"Return To The Realm Of Eternal Renewal" - The Steve Hackett re-mastered albums reviewed by Ted Sayers.

If ever there were two albums in desperate need of remastering then Voyage Of The Acolyte and Please Don't Touch are those two albums. It has been disappointing that it has taken so long but that is obviously not due to any lack of enthusiasm on Steve's part. The other two remasters in this selection are, of course; most welcome too. However, the butchery performed on the original CD release of Please Don't Touch in particular was nothing short of criminal; with sections of the music cut out and gaps inserted where there should not have been any. It always made it difficult for me to listen to this album and the fact that it is my favourite of all of Steve's releases was rather ironic.

The arrival of these four albums in glorious remastered form has been long anticipated so now that they have finally arrived has it been worth the wait? Well, you betcha! The added bonus of the extra tracks was welcome but unnecessary, that's how bad those initial CD versions were.

Voyage Of The Acolyte comes replete with a good live rendition of Ace Of Wands which must come from a tour post Please Don't Touch. It would have been nice had there been more complete information on the sources used for the live tracks on these CDs but that is a minor quibble. Voyage Of The Acolyte also comes with an overly long second version of Shadow of The Hierophant which shows up the lack of additional material available for this album, but the bonus material swiftly improves in validity as we move on. This second version is merely an extended playout, which adds about five minutes to the tail end of the song.
Moving on to the album, that for me personally was eagerly anticipated; Please Don't Touch. Steve's first post Genesis release was something that moved away from Genesis to some degree in that there is a far more varied mix of styles present than anything that had been done before with the band. There are pieces that hark back to Genesis; the awe-inspiring title track for one, but there are also a number of songs that break new ground. Hoping Love Will Last being one which saw Steve work with one of a number of singers for this album. The biggest name amongst Steve's recruited vocalists probably being Richie Havens who is present on two of the standout tracks on the album: Icarus Ascending and How Can I?

The bonus material here includes a previously unheard mix of Narnia along with the alternate vocal version which was released as a single back in 1978 and a barnstorming live version of the album's title track.

Spectral Mornings, while not in as desperate need of the magic of Ben Fenner (the sound engineer Steve entrusted with the work of cleaning up these gems) but is still most welcome. Here we find a plethora of bonus material which just about doubles the original running time. Some unusual remixes that have been previously unreleased and unheard by all but Steve and his people are joined by the single B sides from that era.

The original CD release of Spectral Mornings included an oddity in the bonus untitled piece which has subsequently become known as The Caretaker. A joke track this has been spruced up and given the given the same treatment as the rest of the material for this new version but is once again unlisted on the artwork.

And so, finally to Defector and an album every bit as eclectic as Please Don't Touch. The former has more constraints in that it is telling a story of sorts and so is therefore restricted in the styles it attempts. For me, Defector doesn't quite work as well in that respect but there are many highly satisfying moments such as the majestic Hammer In The Sand and the desolation that is The Steppes. Steve is never afraid to challenge the listener here, but I feel it works better when there are no constraints as is the case with Please Don't Touch. Bonus tracks on Defector consist mainly of live cuts of some of the material already present but there is also the one non-album B side in Hercules Unchained, a charming little ditty of the Punk Rock variety.

For me these four albums still represent the strongest period of Steve's solo career thus far but that's not to denigrate all that came after. Far from it, Steve has consistently shown a sense of imagination that surpasses many of his peers throughout those ensuing albums. It may be that Steve's departure from Genesis had opened the floodgates of all the ideas he hadn't been able to get past the other members of the band and that material culminated in these four beautiful albums. Their availability in remastered form was long overdue.