By Brian Clegg
It's every teenager's duty to find music that his or her parents will hate. (I was discussing this with a daughter the other day, and it's very difficult these days, because parents' music is less different to that of their kids. My prog rock was worlds away from Bing Crosby – but unless my children liked rap, which they don't, it's hard to find any of their music which I don't find acceptable. However, I digress.)
I struggled with achieving something suitably distasteful, as my first love was classical, and I was very lukewarm about the obvious rebel music of my youth, punk, except in smartened up versions like Blondie and Toyah. But I eventually discovered the perfect choice in Van der Graaf Generator.
The dismal songs, the wailing sax and Peter Hammill's despair-filled rough vocals fit the bill entirely. Along with other student fancies such as difficult novels and Stockhausen, I gave up VdGG when I fully embraced adult life, but in the last few years I've come back to them (just the Generator, not difficult novels or Stockhausen). It's partly the surprising lyricism that lurks amongst the nihilism) – but it's also because it just sounds right again.
So I was delighted to lay my hands on the new Van der Graaf Generator album Do Not Disturb, even if a little saddened that it may be their last. The reformed group (they've done several 21st century albums) sadly lacks the saxophone, but that apart, there's plenty of the same delightful nihilism. It could be Nietzsche on vocals. Overall the sound is probably a little more approachable than it used to be – but it still might frighten your granny.
Highlights for me were the stark simplicity and weirdness of Room 1210 and the driving Forever Falling with (dare I say it) a touch of King Crimson about it until the vocal kick in very late, the contemplative, 12-tonish Shikata Ga Nai and the classic VdGG sound of Almost the Words.
It's not for everyone, but take a listen to My Room from the earlier Still Life album below for a taster if you feel at all intrigued.
Now Appearing is the blog of science writer Brian Clegg (www.brianclegg.net), author of Inflight Science, Before the Big Bang and The God Effect.