Stepping back from the more complex arrangements typical of his work with his band, Van der Graaf Generator ? as well as those utilized on some of his recent solo outings (CHAMELEON IN THE SHADOW OF THE NIGHT , THE SILENT CORNER AND THE EMPTY STAGE [ALSO 1972], and IN CAMERA ) ? Peter Hammill delivered OVER to the world in 1976, one of the most painfully honest and soul-baring albums of his career. While Hammill is a (thankfully) prolific artist, with some of the most revealing self-analytic lyrics ever written, his personal life has always been kept private ? a difficult task for a performer, but one that has meant enough to him that he has managed to do it. That being said, it's pretty evident from the lyrics on OVER that he was going through an extremely painful and emotional period in his life ? and what better catharsis to expedite and enable the healing process than his music?
Joined here by Van der Graaf bandmates Guy Evans (drums), Nic Potter (bass) and Graham Smith (violin), Hammill frames these intensely personal songs brilliantly with his expressive piano and guitar ? and every bit of the emotion contained in the lyrics is carried perfectly by his unique and powerful voice. Pain, loss, self-doubt ?and, ultimately, hope ? are portrayed here in such a naturally vivid fashion that the listener cannot help but experience some degree of the feelings that inspired these works. It's a breathtakingly intense journey ? and one that connects the artist with the listener at the most human level possible.
The album begins with 'Crying wolf'. As the song is introduced by Hammill's choppy rhythm on electric guitar, then joined by the bass and drums, then the vocals, the listener might believe that the rest of the album is going to be in more of a 'rock' vein than is actually the case. The song's lyrics are accusatory, addressing the singer himself, decrying the self-pity and wallowing in anguish at being left alone: 'Is this what makes you happy? Is this what brings you joy? Your excuses are so crappy...silly boy!' The song goes on to berate the singer as self-centered, pushing him to stand up and take the steps needed to rebuild the life that is seen as destroyed.
'Autumn' addresses the loneliness and change that come in a long-term relationship, when the parents have raised their children and seen them move away to make their own way in the world. It's hard for parents to let go, to understand the ways of their offspring, to trust in the upbringing they've given them to guide them as they go out to find lives of their own. Hammill describes the feelings of being left alone, of being '...discarded, of no further use...' ? and winds up wondering how long it will be '...till this song is sung by our own sons and daughters', recognizing the cyclical nature of the lives we lead.
'Time heals' looks back at a fractured relationship - and wonders, as is a natural process at such a time, how things might have been different, and how they came to be like they are. People who love each other deeply and honestly sometimes grow apart through no fault of anyone involved ? but that doesn't make it any easier to accept traumatic changes. Time heals, as Hammill notes, '...but I still bear the weals' ? the pain might get easier to bear and to understand, but it never really goes away completely. It remains as a shadow to remind us of our humanity, of our folly, and ultimately of our ability to feel ? not just pain, but love as well.
'Alice (letting go)', 'This side of the looking glass', 'Betrayed' and '(On Tuesdays) she used to do yoga' are some of the most painful songs of loss and letting go I've ever heard ? and some of the most beautiful in their power and clarity of expression. The singer remembers incidents, habits and idiosyncrasies of the departed partner ?healing through the experience of the pain. In the album's final track, 'Lost and found', the images of the wolf and sheep from 'Crying wolf' and the themes of loss and loneliness from the other songs are brought together and reconciled with the knowledge that life goes on ? something that's hard to see and accept when one is in the throes of the awful pain of love lost, of the feeling of abandonment and betrayal, of helplessness and hopelessness. The song ends with the hope brought by a new love: 'I'm free at last, I'm in love at last...I'm lost and found...'
This is a hard album to listen to and not feel the pain expressed in the songs ? but it's a marvel for that very power: the power to reach out and touch the heart of the listener with the pain and loss (and ultimately, the hope) felt by the artist. It's one of Peter's most beautiful, honest and moving albums ? it's a masterpiece.
1. Crying Wolf (5:12)
2. Autumn (4:13)
3. Time Heals (8:42)
4. Alice (Letting Go) (5:33)
5. (This Side Of) The Looking Glass (6:57)
6. Betrayed (4:44)
7. (On Tuesdays She Used to Do) Yoga (3:55)
8. Lost and Found (7:11)
9. Betrayed (4:47)
10. Autumn (4:49)
11. (This Side Of) The Looking Glass (4:11)
- Peter Hammill ( guitar, keyboards, vocals, multi instruments )
- Nic Potter ( bass )
- Guy Evans ( drums )
- Graham Smith ( violin )