Van Der Graaf Generator - H To He Who Am The Only One

Year of Release: 1989
Label: Virgin
Catalog Number:
Format: CD
Total Time: 00:00:00

Now, as it happens, I was already listening to this disk when the topic of "Killers" came up as a thread on The topic being whether Hammill had written the lyrics, what they meant, and was there meant to be some humour value in them (the "fishes can't fly, fishes can't fly" refrain was the cited example). I'm thinking not, and it is more commentary that one cannot be something they're not.

Anyway, I was planning to review this album after spending some more time with it, but since I am now thinking about it, I'll do it now.

Because I wasn't already familiar with Van Der Graaf Generator (except by name), and there had already been much talk on the newsgroup about them in other contexts, I thought I'd best go exploring. Anyway, the subject of "Killers" came up, and as it also begins the album, I'll start there.

I was struck by these two thoughts - how much "Killers" sounded like Fish's performance of Pink Floyd's "Fearless" and thus, also how much it sounds like Pink Floyd's "Fearless." Not throughout and not exactly, but the whole beginning acoustic section is so reminiscent of it. When you listen to them side by side of course ? or actually side by side by side ? not so much. And, of course, when the vocals start, well Peter Hammill doesn't sound a bit like Roger Waters, or much like Fish either ? though there are occasions where I can see why some think Fish can sound like Hammill. If that makes sense.

"Killers" is quite a weird track, and though electric, is quite acoustic at its base. On the surface, one might dismiss it as a quirky aquatic track - Hammill is seemingly singing about whales (or sea dwelling mammals at least). But if one thinks about the lyrics in more metaphorical fashion, one can start thinking of Oedipus Rex or Hamlet, at least in some context. With the lyric "Your mother gave birth to you and died immediately? 'Cos you can't have two killers in the same pad?" Well, we know what happened with Oedipus and Hamlet? maybe I'm stretching a bit.

"House With No Door" seems more like 70's David Bowie material than ? well, than what I was initially expecting to hear. I like the track, understated though it is. (In Ed Macan's Rocking The Classics he includes VDGG and Hammill with the minimalists; not surprising). A gentle flute line from David Jackson leads the instrumental section? in converse to some progressive patters where rockier bits give way to more pastoral sections, this is mostly pastoral that gives way to rockier sections - yet still not rock, of course. Acoustic based is still the order of the day.

In trying to describe this in non-anachronistic terms, I find I must in saying that "The Emperor In His War Room" contains what I would call Floydisms, except the Floydism I'm thinking of post-date this VDGG release. I think of Genesis, too, but in 1970 they were just getting going? Robert Fripp guests on guitar here, too.

"Lost (Part I)" has a very theatrical feel to it?and is not mis-subtitled "Dance In Sand And Sea" as there are sections where you can almost picture anorexic dancers twirling and swirling around the stage - the set is, of course, sparse, leaving the set to the imagination. But, of course, theatrical in the sense of some of the great musicals - though with a little bit more meat than your typical Gilbert and Sullivan-like fair. A bit like avant-guard theater, I suppose. And yet?there are points where Hammill's voice reaches heights - imagine him standing center stage, chest out, arms open wide, singing to the rafters. I don't that he ever did, but that is the effect. Saxes and Hammonds swirl about adding even more atmosphere. The two-track suite continues in part two "Dance In Frost." Lyrically it is rich enough to be open to many interpretations - depending on what level you dig down to. On the surface, it could be about a disintegrating relationship between a man and woman, but then again, it could be about the loss of faith - that is, a disintegrating relationship between man and god (or God, as some prefer).

It is this idea of loneliness that underpins almost every track here. Taking the title into consideration, we can almost call this a concept album. Between the sections of the album's title, H To He Who Am The Only One, there is this: "The fusion of Hydrogen nuclei to form Helium nuclei is the basic exothermic reaction in the sun and stars, and hence is the prime energy source in the universe." An oft used clich? is the idea that two people who come together (romantically usually) soon become as one. But here, rather than it being so, this particular nuclei has no like counterpart. Of course, that, I think, is too simplistic. Given that Hammill was an existentialist (or so I've read), it does seem contradictory to suppose that Hammill (or the protagonist of this album) is trying to reconnect to god?an absent god, perhaps. But then again? perhaps this is the beginning of his existentialism. Without further study of VDGG and Hammill I can't, nor should I, take this digression any further as it would be no more than speculation.

So, does this mean I like this album or not? Hammill isn't the greatest of vocalists, but he isn't bad, though I can see why some say that not all will take to it. But the answer is yes, I do like it.

Originally released 1970 by Charisma (CAS 1027); Phillips Germany released it same year (6369 907); remastered in 2005 and released by Virgin (EMI) (CASCDR 1027) includes bonus tracks: Squid 1 - Squid 2 / Octopus (15:24) / The Emperor In His War-Room (first version) (8:50)

Killer (8:07) / House With No Door (6:03) / The Emperor In His War-Room (9:04) Part 1: The Emperor Part 2: The Room / Lost (11:13) Part 1: The Dance In Sand And Sea Part 2: The Dance In The Frost / Pioneers Over c. (12:25)

Peter Hammill - lead vocals and acoustic guitar
Guy Evans - drums, tympani, and percussion
Hugh Banton - Hammond and Farfisa organs, piano, oscillator, and vocals; bass (2, 5)
David Jackson - alto, tenor and baritone saxophone and devices, flute, and vocals
Nic Potter - bass (1)
Robert Fripp - guitar (3)

Aerosol Grey Machine (1968)
The Least We Can Do Is Wave At Each Other (1969)
H To He Who Am The Only One (1970)
Pawn Hearts (1971)
Godbluff (1975)
Still Life (1976)
World Record (1976)
The Quiet Zone / The Pleasure Dome (1977)
Vital Live (1978)
Repeat Performance (1980)
Time Vaults (1982)
First Generation (1986)
Second Generation (1986)
I Prophesy Disaster (1993)
Madia Vale (1995)
The Masters (1998)
Darkness 76 (1999) The Box (2000)
Present (2005)
Trisector (2008)

Godbluff Live 1975 (2003) (DVD)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: May 29th 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1132
Language: english


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