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Steve Hackett - Spectral Mornings CD (album) cover


Steve Hackett


Eclectic Prog

4.14 | 856 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars In the late 70s it seemed like every prog musician and his cousin was putting out a solo album. Nothing wrong with that at all except that I was a skinny, starving rock & roll musician at the time and just didn't have the lettuce to buy all those LPs so more than a few artists I admired fell to the wayside. Steve Hackett was one of those that I lost touch with. In recent years I've come to realize that he has quite a horde of fans in Progland so I decided to pick up one of his highest-rated reissues and see what I'd missed.

Within seconds I was pretty sure I'd found a missing Genesis track in the perky "Every Day" because it has that unmistakable aura that so characterized their sound. It's blatantly obvious that Steve's contributions to that revered band were an integral part of their most admired recordings and his absence led to them becoming more and more predictable down the road. They needed Hackett in a big way. Nick Magnus contributes a very Tony Banks-like keyboard tone but the tune has a kind of Beach Boys-ish, 3-part harmony chorale (instead of a lead vocal) that keeps it from coming off as an imitation of Steve's former group. Hackett displays plenty of his signature guitar licks as his studio band stretches out in a controlled jam at the end. "The Virgin and the Gypsy" follows and it's terrific. Lovely 12-string acoustic guitars ring joyfully, Pete Hicks' lead vocal is crystal clear, John Hackett's flutes, whistles and recorders are delightful and the track has a depth of field that keeps it from becoming too lightweight. "The Red Flower of Tachai Blooms Everywhere" makes it three winners in a row as Steve's utilization of traditional Chinese instruments and melodies creates a refreshing, hypnotic mood. I love the variety of the music styles he presents.

But the charm of variety depends totally on quality and, unfortunately, at this juncture the album starts losing it. "Clocks - The Angel of Mons" sounds like a lab experiment that didn't coagulate. It has grand aspirations, for sure, but perhaps it would've worked better as a movie soundtrack for the saga of Hannibal's troops crossing the Alps on their elephants. Or something equally dramatic. I also get the feeling that Hackett ran out of ideas midstream and started throwing in distracting guitar-generated noises to stall for time before John Shearer's pachyderms-on-a-rampage, rumblin' & tumblin' drum solo ruins any chance the song had of going somewhere interesting. But the next cut defies logic. "The Ballad of the Decomposing Man" is some sort of vaudeville ditty that was probably intended to be clever but it falls flat on its face. And I mean flat. When it segues into a Caribbean calypso motif it ceases to be silly and becomes downright weird. I guess you had to be there. Not my cup o' tea.

Steve redeems himself to a large extent with the beautiful "Lost Time in Cordoba," a very soothing and well-performed instrumental featuring layered, subdued acoustic guitars. Perfect rainy-day music. Next up is the longest cut, "Tigermoth." It starts promisingly with ominous bass/synthesizer lines backed by a Mellotron chorale but quickly turns overly-maudlin. The dated cosmic sounds get old quickly and often it seems to be wandering without direction. Then all of sudden it evolves into a nostalgic Roaring 20s singing-through-a-megaphone deal that leaves me scratching my head. I mean, WTF? I don't get it. At least the final number ushers you out on a positive note. "Spectral Mornings" is the kind of stuff most proggers crave. Deep keyboards and a pleasing melody line augmented by an inventive arrangement and aggressive guitar work by Hackett make this one of the highlights of the album.

Five of the bonus tracks are no more than alternate (read: inferior) mixes of previously heard songs and not worth your while. The live acoustic set, however, is a treat. Steve plays a medley of familiar airs for an adoring audience and you can tell there was a lotta love in the room that night. The in- concert rendition of "Tigermoth" is an improvement over the studio version only because the ridiculous second half is excluded.

Half of this album shows why Genesis suffered a huge loss when Hackett left the band. The other half indicates that Steve's inspiration and creativity was limited without the helpful input of Phil, Mike and Tony. Compared to some of the other solo efforts of that era, this one ain't too shabby. Yet it doesn't rise above the rabble nearly enough. It's good but not great.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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