"Revisiting The Spectral Morning" - The re-mastered Steve Hackett albums reviewed in an extremely biased manner by Alan Hewitt.
The waiting is now over good people. Yes, at long last the dead hand of corporate record company inertia has been relaxed enough to allow some overdue light to be shed on Steve's earlier solo albums which were released on Monday 19th September 2005. At last, the problems which attended the initial releases of these classic albums have been redressed and corrected. Is the finished result worth it? Read on and find out, dear reader!
Voyage Of The Acolyte ushered in the era of Steve Hackett as a solo writer and composer of worth back in 1975 when Genesis were still in the throes that accompanied the departure of Peter Gabriel from their ranks. With so much doubt and uncertainty surrounding the band's future and indeed that of the remaining musicians, Voyage… was a confident and timely reminder that there was always more to Genesis than Peter Gabriel! Drawing its main inspiration from several of the cards in the Tarot, the album was an exploration of some of the ideas that Steve knew he would never be able to get past the "Committee" in Genesis. Lush, over indulgent in places too; Steve went to town on this album as if his life depended on it and to some extent it did. The success of the album proved to him that he could make a go of it on his own and of course, that is precisely what he has been doing ever since his departure from Genesis some two years later.
An album replete with exciting musical ideas and classic tracks such as Ace Of Wands and Hands Of The Priestess both of which are still staples in Steve's live set almost thirty years on. On its release on CD by Virgin back in 1989 however, the album suffered enormously from poor production values which were not helped by the use of a copy master in the initial stages of transfer to the new format due, apparently to the studio master being missing if you can believe it! Fortunately for all concerned, no such problems attend this new version and the word "new" is appropriate. Using the original master tapes and with the diligent care which Ben Fenner has always attached to his work; this version could almost be deemed to be a brand new one. Gone are the problems of static and hiss which attended the 1989 version and instead; we finally get to hear the album as Steve intended. We are also treated to the added bonus of a live version of Ace Of Wands and an extended studio version of Shadow Of The Hierophant.
Voyage Of The Acolyte - Virgin Records CASCDR111.
Three years separate Voyage… from its sequel; Please Don't Touch and they might as well be a lifetime and I am sure it must have felt like that for Steve after his decision to leave the relative comfort and security of Genesis! Please Don't Touch continued the trend of musical adventure and fun that Steve's opening gambit had shown was going to be a cornerstone of his career from now on. Opening an album with a homage to the Narnia Chronicles of CS Lewis was an unlikely start but one which worked as indeed did the gloriously camp send-up of Agatha Christie's detective stories; Carry On Up The Vicarage. With such a line in self-deprecating humour; Steve was never in any danger of being described as po-faced! This album spawned many tracks that were to become live favourites, not least the title track and Kim, the wonderful portrait of Steve's wife. From the ridiculous to the sublime; this album had the lot and it immediately became a firm favourite with Steve's fans. Once again, the initial issue on CD by Virgin in 1989 suffered appallingly from poor sound production and the most unforgivable error of all - the totally unnecessary gap between Land Of A Thousand Autumns and Please Don't Touch itself… an error which had many fans returning their CDs saying they were faulty!
All of these problems have been corrected on this new edition which sounds truly wonderful. The re-mastering has enabled all those little touches which were lost in the original mix to be brought back into the picture again and this is another delightful listening experience. Once again we are treated to a plethora of extra tracks including two different mixes of Narnia one which was issued as the single with John Perry on vocals and the other with Steve Walsh of Kansas on the vocals along with wonderful live versions of Land Of A Thousand Autumns and Please Don't Touch - glorious stuff!
Please Don't Touch - Virgin Records CDSCDR 4012.
Spectral Mornings has always been revered by Steve's fans since its release in 1979 and even Virgin's shoddy attempt at transfer to CD in 1989 couldn't dampen my enthusiasm for this album. This is the jewel in the crown of this series of re-issues. Not only has Ben Fenner managed to restore the original aural glories of this masterpiece but Steve has thrown everything bar the kitchen sink into it in terms of the extra tracks. Here for your perusal and delight are alternative mixes of Everyday on which you can now distinctly hear Steve's harmonica playing for a start! The Virgin & The Gypsy; an even more demented version of The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man; Tigermoth; the edited single mix of Clocks; live versions of the classic Acoustic Set and Tigermoth (from the 12" single version) and the wonderful spoof track; The Janitor which made an all-too brief appearance on the original CD edition before being withdrawn - phew!
Spectral Mornings - Virgin Records CDSCDR 4017.
Bringing up the rear of this batch is another classic album. Defector continued the exploration of musical soundscapes which Steve had always endeavoured to do in his music. Based round the loose concept of the initial impressions of the West by a defector from the Eastern Bloc or perhaps the other way round? The album examines the different mindsets of both worlds through such wonderfully evocative pieces as The Steppes; the emotionally poignant Leaving and the brilliant plea for moderation through music: The Show. Another master class in musical perfection from Mr Hackett.
This album suffered least from the transfer initial process but nonetheless, under the skilful hands of Steve and Ben it has grown enormously not least in terms of the sound reproduction which once again brings many previously hidden or obscured details into sharper focus. The album is also augmented by a clutch of extra tracks; the single B side Hercules Unchained finally finds a home here along with live versions of Sentimental Institution; The Steppes; Slogans and Clocks.
Defector - Virgin Records CDSCDR 4018.
I am in no doubt whatsoever that any self respecting Hacketteer will LOVE these albums. The re-packaging is not only excellent musically, but the slip cases are beautifully done and the CD booklets replete with sleeve notes and photographs making the complete packages a real treat. I have already outlined how I was in the extremely fortunate position of hearing them for the first time in Steve's own studio and the thrill of hearing this glorious music as it was originally intended is something that will never wear off! Hearty congratulations to Steve and Ben for giving the fans such a treat and to Virgin Records for finally having the good sense to let the experts do the job!