(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
I don’t understand why people hate Steve Hackett’s vocals so much. No, he’s not a real strong singer and he doesn’t have much of a range but he really has a distinctive voice and he gets the most out of it in a variety of situations. I’ve heard folks put his voice down for so long and I never really agreed with them. Another one that really comes under a lot of denigration for his singing is Steve Howe. Now, I wouldn’t call these guys my favorite singers and it goes without saying that their guitar playing overshadows the vocals, but I find their voices to be quite enjoyable and they don’t detract at all from my listening pleasure. I think even Hackett himself has a self-consciousness about it, but he’s built up his courage over the years and has been singing lead quite a bit lately.
This one is a prime example. 11 of the 13 tracks have lead vocals from Steve, and I think all of them are pretty cool. I liked his last rock album, To Watch The Storms, a lot and this one may be slightly better. There’s no “Mechanical Bride” on here but I think this has a much more consistent flow to it. I also think it’s a bit more diverse. That’s something I’ve always liked about his solo albums. He’s not afraid to try out different situations and musical styles.
There are lots of compelling moments on here. The album kicks off with the heavy track “A Dark Night In Toytown” which features some fine sinister orchestral accompaniment. In fact, there are quite a few places on the album where the ‘Underworld Orchestra’ comes in as an integral part of the music. On “Waters Of The Wild” it seems like he takes a trip to India or somewhere in the Middle East with sitars and tables. This one has a melody that reminds me of the Beatles tune “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The tune “Set Your Compass” is a nice soft ballad, it’s songs like this that really display how good of a singer Hackett is. I’m sure lots of people would disagree with me on that, unfortunately.
I think “Down Street” is a continuation of the “Vampire” saga which began on the Defector album. He uses the same effect that lowers his voice. There’s really a lot going on in this one, some interesting accordion playing, lots of synths and weird vocal bits, the haunting orchestra, Hackett’s trademark harmonica and of course some killer (pun intended) lead guitar work. This one might get my vote as best cut on the album. It’s followed unconventionally by a really lighthearted piece “A Girl Called Linda”, which sounds like it should have been on To Watch The Storms. It has a feel that reminds me quite a bit of “Strutton Ground”, the leadoff track on that album. This has some nice flute work from Steve’s brother John.
Another really pretty and sophisticated track is “To A Close” which has a nice light acoustic guitar backdrop and airy vocal harmonies. The party is crashed by the crunchy guitars of the next track “Ego and Id”, one of the heavier tracks on the album. There’s some nice organ playing on here, not really sure if it’s from Roger King or Nick Magnus since both are credited with keyboards in the liner notes. Also there are some more nice lead guitar breaks on this one.
The next tune was kind of a shock at first. “Man In The Long Black Coat” is a Bob Dylan cover. It starts out with the sound of crickets in a field, a lonely dobro and harmonica come in and it sounds like a country and western tune. Steve’s vocals on here sound like a cross between Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and Tom Petty. I thought I had recognized this song when I first heard it but I’m not really a big Dylan follower. It turns out this song was done previously by Emerson, Lake and Palmer on their In The Hot Seat album….very interesting.
“Wolfwork” is another one with a dark feel, and also has the integrated orchestral parts. I like the theme of this one, it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. Steve uses a variety of vocal styles and effects on this track. I still keep shaking my head why not many people appreciate his vocals…oh, well. There’s a nice strong drumbeat and some interesting percussion from Gary O’Toole. Next up, the short track “Why” is one of the more unique ones on the album and features a sort of bizarre Dixieland jazz feel. After the brief interlude, it’s time for some ballroom dancing with the track “She Moves In Memories” a really nice waltz-type number. I told you earlier that he goes all over the place with this album; I wasn’t lying. This instrumental is mostly orchestral in nature and shows off this side of his work very well.
“The Fundamentals Of Brainwashing” is a mysterious track with a mellow groove and some dreamy vocals. This is another one that sounds like it could have come from the To Watch The Storms album sessions. The groove slides right into the final track on the album. Maybe “Howl” was added on for the people that don’t like his vocals. This is a nice moody instrumental piece with a pulsating piano feel and some great lead guitar.
Even though I had seen several negative responses to this album when it was released, my first impression of it was very positive. After listening to it several times now, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s one of his best solo albums. The special edition contains some extra tracks but I haven’t heard that yet. Recently, many fans have become upset that Steve isn’t going to take part in the impending Genesis reunion but his solo career is moving along very smoothly at this point and I can see why he wouldn’t want to suspend that.
(All Album Reviews by Windhawk)
(originally written for www.prog4you.com)
Steve Hackett. Almost 40 years as a household name in the music biz, with a discography of close to 60 albums produced in that time. What does he have to offer this time around? Diversity is a key word to describe Hackett's latest release. Hackett's solo releases have for the most part been adventurous affairs; but this release is maybe even more adventurous than his previous releases. This is a musical adventure; with the number of tracks almost equaling the number of musical genres presented.
Brief descriptions of the tracks is as follows:
"A Dark Night In Toytown" - a typical Hackett prog-rock tune, slightly old-fashioned feel to it, but extremely catchy with a good drive. "Waters Of The Wild" - Excellent eastern/arabian-tinged ambient synth tune. "Set Your Compass" - Celtic-inspired folk with synth not unlike early 80s Clannad. "Down Street" - A story with a musical backdrop, ending in 4 minutes of musical exploration, dark art noir feel to this one. "A Girl Called Linda" - calm, simple tune with jazzy elements to it. "To A Close" - another Celtic-inspired tune, but with less synth. "Ego And Id" - proggish rocker with a really fat guitar riff on the verses. "Man In The Long Black Coat" - talk-like vocals with smooth guitar, reminds me a bit of Chris Rea. "Wolfwork" - an amalgam of orchestra and rock with a dark and somewhat sinister mood to it. "Why" - a short and excellent teaser in old-fashioned trad-jazz style. "She Moves In Memories" - orchestral piece, sounds like a good film score for a romantic drama from days long past. "The Fundamentals Of Brainwashing" - a piano-driven ballad with lush and grandiose chorus where layered vocals and synths are used to good effect. "Howl" - piano driven tune with sinister rhythms and creepy guitar playing, creating a brooding and sinister soundscape.
And yet the above descriptions doesn't really give enough credit to this albums diversity, as it is much more diversified than you get the impression of by reading the descriptions above. But at least it'll give you a general idea of what to expect.
But can an album this diversified be any good, you may wonder? To that, my answer is yes and no; depending on what your musical tastes are. If your musical tastes aren't very broad in nature; you may become somewhat disappointed with this release. But for those who have a liberal and open-minded approach to music; this release is definitely worth checking out.
Personal favorites: “A Dark Night In Toytown”, “Waters of the Wild”. Both of them excellent tracks. “Down Street” - the first half of that song is extremely well made and interesting; too bad that the second part doesn't continue in that fashion.
Reviewer: Olav Björnsen