Cherry Red Records – Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 1053 – CD Time: 48:59
Available at: http://shop.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=5158
Tracks: 1) Another Life 2) Look Up 3) Poison Town 4) White Lines 5) Life In Reverse 6) Burnt Down Trees 7) Satellite 8) Forest 9) Magazine 10) Rain 11) Actors 12) Another Day, Another Night 13) Poison Town Reprise
It’s hard for me to believe that it was 10 years ago John Hackett released his last “electric” album Checking Out of London, a collaboration with lyricist Nick Clabburn, brother Steve Hackett, keyboardist Nick Magnus and guest vocalist Tony Patterson. COoL was largely an album of contemplation of modern realities with a fairly narrow and relatively calm emotional range (the song Ego & Id being the exception). Since COol John Hackett has released a collection of acoustic collaborations (see photo, I’m sure some are missing from my collection) and a live album with Nick Magnus in 2010, in addition to other session work with Magnus and others.
In contrast, Another Life exists in a darker realm, and is cathartic, but also treats the subject matter, at times, with sonic irony—where the music belies the lyrics, almost mocking the hopelessness or anger, reveling in the pain, getting to an even darker place perhaps in the hope to emerge in a better elsewhere. It’s not, however, necessarily a nihilist point of view. I also hesitate to say that Another Life is a concept album, but there is a tightly knit theme throughout.
The title track opens the album aggressively and builds to a primal scream of sorts. After listening to it a few times, I detected a structural pattern similar to the verse and refrain comparing it to In The Court of the Crimson King, including the point where John Hackett’s flute enters…coincidental or an homage? In Look Up “Everyone is changing…” and it is reminiscent of the sound of the change The Byrds sang of in the late 1960s (and distinctive opening chords like ELO’s 10538 Overture). The song is embedded with foreboding, but it has a driving energy of what I characterize as hope in the words “Look up and feel the light…” Poison Town is one of the examples of where the music seems to contradict the message of the lyrics, it has a sort of chill-vibe with the soft keyboards and wah-wah treatment of the guitar…kind of swaying and comforted in the darkness of thought. White Lines delves into frustration, with the Doppler-Effect sound and motion of vehicles speeding past on a highway, following the road into a vanished point in the distance…a destination never reached on an endless journey.
Life In Reverse on one hand is bleak, but there is a sense of optimism and beauty in the music—the chord shifts, layered chorus vocals and the gorgeous bridge from John Hackett’s flute (the passage “This rented room…This rented life…” with the chord bends and vocals is powerful). Another example of the sharp contrast of the message in the lyrics and music is Burnt Down Trees, as if one is mocking the other. The music is funky, rhythmic with ripping guitar solos from Steve Hackett, almost as if the music is laughing at reality while the streets burn; like the conditions are so bad, one needs comic relief or escapism. Ant Phillips is a guest instrumentalist on Satellite (12 string guitar and harpsichord). A song of conflicted feelings, opens with Steve Hackett on harmonica, with flowing chords and harmonies from the vocals and guitars. Stark truth and minimal sentimentality “Say how you feel…I just want to hear you try…” By the time Phillips’ rich sounding harpsichord enters, the difficulties of reality return—a very emotional piece, one that cannot be played loud enough to hear all the depth to the layers. Holding onto beauty in the face of despair.
Forest, in a way harkens back, in sound and instrumentation, to many of the songs on COoL. Reflection and self-examination, pondering how things could have gone, yet living with how they turned out. Magazine is the one piece on the album where Nick Magnus is credited as a songwriter along with Hackett and Clabburn. It’s another in the canon of gentle and contemplative songs, somewhat like the early instrumental piece by brother Steve Hammer In The Sand, although it passes through a couple of grander orchestral codas. Rain is perhaps a relationship gone bad (the actual inspiration could be completely different!) and in this the music and lyrics are aligned—the twisting sadness of the minor chords and the forceful vocal refrain, punctuated by Steve’s sustained growling solos.
There was something about Actors that sounded familiar to me…the lyrics seemed to have a parallel elsewhere, and sure enough, portions of the lyrics were used in the Squackett (Steve Hackett and Chris Squire) song Divided Self (a marvelous song, by the way—lyrics also by Clabburn). It’s a song of internal conflict—“Two tongues speaking in my head…” with a curious I Am The Walrus-esque link in the middle before the first guitar solo and vocal choruses. Another Day, Another Night has some sounds of hope with its upbeat rhythm and instrumentation, and is where the message is delivered to whatever is causing the feelings of darkness to move on—kind of an ultimatum with signs of optimism.
And then…the Poison Town Reprise…and a bit of the darkness returns.
Fear not the subject, just get lost in the music—I certainly have…as I click REPLAY.
InsideOut – 0505630 – http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Extended Version 2 CD with hardbound booklet with lyrics, credits and photos
(Also available on vinyl): http://www.hackettsongs.com/
CD 1: 1) Loch Lomond; 2) The Phoenix Flown; 3) Wanderlust; 4) Til These Eyes; 5) Prairie Angel; 6) A Place Called Freedom; 7) Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms; 8) Waking To Life; 9) Two Faces Of Cairo; 10) Looking For Fantasy; 11) Summer’s Breath; 12) Catwalk; 13) Turn This Island Earth
CD 2 (Limited Edition Bonus): 1) Four Winds: North; 2) Four Winds: South; 3) Four Winds: East; 4) Four Winds: West; 5) Pieds En L’Air; 6) She Said Maybe; 7) Enter The Night; 8) Eruption: Tommy; 9) Reconditioned Nightmare
Released in the Fall of 2011, “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” is an album that has been in steady rotation in my music room and on my iPod since that time, but I wanted to have some time to better absorb the album before writing about it.
Since the release of his last introspective album, “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth”, there have been many changes in Steve Hackett’s life, he has married his collaborator/partner Jo [Lehmann] Hackett, gotten the rights back to his recording studio as well as his musical works. My impression is that “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth” is a deeply personal work and somewhat a reaction to his divorce during that period. “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” [BtSH] is a departure from those inward themes and seems to be more outward looking, explorations and is a journey of discovery and reinvention that Hackett has been known for over his career. Hackett doesn’t stay still, musically for too long, although his work is immediately identifiable—a blend of the familiar along with the new. I wouldn’t necessarily label “BtSH” a concept album, but the pieces are thematically linked.
Aside from his roots being dipped in the blues, Hackett has always been an experimenter with sounds, effect & guitar techniques (he is credited with the fretboard “tapping” style he first introduced on the Genesis album “Nursery Cryme”). It has also been written that prior to his audition for Genesis, SH was preparing, not by playing songs of the day, but exploring new sounds with his guitar, amp and equipment.
SH has released nearly 40 studio and live albums since his departure from the band Genesis in 1977. Sadly, many still associate his musical identity largely with his work with Genesis (though his work with them was an essential part of their output from 1971 through 1977). Hackett, however, has had a rich solo career delving into many genres of music: electric and acoustic, blues, progressive rock, classical and including eastern Europe to the Middle and Far Eastern musical influences. He was also one of the first rock artists to release an “unplugged” album, “Bay Of Kings”, in 1983 (leaving his then label, Charisma Records, to do it). The music press has labeled some of his work as more heavily produced or commercial progressive rock (and was quite successful on the Billboard Charts), like the 1986 eponymous album “GTR” with Steve Howe, Max Bacon, Phil Spalding and Jonathan Mover (produced by Geoff Downes). He has collaborated with a broad range of artists: his brother John Hackett, Nick Magnus, John Wetton, Ian McDonald, Djabe, Chris Squire, Julian Colbeck, Anthony Phillips (and I have left many names off this rather short “long” list), and his current live band including: Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann and Rob Townsend.
Since his first solo work from 1975 (while still with Genesis), “Voyage of the Acolyte”, each album has included an inventive range of sounds and emotions from the most tender to the ferocious and dark. More recently, keyboardist Roger King has been a close collaborator, co-songwriter, and technical advisor with Hackett. Jo [Lehmann] Hackett also co-wrote some songs on SH’s previous album “OOTTM”, but for “BtSH” most of the songs are written by the trio of SH, RK & JH with two song credits added for Steve Howe and Jonathan Mover.
In many respects this album and back to his albums including “Dark Town” from 1999, have a strong cinematic quality—very visual and punctuated with scene and mood changes and transitional links between pieces. Many of the breaks and tempo changes during a given song are similar to cuts in a film, shifting from broad to intimate scenes (from full orchestra to lone nylon guitar). The contrasts throughout the album (to heighten dramatic effect) are not unlike those techniques used by Robert Fripp et al in many earlier King Crimson’s albums, up to the album “Red”.
“Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” is a journey (but there is a sense of a shifting timeline and locations). The album opens with a broad electric anthem, “Loch Lomond” (the largest freshwater lake in Great Britain, north of Glasgow, Scotland). It appears to be a departure, leaving the old behind to seek the new. There are alternating sections of fierce electric guitar choruses and acoustic accompaniment during the verses that documents the journey outward. The next two pieces “The Phoenix Flown” and “Wanderlust” serve as first a majestic transport to the next destination with an acoustic six-string pause before the next piece.
“Til These Eyes”, I think, is one of the most beautiful ballads that Hackett & Co. has ever recorded. It has a sense of reflective melancholy. It is a song of a mature voice and clearly speaks from a life of experience. SH’s vocals are sung in a low (almost weary) register and are well suited with the symbolism of the lyrics and accompanying music. It has the feeling of a ship’s captain, reviewing his life in a logbook, mulling over the mistakes, the losses and what is sought upon arrival at the ultimate destination: “…til these eyes have seen love.”
The journey continues and is announced by the instrumental “Prairie Angel”. The piece begins with a first languid and then rhythmic electric guitar and then transitions to a raucous blues chorus (with SH playing harmonica) and this leads to a not entirely clear but distinct western destination, “A Place Called Freedom” and a love seen and sought. The original “Prairie Angel” electric guitar theme returns to close the song.
“Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms” is a lullaby of sorts, a dream while traveling into the night with an orchestral interlude reminiscent of the waves carrying the ship into the next port. “Waking To Life” is the arrival in a different land (and Amanda Lehmann sings vocals). The piece is a cross-fertilization of Middle and Far Eastern music influences (even a sense of a Bollywood production) with an expansive orchestra following an electric guitar solo. The closing instrumental passage and guitar solo appears to be homage to the 1978 piece “Please Don’t Touch”.
The ominous transitional flute introduction to the “Two Faces of Cairo” is reminiscent of John Hackett’s opening to “The Steppes” from the 1980 album “Defector” and then the scene is that of (and almost presages, given the time this album was recorded) the political upheaval of the recent Egyptian revolution. An ensemble of percussion beats out the protest and is accompanied by a searing guitar solo by SH with an intermingled orchestra. “Looking For Fantasy” seems to be another point of reflection from a different point of view and during another time, a Camelot of sorts.
“Summer’s Breath” is a nylon-stringed interlude with distant voices on the beach. Hackett has such a gift for expressing emotions through his guitar. This transitions into a moody and raucous blues piece, “Catwalk”, which recalls his album “Blues With A Feeling” from 1995. One section has a fret board tapping run and solo that just rips a hole in the shifting time window of the journey (louder is better here).
“Turn This Island Earth” is the result of the collaboration of the three main songwriters along with Howe and Mover. It is the portion of the album where the travel is science fiction. It is the broadest, most orchestral, and dramatic piece on the album. It is certainly taking cues from the days of GTR. There is a middle section following an orchestral catharsis that borrows the theme of “Leaving” from the album “Defector” before moving to a dreamy march section with vocals. The mood shifts in this piece are quite dramatic and the musical scenes are as broad as the distance traveled (even with a snippet of Greensleeves) as the journey closes.
Throughout the album, there is a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, extensive keyboards (with digital orchestral sampling), woodwinds and strong support from the rhythm section of the band. Unlike the last release (where the drums were digital samples) “BtSH” includes both digitally sampled and actual percussion by Gary O’Toole and Simon Phillips. The recording varies from broad to sharply compressed (heightening the scenes) and from densely layered to the intimacy of a single guitar (that sounds as if SH is playing in one’s room). It’s an exciting journey and I hope SH continues to record and tour, for many years to come.
The bonus CD includes an interesting collection tracks (and well worth the added expense, although the track “Eruption: Tommy” is dropped on the LP set). A four-part suite entitled “Four Winds” (North, East, South and West) co-written by Hackett and King (except part three by Hackett and Benedict Fenner). The fifth piece “Pieds En L’Air” is movement five of the Capriol Suite written by Peter Warlock in 1926 and beautifully played by the trio (as a quartet) of Dick Driver on double bass, Richard Stuart on cello and Christine Townsend on both violin and viola. From this piece, it is not difficult to hear where the flowing lyrical quality has influenced SH’s work, especially his acoustic guitar pieces. “She Said Maybe” by Hackett and King is a Jazz-like piece that (for me) recalls some of Allan Holdsworth’s or Jan Akkerman’s work, a steady rhythm section and musical improvisations by both Hackett on guitar and King on keyboards, both solo and together. “Enter The Night” is a vocal version of “Depth Charge” from the 1991 live album “Time Lapse”, but this appears to be a re-recording of the piece (credited to Hackett, King and Jo Hackett). It is difficult to pick a stand out in this second CD, but “Eruption: Tommy” (actually written by Tom Barlage of the band “Solution”, not Thijs Van Leer as credited) made famous by the Dutch band “Focus” on their 1971 “Focus II” album is an absolutely splendid cover of this work. The CD closes with a re-recording of “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare” from the 1981 album “Cured”, recast as “Reconditioned Nightmare”.
Note: This article will be published shortly at an online music and audio equipment-related e-zine.
From the recording of Loch Lomond: