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Steve Hackett - The Night Siren CD (album) cover


Steve Hackett


Eclectic Prog

3.74 | 195 ratings

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4 stars One has to admit that legendary guitarist Steve Hackett has carved out quite a career, easily the most prolific and consistent of all the former Genesis maestros. Eschewing commercial fame and fortune, this consummate artist has always remained faithful and committed to a progressive rock experience defined by his unique and pioneering style. While there are a few technician-focused fans who would want an endless revamping of his classic Firth of Fifth solo, done in 100 different variations, he is the master of his own destiny and rightly so. Thus, all his solo albums have a linear core that is his undeniable muse which explains why this, his 25th studio album, fits perfectly in the grand Hackett scheme of things. What I really enjoy the most is his allegiance to a dedicated crew who understand his vision and craft, thus supplying the perfect platform for his compositions. Master keyboardist Roger King has been around for decades, applying dense symphonic sheen to each track, the powerful Gary O'Toole's drumming has also been around for quite a span. Wind man Rob Townsend applies all forms of flute, sax and such. Throw in past contributors Amanda Lehmann, Nick D'Virgilio, Ben Fenner, Nad Sylvan, Troy Donockley and a few newcomers and you get exactly what you expect: a diversified and entertaining set list that spans a wide swath of style and sound. On the other hand, I truly miss the exotic low end presence of the masterful Nick Beggs, perhaps one of the finest bass players on the planet. The biggest difference with "Wolflight" (seen by many critics as a very similar album) is that the tracks here seems to flow one into another with nary a whimper or doubt. This is especially obvious within the first bloc of 4 tracks.

Lest we forget, Steve also sparkles on acoustic, Spanish and nylon guitar, as witnessed by a few non-electric releases that form part and parcel of his vast body of work. The opener "Behind the Smoke" is a dizzying vortex of sound and fury, belted with those Kashmir-ian symphonic cascades that conjure Far Eastern images, welded by some whirling dervish pyrotechnics that only he can muster. Wispy, cloudy, opaque and at times blustery, this is a fine opening track and an outright jewel on its own. Slight deflection into a different zone, "Martian Sea" is also very ingenious, incorporating sinewy sitar-guitar noodlings that are awe-inspiring. The James Bond-ish twang of "Fifty Miles from the North Pole" is super cool, very mindful of Phil Manzanera's magical "Listen Now" album, a unique British form of pop-prog that is sadly very understated and yet highly interesting. The atmosphere is lush and dense, a brooding sense of foreboding and I daresay, danger that is ultimately quite thrilling. There is so much genial instrumental activity here: violin, didgeridoo, trumpet, choir voices and double bass. Steve launches a series of blistering bleeds, typical of his slow-hand style, a master of simple complexity (or is it complex simplicity?). The sparkling "El Nino" recalls certain themes that wink back at the Genesis days (see if you prog sleuths can pick 'em out), as well as that main theme in Jeff Wayne's classic War of the Worlds album, the disturbingly ominous orchestrations that instill a sense of dread. There is also a brazen classical lift that many will recognize. It's all very fun.

Another bend in the road takes the listener to "Other Side of the Wall", perhaps referring to a nostalgic revisit of a 'garden wall' that started this trespassed nursery cryme that sold England by the pound until the Lamb lied down on Broadway. I, perhaps contrary to other critics, found this simple, minimalist piece quite revealing and deeply engaging. Again this segues nicely into a pleasant frolic with the flamenco-tinged "Anything but Love", not really outright prog but this is a perennial Hackett trait. He actually plays harmonica quite well and his extended electric guitar solo adds the necessary fizz to make this sparkle in the rain.

"Inca Terra" is another major highlight, a perfectly constructed prog-rock epic that encapsulates the Hackett musical credo, offering a wide panorama of stylistic twists and turns , quirky vocal harmonics, immediate melodies that need little deciphering , a gentle pace and unforeseen evolution into the deepest progressive rock recesses. Kudos here to vocalist Nad Sylvan, who really shows his mettle, crafting a convincing body of sound. But when Steve unleashes his fiery guitar, the path becomes increasingly clear, the man is quite the legend.

Discovering traditional roots has always been a Hackett tradition, so "In Another Life" offers the Troy Donockley Celtic treatment on his Uilleann pipes, firmly allied with Steve's fluid and ripping guitar lead, this piece strangely sounding almost like a Mike Oldfield composition. Lots of ebb and flow, misty melancholia and cinematic atmosphere.

The windswept "In the Skeleton Gallery" revives the oft-quoted Kashmirian essence, blushed with those slightly Saharan orchestrations, fortified by a pummeling binary pulse and some bewildering wind instrument (clarinet, I believe) work from Rob Townsend. Sinewy, bold and comforting, the track takes the listener into the upper levels of imagery and sound detail. The second section goes in an altogether different realm, an odd marching military pace amid swirling strings and a hard rock denouement that does the trick. Hackett as his most creative and spectacular, taking risks and be damned.

The sweeping euphoria of "West to East" recalls the tormented symphonics of past jewels like "In Memoriam", loaded with colossal contrasts and bombastic expanses. In many ways, archetypal of what makes Hackett an original and dedicated artist, with his very own style and with little need to dilly-dally about. Roger King again shows off his remarkable composing and arranging. The rather upbeat Floydian style is a pure skill that really hits the mark.

The album draws to an end with "The Gift", an affectionate portrayal of the patented Hackett tone, all slippery and emotional. The master of sustain and thrill. And consistently so?. A thoroughly entertaining and professional work from the guitarist who needs no more accolades, "I know what I like" and I choose to like it a lot.

4 blaring eves

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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