Steve Hackett - Beyond the Shrouded Horizon

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On the heels of Hackett’s live CD capturing his 2010 tour, he’s released a new studio CD.  To be fair, I’ve set aside any fondness for the “old” Genesis days when evaluating this, his 20th or so solo release.

The CD begins with a sinister, earthly guitar growl, strangely augmented by a dramatic synth.  This is just the intro to a heavy beat, synth driven concoction of I’m not sure what to feature Hackett’s fine guitar work, which then yields to a Midlake toned Brit-folk vocals that sing of Loch Lomond.  It’s a winning tone, and it’s somewhat disappointing that this tone was used throughout the CD.  Add a military snare, and the song changes direction, again, into a rollicking electric guitar solo… with an entirely different vocal treatment to keep it all together. 

Or does it?

In the hour or so of music provided, Hackett includes so many disparate elements, generally desired in “prog rock,” that it seems more of a “throw everything at it and see what sticks” approach.

“The Phoenix Flown” is a beautiful instrumental piece with, of course, a blazing guitar solo, that serves as much as a postlude to the opening “Loch Lomend” than a stand-alone song.  But it’s a good one. 

From the electric ear candy, we move to short acoustic guitar intro, entitled “Wanderlust,” to a fairly emotive “Til These Eyes,” sung by Hackett in a Greg Lake tone.  It succeeds, in part, due to its simplicity.  Surprisingly, guitar pyrotechnics are absent.

“Prairie Angel” captures Hackett’s beautiful slide guitar with a gorgeous melody, which strangely devolves into a pedestrian rock riff that annoys before it finally segues into “A Place Called Freedom.”  Other than the heavy-handed effects-enhanced refrain, this is a beautiful piece, which reclaims the murdered slide melody from “Prairie Angel.”   As a bonus, an enthusiastic, McCartney/Fireman “Sing the Changes” vocal section is a nice touch.

“Between the Sunset and the Coconut Palms” refrains from prog-rock overindulgence, and for that matter, Hackett’s fiery solos.  It’s a pretty song, and, though not filler, per se, it is certainly sleepier than most.

“Waking to Life” begins with a sitar, which, while very much a George Harrison fan, makes a sound that generally causes me to cringe.  Layer on top of that a female voice doctored to fit the Indian tone, and I can’t help but hear, oddly, a dance era Madonna.  It’s interesting.  But… 

While in the East, why not skip a few time zones to “Two Faces of Cairo.”  This song takes a bit too long (1:20) before it starts to take form.  Then it takes another 20 seconds before it gets to the guitar solo.  Inspiration from exotic locales I understand.  Great solo, as usual. But the song withers away like a desert mirage.  And, given the arid environment, the solo dissipates as well, leaving one thirsty for something more substantial.

Next is “Looking for Fantasy.”  A classical styled plodder.  Up next is “Summer’s Breath,” an acoustic intro…  Say, why can’t intros be part of the main song?  Just

 

asking.  … to “Catwalk.”  As it’s name might suggest, this is a rocker, think 80s era Robin Trower… tolerable riff, irrelevant lyrics and well intended vocal passion

 

that are placeholders until the guitar beast is finally released.

The CD closes with “Turn This Island Earth,” a 12 minute prog-opera of sorts, in that every dart was thrown at the board.  Some of it sticks… and some of it loses interest (tired riffs, orchestral sections).  It’s worth a listen, at least, and it’s likely to be regarded as the next “big thing” by Hackett fans. 

The next big thing for me, actually, is found on the bonus CD.  Unburdened by prog-rock tendencies, the “Four Winds” pseudo-suite are efficient and very enjoyable presentations of four guitar styles.  My favorite is “East,” as the tune brings a sense of humor.   The other cuts are entertaining, but the most enjoyable is Hackett’s cover of Jan Akkerman/Focus’ “Eruption,” which displays his mastery of control of guitar tone and technique.

Overall, Hackett fans should like this CD.  I like this CD.  But despite what seems to be a lot of effort, the disparate parts rarely build to an enjoyable whole.  None of the songs beg to be heard repeatedly, though many are enjoyable for guitar enthusiasts.

Recommended Songs: “Loch Lomond,” “The Phoenix Flown,” “A Place Called Freedom,” “Four Winds,” “Eruption: Tommy”

3 of 5 STARS

 

 

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