"Notes from a Darktown" - Steve Hackett's new album, Darktown. Review by Alan Hewitt.
"A nightmare themepark of an album from a man truly possessed..." So says the last line of the press release for this, Steve's fifteenth solo album and his first rock album since 1993's Guitar Noir. So, what does Steve's latest offering have in store for his unsuspecting fans?
The album opens with the intriguingly titled "Omega Metallicus" which is a rhythm fed beast of a track which features some of the funkiest bass lines I have heard since the heyday of Level 42's Mark King, and which incorporates as a part of its guitar refrain, the long lost "Cassandra" from the as yet unreleased "Feedback" project. This is an aural nightmare of the wide screen variety! The album's title track "Darktown" follows and is once again, another of Steve's visions of mankind's darker emotions, examined here through the contrast between the anguished saxophone of Ian MacDonald and Steve's "Hammer Horror" style vocals. The title comes from a reference made to the Ghetto areas of the 1920's and 1930's in the USA where the black and coloured populations were relegated to the sidelines of society.
"Man Overboard" brings the contrast between light and shade to the fore with another delightful acoustic guitar overlaid by Steve's languid vocals. I don't know what it is about this track but something in it makes me hark back to Steve's classic "Please Don't Touch" album. There is perhaps, something of the same sense of awe and wonder in the music that was so inherent in its predecessor. Either way, this track is another latter day classic.
"The Golden Age Of Steam" despite its title is in fact a lament for the passing of an age that was devastated by war: the Second World War in fact; and the sad truth that an entire generation was corrupted by it; as the saying goes... "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely..." a fine moral lesson from Steve.
"Days Of Long Ago" features the dulcet tones of Jim Diamond whom some of you may remember from his work on Tony Banks' "Soundtracks" album. Jim's more ethereal vocals contrast with Steve's darker vocal style and give this languid elegiac love song a bitter-sweet twist which is augmented enormously by Steve's acoustic playing which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! "Dreaming With Open Eyes" displays Steve's fascination with rhythm in a BIG way, and the percussive playing compliments his chocolate dark vocals contrasting with the bass and keyboard and the welcome return of the flute to Steve's aural palette, making this a personal favourite of mine.
"Twice Around The Sun" opens with a MASSIVE keyboard sound that could almost have been lifted from Steve's debut solo album "Voyage Of The Acolyte" before being joined by Steve's unique electric guitar style in an aural fanfare which will have fans of his electric guitar work rejoicing - yes folks; the axe man is back and with a vengeance! "Rise Again", for a man who has proclaimed on more than one occasion to have made 'More come-backs than Count Dracula' is not surprisingly, a paean to the life to come after our thread here on Earth is over. The acoustic playing here is a pure delight, and lives up to Steve's assertion that the guitar is a 'Small Orchestra' because here the acoustic lays down almost the whole gamut of sounds which is augmented to great effect once again by another stonking performance of electric axe work and some powerhouse percussion - definitely a live favourite in the making should Steve decide to tour with this album - hint, hint, Steve!
"Jane Austen's Door" is an intriguing title for a song and it may come as a surprise to hear that it is a lineal descendant of the anti-drug song; Everyday and is a lament for a life lost to the ravages of drugs although on a wider scale; it could equally apply to any of modern life's casualties. "Darktown Riot" is where Steve meets the Rave scene. Another high anxiety romp through the darker side of life and one in which Steve certainly spanks the plank - definitely not a track for those with a nervous disposition and a hundred miles from being politically correct!
The album is rounded off by "In Memoriam", and this is another masterpiece in Steve's repertoire; the contrast between his velvet vocals and the haunting guitar, make this a worthy successor to many of Steve's earlier classics.
So, what do we have then? If this is the first chapter of Steve's autobiography in musical terms, then I personally can't wait for the book to be published! This is certainly an album that will provoke debate amongst his fans and which adds yet another fascinating chapter to the on going saga of Mr Stephen Hackett!