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GTR

GTR

 

Prog Related

2.30 | 93 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
1 stars In retrospect, this album never had a chance. While there certainly have been some exceptions, supergroups are generally the kind of idea that seems really great in theory but quickly becomes unbearable, like deciding to eat an entire pizza yourself. So it was with GTR, the short-lived collaboration between Steve Howe and Steve Hackett (with the rest of the group filled out by various anonymous players, including vocalist Max Bacon, who is an embodiment of all of my least favorite stereotypes of vocalists from the 80s). The story behind the group actually had its roots in another supergroup; while Howe was perfectly content with the kind of slightly artsy arena rock being made by Asia, he wasn't happy with the relatively minor position of his guitar in relation to the keyboards, and this helped to fuel his departure from the band. Howe had three main principles in mind for his new project: (1) the music style would be arena rock, (2) there would be no keyboards, and instead any synth-like parts would be handled by guitar synthesizer pickups attached to the guitars, and (3) he wanted Steve Hackett on board as the other guitarist. Hackett was willing to do the project, but he didn't have the same enthusiasm as Howe did; where Howe viewed this as a potential long-term project, Hackett viewed this as a short-term collaboration, and (on the surface at least) it really seems like the main driver for his participation in this project was that his last couple of albums (Bay of Kings and Till We Have Faces) hadn't sold very well.

Very predictably, this setup didn't work out so well. Howe and Hackett never really got on the same page creatively, and anybody hoping for any quality interplay between two of the giants of 70s prog guitar will be extremely disappointed. The guitar playing on this album (rather predictably) isn't so much interplay as it is the two sides taking turns, with one guitarist at any point either dropping from the mix or acting as a synthesizer mimic. Furthermore, while there are some stretches where it's clear which guitarist is currently playing a given part, there are long stretches where both Howe and Hackett disappear behind the wall of generic arena rock they've put up for themselves. Furthermore, even when the parts clearly belong to one or the other, the effect is to call up a nostalgia for when the technique on display was used in a better song. It should also be noted that any parts clearly recognizable as Hackett basically discard all of the advances and experimentation from Faces; it's pretty clear to me that Hackett didn't put a tremendous amount of himself into this project.

The album's big hit was the opening "When the Heart Rules the Mind," but aside from the mildly promising opening (with a nice part clearly from Howe), the track is mostly generic mid-tempo 80s arena rock of the worst kind, and it's only notable for somebody interested in collecting every spare Howe and Hackett lick ever recorded. Much better is the following track, "The Hunter," written by producer Geoff Downes (an aside; if Howe's main drive for leaving Asia was that he didn't like the ratio of keyboards to guitars, then why would he invite Asia's keyboardist to produce this album? Of all the peripheral details of this album, this one still confuses me the most); aside from a pretty decent and compact verse melody, as well as a nice build into the various climaxes ("...only the hunter ... only the hunter ... SURVIVES!!!"), it also has the album's most blatant bit of nostalgia thanks to Howe breaking out his "Your Move" guitar approach in the verses. The song isn't anywhere near great, but it's mildly decent, and that makes for a relative highlight.

The best tracks on here sound the least like the typical material of the album. "Sketches in the Sun" is a solo piece from Howe, with him playing a duet with himself on electric guitar, and it's a delightful use of 2:33 that would have sounded great on one of his solo albums. Of the various "regular" songs, "Toe the Line" is easily the best; the song is a model of restraint in its morph from an acoustic ballad into a slightly louder number, and Howe's brief snippet of slide parts in the last minute is quite lovely. I'm not really sure what role Hackett plays in the song, but whatever.

The other six tracks are absolutely atrocious. The Hackett match to "Sketches in the Sun," entitled "Hackett to Bits" (yup, he's even reusing puns from previous song titles), is a vile bastardization of "Please Don't Touch," but it's still probably the best of the remaining material. The sung tracks might all have different melodies, but they're all built around the same basic formula; mid-tempo arena rock built around disappointingly generic guitar (with occasional bits of individual personality coming through), goofy guitar synths, plodding drumming, and those awful vocals. Oh, those awful vocals. With a better vocalist, some of this material might have been salvagable, but there is no better vocalist to be found.

Anyway, this band wasn't long for the world, and it's just as well. Try and find the best two or three tracks, but stay far away from the rest of this. This isn't the worst project Steve Howe was ever a part of (at the least, it's a lot shorter than Union, and Howe's involvement in that album is much less than his involvement here), but it is probably the worst project Steve Hackett was ever a part of, and that says something.

tarkus1980 | 1/5 |

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