The apparently impenetrable sprawl of Peter Hammill's back catalog is one of the most challenging propositions facing any novice entrant to his world, near-annual albums ranging across so many musical shades and shadows that, as soon as you think you've got a handle on his direction, he immediately sweeps off somewhere else. Certainly any attempt to anthologize his output has foundered against the sheer variety that confronts it -- the supremely budget-priced Past Go: Collected, however, emerges the exception that proves the rule, as 13 tracks dip into six of the 11 albums released on Hammill's own Fie label, and emerges as coherent as any single one of them.
It helps, of course, that the selection itself centers on the most accessible of those albums: Enter K, Patience, and Loops & Reels from the early '80s; Fireships, The Noise, and Roaring Forties from a decade later. But still, from the drifting balladry of "I Will Find You" to the grinding electro-claustrophobia of "Accidents"; from the scarifying über-prog of "A Ritual Mask" to the near-rockabilly bounce of "A Kick to Kill the Kiss," Past Go both illustrates the labyrinthine nature of Hammill's muse and makes a mockery of the notion that his music is at all "difficult."
The dense, string-driven beauties of "Gaia" and the metronomic harshness of "Planet Coventry" are the compulsive poles around which a universe of seamlessly interwoven notions revolve; and, if Past Go: Collected has any one flaw, it is that it merely offers tastes of all that the excerpted albums have to offer. You'll quickly find yourself demanding far more.