Trisectorby Van der Graaf Generator
Usually, the first comeback album is a pretext for a comeback tour; the second comeback album is the real test. And Van Der Graaf Generator passed that test, although fans may argue about that for years. Vintage VDGG this is not (and if you're still hoping for that, well, it won't happen). And, of course, Trisector sounds closer to a Peter Hammill solo album than any VDGG LP from the '70s. After all, drummer Guy Evans has released very few albums (let alone under his own name) during the interim, and organist Hugh Banton has released only one, while Hammill chugged out three dozens or so. Consequently, yes, Hammill's songwriting dominates and follows the style of songwriting found on his 2000s albums. And the presence of sax player David Jackson (who left after the Present tour) would have changed very little of that. In this incarnation of the band, Banton's organ is the dominating instrument, either in complex intricate patterns or in soft accompaniment mode. Present, the group's first comeback album, was a slim offering: six songs for a total duration of 35 minutes, and only two of these songs found their way into the live set list. Trisector is more generous (nine songs over 53 minutes) and offers higher highs and lower lows. "The Hurlyburly" is a strange inclusion and definitely a questionable choice for an opener. The 21st century surf music feel of this instrumental might have worked as comic relief toward the middle mark of the album, or even as a coda. Placed at the forefront, it indisposes. The half-point has been given instead to "Drop Dead," an unremarkable rocker that would have felt weak even on one of Hammill's rock albums. Those two low points aside, Trisector stands as a strong achievement. "Interference Patterns" and "All That Before" have the complexity and rawness you'd expect from this one-of-a-kind prog rock band. "Lifetime" and "Only in a Whisper" are definitely softer than anything VDGG used to do in the '70s, but they are artistically successful songs. The latter, a delicate two-chord affair, provides a slow-boiling showcase for Hammill's poignant voice and Evans' subtle drumming. The 12-minute "Over the Hill" is almost as epic as the group's music used to be; it will easily become a live favorite. And "(We Are) Not Here" brings the album to a strong though unusual close, with its driving and repetitive motif and its stacked vocals. The songs on Trisector have a tendency to run a bit too long (the ending of "The Final Reel" and "Only in a Whisper," the middle section in "All That Before"), but the songwriting is strong, the attitude is sincere, and the group manages to present a convincing and viable version of Van Der Graaf Generator for the 21st century. The fact that most of the album's songs have been included in the group's 2008 live set shows how much more committed the musicians are to this material, compared to the "let's-give-this-thing-a-try" approach found on Present.
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