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Steve Hackett - Till We Have Faces CD (album) cover

TILL WE HAVE FACES

Steve Hackett

 

Eclectic Prog

2.24 | 142 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
3 stars First, an important technical note: the CD reissue from the mid 90s (which is the version I have) is fairly different from the original release, in that it not only has two additional tracks (taken from Feedback '86) but also has a completely different track order. I've seen the original track listing (on this site and elsewhere), and honestly, I think the original version would be a bit worse than the one that's currently available; this is an album where sequencing matters a bit, I think.

This album isn't exceptionally good, but it is exceptionally interesting. One aspect that's often highlighted is the album's "world beat" leanings; the album was recorded in Brazil, and there are a number of Brazilian session musicians contributing an ethnic flavor in the percussion and other areas. That aspect shouldn't be overemphasized, though, as Latin music is just one of the influences that makes its way into the whole. There are trace elements of Japanese music, there's a full-fledged blues number, there's New Wave music, there's stadium rock, and there's even a snippet of a Brandenburg Concerto, played on keyboards, shoved into one of the songs just because it can be. Of course, this diversity can't compensate for all of the album's weaknesses; the melodies aren't always fantastic, Steve's singing is still a bit of a liability, and the balance between keyboards and guitar definitely won't satisfy somebody coming here straight from the first few albums. While the diversity can't cover all of the album's ills, though, it can cover a lot of them, and it's sorely tempting to bump up the album a notch in the rating (I'll resist, though).

The first three tracks are essentially all instrumental, even if the first ("What's My Name") and the third ("Matilda Smith-Williams Home for the Aged") do have some perfunctory vocals. Honestly, I find the vocals in "What's My Name" kinda unattractive; this album was my first of Steve's albums from the 80s, and I wasn't quite prepared for how ugly I'd find the "WHAT'S MY NAME??!! AAAH-AAAH-AAAH-AAAH!!!" chant the first couple of times I listened to it. It's important not to focus on the vocals of this track, because they're not that important; I'd argue that the koto breaks that follow those vocals are much more crucial in the makeup of the track. Nah, this track is all about the rhythms of the introduction and the ominous low- pitched synths, which sound somewhat like they're cribbed from bits of Security but not so much that I especially mind.

"The Rio Connection" would probably make a hardcore prog fan want to punch a wall (then again, a lot of the tracks on this album could be used in a sentence of "*track x* would probably make a hardcore prog fan want to punch a wall"), but I rather enjoy it. It's a bluesy number with swing, with Hackett tearing it up on harmonica, but there are lots of synths and guitars making pig noises too, and I like it more than not. "Matilda Smith-Williams Home for the Aged" centers an intricate riff doubled on guitar and synth, but there's an extended passage in the last two-thirds with great atmospheric guitar and keyboard noises (and later some great soloing) featured over the army of ethnic percussion, and the 8 minutes goes by way faster than a track with just these elements probably should.

After "Let Me Count the Ways," the album's generic blues workout (I'm somehow not surprised at all that Steve could sound so at home in the blues, though he really should have considered getting somebody else to sing), we come to what may well be the album's highlight, "A Doll That's Made in Japan." This is where the album's genre-smooshing really reaches its peak; the music isn't really that Japanese (aside from the rhythms, sort of), but the melancholy low-pitched ramblings in the verses give the music a definite exotic feel, and the combination of the up-lifting chorus (though with oddly sad lyrics), the great guitar solo that doesn't do much to attract attention to itself, the smatterings of Japanese phrases spoken by Steve's wife, and whatever else I'm missing make this into, at the least, a minor classic.

The second half of the album is a little worse, but pretty decent all the same. "Duel" features Steve singing in a lower register (where, honestly, he sounds better) and using a great tone (providing texture more than melody) over a steady rhythm to make something that sounds both old and new, and his soloing in the second half (which sounds not a bit like any solo he'd done to this point) is really breathtaking. "Myopia" is a frantic up-tempo New Wave rocker with Steve doing his very best to sound like Sting, and it's a hoot, especially when the Bach snippet randomly pops up (the only rational explanation I can come up with for why it's there is that the chord sequences in the rest of "Myopia" are probably inspired by sequences in the rest of the concerto). The album takes a bit of a step down at this point, though. "Taking the Easy Way Out" is just a little bit too boring and lacking in guitar for me to enjoy it that much; it definitely could have used a guitar part (other than just the acoustic bits in the background) integrated into the verses. "The Gulf" is an interesting look at the Iran- Iraq war, full of intriguing atmosphere in the first half, but when it becomes a big synth-heavy pounding anthem, it gets a little bit tacky, though the second half does provide some atmospheric bits of its own (also, a lot of the guitar parts are really interesting). And "Stadiums of the Damned," well, that's one that I enjoy more than I should; an arena-rocker with these kinds of synth parts and a chorus like "With a woman like you, I know that I can change" is something I probably wouldn't tolerate most of the time. Then again, I'd definitely take it over the weaker material from Higher Strung, and I can listen to it multiple times without feeling like I need a shower, so whatever.

All of this, plus the 40-second reworking of "When You Wish Upon a Star" at the end, makes for one heck of a ride. Maybe it deserves a higher grade, maybe it doesn't, but it's definitely the best of Hackett's 80s albums. As long as you can avoid feeling too irritated by Steve's vocals or the occasional overbearance of 80s synths, and as long as ridiculous diversity isn't something that you consider a negative, you should enjoy this album. Well, unless you're hoping for a sequel to Spectral Mornings, in which case you'll despise it.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |

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