“Guitar Noir” - Steve Hackett’s new album reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
By now you will hopefully have both heard Steve’s new album and seen him in concert at a venue near you. |It was unusual for me this time to actually hear a new album “in concert” before listening to the studio versions which only confirmed my opinion.
This is Steve’s first new studio album in five years and as such it is obvious from the start that great deal of time and effort has been expended on it, no matter what the Q reviewers say about it! The time between albums has not been wasted, as Steve explains in the interview later in this issue, but for now, on with the review….
Take These Pearls opens the album, and the first thing I noticed was how much Steve’s vocals have improved - they are string and confident and compliment the beautiful guitar and keyboard work - an excellent opener. The ominously titled Dark As The Grave follows and is exactly as the sleeve notes describe; a cynical look at the human condition, once again with greatly improved vocals and bitingly cynical lyrics which mark Steve’s change of direction in writing from the inside out and brilliantly about things that concern him and actually SAY something. I can fully appreciate the sentiments in lyrics like… “As the crowd of mourners said: tragedy is nothing new” especially when we are confronted by it every day on TV.
Paint Your Picture is a beautiful love song, almost the kind that an ancient
Romeo would sing to his Juliet - acoustically driven and absolutely beautiful.
There Are Many Sides To The Night vividly describes the motivation that drives
a prostitute to follow her trade; “I do it for my child alone/And who
would say it’s just not right”. The spoken lyrics accompanied by
a balance of acoustic and electric music makes this one of the highlights of
the album and of Steve’s recent shows too.
Like An Arrow is almost a hymn of triumph, the lyrics are so powerful and the music so uplifting and emphatic that it was unfortunate that Steve opted not to play this love song because it would have captivated any audience. Once again, the song is marvelously executed.
The two instrumentals; Walking Away From Rainbows and Sierra Quemada (originally titled Flight Of The Condor) are contrasted beautifully. The former is an acoustic track with elegiac qualities and the overall feel is one of wistful regret. The latter is a more up-beat rhythmic track with some searing sustained guitar work at the end, proving that Steve hasn’t abandoned his claim to the title of “Mr Sustain”.
Little America and In the Heart of The City are both rockier in nature and demonstrate that Steve’s talents are equally at home with rock. The lyrics are both biting and well observed, demonstrating a darker side to Steve’s nature and a concern with actually writing lyrics that say something with no frippery attached! Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite is a worthy inheritor of the mantle left off with Sentimental Institution in 1980 and is suitably strange both as a song and in the way it is delivered - through a megaphone can you believe?! The song has become a stage favourite with audience in the UK where the slightly left-of-centre humour of it all is probably more easily appreciated than elsewhere.
The album is rounded off by Tristesse, another wonderfully melancholy acoustic piece bringing the album to a close in a suitably dignified manner.
Overall the album has a far more well-rounded feel to it than previous efforts by Steve. What I find particularly enjoyable is the marriage between both lyrics and the acoustic and electric elements within one song. Previous albums have tended to have either acoustic or electric music accompanying the lyrics and ne’er the twain shall meet. This time the great divide has been crossed with immensely enjoyable results and, if asked, as I have been, by many fans where I would place this album in the canon of Steve’s work, I would have no hesitation in placing it next to Spectral Mornings as one of his finest - eleven out of ten all round!