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Steve Hackett - Highly Strung CD (album) cover


Steve Hackett

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4 stars One of the more underated albums ever put out by Steve. On "Highly Strung" Steve manages to perfectly blend his prog ("Group Therapy" and "Hackett To Bits")and pop ("Cell 151", "Camino Royale" and "Walking Through Walls") sensiblities together in perfect harmony, the addition of a "live" ryhtym section actually helped the music along. The first album to feature longtime (future Marillion drummer) Ian Mosley who does a stellar job on all of the songs. Charles
Report this review (#26162)
Posted Wednesday, March 31, 2004 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
Prog Folk
2 stars At least his wife did not forget the cover for this one - highly impressive. As for the music, we are not back to standard but this album fares so much better the previous one. Only one track ever stuck in my memory (and apparently in many other's) and was a concert regular: Camino Royale, which will soon give Steve's record company a name. But the climb back up (after such a disastrous album as Cured and a very unfavourable music industry) will be still long for he had fallen real hard after some excellent Spectral Mornings? And let's not forget this is the 80's and his former colleagues are not faring any better aesthetically at the time.
Report this review (#26163)
Posted Wednesday, March 31, 2004 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars After his career peak ("Spectral Mornings", "Defector"), HACKETT made the disappointing "Cured". Then followed this album, more elaborated and pleasant to listen. Compared to "Cured", this album is more fusion (group therapy), with often fast and complex drums parts. There are lots of eccentric guitar patterns. Songs are varied, and sometimes HACKETT tried the pop formula, but this is absolutely not convincing, again. The best track IMO is "India Rubber Man", where he is finally able to be serious and sentimental: this beautiful track consists in a nostalgic floating stream of keyboards, through which lead vocal is absolutely great! It sounds rather like on the marvelous "Defector"'s "Hammer in the Sand".

My rating: 3 1/2 stars

Report this review (#26164)
Posted Monday, July 12, 2004 | Review Permalink
Chris S
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars A much improved album on it's predecessor ' Cured'. Still not up there with his previous album but I have to agree with another reviewer in that he has a more balnced approach to the pop orientated songs and the more rockier numbers. Highlights are' Camino Royale', ' Walking thru Walls', ' Weightless' and ' Group Therapy'. Also he manages to have damage limitation as far as his vocals go.
Report this review (#26165)
Posted Tuesday, August 3, 2004 | Review Permalink
Cygnus X-2
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars After the severe disappointment that was Cured, Steve Hackett went back to the drawing board and came back with this vast improvement. Although it doesn't compare to the efforts before Cured, it certainly has its own strengths and weaknesses. Now there are a few differences in the lineup of this album from the lineup of the last album is this: Ian Mosley (of future Marillion fame) plays drums, unlike the sequenced and programmed drums of the last album and John Hackett is absent. Other than that, the core lineup of Hackett and Magnus remains. What you'll find on this album is a mixture of arena rock with some more experimental overtones, some great instrumental bits, and some great guitar stylings (as usual with Hackett).

The album opens with the rollicking Camino Royale, which from the opening seconds you can already hear the improvement over Cured. The drumming on this track is quick, complex, and intricate, with expansive and high energy guitar and some nicely paced keyboards. The entire song itself is better than essentially anything on Cured. Cell 151 is nothing but arena rock, complete with cheesy overblown vocals and a main beat that doesn't really go anywhere and doesn't really evolve. There's some good soloing, though, and a snippet reprisal of the main motif to Camino Royale. Always Somewhere Else is an instrumental piece that makes good use of the 7/8 time signature. Ian Mosley is incredible on this track, with fast paced and incredibly intricate drumming. Hackett is also incredible on this track with a breathtaking solo. Walking Through Walls is another extremely arena rock rooted song, with generic drumming and some dated keyboards, as well as some over the top vocals from Hackett (who has improved immensely since Cured).

Give it Away continues the arena rock feel, but I quite like the rhythm and the vocals on this track. It's very upbeat, and Hackett's guitar is great. Weightless yet again continues the same trend as the rest of the album, sounding similar to Walking Through Walls, although the drumming is more dynamic on this track. Group Therapy has some great bass and drum interplay as well as some intuitive Hackett soloing. Nick Magnus and Hackett also have a great keyboard/guitar duel in the middle, with some great soloing from Magnus. Some creative alternating 12/8 then 11/8 riffing comes in towards the end and really gives the song a great final kick. India Rubber Man is a gentle piano led piece that has some nice mutli layered Hackett vocals and some very somber orchestrations in the background. Hackett to Pieces has become a synonymous instrumental piece with Steve Hackett (which would often find a place in his medley). It begins with a reprisal of the Camino Royale main riff, but then becomes a wailing guitar piece that really ends the album on a high note (literally).

In the end, Highly Strung is a vast improvement over Cured, but it still pales in comparison with the previous four studio albums. Fans of Asia and other arena rock groups may find something to like about this album, and fans of Hackett will like this return to form. It's a good album, but by no means essential. 3/5.

Report this review (#84355)
Posted Thursday, July 20, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Highly Strung is no doubt a better album than Cured, but more than that, it is a fine prog-pop/rock album, far edgier than any of Genesis' 80's music (which I for the most part enjoy btw). This is a album you can listen to the whole way through, with killer instrumentals like Group Therapy and some really addictive parts with Camino Royale, Cell 151 and Walking Through Walls (whose 12" version on certain editions is dynamite). I would take Highly Strung over Please Don't Touch, though it does not quite step up to his other 70's albums.
Report this review (#127298)
Posted Sunday, July 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars With "Highly Strung" and its predecessor "Cured", it seemed at the time that Steve (or his record company) were trying to court a wider and more commercial audience. Whilst "Cured" was distinctly "Pop" orientated, "Highly Strung" had a more "Transatlantic Stadium Rock" feel about it. The trouble with this genre of music is that sometimes you end up with songs full of noise, but without much substance, and this was the case with some of the tracks on this album. However, there are just enough good tracks in here to rescue the album overall.

The album starts well enough with Camino Royale - a rousing rocker with a good hook in the chorus and enough of Steve's individuality to make it work well. Good Keyboard/synth work as well on this track.

Cell 151, released as a single, is another decent track with a powerful foreground beat hammered out by Ian Mosley on drums and Steve producing good riffs on guitar. The fact that Steve had employed Ian to replace the Linn drum machine on the previous album meant that there was more percussive energy to all the tracks on this album. The only critisism I have of this track is that it doesn't seem to know when to end (i.e it goes on a bit too long!).

"Always Somewhere Else" and "Walking through Walls" are 2 average tracks that suffer from the above mentioned lack of substance, the former is an instrumental and the latter is a lightweight rock number wich repeats the chorus too much to keep the listeners interest for long.

"Give it Away" is a much better offering - the best track on the first half of this album. This is a fast, energetic rythmic number, employing an interesting combination of harpsicord and electric guitar that builds up momentum as the song progresses. Great chorus and verse structure.

"Weightless" is another lightweight number (no pun intended!), in which Steve's Vocals are a bit too high in places.

"Group Therapy" is a great track - an instrumental that keeps shifting rythms and styles to keep it dymanic all the way through. Steve and Nick Magnus both play frenetically on this track, Steve on Guitar, Nick on Keyboards. At some points in the track it sounds as if Steve and Nick are trying to outplay each other, at other points they go out of their way to set each other up for a mini solo. In the middle of all this Ian Mosley fills any gaps (which you have to measure in milliseconds!) with a powerful beat that keeps the whole piece structured. Breathtaking!

After the last track the pace and sound mellows with probably the best track on the album. "India Rubber Man" is a warm, sentimental song with orchestral effects and piano. Steve's Harmonica in the break adds to the atmosphere of this beautifully composed piece.

The original album bows out with a rousing finale "Hackett to pieces" - an instrumental that allows Steve and Nick to set out the basic rythm, and Ian to thrash out a fast beat on drums.

The remaster comes with 3 extra tracks - 2 good, one poor.

Guitar boogie is Steve and friends thrashing out furious "boogie" on guitars and drums. You can tell from the energy in this piece that all involved are having a great time and you can't help liking this infectious piece.

The next is a 12 inch version of "Walking Through Walls". The original version was dull enough, and this 12 inch version is even more repetetive.

The remaster ends on a very high note - "Time lapse at Milton Keynes", one of Steve's best "Classical" guitar numbers. This piece starts in "Baroque" style, then takes in other classical influences as it moves gently along. This is tranquil, haunting and so soothing. Sit out under the stars and share a glass of wine with your partner when you listen to this one.

Overall, "Highly Strung" not the best of Steve's work, but there are a few gems in here that place it into 3 star territory.

Report this review (#127733)
Posted Friday, July 6, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars I have to agree with some of the people above, this is a very underrated album. It's a much better improvement from "Cured". It brings Steve's focus back to rock from the poppy border he was on in "Cured". Also, having the Marillion man behind the kit is awesome. He does a really good job for Steve on here. My favorites are "Camino Royale", "Cell 151", "Group Therapy", and "Hackett to Pieces". "Group Therapy", specifically, is very proggy. It kinda sounds like an SNES song to me at parts. Overall, a very nice album from my favorite guitarist. 3.5 stars
Report this review (#136361)
Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2007 | Review Permalink
2 stars One thing was for sure : Steve couldn't release a weaker album than "Cured".

But "Highly Strung" is far from being a masterpiece. Actually, it is a typical album from the eighties. AOR rhythms and heavy drumming, like during "Cell 151" which also features some weak vocals. Not a great cocktail, I'm afraid. There are no big difference between this number and the poor "Genesis" production in those sad days.

Under these circumstances, the instrumental "Always Somewhere Else" is a small breeze of fresh air. It takes a while to really lift off (1'30"), but then turns into an upbeat tempo worthy of "Los Endos". But it will only be a short relief, since "Walking Through Walls" which immediately follows is just an awful disco-oriented track. The poorest of this work. Press next (or turn the vinyl).

Another disillusion is waiting for you. The AOR "Give It Away" is also difficult to bear. Same comment than for "Cell 151" and its poor vocals. But this aspect has never been Steve's strongest characteristics, right? "Weightless" just confirms this.

This album really combines the worse and the average to which "Group Therapy" belongs. More dynamic, this instrumental still features weird guitar and keyboard sounds. As if it was a live number. I am not fully convinced, but there are no other choice than hoping for some great tracks to come.

But the disappointment goes on with "India Rubber Man" : a short and very soft ballad about which there is nothing to write about.

The best two songs from this album are the opener and the closing number. The classic "Camino Royale" could have indicated a better album and shows some good signs. But to be honest, I have to say that it is not the first in the genre from Steve and the flavour of "Los Endos" is very much present at times. Even if vocals are featured here.

And the closing "Hackett To Pieces" is another pleasant instrumental featuring some good percussion work (almost ethnic).

This album is saved by three tracks. Just over twelve minutes of good music. A bit "short" for an album. Steve has not been cured yet.

Two stars.

Report this review (#159976)
Posted Sunday, January 27, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars All strung up

Highly Strung is actually one of the better of Steve Hackett's solo albums! It was an improvement over his previous album, Cured (which is not at all as bad as some people say in the first place!), and better than his incoherent first three albums albums. Compared to these earlier albums this one is more consistent. With the exception of the most recent Cured album, all previous Hackett solo albums employed other vocalists. On this album, Steve again handles all the vocals himself - and he is really good at it here! Hackett has a really good Rock voice that fits this music very well. The styles involved are Rock, Pop and Jazz-Rock/Fusion, blended in a very nice way. The Rock songs Camino Royale, Cell 151 and the Jazz-Rock/Fusion style Group Therapy and Always Somewhere Else are all excellent numbers. These are also the best tracks here together with the lovely piano ballad India Rubber Man. Cell 151 is similar to Every Day from the Spectral Mornings album.

The poppier songs on Highly Strung, such as Walking Through Walls and Weightless, on the other hand, would probably not have attracted my attention on their own. But they somehow work within the context of the other songs, making the overall impression of the album a very good one. India Rubber Man is a beautiful piano number with an excellent vocal from Steve. I often catch myself humming the melody of this song, even when I haven't heard this album for a long time! India Rubber Man is the only really quiet moment here where the listener can catch his breath for a while before the closer, Hackett To Pieces (not to be confused with Hackett To Bits from the GTR album). This last instrumental revisits some earlier themes, tying the album up neatly.

I am well aware that many Prog fans will find this album too Pop and be distracted by the 80's production. But I have a soft spot for this album's fusion of Rock, Pop, Jazz-Rock and Prog. The guitar work is amazing (as usual) and Nick Magnus' keyboard work is great as well. The drums are by Ian Mosley of Marillion fame. However, I must say that the drums are perhaps not the strongest link in the band here. There are indeed some parts where the drums are allowed to stretch out and be complex to great effect, but on other parts they are rather simple and not very elaborated. The drums on Walking Through Walls are the worst. There is also no acoustic instrumental this time, which I miss. But you can't have everything can you?

I know that I am in a minority here, but in my opinion, Highly Strung is a very underrated album that is actually one of Hackett's better albums!

Highly recommended!

Report this review (#184546)
Posted Friday, October 3, 2008 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
2 stars Initially I had a few reservations about hearing Hackett's 80's material, but after look through his discography I decided to go for it with this release due to inclusion of the excellent live track called Camino Royale.

First off I want to give a hand for Steve's vocal contribution. Although it might sometimes feel overproduced and lack the emotional touch I still think that he pulls it off quite nicely. The material and the production is what makes Highly Strung a lesser release for me. Let's face it, the pop-songs featured here are bad. Luckily there are a few instrumentals and rock-tracks that are good enough to keep this album from a complete disaster. It was actually a nice surprise considering that I had the lowest possible expectations before hearing this album.

Highly Strung is far from the excellence featured on Steve Hackett's '70s albums and that alone should be enough of a motivation for placing this release in a collectors/fans only category.

**** star songs: Camino Royale (5:25) Always Somewhere Else (3:57) Group Therapy (5:40) Hackett To Pieces (2:35)

*** star songs: Cell 151 (3:30) India Rubber Man (2:30)

** star songs: Walking Through Walls (3:45) Give It Away (4:05) Weightless (3:25)

Total rating: 3,18

Report this review (#254714)
Posted Monday, December 7, 2009 | Review Permalink
Prog-Folk Team
4 stars After surrendering to pop abandon on "Cured", STEVE HACKETT went back to his more standard mixed concoction with "Highly Strung". This should be a relief to those who explored no further than "Cured", but it is not a full fledged return to roots by any means.

The 1980s are firmly in tow but tracks like "Camino Royale", the surprise hit "Cell 151", "Always Somewhere Else" and "Hackett to Pieces" renew his rock credentials while perpetuating his melodic muse. The quotient of ambient ballads is reduced, but "Indian Rubber Man" would qualify. For those who did like "Cured", "Give it Away" is a sunny pop number with his usual rich acoustics and increasingly confident vocals, with a particularly fine middle section, and "Weightless" perpetuates his "Picture Postcard" persona. Personally, I enjoy these, but many might turn away.

Another consistent disk that showcases the man's broad interests, "Highly Strung" might make one nervous about the future of prog, but it's nothing a chill pill and an ear for good music couldn't overcome.

Report this review (#258973)
Posted Saturday, January 2, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars I would have to say that "Highly Strung" is my favorite recording by Steve Hackett. He does more solo guitar work on this than on any of his previous releases.

"Camino Royale" has a good catchy guitar riff that Steve uses more than once. It is cool and original as aways.

"Cell 151" is like a mini overture at the end of the song. Steve does some interesting stuff here.

I think I like "Always Somewhere Else" about the best. It put me to mind of Jeff Beck quite a bit. Steve played some cool ideas here. The way he meshed everything together was great!

I also liked "Walking Through Walls." Steve is not a bad singer if he gets the right song. This was it.

"Give it Away" wasn't a bad song either. It had some good moments.

"Weightless" was dreamy and visual. Steve also sung here. It was pleasing to the ears.

"Group Therapy" was killer. I liked the first part of the tune so much I learned it note for note right off the record. I thought those lead runs were awesome! The part I didn't care for was the middle where Steve and Nick Magnus were playing off of each other. Steve did some good licks, but some of them weren't that good. He just doesn't solo as good as a Satriani or a Vai or some of the other guitar greats. Nick Magnus blew him away. I wished Steve would have put more thought into his solo than he did.

I couldn't get into "India Rubber Man" at all. It was one of those songs that you are continually looking at your watch and wondering how long you have to endure it.

On the other hand, "Hackett to Pieces" was a killer tune! This time everything was together. No weak licks. Pure prog!.

I would have to say overall this is not a bad effort, but I can't say it would be an excellent addition to your collection. it is good, but not essential, so I give it 3 stars.

Report this review (#278188)
Posted Friday, April 16, 2010 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
2 stars Well, I´m happy that I´m getting to know Steve hackett´s 80´s albums now. If I got them at the time probably I´d be quite disappointed. In hindsight, however, I understand the rut most prog acts were stuck in and they had to do something to save their careers from total oblivion. And Hackett did try hard. He hasn´t really forsaken his prog roots while he worked a much more poppier material since Cured. On Highly Strung he still delivers that hybrid style of music, if I can call it that: half prog, half pop. Only this time he jumped into the techno-pop wagon.

As expected, there is some nice material, and even some very strong tunes here and there (like the opener Casino Royale). Nice melodies and all, ok. Some really bad songs too (Walking Through Walls is definitly one). But the worst thing about this CD is the cheesy 80´s synth sound and the drum machines. They are all over the place and it´s sad to hear such talented guy like Nick Magnus playing this way... The guitar is a little subdue in several parts here, but is sitll very good anyway. No acoustic pieces this time, making Highly Strung sound more ´modern´ (for its day) and coherent in its premise. Hackett´s new found vocal prowness works again in his favor and he shows to be a very good singer after all (while old band mates Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford surely aren´t). Not bad for a guy who never even sang backing vocals while on Genesis!

In the end a quite interesting, if dated, album. Not amonhg Hackett´s best stuff for sure, but has its moments. If you like his guitar playing then you should check it out, as long as you have his other essential works (meaning everything he did before Cured) and do not expect anything too great. Rating: 2.5 stars.

Report this review (#302834)
Posted Friday, October 8, 2010 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars More charismatic, then no more Charisma

"Highly strung" may be slightly longer than the previous "Cured", but at under 35 minutes the album still offers a pretty miserly amount of material. Once again, Steve seems to be more concerned with keeping the releases coming, than on spending sufficient time on them to come up with something truly exceptional. This would be his final album for Charisma records, so perhaps it can be seen as a contractual obligation release.

On the plus side, Steve retains the services of keyboard player Nick Magnus, while calling upon future Marillion member Ian Mosley to contribute drums. The line up is rounded out by three other performers, including John Ackock on keyboards. Hackett rather ill-advisedly once again retains vocal duties.

Another positive is that here Steve tempers the pop influences which drowned "Cured" with a more creative approach on some of the tracks. The opening bars of "Camino royale" are actually rather old Genesis like, with Banks style organ and Hackett's trademark guitar. The vocals are adequate but no more, had a guest singer been brought in this and other songs might have been transformed. Depending on the version of the album you have, the minor hit single "Cell 151" will either be the edited version or the full 6˝ minute track. The long version is by far the better, as it features a wonderfully eclectic instrumental passage.

"Always somewhere else" appears to borrow from Genesis instrumentals such as "Los Endos" and "Cinema show", and as such makes for one of the album's highlights. "Walking through walls" on the other hand reverts to the prosaic pop rock of "Cured".

The five tracks which made up the second side of the album when it was first released are not generally as strong as those on side one. The pop influences remain to the fore for the rather echoey "Give it away" and the echo box is left switched on for the equally banal "Weightless". While the instrumental "Group therapy" at least explores a more adventurous direction, it is at best an orthodox but rather anonymous guitar led improvisation.

"India Rubber man" is a rather strange short song which finds Steve actually delivering a touchingly good vocal. The strength of the song lies in its simplicity. The album closes with the appallingly named "Hackett to pieces", a guitar piece which Steve would resurrect on the "GTR" album a few years later.

In all, a much improved album when compared to its predecessor, but still something of a parsons egg in the Hackett discography. There is certainly plenty to enjoy here, but I can't help but feel that with a bit more time and effort, a number of the tracks here could have been developed into genuine Steve Hackett masterpieces.

The remastered CD version includes 3 bonus tracks, the brief "Nutrocker" type fun number "Guitar boogie", a single edit of "Walking through walls" (which is longer than the album version!) and "Time Lapse In Milton Keynes", a pleasant solo acoustic guitar spot.

Report this review (#306205)
Posted Saturday, October 23, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars One of his more consistant albums, even if the highs aren't as high as some of his best songs (no "Every Day", "Virgin and the Gypsy" or 'Narnia" here.) Every track has something of interest, whether it's a memorable melody and lyric ("only the fool learns to get through" from "Camino Royale"), an odd drum sound or production choice ("Cell 151", "Walking Through Walls"), or just great band interplay ("Camino Royale", "Group Therapy", "Hackett To Pieces.") There is actually some developement in the guitar and keyboard technique with this album, and Steve Hackett and Nick Magnus display their ever-growing skill in the very fusiony "Group Therepy", and Steve really tears things up in the aptly titled closer. "Always Somewhere Else" also contains one of the best examples of his ability to transpose emotion into pure notes. To lighten things up, instead of wowing us with his classical abilities a la "A Cradle of Swans" this time around, there is an introspective piano/vocal musing in "India Rubber Man", which is pretty unique and fits Steve's voice very well. If you already have his first few albums and are craving more early Hackett, this very consistant effort is highly recommended.
Report this review (#534030)
Posted Monday, September 26, 2011 | Review Permalink
3 stars This album isn't really that much better than Cured, but at least it sounds finished. This time around, Steve actually bothered to put together a full band around himself, with actual drums and everything; there's no chance of confusing the material of this album with demos. It also helps that Steve clearly put in a lot of practice over the previous year towards improving his singing; he's nothing great, but he sounds competent and self-assured, which is a big step in the right direction (even if his choices in how to apply his vocals don't thrill me). This album also shows a clear new direction for Steve, one that at least had some potential; the music is based in synth pop, but it's synth pop with some power, some variance in mood, and some guitar work that definitely has its own personality. The album, largely courtesy of the three instrumentals, but also from some of the instrumental breaks in the songs with vocals, shows Steve trying to present himself as sort of a bridge between past values and contemporary values, and this is definitely the kind of general approach I'd like to see from Steve Hackett.

It's too bad, then, that a large chunk of the album really isn't that good. The first two instrumentals are a letdown on the whole (the third, "Hackett to Pieces," is basically just a reprise of ideas from earlier in the album); they each have some nice guitar work, of course, and they have multiple ideas combined with each other, but these are pieces where I hear a lot less in the way of inspiration and atmosphere than I've gotten used to with Hackett instrumentals. For all of the craft and professionalism contained within these, I end up treating them as muzak, and that's not a label I like to attach to music from Hackett. The synths get pretty overbearing, too, especially in "Group Therapy." It's a shame that Steve didn't even bother to throw on an acoustic piece for good measure.

The actual songs have some low points among them, too. "Give it Away" is mediocre even by the standards of faceless early 80s up-tempo synth pop; there's a decent simple guitar lick buried in there, but even that isn't notable compared to the sorts of things Steve had come up with already. "Weightless" is a slow number that might be a little bit better, but there are no hooks to speak of (look, I don't want to judge Hackett by hooks if I can avoid it, but with this kind of music that's the main positive criteria, and he fails here by those standards), and the song makes no impression other than "yup, those are a lot of synths and I don't know where the guitar is."

Fortunately, the other four songs are quite good. I will admit, it's kinda hard for me to make a strong defense for "Walking Through Walls" when I don't like either of the tracks that come after it, but even if it's driven forward by the most primitive of beats, it also has that great keyboard tone, and I genuinely like Steve's singing here. What can I say, when judging generic 80s tracks, sometimes things come down to relatively minor details. Don't forget about the extended single version in the bonus tracks, either.

The opening "Camino Royale," as would be revealed years later, actually has a loose Genesis connection; it has its roots in a dream Steve had where Genesis was singing a song with this song's chorus. Mind you, the chorus is probably the worst part; "Only the fool learns to get through" strikes me as a silly phrase, and Steve's voice, on its own, isn't quite up to the task of giving the phrase any resonance. Then again, the music of the chorus (both the chord sequence and the vocal melody itself) is quite nice, and it makes for a good balance to the music of the rest of the song. The opening instrumental passage would have fit in perfectly on Yes' 90125 a year later, and I mean that as a compliment; the inspired (though clearly 80s) guitar playing, the strong keyboards (with tones hearkening back a few years) and the mildly tricky rhythms would feel perfectly at home next to "It Can Happen" or "Changes." The main portion of the song is fun, too, with Steve putting his vocals in a very low register as he sings over a weirdly atmospheric bit that has tinges of Latin and jazz rhythms without any of those individual influences dominating. For what it's worth, Steve once went on record as saying this is his best song, and while I don't quite agree with this, I can see the argument.

The other two tracks couldn't really be much more different, but they're each quite nice. "Cell 151" is borderline epic as far as conventional synth pop goes; the song is dominated by the slow pounding beat, but Steve's vocals provide an atmosphere of desperation not really found in other songs of his, and he does a better job of weaving his guitar in with the synths here than on other tracks on the album. Plus, I rather like the extended instrumental coda (which, granted, largely borrows ideas from "Camino Royale"); there's definitely more drive and power here than in the purely instrumental tracks. And kudos to Steve for managing to get a minor hit single out of this; for all of the elements that don't jump out of their way to make the track accessible to a large audience, the track still works as a pop song.

And finally, there's a lovely gem tucked into the second half, the quiet, borderline ambient, blink-and-you-might-miss-it "India Rubber Man." Fans of Steve looking for a connection back to his 70s work will find comfort here; the quiet, gentle atmosphere of so much of Spectral Mornings is on full display here, thanks to the way Steve's vocals are muffled and the way the keyboards are layered on top of them. Plus, Steve breaks out his harmonica once again, and the effect is magical in much the same way that, say, the harmonica bits in "Cabinessence" (yup, the Beach Boys song) were magical.

Basically, there's about half of a really good album on here, and about half of a pretty bad one too. I slightly lean in a positive direction when putting all of them on the ledger, if only because the instrumental tracks from the worse half are completely listenable, but I definitely can't give this a strong recommendation. If you can get the best tracks from here without getting the entire album, try to do so.

Report this review (#916005)
Posted Tuesday, February 19, 2013 | Review Permalink
3 stars Why do I have to rate this three stars... Why do I have to rate this three stars... Why do I have to rate this three stars...

Wow, I mean, this could have been one monster of an album. As it is, it's still a great entry and, in my not so humble opinion, ranks as one of Steve Hackett's best albums. But didn't he 'proofread' or, at the very least, get the inkling that maybe, just maybe, some of the 'vocals' on this album needed 'improving'?

I very much enjoy his singing. His vocals are very sincere and heartfelt. But sometimes he delivers a very weak vocal.

Now this album ain't what you would necessarily call full on 'prog', it's sort of a mongrel mix, with almost half the album being progressive rock instrumentation, with three intrumentals and two songs that are half instrumental (like the Genesis SONG Abacab, the second half is all intrumental). The remaining four and two-halves seems dedicated to 'stadium-rock' or the like, which was popular at the time.

'Give it away' - wow, this sounds JUST LIKE Boston, complete with Tom Scholz style guitar and Steve's vocals even sound a bit Brad Delp. Sure, we ain't talking about prog, I get that, but this is ONE BLISTERING rock n roll cut that would have made any AOR band mighty proud.

'Wieghtless' - this is a far more laid back song and feels nice. I don't know exactly what to compare it to... it could be a complex ballad for an AOR band or someone like 10 CC, but I just know it's really nice...

'Cell 151' - sadly, this is the closest thing Steve ever got to a 'hit', It'd have been great if he'd had a few hit singles. The best things about this song are the second half full of excellent, progressive rock instrumentation (including a brief snippet of what would become 'Matilda Smith Williams') and Steve's dedicated vocal delivery. The main part of the song is VERY MUCH like Trevor Rabin territory.

Then, there is of-course, the three instrumentals 'Hackett to pieces', 'Always somewhere else' and the best one, 'Group Therapy', all worthy songs, though not as hard-edged as, say, 'Please don't touch' or 'Slogans'.

Everything seems fine, so why oh why was I complaining before about giving this album three stars? A bunch of great rocking songs, progressive enough when it needs to be, top notch songwriting, surely it's worth at least a four.

Well, 'Walking through walls' is a fine, shuffling rocker' with insistent beat, good to sing along to the chorus, but the vocal is very weak and ruins the song. 'India rubber man' is a truly second rate track. The title might or might not be a reference to the famous Ritchie Havens song 'Indian rope man'.

The comes the most frustrating song 'Camino Royale'. It's not only the most progressive sounding vocal track here, with some mesmerising instrumental sections, but it's also THE MOST CATCHY. The chorus is dang infectious 'Only the fool / learns to get through' (I think that's what Steve says). But a rather weak and mumbled vocal delivery, and buried under instruments, ruins the thing, rather than shining and making it probably the best song on the album.

So, it's a semi-spoiled prog meets arena rock masterpiece. Three stars

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Posted Monday, December 2, 2013 | Review Permalink

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