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Record Review Reprint
I find this album something of a doldrums period of Hammill. Uncomfortably sandwiched between his mid and late periods along with Skin and And Close as This ..., this is a strangely patchy affair which manages to include some fine work nevertheless. Largely uptempo material in the style of what Hammill called his "neo-beat" phase with the K group, this is not a terribly strong album. Hemlock is rather strong meat: a hard bass pounding with acidic lyrics and delivery. Invisible Ink is a surprisingly good track sounding like quality early 1980s pop even though this was released in 1988. Sci-Finance has a fairly nasty guitar line and annoying bass drum. Coupled with irritating lyrics about 1980s financial culture. Quite anthemic like some of the less good material on later albums. Thankfully, this side of Hammill is quite thin on the ground compared with his quality endeavours. This Book has an endearing tune for the chorus which I sometimes find myself humming for no apparent reason, even if it is rather limp overall. Again, quality pop rendered reasonable by Hammill's voice. Horrible guitar solo. Time To Burn is the first glimmerings of vintage Hammill. He has a particular relationship with solo keyboards that bring out his best. Modern, certainly, but the Hammill spirit burns brightly here although the end becomes rather sorry. Auto and Vote Brand X have overbearing lyrics about modern life that cannot overcome the rather pastiche 1980s arrangements. The latter track gets the better of the two due to its main theme. Sun City Night Life is overtly political and that is both the most interesting thing I can find to say about it and also its main shortcoming. By far the best track on the album is The Play's the Thing. The fact that it is Hammill and acoustic piano is not coincidence as I have expressed my opinion before that the main problem with later Hammill is his choice of instrumentation. He works far better with simple arrangements and acoustic instruments. A heart-rending simple melody. The album is worthwhile due to this track. Under Cover Names sounds like Duran Duran a few years too late. Smile nothing very interesting either. The CD has an instrumental version of Time to Burn to close. A rather mixed album but one track makes it worth the price. After this, Hammill was to consolidate his later style.
© 1996 Phil Kime
Option, 26-1989, page 99:
Leader of the legendary Van der Graaf Generator, studio wiz, multi-instrumentalist, and creator of at least 17 solo albums, Hammill is still as poignantly intimate and grandly dramatic as ever. Of all the grand men of British rock, Hammill and Peter Gabriel remain the most uncompromised. Why? Because they still strike the heart and imagination without sinking into self-parody. Here, Hammill demonstrates a wonderful command of the studio, a set of finely crafted songs, affecting lyrics and indelible vibrancy. Long-time fans will hear echoes of songs from even his earliest compositions, find his singing isn't as affected as it used to be, and his use of falsetto totally absent, but his writing and lyrics are in top form. He stabs at the human condition in his heavy rockers, Hemlock and Vote Brand X, while he marvels at world politics and Shakespeare's insights in The Play's The Thing. In Under Cover Games, Time To Burn and This Book, Hammill does what he does the very best - observe and convey the emotional drama of relationships. Trying to describe Hammill's music is tough as he is mostly his own reference point.
© 1989 Tom Grove - Option
Your Flesh, 16-1989, page 61:
Solo album number 27 for Mr.Hammill since the demise of Van der Graaf Generator. As far as I can tell (and I can't say that I've heard all 27) this is the first album with fleshed-out arrangements since Sitting Targets in the early part of the decade.
Hammill has been dogging the steps of the pop marketplace, releasing his own idiosyncratic work while charlatans like David Bowie and Peter Gabriel aped the more obvious aspects of stuff Hammill left behind long ago. While In A Foreign Town lacks the icy intensity of Hammill's last few piano albums, it's multi-tracked synth parts (all played by Hammill) do showcase his vocals.
Whether or not this fairly glossy synthetic music is your thing I can't say. On a song like Hemlock the rough edges of Hammill's voice step up in front of the music and take the reins. Unfortunately, such moments are few and far between. A more sparse background would've suited me better. It would be nice if Peter Hammill could achieve more notice in the world of MTV or Rolling Stone beside being a back-up vocalist on Gabriel's Sledgehammer. I don't think In A Foreign Town will be a breakthrough album, nor is it meant to be. Peter Hammill continues to pursue his vision and is planning on releasing an opera this summer.
© 1989 Bruce Adams - Your Flesh
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