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"The mantle of attainment weighs heavy on his shoulders"
|Main Category:||Prog Rock|
|Also applicable:||Jazz Rock, Synth Pop, Celtic/Medieval|
|Starting Period:||The Interim Years|
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Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Steve Hackett fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Steve Hackett fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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Steve Hackett was never really noticed by the star-filled world of rock grands: due to his humble and quiet nature, he always appeared to be somewhat hiding behind the backs of other prog- and art-rock guitar greats like Steve Howe, Robin Trower, and Dave Gilmour, not to mention all the blues greats, etc. But turns out that from many points of view, the quiet and humble Hackett was the true guitar genius and a far more ambitious and daring exploiter and explorer of sounds than all of those flashy giants. Put it this way: it takes a long time and some effort to truly notice Hackett, but once you do, chances are you'll come to appreciate his talent and incredible creativity far deeper than the talents of many other, far more well-known, guitar players. Hackett has this marvelous ability to creep under your skin - slowly, unnoticeably, until one day you suddenly find out that you really can't live without the guy. Out of all progressive guitar players, he is currently my favourite, and I doubt that he'll ever give up that position.As is the case with Gabriel, Hackett's best work was produced while working with Genesis, even if his big problem was that he was under constant pressure and had very limited creative freedom within the band. Sure, Genesis were from the very beginning shaping their image as that of a "democratic" band, with no member overshadowing the others; but in reality this came out in the guise of keyboard player Tony Banks truly overshadowing the rest of the band and Hackett's guitar always relegated to "second place", often buried deep in the mix and nearly inaudible. As a result, Banks and Hackett never shared particularly good relations, and in the end this led to Steve's departure from the band (after a very nasty story where he was almost blackmailed - the other band members nearly presented him with an ultimatum to end up his solo career in order to devote more effort to band work, but they didn't allow him any true freedom either, so he just had to quit). Even so, Steve's playing was still vital for the band's most classic 1971-73 phase: and his soloing on such Genesis classics as 'Musical Box', 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight' and particularly 'Firth Of Fifth' really showed that skilled, creative, inspired minimalistic playing was just as, if not more effective than all the Steve Howe-like finger-flashing imaginable. That said, it was certainly Steve's solo career that truly proved his uniqueness and superiority. While all of his former colleagues either fizzled out or ended up endlessly rehashing past glories, Steve's solo work, at least in his late Seventies/early Eighties period, was increasingly innovative and always fresh. He was never afraid of incorporating all kinds of musical styles and exploring all kinds of guitar tones, and his albums very rarely sounded the same. In addition, Steve turned out to be a good master of melody, something that's rarely shared by great guitarists: but you gotta remember that Steve was never obsessed about "technique", and instead of improving his purely technical abilities (he's still a pretty good 'technician', but certainly not up to Howe or Blackmore or the like), he made everything possible to make his guitar sound more human and soulful. His career was amazingly 'correct', too. In the late Seventies, Steve completely missed out on the punk movement, preferring to stay in pure prog-rock territory and drawing on obscure influences like Eastern music. After this culminated in his creative peak, the excellent Spectral Mornings, Steve moved away from prog-rock and caught on the trends train by embracing synth-pop; his first two efforts in the genre were perhaps his weakest ever, but eventually he caught it up and drawing on the best New Wave and world beat influences, once again established himself as a serious creative force in the artistic world, even if he never matched this with any serious commercial success. In later years, Steve's role has again diminished, and his more recent efforts at re-embracing blues, classical, as well as creating dubious reinterpretations of former Genesis tunes, have all achieved various levels of artistic integrity (wasn't that a cool turn of phrase?), to say the least. Still, he has very rarely made any treacherous steps that would seriously shatter his reputation, and his solo legacy, when compared with Peter Gabriel's solo legacy, shows there were reasons, after all, to suppose that Genesis once was the finest band on the whole progressive rock scene. Throughout his career, Hackett has employed various backing bands, some of the members of which I will be mentioning below; it must be noted that in the first stages of his career Steve very rarely sang his own songs, preferring to rely on outside vocalists, including major stars like Sally Oldfield and even Ritchie Havens, but beginning from the 'synth-pop period', he mostly began performing all vocal duties himself, discovering quite a nice singing voice in the process. His brother, John Hackett, often appears as flute player on many of Steve's albums.
Listenability: 3/5. Proceed
Resonance: 3/5. Unfortunately, he's only truly resonant when he plays inspired guitar melodies/solos. And no, he doesn't ALWAYS do that.
Originality: 2/5. He's taught his guitar quite a few tricks, but never really pushed boundaries in a huge way.
Adequacy: 3/5. Again, only as long as he does all himself. His choice of working colleagues often leaves a lot to be desired.
Diversity: 3/5. Err... from prog to synth-pop?
Overall: 2.8 = * * * on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Lovers of 'classic' Genesis are welcome here, but beware - this dude's deadly serious.Best song: SHADOW OF THE HIEROPHANT
Track listing: 1) Ace Of Wands; 2) Hands Of The Priestess Part I; 3) A Tower Struck Down; 4) Hands Of The Priestess Part II; 5) The Hermit; 6) Star Of Sirius; 7) The Lovers; 8) Shadow Of The Hierophant.
Steve's first, and by many considered the best, solo record is indeed a pleasant and somewhat unexpected surprise. It was released in 1975, back when Steve was yet a full-fledged member of Genesis and had no plans of leaving, and thus it shares quite a few elements with concurrent Genesis records of the 'post-Gabriel prog' period. I'm particularly emphasizing the word 'post-Gabriel' here, as Steve is certainly closer in mood and style to Banks and Co. than to Peter. I mean, to describe the record with the word 'pompous' is to say nothing. This is over-over-over-over-bloated, starting from the front and back album cover (although that fat bearded dude on the back is quite funny) and ending with the music that's so solemn and grandiloquent I seriously feel like standing up or kowtowing or something. So if you hate your prog for its pompous senselessness, stay away; at least, you'd much better be off with early Genesis albums like Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot where the 'serious' stuff like 'Fountain Of Salmacis' or 'Watcher Of The Skies' is always compensated with humouristic pastiches like 'Giant Hogweed' or 'Get 'Em Out By Friday'. However, if you're the kind of person that gets his kicks from the twisted synth 'majesty' of Wind & Wuthering, this record is just what you need, as it's far superior.As is obvious, Voyage is far more guitar-heavy than any selected Genesis album, since Steve finally got a chance to play whatever and whenever he wanted, not being overshadowed by Tony Banks at all. It's not that there are no synths here at all; the synth and Mellotron sound are often vital for the album, but they are used moderately, and never spoil any of the guitar fun that Steve contributes himself. It should be noted, though, that while Steve often displays techniques unheard of in his Genesis period, most of the other instrumentation sounds extremely close to Genesis. The synths are not played by Tony, but they sound close; John Hackett contributes pretty flute parts that recall Peter Gabriel very closely; and both Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins are present on the album as well, contributing acoustic guitar and drumming respectively. So? Shouldn't this be a paradise for me? In a certain way, this is it - a Tony Banks-less Genesis, with just the three dudes I never had anything against. And the record is indeed very good. Note that I wasn't really thrilled at first: the lengthy instrumental noodlings (five out of eight tracks are instrumental) and the senseless, but 'epic-sounding' lyrics a la Pete Sinfield (wouldn't you cringe at hearing something like 'Veiling the nightshade bride a flower revealed/Nearing the hour make haste to their threshold concealed'?); it all kinda came back to Close To The Edge. But hey, it's actually better than that. Sure, the lyrics don't make sense, and the instrumental parts get a bit boring at times. But on the other hand, it's extremely interesting to see just how many musical ideas there are in each song on here. In this way, Steve continued the grand 'experimental' tradition of Peter: the thing is not to take a complicated theme and play it to exhaustion, but to try out dozens of ideas and make the record as diverse and easy-flowing as possible. The first five tracks on the album are all relatively short (three to five minutes), and they all have their moments, and some even lots of moments. 'Ace Of Wands' begins the record on a surprisingly hard-rockin' note for a Genesis album: Steve finally lets rip his guitar playing, but instead of wanky virtuoso solos he mostly sticks to fluid, immaculate acoustic/electric riffage which might not be perfect in the technical sense (I mean, he's no speed genius) but strike me with their careful minimalism. Every guitar line he plays is effective and memorable: after a few listens you can actually hum the tune! And the alternation of electric - acoustic - synth - Mellotron parts is brilliant, never allowing you to get bored. The song is followed by one of the two moments of pure beauty on the record, the lovely 'Hands Of The Priestess', distinguished by a pretty flute solo not unlike the one on 'Firth Of Fifth'; the song goes on for a restrained limit of time, before giving way to 'A Tower Struck Down', a strange, menacing 'rock' composition that's admittedly a mini-conceptual suite, constantly interrupted by weird crowd noises and crashing sounds, and finally fades into a reprise of 'Hands Of The Priestess'. In other words, seventeen minutes of the album given entirely to instrumental compositions - and none of them suck. Ain't that a great achievement? I must say they're even better than the vocal-dominated 'Hermit' (sung by Steve) and 'Star Of Sirius' (sung by Phil), two nice, but not stellar, compositions. 'Sirius' is kinda draggy, albeit fast, and 'Hermit' is far too simplistic for me, just an average acoustic melody graced by touches of flute and orchestration. It all comes back, though, on the magnum opus of the album - the mastodontic, eleven-minute long 'Shadow Of The Hierophant'. Nope, it doesn't hold a candle to 'Firth Of Fifth', but it comes close: it's just a little less diverse than 'Firth'. But there's not a single moment on this composition I don't enjoy. The main theme, that opens the song and keeps being repeated over and over in between the verses, is gorgeous, with Steve again showing the world how cathartic perfection may be achieved with just the help of four or five guitar notes; it's unarguably the defining moment of the record, with Phil pounding away on the drums and the Mellotron soaring in the background (if it helps, I'll tell you that a similar effect is achieved on the bombastic intro to King Crimson's 'Epitaph'). The verses drastically contrast with the theme - again, simple acoustic guitar playing with Sally Oldfield taking lead vocals and making the song sound uncannily like Renaissance (not a bad idea, either). And the lengthy instrumental coda is as powerful as anything: one more time, Steve takes a minimalistic approach, playing only a small handful of notes over the course of five minutes or so - and the effect is very similar to the one achieved on the Beatles' 'I Want You'. Groovy song, dude - influenced by everybody, so it seems, but only lacking perfection by a couple of moments (like I said, the lyrics are total crap). Seriously, I've been considering giving the album a 13, as it has grown on me over... over... well, over this morning, actually, as I've only given it four listens. Then again, I'm not a fan of 'Star Of Sirius' and 'Hermit', songs that would have passed as routine filler for Genesis. Everything else is top-notch, and Steve really cooks everywhere. I tell you, some people will neglect him and his possibilities as he's not a finger-flashing whacko like Steve Howe or an effects-crazed experimentator like Robert Fripp, but he's one of the few guys in prog who's really able to say: 'Come now you people! You don't need to play fifty thousand notes per second to be a prog genius! You just gotta have talent!' Along with George Harrison and John Fogerty, Steve might just as well be the most talented and successful 'minimalistic' lead guitar player in history. And Voyage Of The Acolyte proves it. P.S. I've just learned that all the themes and lyrics on the album are actually quite full of sense - apparently, the album is structured according to Steve's perception of certain Tarot cards. That's all right, then; I guess this explains the pomp and pretentiousness. Good old Steve.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Steve broadens the horizons by incorporating more genres and toying with soul; not brilliant, but often nice.Best song: NARNIA
Track listing: 1) Narnia; 2) Carry On Up The Vicarage; 3) Racing In A; 4) Kim; 5) How Can I?; 6) Hoping Love Will Last; 7) Land Of A Thousand Autumns; 8) Please Don't Touch; 9) The Voice Of Necam; 10) Icarus Ascending.
Ah, this already sounds nothing like Voyage. This is not quite progressive rock, in fact! Not too much 'pop', either; the music grows somewhat more simple, but it's still far from commercial. Several big changes have taken place, as you understand. First, by 1978 Steve was no longer a standing member of Genesis, and it was apparent that he wanted to distance himself from the band, so there's no Rutherford or Collins here. Second, the songs are normally all rather short, without lengthy twisted epics; instead, Steve just tackles way too many musical (and lyrical) subjects to fit them all in several ten-minute sagas. And third, he displays a strange and rather sudden passion for soul music, to the point of collaborating with none other than Ritchie Havens himself. Whew, that's weird.Anyway, Please Don't Touch is nowhere near as consistent as Acolyte, and it displays quite a fair share of stinkers, but overall it's rather solid than not. Since the tracks on here are hardly categorizable at all, I'll just give you a brief overview of the material on a song-by-song basis just to let you know what's it all about. Yeah. 'Narnia' starts the record on a very upbeat, optimistic note, with exciting crystal clear guitar from the Maestro and joyful vocals courtesy of Steve Walsh. I guess I don't need to introduce the subject matter to you, right? I surmise everybody has heard of C. S. Lewis? Actually, my mother often uses 'The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe' as a textbook to teach English to children, and I couldn't agree more. It would be a harder task, though, to teach children according to these here lyrics, as they're kinda, eh, compendium-like. Nevertheless, I adore the book, and I dig the song, too. A good ditty. Followed by the true oddball on this record - after C. S. Lewis, you have to deal with Agatha Christie (this is indeed Steve Hackett's 'literature' album). 'Carry On Up The Vicarage' often seems to me to be Steve's personal version of 'I Know What I Like': it's a similarly arranged silly British-flavoured tune with a 'pseudo dormitory' feel to it. The weirdest thing, of course, are the vocals: Hackett sung them himself, but either he was not too secure about his singing or he just wanted to share a little joke, so he overdubbed two vocal tracks, one slowed down and the other one sped up - the effect is so dumb that it's almost genius. While the song still can't equal one of Peter Gabriel's best donations to humanity, it still stands as a cute little favourite of mine. On the contrary, 'Racing In A' seems a bit too clumsy for me, and I don't feel that its two or three parts really blend together well; perhaps it would be better to keep out the slow parts and turn it into the moderate, but catchy rocker that the beginning promises it to be. Instead, there are too many uninspired instrumental passages, and the classical guitar part at the end, while not bad per se, just doesn't fit in that well. Actually, the song heralds a lengthy chunk of the album that could only be called 'so-so': none of the following tracks are deep or sharp enough to cut into my heart and mind like, say, 'Shadow Of The Hierophant' does. 'Kim' is a pretty little instrumental with some nice, but not terribly inspired flute; and 'How Can I?' and 'Hoping Love Will Last' aren't really Steve, they are Ritchie Havens and a strong-voiced chick whose name I've forgotten ('Randy', she's called in my track listing, but it doesn't give the full name). The first one is a folkish acoustic ballad, of an utterly generic type, and the second one, likewise, is a generic 'soul' epic a la Aretha Franklin. But 'Randy' is no Aretha Franklin, and the song strikes me as... well, I just don't like soul, much less generic, formulaic soul. Why on Earth Steve suddenly decided to write such songs is way beyond me (and yes, all of the tracks were written by Steve). Fortunately, when it already seems things can't get any more rotten, Steve lifts you up with a series of three short, but effective instrumentals. It's as if an unheard voice told you, 'The joke's over, time to get to business', and indeed, the last section of the album is far more 'Hackett-ish' than the first one. 'Land Of A Thousand Autumns' is very atmospheric, almost ambient, with gray, melancholic synths announcing the tune and 'raining' acoustic guitars adding a final touch to the mood; but it's the title track, which comes next, that's Steve's major instrumental gain on the album. This is what a special note says: 'For maximum effect, this track should be listened to as loudly as possible with as much treble and bass as your system can muster - not to be played to people with heart conditions or those in severely hallucinogenous states of mind'. Cool, isn't it? Unfortunately, my system can't muster that much treble or bass (essentially it's just a very shitty system, to be frank with you - hell, I can't afford these superb musical centers!), but I hope the CD will still be around when I upgrade. The composition is really quite good, with a paranoid, spacey beat and lots of superb synth and guitar effects that totally blow your mind away. And when it reaches its climax, the melody suddenly breaks away and gives space to 'The Voice Of Necam', a creepy, 'ambient' piece with not much guitar but a lot of mood (Brian Eno must have been around the corner!) Actually, the guitar does step out towards the end - gorgeous, minimalistic classical guitar. Swell. And, of course, the album closes with an anthemic, pompous piece - the Havens-sung 'Icarus Ascending', a song rather banal in melody but with a very precious, touching feel. Ritchie does sound inspired, and it's actually fun to see the old toddler sing with so much love on a one hundred percent 'progressive' composition. Or is it progressive? Hell, it may be 'pop'. At times, these two genres get rather entangled. Hey, didja know I always thought of 'Your Own Special Way' off Genesis' Wind & Wuthering as a 'progressive' song until I was told it's actually a pop ballad? For further notice, please consult Rich Bunnell's comments on my essay number two - he has quite a few things to say about that. In any case, 'Icarus' is a pretty decent way to finish the album - a hodge-podge of styles, both hearkening back to the past and pointing towards the new directions Steve would take in the future. A very high ten it is, close to an eleven; I just didn't give it an eleven as I don't feel the album is as worthy as its notorious predecessor, which, in its turn, deserved a high eleven/low twelve. (Mathematics is a tough thing. Maybe I should give out these ratings on a one-fifty scale.) Just take the care to listen to it twice or thrice in a row: Steve's music is hardly acceptable at first listen, he's clever enough not to let you know all of his little secrets on the spot.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1979
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
Hackett's amazing mastery of the guitar is at its most obvious here. A must for all Steve lovers.Best song: SPECTRAL MORNINGS
Track listing: 1) Every Day; 2) The Virgin And The Gypsy; 3) The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere; 4) Clocks - The Angel Of Mons; 5) The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man; 6) Lost Time In Cordoba; 7) Tigermoth; 8) Spectral Mornings.
Some consider this Steve's masterpiece, and others even believe that he's never made a decent album since; while I can't embrace the latter statement, the former seems quite close to the truth for me. After the somewhat out-of-place-and-out-of-time experimentation with 'alien' musical genres on Please Don't Touch, he goes back to the tried and true: the Genesis formula. Of course, there are multiple changes and additions to it; actually, there's so many of them that Spectral Mornings hardly sounds like Genesis at all. But the core of the sound, whatever one might say, still stems from Steve's Genesis functions: the 'mystically flowing' guitar noodlings, so characteristic of Steve's sound on tracks like 'Musical Box' and 'Firth Of Fifth', are back, and they're back firmly and with a flare. This doesn't stop him from further experimenting - this time, with Japanese and Spanish musical elements; but for the most part, everything works. There's hardly anything on here as incredibly powerful as 'Shadow Of The Hierophant', but, on a song-for-song basis, the album is considerably stronger than Voyage Of The Acolyte. In fact, there ain't a single bad or half-dull song anywhere on the album: some have slightly boring passages incorporated in them, and a couple of melodies are sorta average, but there's nothing on here that would make you want to sleep or at least say, 'eh, this guy thinks he's such a cool experimentator, but instead he's just a pretentious jerk.' Everything works.Although, of course, it takes skill to appreciate the 'everything'. For instance, I'd read some excited remarks about the opening ballad, 'Every Day', and expected a truly moving album opener - and then they play this dull, Tony Banks-ish synth opening and the bland vocal harmonies come in (this time, the main vocal functions are handed over to one Pete Hicks; probably unrelated to Tony Hicks of the Hollies), and it's just your average bop-pop ditty with little true excitement about it. And then, abracadabra, it suddenly transforms into a magnificent guitar fiesta with Steve at his very best! In a twinkle of an eye, mind you. He just springs out, as if of nowhere, and first plays a flurry of notes along with the cheesy synth, but then the song really takes off and it becomes a fast rocking track with an amazing guitar part. Believe me, I don't spill epithets like that: an amazing Steve Hackett guitar part is well worth hearing. Imagine something like the solo on 'Firth Of Fifth', only faster, more energetic and pulsating, but not less cleverly constructed. On 'Every Day', Steve plays as fluent as ever, and faster than ever before - displaying his talents for all their worth. After the storm, the calm - a gentle ballad, 'The Virgin And The Gypsy', with a nice enough vocal melody and an inspiring duet between Steve on the acoustic and brother John Hackett on the flute. Similar in style to 'Entangled' off Trick Of The Tail, only shorter and more concentrated. Then it's time for the Weird: a song with a title like 'The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere' can't help but contain elements of Japanese music, and it's indeed a very convincing and heart-lifting Japanese stylization. Maybe other people will have problems with that, but not me - I adore Chinese and Japanese motives, and I'm glad to see Steve is able to adapt them to his music without butchering the essence. Fading out, it passes the baton on to 'Clocks - The Angel Of Mons'; the ticking of clocks at the beginning certainly draws on associations with Pink Floyd's 'Time', but apart from that, the compositions don't have anything in common: Steve's is a Gargantuan instrumental prog epic, with ferocious drumming, gruff synth patterns, and more outstanding guitar textures. The second side, likewise, continues the practice of interspersing little simplistic ditties with 'serious' compositions - the jazzy 'Ballad Of The Decomposing Man', telling a story of a blue-collar worker, is nice and pretty, with strong harmonica parts from Steve, but feels somewhat at odds with the ensuing Spanish guitar of 'Lost Time In Cordoba'. However, both pale when compared to the last two mighty tracks. 'Tigermoth' might sound a bit too similar to 'Clocks', with the same use of Powerhouse Everything - bombastic drumming, overwhelming synths and spacey guitar, but it's just as effective. And then, of course, there's the title track. How could I bypass it? How could I? And what a clever idea - to bookmark the record with two great guitar workouts, the first one on 'Every Day', the second one here? The main theme to 'Spectral Mornings' is simply blistering, a guitar-cry of love and hope and everything that's beautiful; and so what if it gets repeated over and over? By repeating the same 'moment of pure beauty' over and over again Steve pretty much achieves the same as Eno with his 'ambient' stylistics: emphasizing the eternal beauty of the static over the passing beauty of the dynamic. Hell, this one solo is more precious and treasurable to me than an entire album of, say, Steve Howe exercises in finger-flashing (not that I really dislike Steve Howe, mind you - I'm a big fan of his guitar style, it's just a totally different matter). A pretty solid 13 for this album, even if it doesn't really make as much sense to me as Selling England By The Pound does; and as good as the songs are, 'Clocks' and 'Tigermoth' more or less double each other, which is hardly necessary. But overall, this album does one thing for me: showcases an artist who wasn't afraid to seek new, creative ways of using his guitar as late as 1979 and - surprise surprise - who succeeded in his quest.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
VERY depressed and dark, and nowhere near as innovative as the previous three records; still, some prime guitar-based stuff here. Occasionally.Best song: THE STEPPES
Track listing: 1) The Steppes; 2) Time To Get Out; 3) Slogans; 4) Leaving; 5) Two Vamps As Guests; 6) Jacuzzi; 7) Hammer In The Sand; 8) The Toast; 9) The Show; 10) Sentimental Institution.
A slight step down from Spectral Mornings, but what the heck, anything would have been. This time around, there's just not so many interesting ideas or enthralling instrumental passages on the album, which is itself kinda short - clocking in at about half an hour's length, 'sall. Even so, any fan of Steve's guitar playing should hurry and add this one to his or her collection, because on many of the tracks here Steve adopts a somewhat new, more harsh and aggressive sound than ever before, yet he never really falls into heavy metal. In fact, the maximum 'heaviness' on the record is provided by synthesizers, played by both Steve himself and session keyboardist Nick Magnus, and I must admit that all too often, the keyboards become kinda annoying - not that they really overshadow the guitars, like good old Tony Banks used to do in the old days, but they distract from the guitars, and sometimes they get too generic.That said, the album opener - the instrumental 'The Steppes' - is hardly a thing I'd be likely to complain about. It's easily one of the weirdest things Mr Tap That Guitar (you all know that it was Hackett, not Van Halen, that invented the 'hammer-on' technique, right?) has ever put to tape. It begins on a slow and ominous note with a guitar/flute duet that has a rich, impressive Eastern flare, but then transforms into lots of different things which even incorporate (as it seems to my classically untrained ears, at least) a snippet of a variation on Ravel's 'Bolero', and lots of moody, heartfelt, yet surprisingly humble and non-defiant solos. That's the thing I like about Steve: he's able to play a cathartic solo without, you know, having to shove it into the face of the listener like Dave Gilmour does, for instance. However, most of the other instrumentals on here, and there are lots of them, just aren't that interesting. They rarely break any new ground, and they never tend to captivate my attention like the best stuff on the previous albums. 'Slogans', for instance - the dark, solemn atmosphere of that one is a pleasant thing in itself, but isn't the tune rather pointless in view of the far superior 'Steppes'? Basically, it explores the same mood! 'Two Vamps As Guests' has some more relaxed acoustic guitar in the Spanish vein, but it's also short and it's also senseless - gimme 'Lost Time In Cordoba', leave this for last-hour rehearsals. 'Jacuzzi' seems to be a fan favourite, but once again, I couldn't call the tune anything else but 'overtly pleasant'. Makes great background music, of course, but I don't really see the point. It's not gentle, and it's not powerful; not cathartic and not blatantly disgusting, either - just vague exercises in guitar playing. Then again, it's still better and more sincere than the guitar solo on 'Comfortably Numb'. And Don't You Bug Me About 'Comfortably Numb'! I HATE, HATE the song and I will always hate it - down to the very last minute of my presence on Earth! I hate show-offey, fake papier-mache arena rock! Thanksfully, Defector is not arena rock by any means. 'Hammer In The Sand', for instance, begins as a laid back, tasteful piano improvisation and develops into a nearly 'ambient' piece with no guitar at all. Pretty. Relaxing. Hey, wasn't that Brian Eno passing by the window? Could be, could be. Anyway, having re-read the above statements, I now conclude that you might think I don't think much of the tracks just described. And you could be wrong! Then again, it all depends - if you analyze these tracks in their relation to Spectral Mornings, they're sure to leave you disappointed, but if it so happens that Defector is your first Steve Hackett album, chances are you'll be quite impressed. And it's not the instrumental, it's the vocal parts on here that really make me feel kinda disappointed (although Pete Hicks does a fair enough vocal job on them). 'Time To Get Out' is a rather straightforward pop tune, only distinguished by a vicious guitar solo near the end, but the real embarrassments are at the end of the album. 'The Toast' mostly puts me to sleep (and I can't even tell what the song is all about), a bland, formless ballad with about as much soul as you'll ever see on a Garbage album; 'The Show' is - hold your breath - is a disco tune, powered by a grumbly 'chunga-chunga-chum' bassline a la Rolling Stones' 'Miss You', while the vocal harmonies sound like a parody on CSNY; and 'Sentimental Institution' continues Steve's genre experimentations, this time leading him into 20's jazz style: depending on your personal feelings and all, it's either a ridiculous throwaway or a complete proof that Steve was able to master any style he would want to. Problem is, there's hardly any Steve on the track at all - Hicks sings the song backed by an orchestral arrangement, and they even make the song sound like it was played on an old Victrola (what an old trick). In general, there's a strange feeling about the album - where Spectral Mornings was all upbeat and optimistic and fresh with energy, Defector seems somewhat bleak and stale. All these horror-movies synthesizers and uninspired 'ominous' ambient passages aren't exactly my cup of tea, and the experimentation doesn't seem to always work, either. Steve was apparently nearing a stalemate at the time - he desperately wanted to go forward but in his case, 'forward' meant either toying with banalities or letting himself get carried away from the guitar into the treacherous world of hi-tech strategies. Don't get me wrong, at least half of this album is very, very good, and apart from that ridiculous disco embarrassment, there ain't nothing truly bad on here, but... you know how it goes. It's always difficult to make a fully convincing effort after you've just come up with your chef-d'oeuvre.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 9
...of artistic obligations, presumably. Where's that guitar, Steve?Best song: THE AIR-CONDITIONED NIGHTMARE
Track listing: 1) Hope I Don't Wake; 2) Picture Postcard; 3) Can't Let Go; 4) The Air-Conditioned Nightmare; 5) Funny Feeling; 6) A Cradle Of Swans; 7) Overnight Sleeper; 8) Turn Back Time.
A completely unexpected, and for the most part, disappointing shift in style. Without further explanation, Steve has fired most of his older band, retaining only brother John and Nick Magnus on keyboards, and drifted off in a mainstreamish, synth-pop direction. The album's title and cover look ironic indeed: on one hand, Steve looks so happy and self-assured (unlike the grim, nightmarish tones of the muddled pictures on Spectral Mornings and Defector), on the other hand, Cured is not only the worst album he'd released up to that point, but it can also be viewed as a radical betrayal of everything Steve ever based his sound upon. In fact, many of the fans felt it - and left Steve for good.Only eight songs on the album (which clocks in at under thirty-five minutes), and most of them are just standard pop tunes, all drenched in the same corny, poisonous synths that most of Steve's older bandmates, led by Phil and Tony, were using in their everyday practice at the time. The worst blow, of course, is a complete lack of impressive guitarwork: you'd think that the shadow of Tony Banks finally caught up with Steve and paralyzed his fingers. The truth is probably more complicated: I suppose that Steve was suffering from a 'guitar-hero complex' like the one experienced by Eric Clapton half a decade ago, and was keen on proving to the world that he was much more than just an unsurpassed 'six-string texturist'. And in the process he fell into the trap shared by all such 'repenting' guitar heroes: he overrelied on and overestimated his creative forces. Whatever be, Steve is not a very good vocalist, and he's not a very good songwriter. He could sometimes demonstrate a curious bag of styles, as evidenced by Please Don't Touch, but his main strength always lied in his masterful treatment of the guitar; without it, he hardly matters anything at all. Not that Cured leaves no chances: at least two of the compositions still leave a small bait for the fan, and if you're a diehard worshipper of Steve's style, the album might be worth acquiring for just these two tracks (don't grab it unless you see it really cheap, though). 'A Cradle Of Swans' is typical acoustic Steve - a pleasant, relaxing exercise in classical guitar playing. And 'The Air-Conditioned Nightmare', while still quite synth-heavy and not really adding anything innovative to Steve's legacy, is at least about as creepy and awe-inspiring as its title suggests. Hackett's aggressive guitar intro, for instance, is quite surprising - its violence and anger contrasts with the overall peaceful and relaxed nature of the album. I wouldn't actually be surprised if the composition turned out to be a Defector outtake: Steve's 'demonic' nature is plain for all to see on that one. But still, both of these tunes are more like old dusty relics. Everything else is synth-pop, and pretty dull synth-pop at that. Two more songs do manage to grab my attention. 'Hope I Don't Wake' is a nice, harmonic chant that lies somewhere in between the Eagles and Eighties' Yes: with its overtly optimistic, shiny happy feel it at least serves the function of announcing a bright new Steve - 'cured' indeed. And 'Funny Feeling', co-written by Steve with Nick Magnus, has (apparently, by chance) a fun, irresistible vocal melody; I love it how the line 'had a funny feeling' descends on the listener - so smoothly and delicately. But none of the other four songs really cut the mustard for me: bits and pieces are okay, like the seawave-like acoustic intro to 'Overnight Sleeper', but then the number degenerates into a murky synthfest with very little reliance on the guitars. And boring ballads like 'Turn Back Time' or routine pop-rockers like 'Picture Postcard' certainly point at the fact that Steve was feeling pretty shy and unexperienced in the field of synth-pop where he had so foolishly cornered himself. The worst of the lot is the atrocious 'Can't Let Go' where, as it seems to me, Steve is making an effort at writing something Police-like. If it was originally meant as a parody, I can pardon him; but personally, I see no signs of tongue-in-cheekiness here, and Steve's whiny vocals, together with idiotic lyrics like 'Feel like I'm lying on a bed of nails/You're taking the wind right out of my sails', just plain irritate me. Also, no way any respectable New Wave band could have selected such a dull, predictable, disgusting approach to synthesizers. Aw, curse of the Eighties - how I loathe thee, the most infamous musical decade of the 20th century. What a shame that Steve had to be one of the very first rock experts to fall under this curse. Could he really be so much impressed by Phil Collins' first solo album? Of course, Cured is still miles better than Face Value, because Steve is a far more talented and inventive musician and arranger than Phil could ever hope to be; but the very fact that these two albums are comparable in style should warn the faint-hearted and the Eighties-alergic people like yours truly. I still give the album a nine because it does have some merits - and not the least of them is the fact that with only eight songs, it terminates so quickly you hardly have the time to get really angry. And none of the songs go over for too long: even the worst stuff does not feel unjustly extended to me.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
More synth-pop, a bit more catchy at times but a bit more irritating at other times. And the instrumentals aren't all that great.Best song: INDIA RUBBER MAN
Track listing: 1) Camino Royale; 2) Cell 151; 3) Always Somewhere Else; 4) Walking Through Walls; 5) Give It Away; 6) Weightless; 7) Group Therapy; 8) India Rubber Man; 9) Hackett To Pieces.
I must frankly confess that I'm not exceedingly fond of this one, either. Highly Strung is not exactly a clone of Cured, as some critics are inclined to believe: it has a slightly harder edge and rocks heavier than its predecessor, and the tunes themselves are better developed and generally more catchy. But maybe that's where the rub lies - some of these songs are simply primitive, the kind of fluff you'd be guaranteed to hearing daily on your radio in the Eighties and droning off into an uneasy sleep. What use do I have of 'Give It Away', for instance? A completely generic, throwawayish synth-pop ditty that must have been produced in millions at the time - geez, if you really want such things, why not take Steve's pal Phil Collins instead. Corny and toothless, it's one of the worst pieces of muzak ever put to tape by Steve; I simply can't imagine how many fans who still had some hope kindling deep inside them he finally lost for good with it and the like.Likewise, 'Weightless' and 'Walking Through Walls' do very, very little for me either. I'll have to admit, though, that Steve's singing has vastly improved since the early days (he again does most of the vocals on the album himself), and the vocal deliveries on 'Walking Through Walls' are absolutely self-assured. But that melody? A stupid, droning drum beat and a minimalistic synth pattern, nothing else; this is as far from the genuine Hackett spirit as could only be. At least, Cured was mildly interesting because it was so radically different from everything Steve did before, for better or for worse; but this record already comes as no surprise and you simply have to scrape the scraps of good material out at the risk of deeply embarrassing yourself. Even the instrumentals - Steve's usual proof of safety - are anything but impressive. 'Group Therapy' is the best of these, but that's not saying much: apart from picking my curiosity about how complex and multi-instrumentated it is, it hardly does anything much. The guitar parts are not among Steve's most breathtaking, and the synth breaks are kinda pointless. Once the man used to beat us up with his majesty and emotions; currently, the corny synths replace the emotions and the derivative, second-hand guitar pickings replace the majesty (okay, I couldn't really justify that last phrase in court, so I'm disclaiming it; but at least I'm definite about the guitar parts on 'Group Therapy' not being something that Steve hadn't done earlier in a better way). As for the other two instrumentals, 'Always Somewhere Else' has a nice, relaxing guitar theme, but 'cute' is all I'm going to say here, and I hardly ever listen to Steve for his being 'cute' - I want that beautiful minimalistic grandiosity of 'Firth And Fifth' and 'Spectral Mornings', and all he's got to offer me is a half-pleasant, not all that memorable guitar theme that any promising guitarist with just a drop of talent could easily think of? No dice, brother. I was kinda hoping, too, that a track with such a cool name as 'Hackett To Pieces' would justify the name by ending the album on a high, thunderstormish note, but once again, the sound is completely overshadowed by the synths - Steve mostly plays in unison with the keyboards, and guess whose sound is more audible. Not surprising, since the track is the only one on the album that's co-credited to Steve and keyboard player Nick Magnus. This leaves us with just two or three really worthwhile numbers. I've always loved the opening 'Camino Royale' - maybe because the atmosphere in the opening notes is slightly reminiscent of 'Dance On A Volcano', only without the beep-bleep-bleeping synths. The intro has also some of the most impressive guitar playing on the album, and the tune itself, while it also completely fits the genre definitions of synth-pop, is rather cool: mainly due to Steve's weird, echoey effect on the vocals and the song's mystical, shadowy atmosphere (BUT - what's with that horrible refrain? 'Only the fool learns to get through'. Phil Collins is laughing again). 'Cell 151' is at least dangerous and possibly autobiographical, too: what's the idea of 'Cell 151' is supposed to mean for Steve? Personal problems? Guitar hero cliches? In any case, it gives something to think about. But of course, if there's one true Hackett classic on the album, it's 'India Rubber Man', a haunting, beautiful ballad that can't exactly be measured by 'catchiness' or 'memorability' - and it doesn't even have any guitar - but which is as atmospheric as possible and features Steve on harmonica (said to be his first instrument, by the way). He also does a great singing job on the track, reaching some high notes that he probably never even thought he would reach in the past. It's also one of the shortest things on the album, and it's good: were it any longer, I could have simply fallen asleep. Hell, it's almost ambient, notwithstanding the moderate piano rhythm in the background. It's the freshest, most inspired and least obnoxious thing on the whole album, and one can only wonder why in the world Steve didn't compose more in that style instead of giving in to the obvious synth-pop trend. Don't really know if the whole album's worth it just for one great song. For completists only, really.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Classical guitar.Best song: HORIZONS
Track listing: 1) Bay Of Kings; 2) The Journey; 3) Kim; 4) Marigold; 5) St Elmo's Fire; 6) Petropolis; 7) Second Chance; 8) Cast Adrift; 9) Horizons; 10) Black Light; 11) The Barren Land; 12) Calmaria; 13) Time Lapse At Milton Keanes; 14) Tales Of The Riverbank; 15) Skye Boat Song.
Whatever your feelings towards this record might be, kudos to Steve for actually having the guts to release such an album. He'd almost completely reinvented himself as a mainstreamish, contemporary synth-pop meister, and Highly Strung even managed to catch the public eye, with 'Cell 151' even significantly denting the British charts. And just as Steve's traditional fans lost the last signs of hope, he suddenly reinvented himself - as a classical guitar composer. A brave and daring move at the time, so brave, in fact, that Charisma rejected the album when Steve brought it to them for the first time. He proved to be tenacious, though, and breaking his contract with the big company, carried this thing to a small label called Lamborghini, which naturally accepted it (the next Hackett album, Till We Have Faces, was also recorded on the same label). And the fans rejoiced.Now I must say just one thing. I know absolute shit about classical guitar. I don't know the least thing about what the main trends in this direction are, or were in the early Eighties; I don't know the names of the most prominent classical guitar players; and, for the most part, classical guitar bores the hell out of me. Therefore, I am in no way qualified to rate or judge this record, since I can't even compare it to anything else. Sure, it's not Steve's first attempt at recording compositions in the classical genre; most of his previous albums included one or two pretty acoustic compositions. But this is a professional, deadly serious record, where the acoustic 'snippets' aren't designed as soft, refreshing pieces in between the heavier electric assaults; here, it is exclusively the acoustic sound that you have to enjoy, and you have to prepare yourself for quite a different mood as compared to other Hackett releases. In Steve's mind, what he was doing here was a celebration of the possibilities of the acoustic guitar. Reading the liner notes, you get the idea that Steve is showing off: in one place, he mentions that he was self taught, and then he goes off describing the 'capacity' of the acoustic as if he wanted to present himself as a guitar pioneer. But, actually, you might get the wrong impression from reading the notes. When I read about how the guitar 'does a very good impersonation of many other instruments: cello, harpsichord, brass, harp, koto, violin, mandolin, drums, glockenspiel, and, most of all, piano', I thought Steve was going to play some extremely neat tricks that would indeed allow us to interpret his guitar parts as all these instruments. Nadah. The guitar always sounds like the guitar, and nothing else; only on 'Marigold' Steve really pulls off a fascinating harpsichord impression. I supposed, then, that these words have to be treated metaphorically rather than literally. The guitar can't really sound like all these instruments, but it can convey the mood of these instruments. And once you start to get this, there's no more reason to accuse Steve of self-indulgence. This is not Adrian Belew's Guitar As Orchestra, where the guy really makes his guitar sound like every instrument possible by means of a million gadgets and gimmicks. This is emotional, soulful music played without a single gimmick. The title track and 'The Journey', for instance, might sound almost alike, but where the title track is guitar par excellence, in the second song Steve plays it as if it were a harp - and thus, the stern majesty of 'Bay Of Kings' is supplanted by the light, enchanting mystique of 'Journey'. It just takes quite a while to realize it. Out of the other tracks, one might certainly recognize 'Kim' and 'Horizons'. The former is a rearrangement of the version from Please Don't Touch, and it actually sounds better - more emotional, more 'wisened'. By the way, Steve is not the only player on the album: on certain tracks, he's augmented by the trusty sidekicks, Nick Magnus on keyboards (mostly providing synthesized strings that add a lot to the sound), and John Hackett on flute, and both are present on the track. As for 'Horizons', I always liked that one, and I'm sure glad as hell it got re-recorded here. Not that it's superior to the Foxtrot version, but it's a good nostalgic reminiscence anyway. Unfortunately, the problem is, I just can't take that much beauty in just one sitting. After a while, the moods and melodies just start repeating themselves - and I frankly don't know how many listens it takes for one to start appreciating every single track on its own. The album does have a certain general fascination of its own, in a certain sense it reminds me of Eno's Another Green World - and not just because one of the tracks sports the name 'St Elmo's Fire', but because it's also similar to a journey in a separate mystical ecumen. Note these titles, too - 'Journey', 'Cast Adrift', 'The Barren Land', 'Tales Of The Riverbank'... for some reason, though, one of the tracks is named 'Petropolis' (sic). But it's just way too monotonous for me to be fascinated throughout all the forty-four minutes of it. I, therefore, give it a 10 with hopes of improving over time; oh well, at least I really feel benevolent about it. Any feedback from classical guitar connoisseurs would be vastly appreciated - as I'm not even sure if the guy really innovated something here. Maybe he was just ripping off some poor unknown artist and getting all the big bucks instead (then again, it's not that the album ever really brought him the big bucks). Funny trivia detail: the liner notes say 'mastered by Ian Anderson at Battery'. Best thing Ian Anderson ever did - in the Eighties, at least.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1984
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Experimental to the core, with Steve trying to throw blues, prog, New Wave and World Music together.Best song: A DOLL THAT'S MADE IN JAPAN. But maybe not
Track listing: 1) What's My Name; 2) The Rio Connection; 3) Matilda Smith-Williams Home For The Aged; 4) Let Me Count The Ways; 5) A Doll That's Made In Japan; 6) Duel; 7) Myopia; 8) Taking The Easy Way Out; 9) The Gulf; 10) Stadium Of The Damned; 11) When You Wish Upon A Star.
I was just about to transfer the sentence "this is completely unlike whatever you'd expect from Steve" from my mind on to the screen, but then I fortunately caught myself just in time and realized that I already wrote something like this about Cured, and the reader might thus be tricked into thinking that, like all of Steve's 'unpredictable' moves, this record blows. Not at all. I originally planned to give it a 10, but the record has so much potential that it keeps growing on you after each listen - I'm still not sure if it's a really strong eleven, but it's so adventurous I'm really having a good time following Steve in all of his directions.The pretentious album cover hearkens back to the epoch of Voyage Of The Acolyte, but the two albums sound nothing like each other. Till We Have Faces isn't really progressive rock; it's a record that transcends style and leads us on a strange journey through Hackett's musical vision of the mid-Eighties, a vision that was certainly far less limited and far more tasteful than that of many of his contemporaries. Somewhere around that period, Steve spent some time in Brazil, sucking in ethnic influences and trying to incorporate them into his work. Maybe he was just envious of the sudden twist in Peter Gabriel's career? Could be. But this is not an entirely World Beat-dedicated record; instead, Steve just uses some of the ethnic rhythms as a launchpad for experimenting with musical styles and trying his skills in many of the contemporary genres. This results in one of his most diverse records, and I would have never had any doubts about the album rating if it weren't for the fact that there's not too much guitar on the album. As on his previous two commercial efforts, Steve gives way too much prominence to the keyboards of Nick Magnus, and that's not necessarily good. Likewise, the experimentalism never combines well with emotional power; there are no moments of glory like 'Icarus' or 'Spectral Mornings' here. Still, for a record that came out in 1984, it's exceptionally good. The world beat theme is mainly explored in two lengthy instrumentals (okay, I'm consciously lying here - both of these songs do have vocal sections, but they're absolutely inessential, it's the instrumental passages that require your concentration), 'What's My Name' and 'Matilda Smith-Williams Home For The Aged'. The first one really sounds as it belongs to a Gabriel record - ominous drum machines, moody, grim synth backgrounds, and a scarce guitar or piano backing to avoid a completely static feeling. The second one is notably better, with a ferocious, spooky guitar part and a really creative use of the percussion, including a short, but effective drum solo (oh, by the way, most of the backing band are Brazilians). On the other hand, 'The Rio Connection' is not at all ethnic, despite the title; here, Steve goes for a rather simple dance rhythm of the type he'd already explored previously, for some reason decorating it with Brazilian flutes and adding in some ad-libbed vocals with electronic encoding. 'Duel' is also a dance-rhythm track, but played tighter and more compact, and with a fascinating Jim Morrison vocal impersonation. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but Steve sounds uncannily like Jim on that one - hey, who knows, if Jim had been alive in 1984, he might just as well have recorded something very similar. However, if the similarity with Jim may be coincidental, the Sting impersonation on 'Myopia' just can't be denied. When they play that fast, breakneck speed number and Steve chants 'myo-pia.. myo-pia... myo-pia...', I could have sworn... I mean, if somebody were to try to cheat me, it would be as easy as eggs are eggs. I don't really remember the Police using those kinds of corny synths that clutter the sound, but that's about the only difference. Fast, catchy and funny, that's Steve's best imitation of the New Wave spirit ever. Apart from that, he throws in a lovely, if a bit oversapped, ballad 'Taking The Easy Way Out'; a modern-sounding blues number in 'Let Me Count The Ways' - wait, Hackett playing generic blues? Wasn't that the first generic blues number he ever put on an album? It rules, tho'!; a mystical number that on closer look turns out to be a protest against the Iran-Iraq war ('The Gulf'), and after a few verses metamorphoses into a tremendous guitar workout; and a passable synth-pop song that hearkens back to Highly Strung ('Stadium Of The Damned'). My favourite number on the whole record, however, is the pretty 'A Doll That's Made In Japan'. It's not too Japanese (at least, it's no 'Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere'), apart from the classy introduction and a few Japanese phrases spoken by Kim Poor, and the lyrics are kinda obscure, possibly dealing with the poor fate of Japanese geishas (well, how else can you interpret the lines 'A doll that's made in Japan/Is made for every man'?). But I love the way that the 'cheerful' refrain contrasts with the melancholic verses, not to mention its catchiness, and Steve's mystically flowing solo is pretty good, too. Ah, well, forget it, the album is very even, maybe tomorrow I'll come back here and just change the disposition of some of the paragraphs. Let's put it this way: my favourite track on the album is the closing 'When You Wish Upon A Star'. Forty seconds of pure atmospheric delight. Ah well. I mean, whatever. There's absolutely nothing groundbreaking on this record, and Steve isn't really doing anything entirely new, neither with his guitar, nor with anything else. But it's just a solid effort, and while it does confirm my theory of rock'n'roll stagnation, if this is the kind of stagnated rock'n'roll we have to be stuck with for ever and ever, the tragedy is not as overwhelming as you could believe. Unfortunately, this was by far the best album of 1984, sharing that place with King Crimson's Three Of A Perfect Pair and possibly something R.E.M. crammed out. Well, that just goes to show you... In any case, good, mediocre, bad, or horrid, kudos to Steve for pulling himself out of the bog with grace - he managed to stick to the 'modernistic' style and restore some of his 'intellectual' reputation at the same time. And it was also his last studio electric album for almost ten years: the guy was wise enough to let the 'Age Of Musical Shit' pass by and not get marred by it. Thus, we are safely deprived of having the misfortune to hear his equivalent of No Jacket Required or So or Invisible Touch... Thanks, Steve.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 7
Proof that some archives should better be left unopened - or, better yet, BURNT. To the ground.Best song: NOTRE DAME DES FLEURS
Track listing: 1) Cassandra; 2) Prizefighters; 3) Slot Machine; 4) Stadiums Of The Damned; 5) Don't Fall; 6) Oh How I Love You; 7) Notre Dame Des Fleurs; 8) The Gulf.
Well, whaddaya know. So it turns out that we are not deprived of hearing Steve's equivalent of No Jacket Required after all. On the other hand, he can still be excused to a certain degree - while it was indeed recorded in 1986, it didn't come out officially until almost two decades later. I almost wanted to add "and for good reason" here, but alas, reasonable things are rarely done for good reasons: no, the harsh truth is that Steve simply didn't happen to have a valid record contract in 1986, meaning that the recordings were shelved, and by the time he finally got one, he'd fortunately already moved on to different (and better!) things. But time wrongs all rights, and today we have it.I must confess that I have not heard GTR's (Steve's short-lived "supergroup" with Steve Howe) only record, to which some of the songs on here were supposed to constitute a follow-up. But if GTR sounded anything like this - and I have a serious suspicion that they did - I'm not sure I even want to come near any store in which GTR is being sold. Of course, it might just be the evil magic of the number "86" slowly working its way inside me, but Feedback '86 is atrocious. In order to make it more attractive to the consumer, my edition adds a "featuring..." list on the front cover, but truth be told, it only makes matters worse. Okay, so I'm no Marillion hater, and the presence of their rhythm section on here (on one track only!) is hardly an annoying factor, although I fail to see how this proud announcement could actually boost the sales. But Bonnie Tyler? Bonnie friggin' Tyler? What is this, a Meatloaf show? Brian May? This is the mid-Eighties, people, not the mid-Seventies: remember what this gentleman was being up to in that period? And, best of all, none other than Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann's Earth Band taking lead vocals on most of the tracks - reason number one why all these late period Earth Band albums never did anything positive for me. However, these are just names. The music is what matters, isn't it? And I can't deny that many of these songs have some elements of catchiness in them. Actually, most of the choruses are half-decent pop song choruses! Even singalongable at times. But even if these choruses might be the soul of the songs, their body is generic arena rock processed through Eighties' technology - and what, pray tell, does that have in common with Steve Hackett? Well, yes, that does have a lot to have with post-1980 Steve Hackett. But the overall effect here is even worse than on Cured, due to the additional (dis)talent of some of the people namedropped above. There are a few bright spots on here - on which see below - but these are effectively outbalanced by some of the dumbest, crappiest piles of synthesized dregs this side of Rod Stewart. In particular, Steve's collaboration with Brian May, 'Slot Machine', has to be heard to be believed: it summarizes everything bad about the Eighties within four minutes of its dragon breath. Simplistic, cheap drum machines (throughout the album euphemistically titled "virtual drums" and always credited to keyboardist Nick Magnus, who probably programmed them with his left hand while actually playing melodies with his right one). Sterile, finger-flashing metallic guitar passages (hopefully, most of them played by May, but there's plenty of similar guitar "work" on tracks where May isn't credited as well). Chris Thompson's Superhero vocals. And a chorus that's pure synth-pop and mostly goes repeating the phrase 'WHEN YOU PLAAAAAAY WITH THE SLOT MACHIIINE'. Yeah, I could - for about five seconds, maybe - tolerate this kind of material were I, out of pure fancy, watching some ridiculously dated mid-Eighties movie, you know, the kind in which every female character looks like Cyndi Lauper, the kind that would eagerly feature 'Slot Machine' as part of the soundtrack. But not a second more. And the dragon isn't out of breath yet, either. On 'Don't Fall', it looks like the sacred trio of Thompson, Hackett, and Magnus want to be a collective Prince. They succeed for about thirty seconds... before Chris actually starts singing, that is. Then they turn into Bad Company. Then the cocky verse goes into the sentimental chorus, and they become Foreigner. Then they somehow trample through the main body of the song and become Poison for the coda. It's amazing, it's incredible, but yes, that's exactly what Steve was doing. Things don't get any better when they go for the throat with something a bit more bombastic. The Phil Henderson Orchestra lends its power and glory to 'Prizefighters', but if there ever was a bigger waste of power and glory, it could only be something related to the construction of the Pyramids. The orchestra is wasted; Hackett's cathartic solo is wasted; Bonnie Tyler's croaking is wasted; everything is wasted, and it's even hard to say on what, because the entire song is one big fat gospelish nothing. No, but really, you'd want me to feel any kind of emotional uplift caused by a bombastic pseudo-gospel chorus on a recording from 1986? I'd rather listen to something more hopeful. Like the "1984 Olympic Games Soundtrack", for instance. (The song, by the way, is credited to Hackett and Howe, so presumably that's the 'biggest' piece of GTR residue on here. No thanks). The easier-to-take stuff on here includes 'Stadiums Of The Damned' (so-so) and 'The Gulf' (pretty decent), but today they're both included on the Till We Have Faces CD anyway, so there's no reason to hunt for them in this direction. There's also the opening track, 'Cassandra', built around a rather impressive 'wailing' riff - and that's the only song on the album where the drums are quite real rather than 'virtual', actually, played by the drummer from Marillion. Again, I have little use for Chris Thompson, but that's one song I could see myself relistening to in the future. Funnily enough, the song is extremely similar, in terms of structure and atmosphere, to 'Layla': similar desperate riff, similar desperate vocals, similar use of the name of the protagonist as the chorus' main hook, even a guitar solo where Steve seems to be aping some of Clapton's licks. I sure wouln't be surprised to learn it was intended as a tribute. Even so, the choice of best song on here is fairly predictable: 'Notre Dame Des Fleurs'. Probably a Bay Of Kings outtake, on that album it would simply get lost in the average prettiness of it all. Here, surrounded by all the synth-pop, "virtual drums", and Manfred Mann-isms, it rears its head loud and proud as the beautiful arpeggiated instrumental it is. I don't mean to say that it was worth it dragging through all the lows of this product to get to truly appreciate the purity and prettiness of just one composition - but from a purely philosophical point of view, maybe there is. On the unexpectedly positive side, it's nice to have one more proof to my theory of 1986 having been the absolute nadir in the history of popular music (or, at least, "dinosaur-oriented" popular music). Which also means that poor Steve isn't really responsible. Like Oingo Boingo used to sing on the subject, 'You really can't blame him/Society maimed him/He's underprivileged and abused/Perhaps a little bit confused'. If this description doesn't apply to Hackett in 1986, I don't know what better use it could be put to in the first place.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1988
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
More classical guitar.Best song: THE VIGIL
Track listing: 1) Cavalcanti; 2) The Sleeping Sea; 3) Portrait Of A Brazilian Lady; 4) When The Bell Breaks; 5) A Bed, A Chair, And A Guitar; 6) Concert For Munich; 7) Last Rites Of Innocence; 8) Troubled Spirit; 9) Variation On A Theme By Chopin; 10) Pierrot; 11) Momentum; 12) Bouree; 13) An Open Window; 14) The Vigil.
Whatever you think about Steve Hackett, one thing's for sure: a guy able to come up with an album's worth of Feedback '86 (or GTR, for that matter) material one year and then follow it up with an album's worth of professional, highly stylized classical guitar pieces the next year is not your "average" kind of guy. Granted, many people do that - releasing crap that sells well and then using the money to release good stuff that doesn't sell at all. But not many people go to such radical extremes, from potential multi-million audiences to potential multi-dozen ones, if you know what I mean.My feelings about Steve's second all-classical guitar, all-instrumental record are about as mixed as those for his first one. If there is any difference between the two, it's that Momentum, I think, leans a bit more heavily on the 'ambience' aspect, being even more relaxed, quiet, and contemplative than its predecessor - and thus, even harder to assimilate, provided we are actually wishing to "assimilate" it rather than treat it like nice generic background music not to be paid attention to. There's a lot of quasi-Spanish, flamenco-like touches on here, but with little of the energy and 'fire' we usually associate with Spanish guitar - my guess is these are mostly Brazilian (Portuguese) influences that Steve has been incorporating, thanks to his Brazilian wife, and these, in their turn, represent Romance elements crossed with South American Indian ones. Think 'El Condor Pasa' or something, only without the catchiness, of course. You're not supposed to be humming this. On the other side, there are, as usual, a lot of classical elements as well. Bach crops up in a couple of places, and one of the tunes is expressly called 'Variations On A Theme By Chopin'. I don't like it too much, though. The idea of converting classical XIXth century piano into guitar may sound fascinating on paper, but there's something very important that seems to be missing from the final result, although it's hard to tell what exactly. Spirituality? Depth of feeling? Could it be that the piano is actually a "deeper" instrument than the guitar? And if so, is guitar always 'convertible' to piano, but not vice versa? Well, at least we can say the tune succeeds in that it gets me to ask all these questions. Likewise, 'Last Rites Of Innocence' is a pure baroque piece of music-making that just doesn't seem to cut it. I can envision this thing as, say, a little string quartet with a harpsichord on top - and I'm one hundred percent sure it would have sounded much better that way. Which, again, makes this a curious experiment rather than a self-sufficient composition - and begs the question whether such experiments are really necessary in the first place, or if they just work as big cream tarts for the satisfaction of one's "creative ego". What is there to gain by taking music intended to be played one way and defiantly - okay, experimentally - playing it another? It may well be, of course, that Steve just doesn't succeed to well as a classical guitarist. As before, very few of these tunes penetrate deep down inside me - and maybe it's just me, but then it may be that Steve just can't seem to find the right chord sequences. It's as if he was diligently doing some homework task one of his musical teachers had given him. Well - as a homework task, this certainly deserves an A. But as a capolavoro? Not on your life. It definitely works better on pieces which are intended to be guitar-played, by all means. The opening 'Cavalcanti', for instance, which Hackett claims is dedicated to horses because it contains a triplet figure that sounds like a galloping horse - but is actually so full of melancholic, ambient soundscapes as well, that it rather reminds me of something maritime. (We could, of course, compromise and state that it symbolizes a horseman riding on a beach). The best moment is near the end, when out of the blue John Hackett enters with his flute and plays a lovely passage, oh so reminiscent of "classic" Hackett-style music. The title track is also a nice flourish, ending the record on a purely Spanish note, meaning it's a bit jumpier and more upbeat and energetic than anything else on here - and, coincidentally, is also one of the best showcases for Steve's finger technique. Some of the tunes are actually little musical 'stories'. For instance, 'A Bed, A Chair, And A Guitar'. Steve writes: "When I was growing up Dad thought that I would be happy if all I had in life was a bed, a chair and a guitar. I've got a bit more furniture now, Dad, and a few more guitars - but he'd sussed my teenage priorities!" And then he goes on to 'express' all three of these entities by three different guitar parts - classical (bed?), folk (chair?), jazz (guitar?). Granted, they're a little bit hard to tell apart for a neophyte like me, but with the help of Steve's own explanation, it's possible to draw lines between the three and enjoy the seamless flow between them. 'Troubled Spirit', on the other hand, is sort of a tale of one man's worries and anxieties and their resolution as the troubled person is being penetrated by the Divine Will (that, as Steve explains, is what actually happened to him, but let's pretend I never heard that one. I sure like to imagine such a metamorphosis in theory much more than on practice). The tune really starts out in a dark and obviously troubled way and then gradually lights up more and more, until it reaches the nearly 'angelic' conclusion. It's certainly hard to picture it all by using just one guitar, but Steve gives it his best, and the liner notes really help out here - otherwise I probably wouldn't even have noticed this transition! The one odd track that feels significantly different from everything else is the so-called 'Concert For Munich'. And not just because it's the only composition on here to have been written due to special request (Tony Stratton-Smith had originally commissioned it for a documentary about the Manchester United football team, no less!); it is also much more full-sounding, due to John Hackett guesting on flute again and Steve playing an organ-tone synthesizer in addition to guitar. Despite the incoherence, it can still be a relief to be able to take a break from the gruesome minimalism for a few minutes before we're plunged into it full throttle again with 'Last Rites'. Note that the CD edition of the album comes equipped with three more bonus tracks - and for some reason, they actually improve on most of the original material! First, there's a nice and short take on Bach's 'Bouree', technically unnecessary because of the original as well as Jethro Tull's definitive version, but still always pleasant to hear. Then 'An Open Window', which is a whoppin' nine minutes long - but that's not really nine minutes of ambience, rather nine minutes of mildly dynamic guitar-storytelling, with cheerful and gloomy moments alternating all the time and distinct tribal elements (Brazilian?) cropping up all the time. And finally, 'The Vigil', despite being more minimalistic than everything else on here, is nevertheless my favourite tune. Said to be in a Venetian style; well, I've always been a big admirer of Venice and all that goes along with it. Now here's a quasi-classical piece that sounds just perfect - but then it's the kind of piece that is meant to be played on a plucked instrument, if not a guitar, then a mandolin or a lute at best. Gallant and exquisite. That said, Momentum is still an experiment; its only difference from GTR is that the latter was a Godawful experiment, while this one is a God-lovin' experiment. But it does not immediately place Steve Hackett among the Greats of Classical Guitar - and, in a way, I am thankful that Steve apparently did not think too much of it (although he sure seems to remember it fondly) so as to keep that tradition alive and fulfill his promise of 'working every few years or so on an album that wasn't afraid of classical influences'. Not that Steve has ever been afraid of classical influences, but it's one thing not to be afraid, and quite another thing to be overwhelmed.
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Year Of Release: 1997
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 6
Dude, there really seems to be a curse on this band and on all its past members...Best song: WATCHER OF THE SKIES
Track listing: 1) Watcher Of The Skies; 2) Dance On A Volcano; 3) Valley Of The Kings; 4) Deja Vu; 5) Firth Of Fifth; 6) For Absent Friends; 7) Your Own Special Way; 8) Fountain Of Salmacis; 9) Waiting Room Only; 10) I Know What I Like; 11) Los Endos.
Despite the somewhat deceptive title, this certainly isn't a Genesis album: it's a pure Steve Hackett product destined to bring you back memories of blossoming Genesis classics from their 'prog' years so as to distract you from the murky crap of Calling All Stations... nay. I bought it out of curiosity quite a long time ago, and, since I didn't have the least desire to start a Steve Hackett solo page at the time, I thought I'd review it here, like, you know, kind of a posthumous appendix for the whole band.One might expect a helluva lot of fun and well-tingled nostalgia from this album, especially seeing as Steve was the only remaining member of the band that managed not to lose his 'serious' image over the years. Moreover, he was the guitarist, and through 1971-77 he was the strongest link in the chain that bound the band to rock music. You'd expect something brilliant on this record, wouldn't you, now that Steve broke free and was totally free to reinterpret the classic Genesis tunes to his own liking? Well forget it. This album sucks. No, not as bad as Stations, because this last incarnation of Genesis should take its rightful place in Lucifer's jaws alongside the Spice Girls and Puff Daddy, but still nowhere near as good as even the weakest product of Peter Gabriel. There's a cast of thousands on the album, with well-known stars like John Wetton, Tony Levin, Bill Bruford, Ian McDonald (guess Steve was really a big fan of King Crimson), Chester Thompson (the guy who drummed on Seconds Out), a ton of little-known vocalists and even the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Talk of megalomaniacs! What they really manage to do, however, is successfully butcher half a dozen Genesis classics, plus adding their contributions to a couple new and totally forgettable Hackett compositions. When the record opens with 'Watcher Of The Skies', you'd think everything's gonna be alright: they recapture the vibe with the soaring Mellotrons (whose existence was probably long forgotten by Tony Banks) and some good vocals from I don't know whom (one of the main vocalists seems to be Paul Carrack of Roxy Music fame, but there's just too many of 'em, including Steve himself), the only point of insecurity being electronic drums used in the middle section. However, this is the first and nearly last good moment on the record. Yup. To cut it short, there's so many songs on here that I really enjoyed in their original versions, but I just can't stand these fantasy-less, sometimes atonal reinterpretations! 'Dance On A Volcano' is completely ruined by the affected vocals that get totally lost in the background (Phil, come and save us!) 'Fountain Of Salmacis' is performed as sloppily as possible - never in my life could I love the song if this were my first version. The delicate guitar and Mellotron lines are turned into a horrid mess of murky, synthesized sound, and the vocals are affected again by some totally unnecessary gadgets. The worst blow, however, comes when they deliver two of my favourites. 'Firth Of Fifth' starts off okay (I actually like that glockenspiel intro that replaces the pianos), but the instrumental section is tossed off as badly as possible - Steve does a good job on his trademark solo, but man, this passage was never limited to that solo! Where's the beautiful flute? And what's with that synth/drum battle in the middle? It sucks! What a horrendous version! Not as horrendous, though, as 'I Know What I Like' that's transformed into a primitive reggae march with about zero percent of the power and the humor it initially possessed. Dang, dude, this is bad. This is ear-offending for me! And to top it off, Steve offers us a reinterpretation of that classic tune from The Lamb, yeah, 'The Waiting Room', you guessed right. Here it's called 'Waiting Room Only', but it's only fair that it stinks even worse than the original. Six minutes of unlistenable cacophony that end only to lead us into the above-mentioned version of 'I Know What I Like'. YUCK! YUCK! As far as I know, 'Watcher Of The Skies' and the reinterpreted version of 'Los Endos' that closes the record (and even includes a short, delicious snippet of 'Dancing With The Moonlit Knight') are the only welcoming aspects of the record, but even so, they add absolutely nothing to the originals. And the two original compositions are blistering pieces of finest bullshit (especially the booming instrumental 'Valley Of The Kings'). Shun this record, exclude it from your sight and hearing. If you really need to hear somebody ruining 'I Know What I Like', get Seconds Out: that one is at least substantial. Oh! I almost forgot that they do 'Your Own Special Way' here! Well, doesn't that prove my point that this is the best song on Wind And Wuthering? 'Pop'! Hah! Actually, Steve Hackett likes it better than 'One For The Vine'! Ha ha I say!
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