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4.5 out of 5 stars
18
Godbluff
Format: Audio CD|Change
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VINE VOICEon 28 June 2005
This second batch of VDGG remasters starts off in glorious style with "Godbluff". After the magnificence of "Pawn Hearts" the band sort of imploded mostly due to gruelling tour schedules taking their toll. Peter Hammill went off to do some solo work, but eventually the band re-convened for 75's "Godbluff". While other progressive bands were faltering in the mid to late 70's, VDGG were making the best music of their career and some of the most vital music of the time. This is a different beast to that which recorded "Pawn Hearts". Sure, the same dark, menacing, gothic tones of the music is there, but this is a leaner and smoother machine. The original album is made up of just four lengthy tracks and each one is a triumph. It's impossible to pick stand outs from "The Undercover Man", "Scorched Earth", "Arrow" and "The Sleepwalkers". Each piece is a work of wonder and expertly executed by the band.
With this album, the next "Still Life" and his excellent solo work of the time, Hammill was on an unbelievably prolific, creative high. Musically and lyrically he was way out on his own compared to most others of the time.
This reissue sounds pretty good and the remastering deftly brings out the epic quality of the arrangements and production which I remember from the original vinyl LP. Added as bonus tracks are bootleg quality band recordings of the Hammill solo pieces, "Forsaken Gardens" and "A Louse is Not a Home". The sound quality may be a bit limited, but the power of the performances more than makes up for that. The sleeve notes and booklet are excellent as are all in this series.
I have not listened to VDGG for a while until recently picking up these remasters. Not only had I forgotten how powerful, original and exciting a band they were, but listening to these recordings again quickly brought back so many fond personal memories of growing up with this fantastic music. Such is the profound effect that VDGG has on the listener on a deeply personal level. You don't just listen to VDGG music, you experience it and that experience stays with you forever!
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on 18 April 2014
I've lived with this album in one form or another since its release, since the band returned from their self-imposed exile...

This review concerns the 2005 CD remaster, so I shall assume a familiarity with the band and the material. However, I will say that this is not an album for the faint-hearted. In a review of the time (Sounds, IIRC) the comment was made that this album takes you most of the way to Hell and leaves you there...Which is a fair description of Hammill's even more tortured than usual singing and his even more apocalyptic and paranoid than usual lyrics, let alone the brutally visceral and fiery playing of all concerned: this is prog rock at its most hard hitting (King Crimson's Red is the only thing that comes close in that sense).

Why this release?

This series of re-masters offer sonic improvements over previous CD releases (greater clarity and detail, more impact) without succumbing to excessive compression and The Loudness Wars, and so are to my mind worth it for that alone. The extras are a mixed bunch: the 2 live pieces on this one are interesting historical artefacts, even if the sound is a bit ropey, which, to be honest, it was at most concerts I went to in those days...

A highlight of the classic era of prog, well-served by this re-issue.
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on 7 June 2009
Hamill does it again. Slightly scary, pre-punk bile, inventiveness and really nicely put together progressive pieces. Out-theatre's Gabriel's Genesis by a country mile and great sounds, particularly the way that the Hammond Organ carries pieces of melody/riff through pieces like Undercover Man and Scorched Earth. The use of sax gives some of the work a jazz-rock edge and the shifting tempos and time-signatures are particularly enjoyable. Recommended, although do not get too excited about the extra live tracks, where the recording quality really doesn't do justice to the music.
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on 8 April 2001
If ever a 70s album was tailor made for CD, this is it. VDGG's comeback album of 1975, released four years after their staggering 'Pawn Hearts' (also recommended). Four tracks that work as a seamless whole; a 40 minute musical landscape, if a somewhat bleak, scorched one! One of the band's best albums; all the ingrediemnts are here: the wailing, whimpering, screeching of the sax set against the similar sound of Hammill's remarkable voice. Add the frenetic drumming of Guy Evans, a keyboard player who somehow manages to handle bass as well, and round off with some of the most intelligent lyrics ever to appear on a rock record, and you have a neglected 70s classic. Investigate 'Still Life also!
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on 19 March 2016
Well my hunch (and it’s only that) is that this is probably a belated counterblast to 1971’s stage production “Godspell” so the name had probably been around for some time prior to the release of “Godbluff” in 1975, perhaps even the concept of the songs too. Godspell of course was a musical based on the gospel of St. Matthew with the promise of eternal life for the faithful as its message. Its antithesis “Godbluff” offers no such salvation however as its occupant is catapulted into a cataclysmic scenario of war, death and destruction, so it’s all cheery stuff in PH territory.

The songs themselves are mostly recorded live in the studio with a few overdubs here and there. But it’s a curious mixture of raw gothic prog and punk indicating that PH knew what was coming to pass, however it’s that dynamic combination that makes the album unique. In fact the statements of the songs are more radical as anything in the punk era that was to follow with a certain Johnny Lydon confirming that PH was one of his major influences.

“Undercover man” is quite subdued as an opener, but menacing, with its lyrics force-fitted into the unyielding arrangement it almost sound like something is trying to get out. The concept addresses the crisis of man’s duality, with the “undercover man” emerging from the struggle to prevail with the essence of time on his side to live and die finitely but to genuflect to no divinity. It is the calm before the storm.

“Scorched Earth” has our hedonistic hero liberated into a bleak war-torn landscape but to kneel in subservience to a darker power. Freed from the shackles of conscience to destroy at will set against a backdrop of lyrical imagery reminiscent of Crecy, the Somme and Stalingrad all “swirl as one” in the madness as he surges forward. Yet his freedom is short-lived as he stumbles into the snare. “The past sits uneasily at his rear, he’s walking right into the trap” PH whispers in your unsuspecting ear. A monster riff and manic chord changes put the undercover man to flight.

“Arrow” is the star of the show however with its punk/prog bedlam. The extended intro culminating in the chilling and desolate saxophone solo by David Jackson is sheer blood-curdling beauty. Sanctuary at the chapel door denied and mortal death are the themes here. For the undercover man there is no deliverance, his fate is sealed. “How strange my body feels impaled upon the arrow” screams Hammill at the death blow, making contemporaries Plant and Daltry sound like pipsqueaks. How can a spindly mere mortal contain such a demonic voice box?

So our “exponent of heresy” is doomed to join the ranks of the “dancing dead” in “The Sleepwalkers”. He is now a sleepwalker too destined to march and manoeuvre in limbo. But is it a dream that we all share in? Can he be freed from this reverie by a flash of insight that is available to us all in the dream-world or is the gravity of his transgressions too great and he is denied as at the chapel door? The added final verse invites the listener to share in the sleepwalker realm. We can all awake from the dream when we realise it is just that, but is that sleepwalker realm our fate too if “steeped in sin” we die with no insight to save us never to surface?

Regardless of its open interpretation Godbluff’s original concept is simple it’s the age-old battle between good and evil with its message being the price to pay for the latter. Whether it be “Godspell” or “Godbluff” the choice may or may not be ours.

Both the band and fans loved this on release. PH remarked that he liked it because it was “so linear, so complete”. Some PH and VDGG recordings have one or two tracks that are a bit out of sync with the rest of the stuff but the narratives of each of the four extended songs naturally segue into each other to form a whole. Any bonus tracks are thus irrelevant. Anyway! That’s only my take on it. Add your insults in the comments section as appropriate.

[...]
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on 11 June 2010
To my mind, this is one of the top 5 greatest prog albums ever made, by the greatest prog band of all-time! (my opinion only)

The natural follow up to Pawn Hearts (1971), Godbluff (1975) is the bands comeback album after a three year hiatus. It is a more accesible, but equally dark and challenging album.

Van der Graaf Generator are often pigeonholed alongside prog legends such as Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd but they resemble none of these bands. Their nearest spiritual peers would be King Crimson. They are purveyors of dark angular gothic prog rock experimentation. Peter Hammill's primal scream vocals alongside the bands jagged edge time signatures could throw you if you are new to the band.

It must be noted that Hammill isn't merely a vocalist, but a PERFORMER of lyrics. Cited as a major influence by John Lydon he posesses a vocal range that can whisper sweetly one second then scream in fury the next.
The sheer amount of lyrics contained within the four tracks on this album stand it apart from many other records of its time.

The album opens with a sort of prog ballad ''The Undercover Man'', gentle flute and whispered vocals make way for drums, organ and saxophone which build gradualy to create a full rich backdrop over which Hammills vocals are thrown. The playing in the middle section of this song is very powerfull and strident without being overpowering. Running in at over 7 minutes long it's a perfectly crafted piece of work and a stunning opener to the album.

The next two tracks ''Scorched Earth'' and ''Arrow'' find the band in a darker more aggressive frame of mind. Hammill's vocals are angst ridden and in classic VdGG style multiple tempo changes dominate the proceedings. The ensemble playing is tight whilst allowing each instrumentalist room for self expression.

The albums closing track "The Sleepwalkers" opens with a highly infectious sprightly riff on organ interspersed with saxophone. Hammill then weaves his vocal around the riff which playfully morps through a jazz like movement which is followed by a demented cha-cha. The closing section of the song finds Hammill, Banton, Evans and Jackson playing in great unison creating a powerful musical maelstrom in true VdGG fashion to close this brilliant album.

It's a shame that VDGG have never received the (larger) recognition that other Prog Rock bands did, their sound is unique and has yet to be duplicated.
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on 16 October 2007
I had listened Van Der Graaf and Hammill's solo material before hearing this but none of that material prepared me for the musical and lyrical attack that is contained in this record. It starts with a whisper on Undercover Man, and ends with a screamed warning to be wary of the contents of your sleep when you lay down at night. The lyrics on this album are to me typical Hammill, always clever, often affecting, and the process always seems to be take two metaphors with existential overtones to them and extend/push them to their limits then introduce a third metaphor which fits in with the previous stretched metaphors. There is a huge energy with this record, particularly when the band get hold of a riff and squeeze the life out of it, inbetween bouts of lyricism. Commendable. The extras are okay but prove little.
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on 6 May 2011
As good as any other VDGG music - which means good music , progressive ideas , take-no-prisoners songwriting ( sometimes VDGG can be like an assault course for the mind and ears ). If you haven't ventured with your musical tastes , this is a big venture . And worth the effort .
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on 24 December 2005
A welcome reissue here of a fine work by one of rock music’s true innovators.
Intense music, intense gigging and no money usually escalate into intense anxiety, and – in the case of Van der Graaf Generator – implosion, in 1972.
That said and done, front man and key writer Peter Hammill embarked on a successful solo career, the new freedom afforded by his band’s demise seemingly enabling this to develop quickly to levels that mirrored VdGG’s illustrious output. That Hammill secured the services of his former colleagues in making and performing these releases posited his new songs in familiar context and added to their reach.
A reconvention of the band in 1975 brought in a new stylistic leaning away from the studio-focus of previous output to songs that could be worked more readily in live performance terms.
The band road-tested its material at UK dates and tours of France and Belgium before committing to the studio in June with sessions that were to see the shaping of "Godbluff" and some of its successor, "Still Life".
That every moment of these recordings garner and retain the listener’s attention measures the creative backlog that had amassed during the band’s ‘down-time’.
"The Undercover Man" sets the agenda and tone for the album, Hammill gently opening the door to the song, creeping in and the band following him, one by one, engaging the listener in the trademark melange of calm and anger, melody and dissonance but as always, disciplined, structured and shot through with originality, vitality and sly, intelligent humour.
The four songs that make up the original release are bolstered by live performances of two songs from Hammill’s excellent "The Silent Corner and the Empty Stage" that, albeit a tad rough and ready in sound quality terms, add a generous 22 minutes more to this recommended reissue.
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on 29 September 2011
An excellent album which is almost as good as H to He Who Am the Only One. In a way it's a pity that the bonus tracks 'Foresaken Gardens' & 'A Louse is not a home' are included since the quality is not that good. These tracks, which are great, can be better appreciated on Peter Hammill's 'The Silent Corner And The Empty Stage'.
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