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Steve Hackett - To Watch The Storms CD (album) cover


Steve Hackett


Eclectic Prog

3.77 | 374 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars For all of Steve's tendencies in his career to dump a big pile of ideas into his albums, he had somehow, at this late point in his career, never made the LP equivalent of a big messy double album. He'd made a couple of long-ish "regular" albums with Guitar Noir and Dark Town, but neither of them were very messy in the classic sense, and while Genesis Revisited was very long and full of bizarre ideas, it also only contained 11 tracks and, ultimately, was just a bunch of Genesis covers. Well, while the "primary" release of this album was 13 tracks and about 58 minutes, there was also a simultaneous "special" release with 17 tracks (4 bonus tracks mixed into the regular) that lasts a whopping 71 minutes, and the bizarre mixture of ideas combined with the length definitely qualifies the album as a messy double album. And you know what, the format clearly suited him, because this was Hackett's best album since at least Defector.

What fascinates me the most about this album is how nonsensical the ordering of tracks is. Most albums try to make some sort of bold statement at either their beginning or their end, but this album starts and ends in a very casual, laid-back manner that one would normally expect to hear in the middle of an album, and elsewhere there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to how tracks are grouped together. It's almost as if Steve first determined which tracks he wanted to include on the album, then used a random number generator to determine the ordering of the material. This may sound like a complaint, but it's really not; the effect is so odd that it's actually quite delightful, and while this relative lack of framing is enough to help disqualify this as a potentially great album, it also, oddly enough, helps make it a more solidly good album. If that seems like a contradiction, then all the better.

Overall, for all of the messiness in the styles and sequencing, this is also a very even album, with only a few tracks that might be considered standouts but without anything that's unenjoyable. With a lot of thought, I can pick out a couple of tracks that I'd consider giving the title of best song, though I can name a few others that I like about as much. "Brand New" has some nice acoustic guitar in its brief verse, quickly builds into a nice anthemic chorus (with an odd watery effect on the vocals), then ends up seeing its instrumental parts go all sorts of places (before ending with the acoustic guitar parts), and the effect is really nice. I also really like the ballad "Rebecca," which has an odd tension in its seemingly mellow verse melodies, a tension that's at least somewhat released during the interesting instrumental break in the middle.

As I said, though, there are a lot of tracks that are quite likable. Some of them are really strange, but that should be expected on a Steve Hackett double album. "The Devil is an Englishman," a cover of a song by a guy named Thomas Dolby, features Steve speaking the lyrics in a low-pitched voice, but the effect is goofy rather than stupid this time, and I quite like the track, which almost sounds at times like something Prince would have done. Much stranger is the 6:40 "Mechanical Bride," which almost sounds like the 90s-00s King Crimson trying to play a cross between "21st Century Schizoid Man" and something from the Roxy Music album For Your Pleasure, and while it goes too long I don't especially mind it. Strangest and silliest of all, though, is "Marijuana Assasssin of Youth," which starts off sounding like a 40's Christmas carol, and then next thing you know it's turned into a medley of standards like "Wipeout," "Tequlia" and the theme to "Batman" before turning into a rocker about needing to grow up and give up rock music and drugs. It's totally hilarious and I couldn't imagine the album without it (it wasn't on the 13-track version, sadly).

The "normal" songs are quite nice on the whole as well. As I mentioned, the opening "Strutton Ground" is awfully laid back for an album opener, but it's very warm and pleasant and memorable, so I have no complaints. "Circus of Becoming" starts off with menacing rising organs, but it quickly changes into fun carnival music (with some nice guitar feedback as texture), eventually breaking into an all-too-brief anthemic guitar-led passage, before returning to the carnival, then returning to the anthemic, then ending on an uncertain note. "This World," sandwiched between "Brand New" and "Rebecca," doesn't quite impact me as much as those do, but I really like the "Please don't take this world from me" chorus, and the contrast between the quieter verses and the chorus, even if that's somewhat old hat for Steve, makes both parts seem better than they might actually be individually. Jumping to near the end of the album, there's a lovely throwback to the vibe of the gentler parts of Spectral Mornings in "Serpentine Song," which is basically a tender ballad at its core but turns into an atmospheric joyride in somewhat the same vein (more so in the last two minutes) as "The Virgin and the Gypsy," complete with busy flute parts from John Hackett (who doesn't appear on the rest of the album and hadn't been around for a while). It was actually the album closer in the original version (the special edition closes on an acoustic instrumental), but it definitely isn't an obvious choice for finishing an album.

There's quite a bit of other stuff on the album, from short instrumentals to atmospheric near- instrumentals (the slightly jazzy "Frozen Statues," the very Eastern-tinged "The Silk Road) to a swaying accordion-based number ("Come Away") to yet another fun blues exercise ("Fire Island"). These tracks, along with much of what came before, aren't anywhere near great, yet they work together to create a very enjoyable whole, and when an album can consistently hold my attention and make me feel pleasant over a long period of time, it's going to get a very good grade from me. If you're interested in getting into late-period Hackett, this is as reasonable a starting point as any, even if his albums in the next decade or so would somewhat surpass it.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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