1. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?
One of the greatest guitarists in the history of rock and a groundbreaker in the genre of progressive rock. Only David Gilmour is more imitated in the arena of progressive rock. So many guitarists in this field have tried to copy his licks, because he is the master when it comes to that eerie, mystical, signature sound that he creates. Often simulated, but never duplicated. You can tell this is the real thing the minute you hear the first licks from those strings. The listener and fan is welcomed back to the story as if it never took a break or you never got off the train.
I have been a fan since first hearing Steve’s signature riffs back on Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme, back when I was around 11 years old. I have been a fan in awe of his talents since then, and almost forty years later I awaited this new album and the opportunity to review it eagerly. Then, the daunting task of reviewing someone’s work that you have idolized finally sunk in after I received the demo. Only way to do this review is with absolute care.
I have met Steve on tour with GTR back in the 80s and attended one of his Metamorpheus tour shows in Seattle in 2005. He is second only to the guitar master Jimi Hendrix on my list of favorite rock guitarists, with Jimmy Page a close third.
This album is Steve’s latest rock album amongst a string of over 22 solo albums that span from 1975 to 2009. His catalog of albums is rich with multiple forms of rock, jazz and classical music. He has worked with a number of famous musicians which also span the range of musical genres.
His music is rich and completely enthralling to listen to and appreciate. There are hooks, melodies and riffs throughout his catalog of music which are easily recognizable and enjoyed. Others take time to appreciate and discover.
It is amazing to appreciate that much of this album was created and recorded in Steve’s living room. In the CD booklet inside cover Steve explains, “Recently the floorboards of the living room have had to withstand the full force of an entire album of screeching hot metal, along with a virtual Andalusian dance troupe, whirling dervishes and a whole platoon of sugar plum fairies.”
A line from Steve’s message in the inner cover of the CD booklet sums up the feeling behind this album very well. “Of course on this latest offering, whilst the lyrics are more personal, I’ve been running around with an axe or two, sharper than ever I’m afraid….bring me my Fernandes…my Black Beauty…let’s shove 50,000 volts down her and see how she sings as she comes steaming into the light!”
2. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?
1. Fire On The Moon – Opening synthesizer effects that sound like staring through a dark tunnel. Followed quickly by the sounds of a Jack in the Box being wound, (one of Steve’s favorite effects), as the lyrics reflect upon a once promising past of love and caring. Then the jack springs from the box, with the full orchestrated power of drum effects, Steve’s launching vocals, bass and synths that roar this fire to a blaze. Steve’s vocals, which have improved immeasurably from some of his earlier solo albums, laying the foundation of the lyrical story. More deliberate and softly stated with what sounds like regret streaming from his voice. The power of the drum – like sounds, bass, and synths on the orchestrated refrains providing fulfillment of that 50,000 volt effect.
Steve turns on the real power with his lead guitar. Chris Squire’s bolero rhythm bass is excellent. There is no way to dismiss the effects of a recent divorce on the influence of this song and album. A true fire on the moon. The lyrics reveal the message in this song, “my old adversary reappears.” “Still confronted by the many faces of Eve.” “No matter how I try to heal the injury.” The most powerful lyric in this song that hit home for me was the line: “Still the trophies line up on the wall.” “Pride that comes before the fall.” Until you go through something as dramatic as a divorce, especially with someone you have been in love with for many years, you cannot feel the same jack in the box feeling of losing it. The full power and measure of this song is immense. You can feel the effects of the strain in the vocals but more so in the guitar lunges, that open this album with a very strong lyric and musical statement. The journey has begun; sit back and hang on, the ride will get bumpy.
2. Nomads – Acoustic guitar, and the trademark sounds of a Hackett album all the way back to my favorite Blood on the Rooftops or maybe Horizons. Just wonderful. No one can compete with the power he delivers, especially when he is using an acoustic. It is the subtlety and the stillness that Steve lurks with his axe, be it wooden or electric. It grabs you straight away and never lets you go. The almost flamenco sound towards the end of the opening solo is fantastic. Then the melody and rhythm set as if a winding road appears before you as we ride to the “caverns, where the Gypsies go.” “They’re dancing through the firelight, whirling fast and slow.” You really can feel this music if you let it take you away.
“It’s a cry from the heart.” “It’s a crying soul.” This place must have allot of spiritual feeling for Steve, and when you are going through what he has been through you want to find things which are familiar and safe to escape. This song captures that passion and desire very well. The dancers clapping and stomping bring you into this world completely. The guitar solo is so powerful, especially when Steve picks up the electric and blends it so perfectly with the acoustic. The drum sounds, congas, and other effects make this one of my favorites on the album.
“We’re running and hiding like wolves from a pack.” “Nothing imagined need ever be lost, going from dust to dust.” Yes, “it’s a cry from the heart.”
3. Emerald and Ash – Eerie opening to this one with synth effects and soprano sax as the lyrics roll out “Sugarplum fairies on parade.” “The smiling dolls wield the sharpest blades.” The theme laid out before us. Anthony Phillips twelve string guitar parts are excellent and come and go like the positive mixed with the negative energy within this song. The violin adds magic to the overall soundscape. “Fingers turned to talons in my hair.” “She staked her claim to the lion’s share.” Beautiful music combined with razor sharp lyrics to examine the dichotomy of personalities which one person can share.
Steve’s launching electric really hammers home the power and mystical nature of the beast wrapped in beauty. The female backing vocals add to the power of the memory which hauntingly calls out a reminder. The knifing guitar riffs are strong enough to be felt. You are part of the story. You feel the plunge. The closing section of sad, almost movie soundtrack music finishes this one off perfectly.
4. Tubehead – After the last mix of good and bad, you need a good strong workout song to relieve the tension. This Hackett to Pieces – like song is perfect to exercise the demons or troubles you are faced with. It almost sounds like something he might have played to exercise with the guitar to forget the pain he was going through.
The revving guitar, synths, keys and drum effects really get this one running. Like taking a spin in a fast roadster or motorcycle to alleviate tension. You can imagine someone roaring through the woods or around multiple bends on a coastal road.
Memories of the effects of Rush’s Red Barchetta are everywhere for me.
Definitely will be a great roadside companion for my treks on the coast.
5. Sleepers – My favorite song on the album. That Foxtrot/Nursery Cryme era acoustic guitar is simply wonderful. I could listen to that all night. Reminds me of the Metamorpheus tour back in 2005. This and Emerald and Ash are the epics on the album. This is a mini epic in the spirit of Supper’s Ready. The same kind of twists and turns are evident.
I always love the epics, but this one is special. The violin, viola and acoustic blend and move so well, as if dancing. They surround the opening with such grace and majesty.
Piano – like keys and eerie guitar foretell the coming entry of the Sleepers. “Breathing in and out with the tide.” “Leaving the mantra of the world outside.” “Rising from a wave of helping hands.” The turn from the agony and pain to the warm security and caring of friends. We all need support when we are down. However, some are there to help and others have agendas of their own.
Nightmares before the dreams can begin again. Powerful drums, guitar and keys foreboding the darkness. “Night terrors make you scream.” “Dogs turned reptiles halloween.” “Might as well worship the Wizard of Oz.” Yeah and then those big bold strokes of guitar, with his brother John’s flute jumping in and out to add to the full mystical spectacle of the piece. The guitars on this one are new and with a different sound then I have heard on any of his albums before. Very different and otherworldly. Like that famous Seattle guitarist I mentioned in the intro. Stretching the limits of the guitar and adding new otherworldly sounds to its repertoire. Wish this section could last even longer. The mix of guitar textures is amazing and reminds you why this guy is head and tails above most other guitar players on the scene. He hasn’t lost anything. Still innovating. Now with the powerful vocals I think he has worked for years to perfect.
“Turning your dream around.” “Taking the reins again.” “Sun shining out of the rain.” “Taking a leap of faith.” Yes, you need faith to help you reach the other side of any nightmare. The keys and guitar that close this song are so soothing.
6. Ghost in the Glass – After the violent and wild ride of Sleepers, the listener needs a soft interlude. Steve provides it with wonderful soft, slow acoustic, accompanied by birds and keys, as if spring has sprung after a mighty long winter of nightmares. The jazzy opening is wonderful along with the fretless bass of Nick Beggs. Steve’s electric solo is wonderful supported by synths and keys. The axe sings beautifully on this instrumental that words could only distract.
7. Still Waters – “Still waters run deep.” “Smoke rising from beneath.” “White lightning in the heat.” More of those powerful loud guitar chords.” “Voodoo queen weaved her charms for free.” “But your cotton print dress worked its magic on me.” Nothing like a good powerful bluesy number to cement your place in rock history. Steve was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year with the rest of the band, but this song is further proof that he belongs there anyway. The guitar licks again are otherworldly. Not your traditional blues sounds, but an English, ‘Hackefied’ sound to it. Perfect distinction!
8. Last Train to Istanbul – How to end this magical journey of music? An intoxicating ride across the continent, (I like to dream of a peaceful desert, at night on a train). Drum effects that make you wish this one would never end. This one is second only to Sleepers. Hackett’s Kasmir. The sitar sounds, violin, guitar, soprano sax, flute, congas and all holds barred. As Steve says, everyone performing like “whirling dervishes” creating the effects and atmosphere of a train ride across Europe. Inspired by Turkish music Steve heard in Sarajevo. “The incandescent fires of spring, radiant against the vault of night.” “Lantern moon, a magic carpet ride.” Steve has a history of creating the perfect closer and he leaves no doubt here. Always remember to bring the listener back with dreams of the future.
3. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
I know it is difficult for the artist to understand the waiting we listeners do for something to come out of this magnitude. It is very difficult to wait for such incredible artistry and innovation. But artists like Steve and his peers make the wait worth every second, if you take the time to really appreciate all that has gone into the music they produce.
Remembering the tough journey Steve has been through recently only added to the wait for this magnificent album.
I have read other reviews that this album is not long enough for the wait we have had to endure. I say it’s perfect. Everyone always wants more, but in our fast paced lives do we take the time to really appreciate the full measure of an album anymore?
This is just one of those albums that needs to be taken in bites to truly be appreciated. Let the rest of the world be put on hold for a while as you sample the over 45 minutes of music, Steve and his ‘bandit crew’ have innovatively created here.
4. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?
Absolutely! One thing I do agree with in the reviews I have read is that this album deserves to be considered amongst Steve’s best solo albums. It has many of the key elements he included in such masterpieces as ‘Voyage’, Please Don’t Touch and Spectral Mornings.
I haven’t stopped listening to this album since I received it. Even though I am turning in this review I am still discovering pieces within the tracks that I missed before. It is a wonderful album and I hope only the beginning of the rest of a catalog of masterpieces Steve has yet to write and perform.
Rating: 10/10 – Absolute care and affection was taken with this magnificent album. Enjoy it with plenty of time to savor its many essences.
Reviewed by Prof on March 30th, 2010