“Biographically Speaking” - Steve Hackett’s new compilation album: The Unauthorised Biography reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Almost four years since Steve’s last album in the UK it has been a long wait but this compilation of tracks from his recordings on the Charisma./Virgin label is a well presented salute to the outstanding talents that Steve undoubtedly possesses.
The collection opens with Narnia from Steve’s second album, which according to the sleeve notes, was influenced by Ian MacDonald of King Crimson, an unusual opener for the set but then again when has Steve ever pandered to conventions? This is followed by Hackett To Bits, a strong instrumental “jam” from his last album on Charisma in 1983. Don’t Fall Away From Me is the first of two new songs on this album and as such it is a beautiful piece - mellow and haunting with some of the best vocals I have ever heard from Steve. It augurs well for the new studio album - hint, hint, Steve!
No representsation of Steve’s career would be complete without Spectral Mornings or The Steppes and they are here in all their hi fi glory. An unusual track comes in the next song - The Virgin & The Gypsy which is a personal favourite from Spectral Mornings, a delicate acoustic piece which goes through many mood changes. Contrasting the latter with The Air-Conditioned Nightmare emphasises the pure rock power that Steve is capable of conjuring up - always a favourite whether live or on record.
Cell 151 was Steve’s “hit” single in 1983 and is another stage favourite although my memories of it are centred around the promotional video which was bizarre to say the least! Slogans is another one of Steve’s aural nightmares and a powerful piece once again either in its on stage guise or on record. Icarus Ascending is one of Steve’s true masterpieces featuring the vocal talents of Richie Havens and excellent musical performances from all the musicians involved.
Prayers And Dreams is the second of the new pieces on the album and it will be reassuring to fans of Steve’s acoustic work (myself included) to notice that the maestro is back; this piece is the true heart of the album and one of Steve’s finest acoustic cuts since Concert For Munich in 1988.
Star Of Sirius represents Steve’s brief flirtation with things esoteric and features a brilliant vocal and percussive performances from Phil Collins, which was to signal to Genesis fans in 1975 that the band were far from dead following Peter Gabriel’s departure. Hammer In The Sand follows, and is a deeply moving piano piece with a distinctly Russian feel to it, no doubt due partly to the Defector album from which it came.
The last two tracks are ones of great contrast, a bit like Steve’s career itself. Ace Of Wands is an explosion of sound and fury, involving a great deal of innovative playing and has always e been an on stage favourite. Hoping Love Will Last rounds off the album in an altogether more reflective mood and features an outstanding vocal performance by Randy Crawford.
As an introduction to Steve’s career for new fans or as a reflective look back by older ones, this is an album which will bring delight and wonder to its listeners and prove that Steve’s talents have been, if anything, understated over the years - a worthy investment for fans of GOOD music.