crimson 'Lizard' in that they solo, they deal with serious themes and they experiment with odd melodies or in working them around, sometimes disconcertingly. I like this CD most of all their stuff, but they are definitely one of the few progressive bands ever to deserve that benighted, usually useless moniker. Hamill bends the traditional ballad well out of shape; he writes movingly of loneliness, abandon, anomie and sings it brilliantly....the usual modern stuff, but without the usual clichés. A disc to adorn any thoughtful muso's collection. Hamill certainly is one of The Great Underrated, I have no idea why.
"Day dawns dark... it now numbers infinity". These lyrics are embedded in my soul having listened to this album every few months since I bought the original vinyl copy back in 1969. This album is (IMHO) better than the equivalent (and equally superb) Court of the Crimson King. But only just. It has the same mix of majestic classical-tinged riffs and melodic acoustic tracks. Darkness 11/11 has one of the most spine-tingling introductions - howling wind and then gothic organ and bass notes peering out of the Dark - and then on and on up the trade-mark spiral of VDGG barely-controlled chaos. But the musicians are (as Guy Evans said) telepathic in their co-ordination. Just stunning. Followed by the "take a breather before the onslaught continues" delicious Refugees - a song of such beauty and longing - on a par with the more pastoral tracks on Atom Heart Mother. Then you are bludgeoned (literally and lyrically) with the White Hammer and the following tracks until "After the Flood" which has my all time favourite Bass Riff [still brings a tingle down the spine] - coming after some gentle (?) acoustic guitar chords, until the band finally sweeps in and roars off into the distance. It is suggested by some that "H to He" or "Pawn Hearts" were better albums, but the Least We Can Do (perhaps because this was my first introduction to VDGG at an early and impressionable age) has remained my all-time favourite - of ALL albums, even considering the magnificent Atom Heart Mother, the Yes Album, the above mentioned CotCC, not to mention Tull's Aqualung, or Colosseum's Valentye Suite.