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Steve Hackett - Defector CD (album) cover

DEFECTOR

Steve Hackett

 

Eclectic Prog

3.64 | 317 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
4 stars The most striking thing about this album to me is how clearly it was made in the 80s, despite being made only a year after Spectral Mornings (which sounds like it could have been made at any time in the second half of the 70s). There's a shiny gloss on everything that wasn't even hinted at previously, and while some of the tracks would have sounded perfectly at home on previous albums (albeit if with different production), some of the tracks betray their contemporary influences too much to be imagined in a previous era. Steve's usual pattern of going about 50/50 with instrumental and non-instrumental material remains, but there are definitely significant shifts to be found.

The non-instrumental tracks are fairly sparse in the first 70% of the album (five of the first seven tracks are instrumental), though the album ends with three pieces with vocals to compensate. Neither "Time to Get Out" nor "Leaving" is especially strong in terms of melody or other standard measures of song quality, but they're both very pleasant and make me glad that I'm listening to them when they're on. "Time to Get Out," for seemingly like a pretty chill song on the surface, has a lot of hustle-bustle in the details (becoming most apparent in the little nagging synth riff in the breaks that feels like it's going twice as fast as it really is), and I really like the simple guitar additions in the last 30 seconds or so. "Leaving" never jumps out in any particular moment, but it's a combination of pretty and sad that I like a lot, and there are some haunting atmospherics in some of the vocal and synth parts that definitely don't sound like anything Hackett had done to this point. Among the ending group, "The Toast" is a moderately go-nowhere ballad, and the album doesn't gain much from its inclusion (its best part is a tender flute part, but it's not one of the more moving flute parts on a Hackett album so far), but "The Show" is a great disco-influenced pop song with a marvelous synth riff (if this is a guilty pleasure, then lock me up), and the closing "Sentimental Institution" is a retro (as in, from the 20s or 30s) jazzy ballad, made to sound as authentic and old-timey as possible. No, these don't make for the same kind of rousing conclusion as Steve managed on the last album, but I kinda like that Steve switched things up so much.

Among the instrumentals, one is great and four are good. The opening "The Steppes" makes Steve's guitar the star right away, but in a vastly different way from "Spectral Mornings." The best comparison for the track, I think, is one I never see mentioned by anybody; unless I'm completely delusional, the track bears the strong influence of Bowie's "Warszawa," coming within a hair of quoting it repeatedly. Where Bowie took its mournful theme and built a half-ambient piece around it (though eventually sticking in some wordless vocals in the second half), though, Steve sticks to this track's own theme (a dark, heavy guitar lick with a serious Eastern tinge) for about half of the track before allowing the second half to alternate between the main theme and various expansive solos based around the theme. No, it's not as good as "Spectral Mornings," but it makes for a hell of an opener.

A couple of tracks later comes "Slogans," which is just dark goofy fun. Beyond the main riff (which opens the piece and then appears after an incomprehensible distorted voice in the middle that I've decided is saying "Beware the mighty Megatron!"), which I suppose is supposed to be ominous but ends up being a little silly, the song is ultimately a giant guitar/synth noodle, but in the hands of Steve there's enough in the way of restraint and interesting tricks to keep it enjoyable. The side-closing "Two Vamps as Guests" isn't an amazing acoustic instrumental on its own, but I like the way it works in quotes from "The Steppes" and "Leaving" without drawing too much attention to them, and I enjoy it plenty in context. "Jacuzzi," which opens side two, is the necessarily happy and uplifting balance to "The Steppes," and while Steve's guitar parts have nice moments, the star of the piece is definitely John's flute, especially when it's featured on top of the keyboards. I guess a lot of it (especially in the second half) could be dismissed as a bit too close to late 70s Jethro Tull, but that wouldn't knock it down too far in my eyes. And finally, "Hammer in the Sand" is a (mostly) keyboard piece that sounds a lot like solo Rick Wakeman at its most tasteful, and Steve's guitar contributions come in the form of atmospheric texture in the second half. I like it!

No, this isn't an amazing album, but it's a really good one, and it shows that, just as with his former bandmates, he could have a relatively smooth transition into the new decade. Granted, things got a little rocky later on, and a lot of the open-armed embracing of contemporary technology will seem a little jarring to somebody more oriented to the sounds of earlier years, but other than the relative shortage of essential classics (even "Jacuzzi," as much as I like it, isn't quite a classic, and neither is "Slogans" or, as much as I'd like to tell myself it is, "The Show"), I can't think of much in the way of bad things to say about this album. There are better Hackett albums for sure, but not that many.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |

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