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Steve Hackett - Spectral Mornings CD (album) cover

SPECTRAL MORNINGS

Steve Hackett

 

Eclectic Prog

4.14 | 857 ratings

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TCat
Special Collaborator
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
3 stars Steve Hackett's third full-length solo album 'Spectral Mornings' (released in 1975) shows Hackett's growth as a solo artist and also sees his first use of a real 'back-up' band and what would end up being considered his classic band line-up, which would also remain with him for the recording of his next album 'Detractor'. Hackett was still with Genesis when he recorded his first solo album, and his second album, released after he left Genesis because he felt he wasn't given enough autonomy anymore, was backed up with guest artists. When Hackett decided to tour and feature songs from both the debut album and 'Spectral Mornings' on the tour, it was obvious he needed a band, so this was the first time an actual back up band was formed.

Most of this album was recorded during a very snowy winter and the band was pretty much isolated in a winter cabin, so they were able to concentrate on recording and partying day and night. John Hackett, Steve's younger brother played flute, Nick Magnus played keys and synths, John Shearer was on drums, Dik Cadbury on bass and other instruments as needed, and Pete Hicks sung most of the lead vocals when needed. With the help of this band, and also from learning from previous mistakes, Hackett really showed a lot of progress as a composer and solo artist on this album.

The influence of Genesis and his love of prog shows through in the opening strains of 'Everyday' and the heavy use of synth. The main thing that was evident was the harmonized vocals that are apparent through this song, which deals with Steve's own experience with drug use, and is his anti-drug message developed from those experiences. In the instrumental breaks, you can really hear Hackett's guitar work shine through with his rapid note delivery and also melodic passages which are all backed up with the cheerful progressive foundation of the music. 'The Virgin and the Gypsy' is more of a folk-tinged style and slows everything to a more moderate track, with both solo lead vocals interspersed with harmonized layers, acoustic guitar strumming, flute flourishes, harpsichord and once again heavy and symphonic sounding synth use. Steve plays a Cantonese Koto on 'The Red Flower of Tachai Blooms Everywhere', which also uses mellotron to imitate a Japanese vocalist. The use of percussion is minimal as on the previous track and uses effects to depict wind. 'Clocks ' The Angel of Mons' starts with clicking, noisy clocks and low frequency synths, and then the entire band kicks in with great progressive track. The clock ticking is used as percussion later in the track along with heavy drumming and layers of melodic guitar and synth including Moog synth foot pedals played by hand by John Hackett. The ending features a rousing drum solo from John Shearer. This track was considered for a horror movie soundtrack, but eventually rejected for that purpose. The last track features Steve Hackett singing lead vocals with a lighthearted track 'The Ballad of the Decomposing Man' which is a lot similar to the rowdy bar-room style similar to ELP's 'The Sheriff' and etc and later switches to an island calypso style. I find it a bit annoying, as I do with ELP's same style of song (which they unfortunately do more than once).

The second side of the album begins with the classical guitar and flute duet 'Lost Time in Cordoba'. The addition of light keys keep the music in more of a classical style of music than traditional acoustic solos in rock music. 'Tigermoth' continues with the instrumental style, but this time with the full band in progressive rock mode again. Heavy synth washes rule on this track creating an atmospheric, yet somewhat thick sound. Vocal effects mixed with guitar effects create a feeling of unease. The music fades back to the main opening theme, and to me it all seems to be more glued together, not really flowing very well. However, the textures are quite varied here and seem to hit upon every sort of style, but never settling on anything. The dramatic sounds of the first half seem to contradict the somewhat humorous-sounding delivery and strange lyrics and melody. The contrasts don't really seem to work very well here, but at least it was an ambitious idea if nothing else. The last track on the original album, the instrumental 'Spectral Morning' is one of Hackett's most beautiful solo tracks, with beautiful guitar melodies soaring above the lush backgrounds. This track alone makes you forgive Hackett for the awful job done on 'Tigermoth'. 'Spectral Mornings' would end up to become Hackett's signature solo and rivals even the lovely guitar solo by Zappa on 'Watermelon in Easter Hay'. It is a great way to end the album, and is one of the main reasons why I come back to Hackett's music often.

The 2005 remaster included 8 bonus tracks, most of which are alternate mixes or versions of the tracks on this album, plus a couple of live tracks and an unlisted 'joke' track to end it all off. These tracks mostly add insight to already existing album, but don't necessarily improve or take away from the album. The best of the bonus tracks is the "Acoustic Medley" which really shows off Steve's talent.

Even if this is the better of the first three albums, there are still a couple of misguided tracks. One thing the album does have going for it is variety however, as Hackett workds to create a dynamic array of songs for this album. I think the album is still far away from being essential, and only some of the tracks can be considered excellent while others are only average, and a few are (to me at least) downright embarrassing. In the end, it is an album that I keep in my collection because it does have some great material, but overall, it isn't enough to pull it up to 4 stars.

TCat | 3/5 |

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