“From Guitar To Guitarist In GTR” - Steve Hackett’s solo recordings reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Now that Steve has produced another album it seems that the time is ripe for a critique of his past albums during what has been a long and eventful solo career.
Voyage Of The Acolyte Charisma Records CAS 111 1975.
This was Steve’s first solo effort and it was recorded while he was still a member of Genesis. The album is based around the concepts embodied in the Tarot cards, hence titles like Ace Of Wands, and Hands Of The Priestess. It is a very adventurous album, with a wide range of musical styles from the paranoiac rock of A Tower Struck Down incorporating a wide range of sound effects, to the quiet elegiac beauty of Hands Of The Priestess. Perhaps my favourite track is The Hermit which sums up Steve’s character well. An excellent album which gained silver discs in the UK and Europe shortly after its release.
Please Don’t Touch Charisma Records CDS 4012 1978.
Steve took almost two years to complete his next solo album, having worked on some of the material while still in Genesis. The finished album was a fine example of Steve’s versatility, for it contains not only the acoustic and electric guitar work which is Steve’s trademark but also an early experiment with computer input adapted to music in the form of the track The Voice Of Necam. With a varied group of session musicians, Steve’s range grew to include a ballad; Hoping Love Will Last which, had it been chosen for a single release would have been a hit, using as it does the beautiful voice of Randy Crawford. The strongest track has to be the title track; Please Don’t Touch which grabs the listener from his somatic listening and drags him through the aural nightmare that the piece portrays.
Spectral Mornings Charisma Records CDS 4017 1979.
With this album Steve sets new standards of excellence in guitar music. The album is a consistent mix of acoustic and electric guitar work with the added element of humour thrown in for good measure on The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man, the consistent nature of this album can be attributed to his choice of musicians who were to form Steve’s first permanent band. Personal favourites from this album are hard to choose but would certainly include the beautiful Red Flower Of Taichi Blooms Everywhere, and the heavy rocker; Clocks - the Angel of Mons, and the title track which shows how a guitar can be made to conjure up images and textures. Less lyrical in content than its predecessors, the album is my favourite out of all Steve’s solo releases.
Defector Charisma Records CHC 15 1980.
A concept album of sorts this one, based upon the thoughts of a defector from
the Communist Bloc and his experiences upon arriving in the West, where everyone
dreams in colour which is a surprise to him. The album contains several of Steve’s
best pieces including the melodramatic The Steppes and Time To Get Out. The
following review at the time sums up the album well: This isn’t the sort
of solo outing that is used as a vehicle for extravagant ego demonstrations.
it’s more significant than that: a work in which concept, lyric, tunes,
and music combine to produce an artifact which hangs together on every level…”
Steve’s overall standing seems to have improved too, if the fact that
he took second place in the Melody Maker pool for best guitarist that year (one
position up on the previous year’s poll result).
Cured Charisma Records CDS 4021 1981.
An album that marked a significant departure for Steve with his assumption of the mantle of vocalist in addition to playing the guitar. The end result was an interesting album but not an exceptional one, although one or two tracks do stand out, in particular the extraordinary Air-Conditioned Nightmare which has remained a live favourite since its release. Certainly this album represents an attempt by Steve to break into the radio network charts and the overall feel of the album is commercial at the expense of that eccentricity that is Steve’s claim to originality. Gone are the usual guitar sounds and phrases, to be replaced by relatively straightforward pop which although pleasant in itself, does not represent Steve’s true self.
Highly Strung Charisma Records HACK1 1983.
After almost two years, Steve reappeared with another “commercial” album. The tracks are in the main, shorter than on previous albums. There are some enjoyable moments however, in particular the single: Cell 151 which tells of an inmate’s desperation to escape from his confinement. Another track; Weightless perhaps tells of Steve’s own attempts to get away from it all by taking up hang gliding. Several of the pieces are quite catchy and the album is an enjoyable one.
Bay Of Kings Lamborghini Records LMGLP 3000 1983.
There are two sides to a guitarist’s work: the use of electronic or acoustic
guitars, both of which have been exposed by Steve on his albums, all of which
contained at least one acoustic piece. For this LP Steve took a major gamble
and made a totally acoustic album with several reworkings of older material
on it including Horizons, his old Genesis favourite and Kim, a track that first
appeared on Please Don’t Touch. It is an incredibly emotive album, with
very descriptive, almost lyrical guitar work; Calmaria and The Barren Land for
example. A fine album, especially for those who, like me prefer the sound of
good acoustic guitar music.
Till We Have Faces Lamborghini Records LMGLP 4000 1984.
A very strange album, one could almost say “faceless”. There is
little of Steve’s originality in this effort and in the main, the tracks
are derivative. One of the tracks sums the album up nicely: Taking The Easy
Way Out. Perhaps Steve thought that the use of the then much vaunted ambisonic
recording technique would help matters but sadly they didn’t. Musically
there is nothing of particular brilliance on this album. The only tracks even
vaguely representative of Steve are A Doll That’s Made In Japan and What’s
GTR Arista Records 297 716 1986.
Another change for Steve this time back to the group format he had left behind
almost ten years before when he left Genesis. This time in the company of another
guitar maestro; Steve Howe. The avowed intent behind this project was to carry
the guitar as a force in music into the 1990’s. The result is a heavier
album than several of Steve’s previous efforts with several very strong
songs on it. Perhaps the best are When The Heart Rules The Mind, The Hunter
and Sketches In The Sun. Certainly a better album than its predecessor, and
one which gained the musicians a wider audience in the USA.
Momentum START Records STL15 1988.
A welcome return to the solo artist performance and a further treat for those of us who like acoustic music. This album is a further exploration of the capabilities of the acoustic guitar and contains several marvellous pieces including Concert For Munich which, when known only as Munich was a great success during Steve’s Bay Of Kings acoustic concerts back in 1983. The part that classical music has played in Steve’s development is acknowledged with Variation On A Theme By Chopin, and a beautiful acoustic portrait of Steve’s wife Kim on Portrait Of A Brazilian Lady. The album should gain Steve a new following if there is any justice at all and with a UK tour coming in May, those who attend any of the shows are in for an aural feast!
Steve’s solo output has included several single releases, all of which are now major collectors’ items, and for the benefit of newer fans, here is Steve’s solo single releases discography (UK releases only).
Narnia/Please Don’t Touch CBS 301 1978 (7”)
How Can I?/Kim CBS 307 1978 (7”)
Clocks/Acoustic Set (Live) CB 341 1979 (7”)
Every Day/Lost Time In Cordoba CB 334 1979 (7”)
The Show/Hercules Unchained CB 357 1980 (7” PS)
Sentimental Institution/The Toast CB 368 1980 (7” PS)
Hope I Don’t Wake/Tales of The Riverbank CB 385 1981 (7” PS)
Picture Postcard/Theme From Second Chance CB 391 1981 (7”)
Cell 151/Time Lapse At Milton Keynes Cell 1 1983 (7”PS)
A Doll That’s Made In Japan/A Doll.. (Instrumental) LMG 16 1984 (7”PS)
When The Heart Rules The Mind/Reach Out (Never Say No) GTR1 1986 (7” PS)
Clocks/Acoustic set (Live)/Tiger moth (Live) CB341 12 1979 (12” PS)
Cell 151/Air-Conditioned Nightmare (Live)/Time-Lapse At Milton Keynes Cell12 1983 (12” PS)
A Doll That’s Made In Japan/Just The Bones 12LMG 16 1984 (12” PS)
When the Heart Rules The Mind/Reach Out (Never Say No)/Sketches In The Sun/Hackett To Bits GTR 121 1986 (12” PS)
The 12” single of Cell 151 came with a 12” white label version
of the 1979 Clocks single.
The 7” version of When the Heart Rules The Mind also appeared as limited edition picture disc, as well as a limited edition with a “Family Tree” fold out sleeve.