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Peter Hammill
Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night

Phil Kime:

The beginning of Hammill's most intense and, to my mind, brilliant period. Much criticism is often levelled at the youthful self-immersion of this period. I acknowledge that it demonstrates much angst and exuberant passion but fail to see what that has to do with a musical assessment. For example, one cannot possibly claim that it is pretentious without knowing if there was any pretending going on. Even if there was, music can be both pretentious and marvellous. Spectres of uncritical patronising of youthful endeavours, regardless of merit. This album is mostly acoustic guitar and piano with some electronic experimentation thrown in towards the end. The vocals are quite rough but extremely venomous. Hammill spits with such beautiful ferocity in places that one misses this in his later work. The individual tracks are so homogenous in feel (and bad in production) that track by track comments are almost impossible given the way I have come to know this album. I try. The opening track German Overalls opens in heady style with shrieked vocals over acoustic guitar leaving you in no doubt as to whether this album will appeal to you or not. The delivery and voice is so strong, it carries things almost alone. Not quite though: the melody is uniquely Hammill in its unconventional routes through many moods and quiet interludes. Rock and Rôle manages to introduce a distorted guitar and some dissonant chords into this miasma of angst to great effect. In the End is one of Hammill's finest moments. Solo piano and voice with a delivery one might find comically emotional if one was suffering under the delusion that grown-ups are beyond that sort of style. A song of immense worth. There are two or three gentler but interesting tracks interspersed between the points of high impact: What's It Worth being a case in point. This occurs before Easy to Slip Away which is another classic, containing possibly Hammill's highest sung note on record? The end has the paired tracks (In the) Black Room and The Tower. Both rather overbearing pieces with moments of genius. The theme of the album seems to be withdrawal and growing old at length after maturing early. I would not like to be unkind to the man but in the light of his latest material, that does seem to me to be somewhat prophetic. A seminal release.

© 1996 Phil Kime

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