"The Defector Revisited" - An appreciation of Steve Hackett's albums by Alan Hewitt.
The original feature which bore this title appeared in TWR #19 way back in 1992, and was written by Andrew Whiteside. Since then, obviously, Steve has been extremely prolific and I thought it was about time that this feature took up the story where Andrew left off.
The Unauthorised Biography (1990) * * * *
Steve disappeared from the music scene after the conclusion of 1988's "Momentum" tour, but as we all now know, he was far from idle during that period, occupying himself with finally gaining control of his own music and putting together his own studio and record label. In the meantime, Virgin Records began the process of re-issuing his back catalogue and this album represents the first compilation of Steve's solo material was released as a temporary measure whilst Steve took stock of where his career would go next... As such, this compilation is an excellent introduction to his music for newer fans, containing just about all of his "classic" tracks as well as two brilliant new pieces: the delightful acoustic "Prayers And Dreams" and the refugee from the abortive "Feedback" project, "Don't fall Away From Me".
Guitar Noir (1993 re-issued 1997) * * * *
The album that brought Steve into the 1990's with an altogether darker and more melodramatic feel to it. This one has the lot: high energy rockers such as the searing "Sierra Quemada" and "Lost In Your Eyes" to the haunting "Like An Arrow". No album of Steve's would be complete without a little anarchic left-of-centre track and the contender for that title on this album is a doozie: "A Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite", a worthy successor to its brothers and sisters on earlier albums.
Steve also found his vocal niche with this album and although not the world's greatest singer, his vocals do, nonetheless fit the tracks here like a glove. The re-issue also has the added bonus of several alternative mixes and demo versions to the finished album versions, which make an interesting contrast with the original album.
Blues With A Feeling (1994) * * *
Steve "Does A Clapton" here, with this trip back to his blues roots, which mixes both old standard blues tracks such as "Born In Chicago" and the title track, "Blues With A Feeling" with new compositions by Steve himself. One which may take fans of Steve's rock and acoustic work a little while to get used to, but it is well worth checking out if only to hear where Steve's influences come from, and of course; for those fans who like the blues anyway, this is an album which you will enjoy.
There Are Many Sides To The Night (1994) * * * * *
I make no apologies for my bias in favour of Steve's acoustic work, and this album is a true delight.. Not one to take the easy route, Steve is still one of only a handful of artists to have released a live acoustic album. This one captures the atmosphere of Steve's acoustic performances to perfection. Anyone who cannot enjoy the splendours of "Horizons", "Kim", "Second Chance" and "Cinema Paradiso", to name but a few, is in need of help as far as I am concerned! This is a must for Hackett fans.
King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents: GTR (1997) * * *
Finally released kicking and screaming from the vaults of the highly respected King Biscuit Flower Hour US radio show, this live recording fills in the gaps for anyone who missed Steve's second stab at a super group back in 1986. The new material comes over well enough but its shortcomings are self evident when compared to the band's workouts on such classics as "Spectral Mornings", "I Know What I Like" and "Roundabout". Nevertheless, it does fill a gap in Steve's recording career quite nicely.
Genesis Revisited (1997 Japanese edition) (1998 UK edition) * * * * *
I remember vividly sitting in Steve's office on a sunny day in the summer of 1997 and being told by Steve and his manager that they had "something we would like you to listen to..." My surprise at the first hearing of what was to become a few months later Steve's own exorcism of his past with Genesis is still with me almost three years later on. There are versions of Genesis favourites which amply demonstrate my own (and I am sure many other fans as well) conviction that Steve was a greater influence on the band than he was ever given credit for.
The new version of "Your Own Special Way" for example has so much more power on it than on "Wind & Wuthering" and "Firth Of Fifth" is a pure delight. Even Steve's playful re-working of "The Waiting Room" under its new title of "Waiting Room Only" is something which should bring a smile to even the most po-faced of Genesis purists. As if that wasn't enough, the "new" tracks on this album are of equally high calibre, with my personal favourites being "Riding The Colossus" and "The Valley Of The Kings", and for the archival interest there is even a finished version of a track from the legendary days of "Selling England By The Pound" in the shape of "Déjà Vu". Another must for your collection.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1998) * * * * * *
Yes, I know some of you may have realised that the star rating system seems to have gone slightly awry with this one. Well, when you hear this album you will understand why. I always wondered what it would be like if Steve ever worked with an orchestra. Well; here is the answer: it would be wonderful, and in fact, I would say that in my own opinion, without reservation this is his best album since "Spectral Mornings". The magic that is woven by Steve's acoustic guitar and the orchestra is simply breathtaking. Listen in particular to "The Palace Of Theseus", "By Paved Fountain", "Starlight" and "Celebration" and you will realise exactly what I am talking about - bravo, Maestro!
The Tokyo Tapes (1998) * * * * *
Following on from the release of the "Genesis Revisited" projects, Steve was able to perform some of the music with a "Dream Team" of musicians that included King Crimson stalwart Ian MacDonald and Steve's old colleague from Genesis Chester Thompson. This album is the result of those shows and is certainly the best live album of the last few years. Listen to the awesome renditions of classics such as "Watcher Of The Skies", "In That Quiet Earth", "In the Court Of The Crimson King" and collapse in awe!
Darktown (1999) * * * *
Steve's most recent rock album this, and without doubt his most challenging to his fans. From the powerhouse rock of "Omega Metallicus" and the brooding melodrama of "Darktown" itself as well as the heartrending "Jane Austen's Door" there is something here to challenge just about every preconceived idea that you may have about Steve Hackett, and I for one can't wait for the next instalment of the rock biography of this most talented of musicians.
Sketches Of Satie (2000) * * * * *
Yet another surprise turn for Steve to take. Finally delivering the long awaited album of music with his brother John, Steve still managed to put a different slant on the project by delivering an album of "covers" of one of his musical heroes, the French Impressionist composer Erik Satie. The elegance of this music is delightful and there is an underlying warmth and humour which never fails to charm and I am sure I am not the only one who was pleasantly surprised by the familiarity of most of this music; several of the pieces will be instantly recognisable to you if you are a fan of films and this album has reacquainted me with several old friends in a new setting.
Feedback '86 (2000) * * * * *
At last! This much talked about "lost" album finally sees the light of day. Originally recorded immediately after Steve left GTR, this album has been the source of much discussion ever since.
Personally, this is without doubt one of Steve's better rock albums helped no doubt, by the addition of several musical talents including Pete Trewavas of Marillion, Brian May from Queen and Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann. Tracks such as "Cassandra" and "Slot Machine" are defining moments in Steve's oeuvre as far as I am concerned and I am sure that if the latter had been released as a single, it would have given him a hit! The acoustic side of Steve is well covered as well with "Don't Fall", a beautiful acoustic piece. Another essential addition to any collection of Steve's albums. As if all of that wasn't enough, the presence of MP3 tracks and other material via computer make this another essential addition to the Hackett catalogue.
My thanks to Andrew Whiteside for the original idea behind this feature and of course, to Steve himself for creating so much marvellous music and for his friendship and encouragement - here's to the next instalment!