The Night Siren ~ Steve Hackett (released 24 March 2017)
Finally tracked down the entire album to listen to – I’ve been waiting for this one, with a fair amount of reservation, and a little trepidation, it must be said, based on the teasers, “The Skeleton Gallery” particularly. Not that there’s anything wrong with it … I was just hoping that it wouldn’t be representative of the whole, and I’m glad to say, it’s not; I had feared a form of rock opera!
This is his 25th studio album and it has all the trademark Hackett features, i.e. keening guitar, a fusion of instruments from across the globe, strong textures and a fair amount of bombast, thankfully interspersed with adequate relief. There are no long proggie epics here and there are two instrumental tracks - “El Niño” and the epilogue, so to speak, which works beautifully to close the album. I'm happy to say there are enough instrumental passages within the body of the work for it to be a satisfying mix for my taste.
I can see why, from a conservative musical standpoint, this might be considered a bit of a mishmash, but I found myself getting to grips with (and quite enjoying) the unorthodox sonic pairings on offer. For the purposes of comparison, I prefer it to his previous release, Wolflight, but would take Beyond the Shrouded Horizon over this. It's a big meal though, and will take time to digest!
Mr Hackett’s been working on his voice; that’s the first thing that struck me, unless he’s using other means, but I don’t think that’s the case – could be mistaken. Never a strong vocalist, I still wouldn’t say he’s fantastic, but contrary to what one might expect, he seems to have got better with age (and coaching?), rather than having declined, added to which he's incorporated other lovely harmonies and voices.
“Behind the Smoke”, the opener makes a strong first impression, pulling out all the stops by contrast with the second,
“Martian Sea”, which one can take or leave IMHO - may need to listen again.
“Fifty Miles from the North Pole” on the other hand is pretty groovy, luminous, shimmering, speaks of curtains of light which the sounds evoke. Choral voices with some grounding dirty guitar … fab strings, didge?, drumming is prominent throughout and it sounded a little bit ‘pagan’ to me, kinda eerie, so it was gratifying to see something of that interpretation on the video clip which I found later.
“El Niño” is a turbulent piece, heavy on wailing guitar and persistent tribal drumming; I swear I could hear shades of War of the Worlds on this … “we saw tripods wading up the Thames” sort of thing ...
“The Other Side of the Wall” is more hymnal than ballad, I’d say … gorgeous big swathes of harmony and no bombast here.
“Anything But Love” … starts out with some acoustic Flamenco style work then moves into pop inspired rhyming and is finished off with the big guitar gun, almost getting blue … now this a hodgepodge of styles!
“Inca Terra” with Nad Sylvan on vocal duty … a song of bewitchment which moves from lilting into almost a dance and then goes back out again into charming light harmonies followed by didgeridoo and the ever present strings.
“In Another Life” is very much like a dance, loaded with Celtic influences and sound … goodness, the Uilleann Pipes (I’m assuming that’s what they are) are so mournful.
“The Skeleton Gallery” has an almost marching sound which is a recurring theme that comes through in Hackett’s work, and this album, quite a bit now that I think of it … lots of drama.
“West to East” is a grand sweeping song, heavily ‘orchestrated’ … I could imagine an audience swaying in unison and holding up their lighters.
“The Gift” … a sweet ending which leaves that man’s guitar notes singing in your ears.
The full album … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEtfAD1dD9M
This is lifted from Steve Hackett’s website …
"This latest waxing represents a bird's eye view of the world of a musical migrant ignoring borders and celebrating our common ancestry with a unity of spirit, featuring musicians, singers and instruments from all over the world. From territorial frontiers to walled-up gateways, boundaries often hold back the tide. But while the night siren wails, music breaches all defences. To quote Plato, 'When the music changes, the walls of the city shake'."
The album features: Steve Hackett (guitar & vocals), Roger King (keyboards & programming), Nad Sylvan (vocals on Inca Terra), Rob Townsend (all things wind), John Hackett (flute), Amanda Lehmann (vocals), Gary O'Toole (drums), and Benedict Fenner (additional keyboards & programming). Also featured are singers Kobi and Mira (Israeli and Palestinian), Nick D'Virgilio (drums) from the USA, Malik Mansurov (Tar) from Azerbaijan & Gulli Breim (drums & percussion) from Iceland. Additional musicians who add to the rich flavour of the album are Christine Townsend (violin & viola), Dick Driver (double bass), Troy Donockley (Celtic Uilleann) and Leslie Bennett (keyboards on The Gift).
“Fifty Miles from the North Pole” …