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Steve Hackett - Wild Orchids CD (album) cover

WILD ORCHIDS

Steve Hackett

 

Eclectic Prog

3.76 | 227 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

axeman
4 stars Steve's produced proggier albums, but I don't remember one being so good. Of course, most things that Steve does are a sort of prog to me. It doesn't matter if he's straight out shredding or not. What impresses me about Steve, no matter the genre is the same thing that impressed me from the first time I heard his melancholy riffing underlying Genesis' In the Rapids off of the Lamb: I have come to call it note choice.

That's why I would still recommend prog fans at least listen to Steve's cover of Bob Dylan's (!!) Man in a Long Black Coat. It's pretty obvious that Dylan cannot be prog. And Steve doesn't try to force his cover into that mold either. He respects the piece for what it is. Steve sings it almost as a blend between Dylan's plain style and Johnny Cash's saga style. He sticks pretty close to folksy blues for the guitar breaks. They are amazing breaks--not technically amazing like Holdsworth's 20nps marvels. Again, it's the choice of notes. The breaks are still impressionistic, not rote guitar patterns.

Steve actually used a more standard three-string blues pattern in his raucous solo on Return of the Giant Hogweed, he just added some slides up and down the G-string (I think) and slides into position. But if you listen closely to this landmark (Fountain) you'll hear the sus-4 barre bend pattern that blues guitarist have been using for half a century. Innovation.

The end result is a interesting harmony, which blends the world outside of prog with the complex sensibilities that forever ruins us for listening to pop. It's all the more astounding when you realize that he kept this song close to it's genre, and yet he adds his notes and his never-a-dull-moment style of play.

Of course, Steve's been doing this type of thing almost right from the beginning. I have to say Voyage of the Acolyte doesn't fight the prog label as much as the genre-roving he does on Please Don't Touch, or the excursions he takes into a bizarre kludge of Ragtime and Samba (??) he does in The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man off of Spectral Mornings. Or the WWII-radio interlude on Tigermoths. And even in the renaissance years from Guitar Noir to Storms are characterized by full orchestra with classical guitar on half the songs.

What can I say, but that Steve's either your cup of tea or he isn't. As for the rest of the album, Set Your Compass bristles with the magic that Steve must hear in Disney's When You Wish Upon a Star, which he covered outright on Until We Have Faces. Only here, he crosses it with a subtly dark discord of what reminds me of a sea chantey/dirge. It's a highlight of the album.

To a Close is a lovely tune, and varies on the mournful theme from Compass for a tragic tale of an heiress fallen from glory and features more orchestral lushness from Mr. Hackett at the very end. She Moves in Memories, I believe, is an instrumental orchestral reprise of ToC, the She of the title is the suicide heiress.

I get a sense that A Girl Called Linda is loosely linked into this trio tales, but I can't be sure. It sounds to me like there are variations of the other themes, but the poppy verses and straight flute-jazz interludes make it enough of a trail to follow. The light pop (from another era) is enough to make me want to forget it, so much so that I can forget the nice jazz interludes that make the song listenable.

To add to that Howl, Wolfwork are A+ guitar pieces, some shred with jazz elements to mix things around. Where A Dark Night in Toytown is Steve playing his axe accompanied by what reminds me of a movie score (Think orchestra mimicking a train to hell and some tinker-toy music innocence threatened by it.)

Why? is a throwaway throwback to the type of thing Steve did with Sentimental Institution, which I've always found at least interesting for it's ability to totally create a sound from another era. It's one of the few bits of filler on the album (but it's short enough), along with the fair-enough Ego & Id and what people generally feel is Steve repeating The Devil is an Englishman in the song Down Street. This last song is enjoyable enough, that it saves it from the filler category for me. I love the big-band blues style of playing that Steve mixes in, before the run-down carnival trick and more genre-bending with the Parisian ditty segueing into the final piano interlude, which is all nonetheless interesting to me.

Some people feel that The Fundamentals of Brainwashing is the highlight of the album. It's definitely the most modern sounding song, unless you count the world music venture Waters of the Wild. If I had to give it a name Fundamentals sounds like a curious blend between Pink Floyd and Cold Play.

What I've left out so far is that these lyrics are some of the most dazzling that Mr. Hackett has ever penned, not to mention that he keeps to this pattern by covering the formidable Dylan to begin with. To a Close is touchingly tragic with the faint impression of the distance that comes from hearing about tragedy second or third hand. Stale details that only poke at the tragedy. Wolfwork is acidly vicious. I couldn't agree much less with the sentiments of Fundamentals of Brainwashing, but they are properly mechanistic in image and I have to give him credit for evoking a sort of technological-Dickensian bleakness in sound and word.

This is a straight 5 in my book, but for PA, I can only knock it down to a 4.

axeman | 4/5 |

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