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Record Review Reprint
The Bob, 4-1981, page 9:
This is the most interesting Hammill I've heard in well over two years. Last year's A Black Box rambled nowhere interesting, and on what seemed his longest player. pH7, the last of his Charisma label elpees, suffered the usual pains when artist and label part ways. Hammill only sounded thrilled on several songs, including the great Polaroid (actually a British 45 thrown on the US lp). But times change.
I always suspected that Hammill was strongly affected by personal events (i.e. girlfriends splitting, lost contracts, new girl-friends). The lp Over, recorded after he lost true love, is the most depressing piece of vinyl I've ever heard. So now the reverse is in effect. After finally bedding with Virgin Records (which seems the obvious match), positive karma must be literally oozing from his pores.
The opening song, Break Through, doesn't really set the pace of the album. It sounds like Henry Cow, all the way down to the vocals (which is to say it does not sound like P. Hammill). My Experience is next. One of Hammill's usual unusual love songs. What gives this lp a sound of it's own is the incorporation of new rhythms. Dare I say he's been listening to new wave? Well, I would venture a yes. You can dance to much of this. Do you believe?
However, the disjointed melodies, eccentric electric guitar (also some great acoustic), and his usual obsessed (utterly incredible) vocals are all intact. (Not to mention his usual fine lyrics.) Peter Hammill is unique, but finally here's a record that may be more in step with the times. Unlike the past several outings, which were definitely for the initiated, Sitting Targets can be recommended even to the novice. And maybe Virgin is the record company that will see to it.
© 1981 Greg Beaudoin - The Bob
Mid period Hammill but a definite turning point in approach. A little of the diversity of the past has gone: A Black Box and pH7 even felt like eclectic purges making way for this. Breakthrough starts with a more modern feel and harmonically less severe presentation. Actually a very nice track indeed. My Experience reverses the strong beat to start and then a new side of Hammill is shown. A rock presentation no less. The chorus sounds strangely like Dire Straights' Skateaway from Making Movies. Not a terrible track but unnerving nonetheless. Ophelia is a ballad with a drifting but rather flat melody. Pleasant. The experimentation has been absorbed into the songs much more, forming a background that does not stand out so starkly against the accompanying material. Empress's Clothes demonstrates this well. A song in shades of grey. Glue shows this synthesis of styles even more. If flows even with strange sounds and atmosphere of depression. The title track is one of my favourites from the album due to the vocal line. There is a lot of tension and resolution, just enough to keep interest. Harpy like vocal harmonisation emphasises the most important parts nicely. The whole track sounds like a careful wrapper for some tiny perfect moments in the chorus. Stranger Still provides a taste of the old Hammill in front of his piano. From the same book as In the End et al. Sign brings back the new style of the opening track for another airing. Spacious guitar and dramatic melody. Effective and satisfying, much like the more rhythmic What I Did which, again, seamlessly subsumes experimentation and heavy guitar. Central Hotel is quite similar to this but less severe. I would probably recommend this as the best starting point for people wanting to explore Hammill as its cohesion and synthesis of his earlier approaches is well executed. A strong album.
© 1996 Phil Kime
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