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Steve Hackett - Voyage Of The Acolyte CD (album) cover


Steve Hackett


Eclectic Prog

4.23 | 1271 ratings

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4 stars In retrospect, making a solo album at this point in time might have been a somewhat jerkish move on the part of Steve. In the wake of Peter Gabriel's departure from Genesis, the band was in a bit of an uncertain place, and one could argue that everybody in the band should have been focusing all of their energies on figuring out how the new look Genesis was going to move forward. Instead, almost as soon as the Lamb tour was over and Peter was officially out of the band, Steve took the opportunity to spend a month recording his debut solo album, and his involvement in relation to various aspects caused him to miss early rehearsals for A Trick of the Tail. Feelings couldn't have been too hard at the time, though; while Tony Banks is nowhere to be found, Mike Rutherford handles the bulk of the bass guitar work, and Phil Collins contributes all of the percussion and even sings on one of the tracks. Who knows, maybe Mike and Phil decided that they couldn't risk any bad blood on the part of Steve, so they decided it would be a good idea to help him out, or maybe they were eager to get back to playing non-Lamb material together as soon as possible.

This is a 1000% prog rock album. Five of the eight tracks are instrumental, the song names all reference Tarot cards, the lyrics might as well be sung in French, and everything about the album screams out THIS IS SERIOUS MUSIC FOR SERIOUS LISTENERS. From a certain perspective, it's a far more concentrated dose of prog rock on the whole than any Genesis album to that point; yes, Genesis albums had their fair share of "serious" music, but they also had a tendency to lighten the mood at just the right times (the lighter songs are often an irritant for Genesis fans, but I think the consistent of inclusion of such material was one of the great strengths of the Gabriel era of Genesis). On this album, the music may sometimes get gentle, but it never remotely approaches lightweight, and this both helps and hurts the album. Steve was still a little bit away at this point from his future tendencies to mix things up, that's for sure.

Still, this album makes for a delightful listen, and part of this is because the sonic texture is far more varied than on a given Genesis album. Aside from the standard instrumentation, Steve's brother John contributes flute, and there are contributions from others on oboe, English horn and cello. There's still plenty of keyboard - Steve wasn't going to abandon one of the most important foundations of solid art rock just because Tony didn't want to help out - but the keyboard parts are very much a part of the ensemble, as opposed to an entity showing much personality (which, for better and worse, Tony Banks' keyboard parts always had). The star, though, is clearly Steve's guitar, and my does he take advantage of his new freedom. If you've ever felt any sense that Steve was underused relative to his abilities in Genesis, then the opening "Ace of Wands" will reinforce that feeling something fierce. Yes, the song is more than just a guitar showcase; all of the various parts are memorable, and there are solid sequences where the majestic keyboards become the focus and the guitars fade into the background. Ultimately, though, the song's most notable features come from its rapid dash from guitar lick to guitar lick, some electric and some acoustic, with Steve mixing speed and minimalism in the way only he could and showing a stronger guitar tone than on most of his Genesis work.

"Hands of the Priestess I" and "Hands of the Priestess II," which sandwich "A Tower Struck Down," show off Steve's skills at making gentle instrumental music (whereas "Ace of Wands" and "A Tower Struck Down" show his skills in making energetic instrumental music). The first part features John's flute and Steve's guitar going back and forth on an atmospheric melody over a soft acoustic part, and the second part brings out a happy exchange of flute, English horn and guitar, with a momentary reprise of one of the themes briefly played in the middle of "Ace of Wands." "A Tower Struck Down," in contrast, would be a borderline heavy number if the guitar and the bass didn't sound so goofily wimpy (which is all the stranger given that there are two people playing bass in the song); I like the song, and it has multiple interesting sections (and some GREAT atmospheric keyboard parts in the middle), but the song almost sounds unfinished in spots (in contrast, the version on Genesis Revisited II decades later sounds fantastic).

The first vocal on the album comes from Steve on "The Hermit," and while he's no great shakes, he's definitely not bad either, though to be fair the vocal melody (a fairly nice idea repeated over and over) doesn't require much of him. The song itself is quite lovely, though; the melody goes nowhere, but it's an atmospheric nowhere, and the arrangements (especially the fantastic solo by the oboe or English horn, I admit I'm not 100% which) are very pleasing to my ears. "Star of Sirius" is a more upbeat acoustic ballad, this time featuring Phil on vocals, but Phil is basically just another layer in the delightful atmosphere whenever he sings. No matter, the slower parts are beautiful, and the faster parts give another opportunity to hear Steve doing his speedy minimalism thing oh so well.

After another instrumental, the classical-guitar-turns-into-ambience of "The Lovers" (only 1:50), we come to the album's finale and defining track. "The Shadow of the Hierophant" (which has enough contributions from Mike that it warranted a songwriting co-credit) is about as pompous as prog can get without crossing a suckiness line, and all the better for it. The first half (the vocal half) is basically two ideas alternating back and forth; a fantastic slow guitar line supported by STRONG keyboards, and an acoustic ballad with Sally Oldfield singing lyrics I still don't remotely know after owning the album for a very long time (aside from an occasional "Has the moon eclipsed the sun"). Honestly, I don't care that I don't know the lyrics; the singing is so lush, and the vocal melody so beautiful, that I'm perfectly willing to let the song have the same effect on me it would have if I was listening to something from an opera (where I wouldn't know the words because I wouldn't speak the language). Once the "song" portion ends, Steve breaks into the most emotionally charged 40-second tapping sequence I can imagine, before pulling out a brief guitar melody that rivals anything he did with Genesis, and the ending sequence begins. Oh, that ending sequence. It's just one relatively simple theme, repeated over and over (starting on solo vibes before the guitar comes in), building into a more and more dramatic arrangement, over the course of five minutes. I listen to it, and I know it's not much, and I know on a certain level it's a giant put-on, but it's just such a giant steam-roller of sound and power and that I can't get myself to care. It's one of the best stretches in Steve's career, that's for sure, and it helps make the track into one of the best of Steve's career.

On the whole, this is also one of the best albums of Steve's career, but I'd still say it falls a smidge short of greatness. It's just a touch short of genuinely classic tracks, and it has some stretches (like in much of "Tower") that don't sound quite right, and quite honestly it sounds much closer to a generic prog album than it does to the sort of album that Steve would be making later. But if it doesn't quite make it to greatness, it's still awfully close. Fans of 70s Genesis, and 70s prog rock in general, should be all over this.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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