Steve Hackett re-issue series – album reviews
Steve Hackett re-issue series (all Inside Out Records)
Released 25th February 2013
Even though his relatively short six year span in Genesis ended over 35 years ago, Steve Hackett is still oft referred to as the ‘ex-Genesis guitarist’; maybe a testament to the work he did with the band during their ‘classic’ era. Having recently re-emerged with a tribute to his past in the expansive Genesis Revisited II album, combined with an upcoming high profile tour from April to October, taking in Europe, the US, Japan and being bookended with stints in the UK (some of which are already sold out) the Hackett star is currently shining brightly.
At the end of February, Inside Out re-issued 7 of Steve Hackett’s solo albums to add to those remastered and re-issued back in 2005 and 2007; this time we get Til We Have Faces, Guitar Noir, Darktown, Feedback ’86, To Watch The Storms, Wild Orchids and the first Genesis Revisited album. The CDs are all packaged in 6 panel digipak sleeves and span a 21 year period from 1984 to 2005.
The earliest of the re-issues is Till We Have Faces from 1984. At the time quite a bold and daring release after several years of reasonable success both commercially and in the live arena with a regular band and a winning style. The move away from both a regular recording band and a shift of musical style into incorporating elements of the Brazilian musical culture might have been artistically challenging and fulfilling, but one which went down like the proverbial lead balloon with his fanbase and critics alike. Despite some more ‘traditional’ songs such as the single A Doll That’s Made In Japan, there was probably too much of a departure and experimentation in the album for fans to swallow (although Hackett fans should be used to the variety) – the bluesy Let Me Count The Ways for example, signalling some intent to explore other musical directions and styles.
It began a period where, after a solid start to his solo career, Hackett would find it more challenging to secure recording deals and his profile fell from ascendency. The 90’s was a period where his musical adventures switched from rock to blues to classic and nylon guitar, and it was with somewhat of a fanfare that the newly re-issued Guitar Noir album originally appeared in 1993 – his first rock effort for some time. Featuring a number of guest musicians, most notably Hugo Degenhardt on drums and Julian Colbeck on keyboards, it bears some if not all of the Hackett trademarks; searing guitar solos on the likes of Sierra Quemada and a new Hackett trend which saw him beginning to delve into more atmospheric pieces as he does on this album in In The Heart Of The City and Dark As The Grave. Similar themes and sounds which were to crop up again on Darktown from 1999 with its ominously threatening sleeve art, the sinister subject matter of some of its lyrical themes and its sales pitch of ‘a nightmare theme park of an album from a man truly possessed.’ Alongside the shock of the opening Omega Metallicus with Hackett’s guitar duelling with a drum and bass attack, the contribution of future collaborator and keyboardist Roger King started to have some impact. The melodic Hackett started to reappear in tracks like the lengthy Twice Around The Sun and the lovely guitar outro on Jane Austen’s Door. Darktown is the only album in this series or re-issues which contains some additional music. Of the three ‘new’ tracks actually recorded either side of the Darktown release, the easy listening Flame, with a tweak or two, could easily be covered on Richard Hawley’s next album. The other two tracks have their roots based in blues, with Coming Home To The Blues in particular having a real ’live’ feel to the recording. It’s easy to see how they didn’t really fit with the theme of the album but as Hackett’s comments in the sleeve notes prove (“I’m coming home to pay my respects boys”) together with his insistence on playing harmonica at any possible Genesis reunion, his roots and heart lie in this style – and there’s no escaping your roots.
The first of what might be seen as two ‘one offs’ in this collection of re-issues, Feedback86, was a short collection of curios from late 80’s collaborations with the likes of Brian May and featuring keyboardist Nick Magnus from his early solo days. With the variety of styles and number of guest vocalists, maybe the most rewarding track is the familiar comforting sound of the Hackett nylon guitar on Notre Dame Des Fleurs. Not a particularly fulfilling collection but more for the collectors and fans who like to piece together the full Hackett story and collect all the odds and ends from his collaborations, rather than the causal listener. 1996’s Genesis Revisited however, was certainly no collection of curios. It was and still is a full blown examination and reworking of some Genesis classics from the Hackett days and was recorded (and later toured in Japan) with a crack team including Genesis live recruit, drummer Chester Thompson. The aim to create what he called “the definitive Hackett versions” of some classic Genesis music resulted in some thunderingly epic takes on the likes of Watcher Of The Skies and Dance On A Volcano. The Royal Philharmonic join in on several tracks, most effectively on For Absent Friends and Firth Of Fifth with a chance for a fresh take on what is probably Hackett’s most famous guitar solo. The set also includes Deja Vu – a track unearthed from the days of the Genesis Selling England By The Pound period. Altogether much more experimental and dynamic than the recently released (and much more faithful to the originals) Genesis Revisited II, it was the encouraging reaction to this work that led the rejuvenated Hackett of the new millennium into including more Genesis material into his live set.
By the turn of the millennium, Hackett was firmly back on track with an electric and rock focus and with what was arguably some of his strongest material since the heady days of his early recordings.
To Watch The Storms from 2003 is typified by the quirky Englishness found back on 1978’s Please Don’t Touch. The stirring fairground carousel organ and searing guitar of Circus Of Becoming and a spirited version on Thomas Dolby’s The Devil Is An Englishman are early highlights. The beautifully delicate Serpentine Song with its perfect combination of pastoral sounds and visions became a regular live highlight, the recorded version featuring some exquisite flute playing from brother John Hackett; just a shame This World never made the live set; its gentle opening being transformed halfway as keyboards and a typical understated yet soaring Hackett guitar line take over. This album also saw the coming together of several musicians Hackett now regards as a band to rival the one he led back at the start of his solo days. Cap wearing wind instrumentalist (and Jason Gardiner lookalike) Rob Townsend, drummer Gary O’Toole and keyboardist/writer/arranger Roger King together with Hackett himself are a formidable unit in the only way a group can become when they record and play live together. The extended time available on the CD format also allowed more of the distinctive nylon strung guitar interludes to be included and even another blues in Fire Island.
The most recent of the re-issues, 2006’s Wild Orchid’s remains somewhat of a forgotten album. Rarely referenced when it comes to live performance, it sits very close to TWTS in its range of material, many pieces would have fit quite easily onto its predecessor while the likes of Down Street, with its deliberately hammy spoken vocal of the murky world which lies beneath our feet, and the insistent rush of A Dark Night In Toytown are straight from Darktown. The blues again get a look in with Blue Child and listeners have to wait until the final track for the acoustic piece Until The Last Butterfly. Again, a range of musical approaches are on display – orchestral accompaniment to several tracks comes from the Underworld Orchestra (a wind/string quintet) and shock of shocks, ‘Hackett does Dylan’ in what is actually quite a enjoyable take on Man In A Long Black Coat, giving it an almost spaghetti western soundtrack feel with the usual Hackett guitar interjections.
With his most recent album, Beyond The Shrouded Horizon, being regarded as one of his strongest in years; maybe one of, if not his best recording, it’s a good time to reappraise these mid period Hackett recordings and appreciate the significantly huge amount of music he has created – maybe finally leaving Genesis in the shade?