Esoteric Antenna 2016
From keeping the lighthouse to observing lights in the tunnel, British prog legends move closer to final peace of mind.
Face the darkness to see your own reflection: the cover of VDGG’s thirteenth album is the first sign of the group gearing towards the end of their glorious career. Gloomy hints are strewn across the record, with “it’s time to let go” – its final line – signalling the ultimate sign-off. For what it’s worth, though, there’s no capitulation on these nine cuts, despite the piano-driven “self-obsession and surrender” acceptance of “Brought To Book” where “I’ll settle up the score and bid farewell to everyone” sounds rather gravely, oiled with organ, and tongue-in-cheek at the same time. There’s no avoiding fragility here and now, so one won’t need to translate the title of “Shikata Ga Nai” to feel the growing emptiness behind the transparently continental instrumental facade, yet there’s also no hiding the no-regrets/no-remorse resolve in “(Oh No, I Must Have Said) Yes” whose jagged riff is severing, with a bluesy intent, the past from the aforementioned present.
That’s why “I try to hold on to the ghost of a chance” doesn’t reek of despair, as specters have always had a solid footing in Peter Hammill’s world, and “Forever Falling” whence this confession comes has a surprisingly infectious funk groove. Still, it’s difficult to be moving towards eternity without clearing the closet of “unreliable mementos” – no matter how pleasant they are – and the baroque “Alfa Berlina” finds the ensemble on the road to fickle stardom, vigorously harking back to their success in Italy four and a half decades ago. On route, fatted calf of somber opener “Aloft” may have turned into the holy cow that’s mentioned elsewhere, but the “you can’t keep track” admission couldn’t stop the band from trying to draw the line.
It’s there, in the sneer of Hugh Banton’s organ and accordion, in the strum of Hammill’s guitar and his variety of voices, in the shuffle of Guy Evans’ drums; yet if the trio can’t escape the confines of “Room 1210” whose sadness is spiked with psychedelia and blown up to an almost orchestral solemnity, that’s because they, as a creative collective, strive to retain the same state of mind as back in the touring days. If they’re lost for words, some things can remain unsaid, and the burst of emotional energy close to the end of “Almost The Words” – the electronica-tinctured tribal choir prefacing the madrigal of “Go” – can suggest the secret which is outlined in this piece is not the idea of the album being a grand finale. After all, a melody doesn’t die when the words fade into silence, so while “I’m a true believer, whistling in the dark” sounds like a last will, it’s a promise of an echo that’s best not to disturb.