Dome of Discovery – Reviews

  1. Review in FACELIFT (USA), No. 13
  2. Review in PTOLEMEIC TERRASCOPE, No. 16, June 1994
  3. Review in RECORD COLLECTOR, May 1994
  4. Review in MAKING MUSIC, May 1994
  5. Review in SOUNDBITE, No. 7, Jan 1994
  6. Review in PILGRIMS, Jan 1994
  7. Review in ASTRO ZOMBIE, Sept 1997
  8. Review in MUSIC UNCOVERED (USA), 1994
  9. Review in SOFA SOUND, April 1994
  10. Review in T MERSHI DUWEEN, Feb 1994
  11. Review in PAWN HEARTS, June 1994

Dome of Discovery FACELIFT (USA), No. 13

I’d been musing for a while about how a songwriter going under the name of The Divine Comedy was getting a lot of media attention, when his admittedly excellent voice and work was really a throwback to the perennially ignored Peter Hammill. That’s the advantage of being a young Turk, I suppose.

Then along came this CD by a somewhat older Turk, which showed a whole range of similarities in sound and approach. (Chris) Judge Smith was in the original Van der Graaf Generator, but disappeared before recording a note, for 20 odd years, re-emerging as credited librettist to Hammill’s epic opera ‘Usher’. Fine, but we still didn’t really know what he was all about.

Now we do, thanks to ‘Dome of Discovery’, and Judge Smith turns out to be an excellent, if eccentric songwriter and singer. Upbeat, catchy tunes are backed by the mournful, grandiose strains of strings, simulated or otherwise. That’s definite common ground with The Divine Comedy, as is a resonant voice that recalls also Mr Hammill. There’s much too of the musical in Judge Smith -lyrics that convey, by clarity and humour, a definite storyline. At times (with choruses such as ‘Carpet Tiles’, or ‘Don’t Point That Thing At Me’, a modern gun-slinger’s tale), it appears to be quite daft. At others, (‘Giant Hand’, ‘A Place of My Own’) it’s the music which shines through. Really excellent.

Dome of Discovery Review in PTOLEMEIC TERRASCOPE, No. 16, June 1994

One of the things about Van der Graaf Generator which most appealed to their devotees was that in amongst all the doom and gloom there lurked an absurd and manic sense of humour. The release of ‘Dome of Discovery’ confirms a suspicion that the source for much of that spirit was Chris Judge Smith.

Although he left the band in 1968 (after only one single had been released:
‘Firebrand’ / ‘The People You Were Going To’, hastily withdrawn when it was discovered that it had come out on the wrong label!) he has continued to write songs both with and for Peter Hammill, including writing all the lyrics for Hammill’s recent opera ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’. ‘Dome of Discovery’ is Judge Smith’s first album proper, leaving aside his earlier collection of demos released by Oedipus Recs – at least one of which, ‘There’s No Time Like The Present’, sounds like pure early Van der Graaf generator to these ears. This time, Judge Smith has chosen to take a very different approach to the recording of his music, using what appears to be a mythical band of assorted musicians who have been configured very convincingly from computer samples. The songs are fairly poppy, often almost absurdly cheerful-starting, for example, with ‘Tell Me You Love Me’ which is driven along by a punky cello riff doubled almost immediately by a Tijuana-style trumpet and a great rimshot drummer. The song outlines that typical sense of insecurity; tell me you love me, and then say it again in French, now in a Welsh accent, and so­on through Swedish, Norwegian, Greek, Tibetan, Xhosa, Morse Code, Esperanto etc. It’s a light-hearted look at one of Peter Hammill’s favourite subjects, the unreliability of language. As Judge Smith says in the song, “The thing that’s said is not the thing that’s heard – that’s the trouble with the spoken word” – thus summing up in a couplet a subject that Hammill has worried over in a dozen or so different songs!

The album continues almost entirely in a similar vein – there are twelve tracks, taking it up to near-maximum CD length – even the slightly darker tone of ‘Place Of Your Own’ which is apparently about getting that first flat or home, ending with the vaguely amusing notion that you will get a final “place of your own” to rest in for all time. Chris Judge Smith obviously has a funny-bone which sticks above the surface like an open-cast coal mine. But, the humour never takes over completely, and ultimately it’s the music, sometimes lush, sometimes bouncing madly along, sometimes quite bizarre (for example the strange male-voice choir on ‘God Save The Tzar’) which justifies it all. I would have preferred to have heard it all played by real musicians, but the sampling is excellently done and in some ways it’s entirely appropriate that this faintly unreal brainchild should beam straight from his mind onto the disc. Now all you have to do is pick up a copy and beam it directly into your mind -there’s a whole world of discovery under that Dome!
(Seán Kelly)

Review in RECORD COLLECTOR, May 1994

Twenty-five years ago, Chris Judge Smith quit Van der Graaf Generator (the band he’d formed in 1967 with Peter Hammill), in order to work on his solo album. Not a moment too soon, it’s finally here, and pretty intriguing it is too.

Smith — who now resembles actor Lionel Jeffries — has turned in just the sort of strangely mannered album you’d expect to hear from an ex-member of one of Britain’s premier progres­sive/experimental acts. ‘Dome Of Discovery” contains all the interesting musical frills associated with Van der Graaf, although Peter Hammill’s tortured, passion-filled lyrics have been replaced by large helpings of dry wit. When Smith sings ‘I take disasters in my stride, they don’t upset me”, on “What I’ll Do Without You”, you’re immediately struck by the emotional gulf between this and VdGG.

There’s quite clearly a very late-70s quirkiness to much of the set, with drum-machines augmented by cellos, trumpets, choirs and Duane Eddy-styled guitars. No surprise, then, that Chris Judge Smith describes his unlikely musical fusion as ‘punk orchestral’. A curio that may interest Sparks and XTC fans as much as VdGG diehards. (MP)

Dome of Discovery Review in MAKING MUSIC, May 1994

The oddest record we’ve heard recently must be ‘Dome Of Discovery’ by Judge Smith. Chris Judge Smith was drummer and co­founder of Van der Graaf Generator, along with Peter Hammill, in the late 1960s, and went on to write everything from musicals to punk to opera to avant-garde free jazz, plus some rude songs for Not The Nine O’Clock News. The accompanying press-release from the Oedipus Recs label (“Music to give you a complex”, is their slogan) describes ‘Dome Of Discovery’ as sounding “like nothing on earth”. If you can imagine Thomas Dolby’s eccentric uncle (as played by Lionel Jeffries), you might get a rough idea. Intrigued? Ring 0246 567060.

Dome of Discovery Review in SOUNDBITE, No. 7, Jan 1994

First for those of you unfamiliar with Judge’s work to date, here’s a little resumé:

Chris Judge Smith co-founded Van der Graaf Generator in 1967, and left in 1969. Since then, Judge has been actively involved in all manner of projects, as a lyricist, composer and performer. He has been involved in several off-beat musical theatre projects, two of which, ‘The Kibbo Kift’ and ‘Mata Hari’, were co-written with Lene Lovich. Another, ‘The Ascent of Wilberforce III’ (written with Max Hutchinson), was about Himalayan Mountaineering, half-an-hour of which was entirely in Esperanto.

Judge wrote songs for ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ (Anyone out there remember the wonderful ‘Gob on You’?) and Peter Hammill has recorded several of his songs throughout the years, and Judge has been actively involved with Peter Hammill co-writing The Fail Of The House Of Usher’ opera, finally released In 1991. Also, In 1991, we were all given a rare treat when a collection (‘Democrazy’) of vintage demo tapes, made between 1967-77 were released on CD (Still available – see address at bottom of page).

‘DOME OF DISCOVERY’, originally planned for release in October, is Judge Smith’s first real solo album and will now come out in January next year.

Overall, the tone is uplifting; in some parts, danceable (!), and other parts, simply strange. The lyrics are refreshingly witty and are clearly expressed by a whimsical Judge, who clearly had a thoroughly enjoyable time in the studio.

I would love to hear them live. I can picture it now – a small hall filled with expectant audience…dancing at the front and in the aisles, and at the sides, and at the back by the bar…with everyone having a good time. The songs cry out for a live audience…

Musically, I can do no better than use Judge’s own description of the tone:
…newfangled songs, old-fashioned sounds…Punk Orchestral

Here and there are shades of world music, bits of jazz, spaghetti western, salsa, pure pop. The songs are both accessible and bizarre, partly to do with the soprano and mixed-choir backing vocals, twanging guitars, trumpets and cello mix that make up the instrumentation on the album. I think it should appeal to a broad spectrum of listeners – those who enjoy the obscure, and those who like to sing in the bath.

The album was mixed by David Lord. Ian Fordham and Michael Brand have helped with arrangements of the songs, of which there now follows a track-by-track review…


Here we have ‘Language Is Insufficient for the task in hand’ and Judge pokes a small jab at the prospect of there ever being a solution to communication problems:
“Will you try it in Esperento if I promise not to laugh?’
The song pumps along merrily…


Here is a tale, regarding two redundant new-starters. The common occurrence of redundancy has had us all taking a flexible approach to the world of employment. A ‘Mike Leigh’, screenplay filmed as a three-minute pop song.


A soprano voice lifts the spirit of this track – in the background, strings pulse as Judge hurls words through a window in the night sky.


In case you’re wondering, the ‘thing’ of the song begins life as a pistol, but the lyrics are loaded (sic) with innuendo:
“Don’t point that thing at me, it may feel good in your hand
But that don’t mean that you’re a real man”
Drawing parallels between guns and sex, reminding us of the ever-present relationship between the two : Ever since Mr. Neanderthal picked up his club to beat Mr. Not-so Neanderthal with it to stop him winning the affections of his mate, I guess.

Musically. CJS has said of the sounds on this album:

‘I am haunted by ghost sounds from my past; childhood wireless sounds:- those Light Programme trumpets and twangy guitars”
Look no further than this song for twangy guitars. The guitar sound seems particular apt, almost culled from some spaghetti western track – I know the guitar tune reminds me of something but I can’t put my finger on it at the moment…


Originally a big hit for Lene Lovich, here reclaimed by the writer.


A love song with some amusing Imagery, propelled by tango, and some sweet brass sounds.


Another love song, about a character rationalizing over she who he has lost to another. We all do it, and what truer self-denial statement is there when it has to be said so aloud?


This has got to be a great show-opener (should we ever be graced with live renditions of these songs, eh Judge?). Mixed choir backing vocals blend in well with the song.


A cover of the Undertones song. No, Really, a song about a crook, a no-hoper, but it does sound like a couple of the aforementioned Undertones are singing backing vocals. Or was it sampled? Here and there, Judge also gives us a little Lene Lovich vocal snippet. Could Judge be hinting that she learnt this vocal style from him?


This is the most somber track on the album; lyrically wise. For my mind, the tone is unsuited to Judge, and it doesn’t fit in with the other songs, but I’m sure not a lot of you will agree.


Cracking whips and other horsey sounds trumpet the return of Judge to the recording studio. Accompanied by cellos, brass and irony. A celebration, and justly so. Long may this hobby horse gallop!


After the return of Judge, the return of Jimmy Jimmy, and the stories of all the other characters of the preceding songs are updated the two carpet tilers are off selling time shares, the Tzar’s In Bucharest. This is a neat idea – the tying of loose ends in one song, drawing the collection of characters in ‘The Dome of Discovery’ together in one world of song…

“But briefly, as it’s fading,
Each face looks like your own”

Dome of Discovery Review in PILGRIMS, Jan 1994 (review by Panander)

Humour is a difficult area for a songwriter, and humorous songwriting all the more so. Both wordsmith’s and musician’s skills are needed and, as in all songs, the twain must work together, not just as separate text and music. Particularly successful work often uses the way in which humour can highlight or expose absurdities in commonly experienced aspects of life or treat an other­wise serious or involved theme. The song needn’t be hilarious, but if it has some substance, it will work on a higher level than one which is just silly. Ultimately though, the appeal should be intan­gible. Who can say exactly why Rosselson, Lehrer, Hegley and Judge excel, whereas the Bonzos and Wainwright III produce so much lame work? (Put him down, Alan-Ed) Actually, part of the difference of course is the level of understanding of rhyme and meter in relation to humour that the former have, their work being of a deceptively high literary level.

So often to describe someone as a pop songwriter is dismissive and pejorative, but if we’re using broad categorizations then this is what Judge does – simply, unpretentiously and brilliantly. I place my promo copy (this is a solicited review) in the car cassette player and head for the hills. I often listen to music on the road, but it has to be the right sort of thing. Bands playing loud songs, yes; Fred Frith mistreating a guitar, for example, not really.

The first time listener to ‘DOD’ is immediately drawn to its sonic landscape. As I pass the farms and cottages, and endless fields and hills flash and darken under the clouds sweeping across the sun, this bouncing, vibrant monster before me seems so much a creature of the world around. The choppy cellos instill the motion and urgency which so characterize this unique production and ar­rangement, while the snare has a refreshingly light ‘shuffle-clack’ sound throughout, complement­ing the other rhythms well. Duane Eddy solos and counter melodies, operatic vocals and a juicy brass sound complete the ‘band’.

‘What’ll I Do Without You’ is heard here for the first time as imagined by the writer. The last line of the chorus, which Lene Lovich dropped, is restored as well, Of a more somber tone are ‘Voice of the Night’ and ‘Giant Hand’. ‘The universe is a giant hand and the finger’s pointing straight at me.’ Well, that’s a relief. I always thought it was pointing at me; I can sleep soundly again. (You’d be paranoid too if everyone was out to get you.)

I mount the hump-back bridge too fast and the wheels leave the road. ‘God Save the Tzar’ plays. I start to descend into a dark valley where my mind must chase in circles visions of capitalism, and from which I always emerge angry and helpless. Mammon must defend itself. Its greatest strength is in knowing that human spirituality is the one force which will destroy it, and so must be kept in perpetual twilight. Its greatest weakness, and the reason why its own murder is inevitable, is not understanding at all what the soul is, what it means to be numinous. I will not believe I must be led. I will not believe anyone has the right to tell me what to do, nor I them.

But as always, the sun re-emerges, the land glows and we smile and are happy again. ‘Jimmy-Jimmy’! Do you remember? Were you there when this was performed at the legendary Scorched Earth 1? We were familiar with ‘Been Alone So Long’ and ‘Gob On You’ and the bit of singing on ‘Firebrand’ perhaps, but were any of us prepared for this incredible spectacle of Judge, surrounded by and conducting imaginary choirs and orchestras, swamped by pyrotechnic lights, singing this fabulous song? It received such a tremendous reception – I’ve never heard anything like it. Minds were blowing as the place went berserk. If you-know-who had suddenly descended the Winner’s spiral staircase armed with a guitar, the pandemonium could not have been greater. I do not exag­gerate.

‘Carpet Tiles’ strikes me as a very sad song. As the business collapses, the price of the tiles drops with each verse until, through desperation, the warehouse is arsoned in an attempt to at least obtain their insurance value. And therein lies the twist.

It starts to grow dark in the late afternoon. I drive slowly through a village of several houses, the roadsides lined with stark, bare trees, their brutally angular branches twisted and frozen. As ‘A Place Of Your Own’ plays, the dark silhouettes pass either side of me while the music weaves thick black plaits.

Then ‘The Judge Rides Again’ and the band is stripped down to the bare bones, but it really rocks, albeit peculiarly. As Judge’s hobby horse gallops by, I can’t help but envision the scenes in this song, indeed on the whole album, as cartoon animations in the style of Ren and Stimpy or those weird Czech productions shown late at night on Channel Four. A receding figure cavorts to­wards the horizon, over hill after hill, as the TV screen blacks out leaving only a diminishing aper­ture around him.

As the lengthening shadows cut across the road, I too head for home and the tape reaches its last song, ‘The Dying Of The Light’, in which all the DOD characters are brought together and their stories up-dated. As the track plays, the credits roll up the screen of my imaginary film.

This is another gem to maintain the consistently high Edipus Fredipus standard.

Dome of Discovery Review in ASTRO ZOMBIE, Sept 1997

Well, what can I say? Dome of Discovery suggests a magical circus with its swirling eccentricity, bizarre spectacles and the uncertainty that something is not right behind all this glamour and revelry. A freaky clown personified. The whole album sounds like it’s from a 1950’s musical except for the track, ‘The Dying of the Light’ which sounds like several things: the old ‘Fruit and Fibre’ advert, an Italian football chant and a kids’ T.V. programme theme tune.

Manic, weird and absurd, this cannot be described using category, perhaps the ‘whimsical eccentric’. Beyond doubt, the trumpets, cello and violins are well orchestrated but somehow I can expect they will be regularly played on the juke box in a club. Listen to ‘Carpet Tiles’ for example, it’s perfectly arranged, hilarious, and yet absolutely sober but too straight for the straight person.

Suitable for the over thirty whose musical and philosophical wavelength is tuned to a remote frequency. It’s intelligent and humorous, well constructed but what the hell is going on in this former Van der Graaf Generator’s founder’s musically scientific bonce is a total enigma.

Dome of Discovery Review in MUSIC UNCOVERED (USA), 1994

Chris Judge Smith is from England. MU reviewed Democrazy, his first, in VoL 2 No.3. You may remember that Judge and Peter Hammill founded Van der Graaf Generator and that Judge left the band in 1969 to record a solo album. Not counting Democrazy, a col­lection of demo recordings, this is his first solo.

On this release, Judge uses cellos, a four piece trumpet section, a choir, an operatic so­prano, and a guitar player. Judge handles the lead vocals. He likes to call it a “punk orches­tra”.

Except for the way out instrumentation the songs are short, singer/songwriter pieces. The arrangements add a surreal insanity to the lyrics.

Dome of Discovery Review in SOFA SOUND, April 1994

JUDGE for Yourself!

There is one new release which we are stocking and in which you may be interested. Many of you will be familiar with the name of Chris Judge Smith, co-founder of VdGG and writer of such fabulous songs as ‘Been Alone so Long’ and ‘Four Pails’ as well as librettist for ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’. Some of you will have copies of ‘Democrazy’, his collection of demo recordings made in the elusive chase for A Deal over the years.

Judge remains, as he has always been, a fascinating character and writer whose wit has ever been, perhaps, too elusive and eccentric for The Music Biz to accommodate.

For the last couple of years he has been working on his first “proper” CD. This has involved setting up his own studio and learning to operate it. Since Judge has ever been a man for first princi­ples he also sampled ALL the instruments he used for the recordings himself rather than relying on someone else’s efforts.

The mixing of the songs was done by David Lord here at Terra Incognita. ‘Dome of Discovery’ is the result, on Oedipus Recs. This is not conventional rock music by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s commended to lovers of the bizarrely independent! Judge is now, I understand, hard at work on a new musical.

Dome of Discovery Review in T MERSHI DUWEEN, Feb 1994

Guess I really shouldn’t review my own product here, but what the hell? I have nothing else to fill up this small space. Judge was a founding member of Van der Graaf Generator in 1967. He left in 1969 and this is his first ‘real’ solo album, barring ‘Democrazy’ from 1991. Twelve songs in intelligent English mode, but with a band the likes of which the world never saw. The arrangements are for four driving cellos, four trumpets, a zydeco/cajun rhythm section, Duane Eddy on guitar, choir and soprano. Oh yeah, and JS on vox. Guaranteed you won’t have heard anything else like it!

It opens with ‘Tell Me You Love Me’ (not the FZ song), which sets the stamp on the affair. It’s silly, but shit, does it move! ‘Carpet Tiles’ is all about a couple who buy those items at auction, only to find they can’t sell them; ‘Giant Hand’ is a tale of woeful paranoia, cellos a-pumping furiously. There’s a colossal trumpet solo on the fade of ‘God Save The Tzar’ before the two pieces de resistance, the manic ‘Jimmy-Jimmy’, with the outrageous call and answer between choir and guitar; followed by the splendiferous ‘A Place Of Your Own’, one of only two ‘serious’ pieces, a dark little item that puts Shakespeare seven ages of man into three. If very English songwriting is your thing, then this is for you.

Dome of Discovery Review in PAWN HEARTS, June 1994

And here’s what Peter’s cohorts have been up to:
The big news in this department is the release of Judge Smith’s ‘Dome of Discovery’, his first real solo CD, on Fred Tomsett’s Oedipus Recs. Many of the songs are in a similar style to those on ‘Democrazy’. You’ll find a review of sorts herein, and of course we’re stocking copies of this.

CD Review: Judge Smith ‘Dome of Discovery’
At last, the first proper studio album of Judge’s career, and frankly, I don’t really know what to say about it. Most of you will be familiar with Judge’s relationship to VdGG and PH, so just a brief recap: founding member of VdGG who left before the first album, an occasional contributor of songs to PH’s solo career, librettist of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, and writer of many theatrical pieces and the occasional pop song for the likes of Lene Lovich. His ‘Democrazy’ CD, released a couple of years back, highlighted the best of his unreleased work from the late ’60’s to the late ’70’s.

‘Dome of Discovery’ mostly falls into the same territory as the theatrical songs on ‘Democrazy’. You won’t find much of the existential angst Judge poured into songs like ‘Four Pails’ on this outing. The first track, ‘Tell Me You Love Me’, comes in sounding like Sparks with British rather then American humour (although the brothers Mael certainly owe something to British wit). ‘Carpet Tiles’ continues in the same vein, an energetic romp falling somewhere between musical theatre and intelligent pop.

‘The Voice of the Night’ presents a lyric gloomy enough for PH but the words are framed in yet another happy melody, giving the song a different tilt altogether, so that When the world is destroyed, there will ring out forever, the Song of the Void doesn’t sound bad at all. ‘Don’t Point That Thing At Me’ is driven by heavily reverbed (?) guitar and mixes ironic social commentary (gun control) with a somewhat predictable comic ending.

‘What Will I Do Without You’ follows, familiar through the Lene Lovich cover version of some 14 years ago, Judge’s version is slightly calmer, perhaps, but very much in the same spirit.

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. There’s an even dozen mostly happy tunes here, played and sung mostly by Judge in the Peter Hammill tradition of record making. At least that’s the impression I get from the liner notes, which use line drawings of various instruments beside the song titles to identify which are used on each track. Since no one else is credited with playing, and the notes say all songs written, produced and sung by Judge, I’m assuming he also played all the instruments.

If you enjoyed ‘Democrazy’ this will probably appeal to you as well. It certainly has little or nothing besides production style in common with PH’s work, making it easy to see why (?) Judge’s involvement in VdGG ended early on (the two writing styles would certainly make for a schizophrenic collaboration within the context of a band). ‘Dome of Discovery’ works well as light entertainment – just don’t expect more.