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Haunting compilation of covers, infused with a passion for music archaeology, storytelling and the Romance languages.
For such an acknowledged artist as Peter Hammill, a covers album release seems to be a liberating privilege. Yet, considering the creative struggles and work behind this one, including the adaptation of lyrics to English and musical interpretation of orchestrated songs, In Translation gives the impression of a work featuring original material.
Linguistics has been a long-lasting motif in the songwriter’s creative career. Hammill, who is fluent in Italian, explored the theme of language and communication earlier on his concept album Incoherence. Crossing a barrier between a native and foreign, the compilation contains ten songs, seven of which were originally written in Italian, German and French. Peter Hammill translated those to English. In his self-penned liner notes, the musician introduces his way of dealing with a foreign language: “My approach has always been to make cultural rather than strictly linguistic translations, so that the spirit of the song rather than its precise narrative is rendered and I’ve continued to use that method here”.
Still, the cultural aspect is not delivered solely via translation. The music arrangement does that too. Some of the covers are similar to the processing of old photographic films. Originally a sentimental number with chirping vocals of Irene Dunne, The Folks Who Live on The Hill by Hammill summons up the ghostly past of the Midwest and a nostalgic longing for the idolized life, defined by the American dream ethos. In the manner of Angelo Badalamenti, the musician adds synths that evoke a chilling-to-the-bones sensation.
Certain covers emphasize stories from composers’ lives. The version of Hotel Supramonte, originally written by Italian songwriters Fabrizio De André and Massimo Bubola, invokes the spirit of the narrative behind the song. De André, who was kidnapped and kept as a captive in the mountains of Sardinia, crafted this song shortly after his release. With its soughing sound and sotto voce vocals, the intro suggests the beginning of a spooky tale. It continues with gentle guitar and violin which elicits the emotive feel of an acoustic version of Hammill’s Afterwards.
Along with the individual view in the music interpretation, there is an intention to preserve the spirit of original compositions. Sensual string arrangement that defines works by Astor Piazzolla is present on Hammill’s version of Oblivion, a torch song with lyrics by Angela Tarenzi. A classical piece After A Dream by Gabriel Urbain Fauré makes a smooth transition from 19th-century romanticism to bittersweet piano ballads akin to those of Paul McCartney.
With its production started amid the lockdown crisis, In Translation feels like a therapeutic work, interspersed with overtones of sadness and a haunting feeling of nostalgia. Yet, it is also a manifestation of love and perseverance which have always defined Peter Hammill’s work.
All words by Irina Shtreis. More writing by Irina can be found in her author’s archive.