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Peter Hammill
Roaring Forties

Phil Kime:

Touted as a reversion to form, and thus creating the fears that set in when you suspect an artist is past their prime and reversions to form are all you have to look forward to. However, the first track Sharply Unclear is a streak of the old Hammill. A strong basic harmony and emotional power with a nice recurring dropped beat. Easily one of the best songs he has done fro a while and reminiscent of the Black Box era material. Then, things start to fall into the rather weak pattern of The Noise: monotonous and fairly unimaginative percussion and standard progressions. The spirit of Van Der Graaf hangs over Hammill to this day I find. The percussion was always fresh and exciting there and it jars badly with the rather bland variety here. The Gift of Fire fails for these reasons. It sounds almost like middle period Dire Straights towards the end: terrible keyboards. The nasty guitar introduction to You Can't Want What You Always Get ... resonates horribly like the worst banalities of AC/DC. I felt shocked. Some nice vocals and vocal harmonies but still this sounds like a strange attempt at late 70s American anthemic rock, mainly due to the rhythm. It even has a truly tasteless blues-rock violin solo. Lyrics never carry bad music to those who are interested in music, something I find that seems to slip from the mind of artists who still produce material when well into later life. Possibly a natural tendency but musically unsatisfying nevertheless. People seemed to be prematurely excited about Headlong Stretch as it was known to be long. I can verify with all certainty that it is indeed twenty minutes long. Another Flight it is not. Rather dilute decorations to start followed by a mid section clearly inspired by A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers but with a terrible dearth of energy. The section entitled Long Light sounds awfully like variations on a theme from The Black Room but, again, lacking in essentia. The Backwards Man part is far better, Hammill in his more grandiose and romantic melancholy style that we see all too rarely these days. Deserving acoustic pieces lead towards the close. I cannot help feeling that this track rather lacks unity. If I may express it so, it is twenty minutes in length only. The final track Your Tall Ship is an unpleasant watery ballad ruined by awful percussion and keyboard. I harbour the utmost respect for Hammill and would highly praise his earlier work which categorically proves that he can do an awful lot better than this.

© 1996 Phil Kime

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