“Light in the darkness” - Steve Hackett’s new album At The Edge Of Light reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
New Steve Hackett albums are becoming almost an annual event these days and that is not any bad thing! Steve has definitely got the bit between his teeth both in terms of producing new music and the incessant round of touring which seems to occupy him so much. In fact, with so much touring on the schedule I am amazed that he finds the time to come up for air let alone produce an album
Anyway, here it is, his twenty first studio album proper (excluding collaborative efforts etc before anyone picks holes in that statement!) . How does it fare compared to those which have preceded it?
Well, as usual, Steve has decided for the broadest possible canvas on which to work - no more filling in the corners as he used to do with Genesis! This album is a global and cinematic effort of the highest calibre. With a truly global cast of musicians helping him once again, the result should be phenomenal… well, let’s see shall we…
The album gets under way with Fallen Walls And Pedestals, a superbly dramatic opener, with some searing guitar playing from Steve and the distinctive sounds of Malik Mansurov’s Tar. This in turn gives way to the slightly derange waltz rhythm of Beasts In Our Time, a superbly damning indictment of the current world political situation .. But maybe not so new a situation after all, I love the passing nod to Robert Graves’ I Claudius in the lyric.. Poisons in the mud of men/Hatching out once again..” and the line “Lucifer’s Light House, flames for hire” equally evocative. However the overall effect of the song is somewhat marred by the rather jarring reference to Holst’s Uranus The Magician from The Planets, a brief but distracting reference which detracts from the otherwise phenomenally dramatic performance.
Under The Eyes Of The Sun gets off to a deceptively gentle start before that rampant beast that is Mr Hackett’s guitar and more surprisingly bass guitar too takes this one off in an entirely different direction - an evocation of the drama, beauty and cruelty of Mother Nature herself. What she thinks of her human inhabitants is anyone’s guess…?
Underground Railroad, is the story of those brave souls who rescued escaped slaves during the American Civil War . A delicate subject and one which America is still coming to terms with in some respects even today. Handled in a blues style, with wailing harmonica and steel guitar, this one is a definite highlight on the album helped enormously by the superb vocals of Durga and Lorelei McBroom, who between them and Amanda Lehmann conjure up a veritable Gospel choir, with a suitably evocative musical accompaniment and endowed with superbly descriptive lyrics - a genuine classic in the making.
Those Golden Wings, Steve ‘s homage to his beautiful wife, Jo. A superb description in words and music of someone who has brought so much joy into Steve’s life and many others’ too, this is another sure fire winner in my book.. Or it would be if the effect wasn’t once again lessened by the appearance of another echo from Steve’s past in the incongruous use of a snippet from Hercules Unchained of all things!
Shadow And Flame takes us to the heart of India sitar and tabla percussion set the scene for a full blooded evocation of India land of beauty and mystery - a n elephant ride along the Silk Road by way of Mother Ganges. Sheema Mukherjee is absolutely stunning on the sitar here, this one will always remain a favourite of mine from this album - it is simply amazing!
What a contrast between that track and Hungry Years which, if anything owes its evolution to the work of The Beach Boys and The Everly Brothers (well, that’s no bad thing either) a paean for the lost days of youth and simple innocence which we never recapture.
This brings us to the last three tracks of the album, which together form a triptych of truly epic proportions .. I liken this to a musical reandering of Dante’s Inferno but with a happier resolution. A superb evocation of a nightmare and escape from it in words and music. The drama begins with Descent, a staccato guitar and drum phase, evoking both Mars (from Holst’s The Planets once again) and Under The World - Orpheus Looks back from Steve’s own retellling of the Orpheus & Eurydice myth - Metamorpheus. This is the condemned man’s (pr humankind’s) last walk into oblivion… or is it?
The end isn’t going to come easily however, and whoever the subject of the music is, they are certainly raging against the dying of the light as we are drawn into Conflict and another superbly dramatic description in some truly ferocious playing - Steve still has the licks even after all these years!
The album reaches its resolution with Peace, an optimistic expression of hope for the human race and individually too. This really is an examination in words and music of the last few years of Steve’s life - the pain of the divorce from Kim, the resulting unpleasantness from which, thankfully, he emerged stronger with a new life partner and a career which is taking on in leaps and bounds - success hugely deserved and celebrated in this epic slice of Hackett!
So, there you have it. This album doesn’t quite scale the heights of its predecessors but when it soars, it takes you to places you can only dream of. That is the aim of all of the best music isn’t it? And here we have a group of talents that make those dreams come true!