Peter Hammill: None of the Above

None of the Above is Peter Hammill’s first collection of new songs since 1998’s This. That was Hammill’s fortieth album, released in his fiftieth year, and this remarkable alignment produced an album of eloquent meditations on age and the passing of time. Refusing as ever to fall into habit and routine, Hammill has this time produced “a number of tales of people in earthy and/or earthly circumstances”. This concern with the outwardly mundane and quotidian is reflected in the title None of the Above, which is to be read as meaning “there is nothing of a spiritual/otherworldly nature here”, as well as punning on the difficulty of categorising Hammill’s music.

As we have come to expect from Hammill, this album contains several fine examples of what makes him rock’s finest, most literate songwriter. The opening ‘Touch and Go’ sees his darkly resonant vocals giving voice to urgent threads of melody, sustained by swelling, grandiose piano chords. ‘Tango for One’ is another, starker arrangement for piano and voice, illustrating why Hammill’s recent work is such artfully uneasy listening. Refusing conventional song structure, he makes listeners work hard for their rewards by forcing them to follow the undulant patterns of the text.

The promised attention to earthly detail is manifested in the subject matter, some of which is unusually explicit for Hammill: a violent husband, a demented stalker, a rose-grower mourning the death of his wife. These are vivid domestic dramas in which Hammill’s gift for idiomatic phrasing is matched by settings that range from the sombre to the pulsating, yet always foregrounding the elegance and mutability of the voice.

Most of the instruments are played by Hammill himself, with occasional contributions from violinist Stuart Gordon. The soundscape is endlessly vital and fascinating: shape-shifting changes of mood and timbre; instrumental colouring by turns delicate and brutal; the juxtaposition of the tightly arranged and the purely improvised. The final song is the blissful ‘Astart’, a grand finale of transcendent emotion that is as lyrical and beautiful as anything he has written: a wondrous end to another intensely rewarding Hammill album.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 8, 2000)

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