Peter Hammill

...All That Might Have Been...

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All That Might Have Been, issued in the same year as Other World, is Peter Hammill's excellent duet offering with guitarist Gary Lucas, and it's among the most intellectually challenging, conceptually sprawling, and musically satisfying offerings in his career. Given its heft, it is more than likely that this is a record he couldn't have made when he was younger. It is the work of a master in full control of his vision. Described by Hammill as "cinematic by design," it features 21 tracks which were deliberately edited to be incomplete. Taken together they create a conscious narrative; its scenes are sonic episodes that move backwards and forwards just as an actual film would. This is not the same thing as creating a soundtrack without a movie, this is both: a soundtrack and an aural movie. Hammill wrote and recorded the songs in full, then slashed them apart, and stitched the story together from the fragments. With its humid mix of silvery guitars, basslines, keyboards, strings, horns, layered vocals, and poetic yet kinetic lyrics, this is Hammill at his very best. It demands the listener's attention to make sense of the plot line, but these cine-songs offer plenty to enjoy on their own. The story, such as it is, is a fragmented, noirish tale set at times in Japan, with a loner main character who, perhaps through his own fault, finds himself in dire straits. There are more elliptical, atmospheric sections where Hammill introduces reveries inside the action, such as on "The Piper Song," where he juxtaposes his narrative against the popular myth. He is in exceptional singing voice throughout; the use of restraint for dynamic effect is haunting, elegant, at times emotionally wrenching. And while the mix can seem sparse at times, more examination reveals that there is plenty happening under these surfaces. The bass (upright and electric) plays a fantastic, bridge-like role that links many of these songs, almost as a secondary narrative device. The overall feel of the music is nocturnal, lonely, and even seductive (check "Never Wanted" and "Inklings, Darling") albeit with a sense of dread that occasionally erupts in more forceful fashion as on "Alien Clock," "Fool Proof," and "The Line Gone Dead." All That Might Have Been is provocative in the best possible sense. Its end isn't really a conclusion, but another beginning. The entire proceeding asks far more questions than it answers -- at one point, on the set's second to last cut, "He Turns Away," Hammill sings the title phrase repetitively but continually follows it with "...and the story isn't doneā€¦." This is riveting work, forward and brilliant in every sense. [There are two other editions as well: A three-disc version contains the main release, another restores the individual songs in full, and a third is a stripped-down instrumental collage. The vinyl version presents the songs in different and even more edited form.]

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