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Steve Hackett - Wolflight CD (album) cover


Steve Hackett


Eclectic Prog

3.79 | 385 ratings

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3 stars It's always a little concerning when a veteran band or solo artist (and in Hackett's case, he was a veteran of about 45 years at this point) with a successful career behind them is actively proclaiming their latest album as possibly the best thing they'd ever done. With Hackett, his proclamations concerning Wolflight were at least a little more plausible than corresponding proclamations might have been from others, given the generally high quality of his later-period works, but while I was glad to see that Hackett had gotten back to making new solo material rather than milking Genesis Revisited II for the rest of his life, some nagging concerns took hold in my mind even before I saw that Hackett was hyping this up pretty hard. By this point, it had been a little while since Beyond the Shrouded Horizon and A Life Within a Day, and the thought crossed my mind that Hackett, in the midst of working on new material during his downtime between GR shows, would (a) get it into his head that he somehow needed to prove something with his new album (in order to counter the return of the "Oh he's the old guitarist for Genesis" persona that he'd spent most of his career trying so hard to avoid), and (b) would have had a little too much time to tinker with the material endlessly. I mean, while I'm a big fan of Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, a great deal of what I find charming about it is that it does not feel to me like somebody self-consciously trying to make a great album, and instead just sounds like the best product of Hackett's "hey this could sound neat" era. Well, Wolflight ends up bringing a lot of my fears to fruition, even if it's still a rather good album on the whole. In a weird way, it reminds me of Up by Peter Gabriel; not in how the music actually sounds, of course, but in the way that it sounds endlessly worked on in a way that makes me wonder if an earlier draft of the album might have sounded a bit better.

In terms of how this album actually sounds, it's still basically in the same vein as most typical late-period Hackett, but it also gives me the sense that Hackett listened to Voyage of the Acolyte a lot of times while making this and felt it necessary in some way to get back to his "pure" prog roots a bit more (another good comparison would be the long instrumental breaks in "Emerald and Ash"). The tracks that are meant to be medium-length "epics" tend to take pretty solid core material and pad them out with LOTS of long and complicated instrumental breaks that generally sound great for a little while but end up striking me as completely excessive, even though I'm generally partial to such things. "Wolflight" starts off with some great Mid-Eastern-tinged guitar flourishes (and then bits that sound like they're out of the soundtrack to a Tim Burton movie) before going into a nice anthem/ballad cross that sounds like typical solid late-period Hackett (lots of acoustic guitar, lots of orchestra-ish synths), but the guitar-driven passages, as entertaining as they might be at any given individual moment, are just too much of a good thing. The 9-minute "Love Song to a Vampire" is damned beautiful and atmospheric and decadent in the main song portion, but again, there's too much song and too many instrumental breaks that are too similar in overall effect to hold my attention for the whole length. "Corycian Fire" starts off quiet and mystic, but then it turns into something pretty close to "A Life Within a Day" in terms of trying to milk the vibe of "Kashmir" pretty hard, and while I like the speedy licks that underpin the final passage, I find the bombastic choir pretty ridiculous.

Not all of the longer tracks make me feel this uneasy, fortunately. "The Wheel's Turning" starts off with a goofy dark dose of circus music like something off of To Watch the Storms or Wild Orchids, and it morphs into a surprisingly memorable and cheery song, but instead of trying to wreck the rest of the song, the instrumental passages are varied enough in a fun way (complete with a great and all-too-brief harmonica break) to make me enjoy it a lot. "Black Thunder" alternates between quiet and graceful passages, on the one hand, and pounding hard rock licks (with a really fascinating guitar sound in its best moments), on the other, and while it probably shouldn't last more than seven minutes, it's still a lot of fun. And the closing combination of "Dust and Dreams" and "Heart Song" makes for a rousing conclusion; "Dust and Dreams" is one of Steve's best dalliances with Middle Eastern music, as he creates an intoxicating instrumental that often reminds me of the dance of a coiled cobra before a snake charmer, and the way it so seamlessly connects with the love balladry of "Heart Song" serves as a great example as to why I find his solo work so enjoyable at times.

Of course, as often happens with Hackett solo albums, I find myself drawn most to the material that was probably not front and center in Steve's mind as he was putting together the album. "Earthshine" is a delightful acoustic instrumental on an album that badly needs one of Hackett's delightful acoustic instrumentals, as is the bonus track "Pneuma," which is basically in the same vein but a little more subdued in mood. "Loving Sea" comes within a hair of sounding exactly like Simon and Garfunkel, and it's so cheery and memorable and so unexpected that it perks me up and makes me happy every time I hear it. And finally, the remaining bonus track, "Midnight Sun," might just well be the best track on the entire disc, a song full of terrific intensity that always feels like it's not being fully unleashed, and with Hackett providing light decorative texture in the background until it's unleashed just enough for about 30 seconds in the middle.

In the end, I do like this album, but I ended up having to try a little harder than I've become accustomed to with assimilating late-period Hackett in order to get to that point. For all of its better aspects, this is his weakest "regular" album since Darktown, and the first of his albums in the 21st century that I wouldn't necessarily consider a must listen for anybody who generally likes Hackett. Also, the cover kinda sucks.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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