“Far Horizons” - Beyond The Shrouded Horizon, the new album by Steve Hackett reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
There is an old saying about the British weather that says if you don’t like it, wait a moment and it will change. Funnily enough, exactly the same can be said about Steve ‘s new album. What you have spread over the album depending on whether you invest in the standard single, or special two disc edition of Beyond The Shrouded Horizon, is Hackett exploring a wider variety of material than ever before. Even before you actually get to the recording itself, there is something visual to feast your eyes on; the first cover to an album of Steve’s for several years that actually COMPLIMENTS the music and featuring a stunning photograph taken by Harry Pearce
The album opens with the blistering heat and sheer beauty of Loch Lomond. I haven’t heard Steve as aggressive on the guitar for quite some time and it is a superb opening salvo with a marvellous impassioned vocal to boot. Lyrically too, Steve has seldom sounded in better form than here, art and illusion merge here in a majestic whole.
The Phoenix Flown and Wanderlust are short instrumental links which leads us nicely to Till These Eyes, Steve’s very own take on Dorian Gray story. An acoustic gem, augmented by the members of the Underground Orchestra, this will delight fans of the acoustic side of Steve’s music.
Anyone who attended Steve’s shows last year will remember the next track; Prairie Angel, another blistering broadside on the guitar as vast and desolate as the prairie itself. Whoever said Hackett doesn’t do rock ‘n’ roll should definitely give this one a listen. Intriguingly Steve had said that he wasn’t sure if this track would develop into a song but what he has done here has linked this track to its successor; A Place Called Freedom, another superb performance, Steve’s vocal here is the best I have ever heard from the man. Musically this track takes you everywhere, there are moments of acoustic delight, even a country and western style guitar refrain, Jew’s harp and some more of the sustained guitar for which Steve is rightly famed. Once again, the lyrical content of the song more than matches the majesty of the music, brilliantly observed and fitting the music perfectly. The main theme from Prairie Angel is echoed here and elsewhere throughout the album as you will discover for yourselves. Many older fans will also find in the arpeggiated guitar refrain, echoes of the Genesis classic; Carpet Crawlers as well.
Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms is the kind of title you would dread in a game of Charades but does exactly what it says on the tin. Opening with a phrasing which to my ears is reminiscent of Crowded House, the track soon turns into another one of Steve’s travelogue songs. Lyrically, this is one of Steve’s best efforts, it really resonates with me for some reason, I think fans will think the same. A melancholy, almost whimsical feel opens up into a glorious, soaring orchestral accompaniment before the Wild West fun fair theme and that of Prairie Angel take us even further Eastwards for Waking To Life where Steve unleashes his sitar guitar for a worthy successor to Last Train To Istanbul. Amanda Lehmann’s vocals are amazing here. There are echoes of several of Steve’s recent efforts and on occasions a glimpse even further back in time (you will know what I mean when you hear the track for yourselves, folks), but the track is a rip roaring rampage worthy of Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde!
Continuing the Eastern theme, Two Faces Of Cairo opens with a flute phrase redolent of The Steppes before morphing into something much more intriguing. This one is based on Steve and Jo’s own experiences of a trip to Cairo where they saw both the glories of the Pyramids and the poverty which lives side by side with them. Musically the dichotomy between the two is captured perfectly. Steve has always been a painter of pictures in sound and this is one of his best.
Summer’s Breath is another delightful acoustic moment, a wistful romantic interlude which leads us into Looking For Fantasy, another remarkable observation of the human condition. As Steve explains in the interview about the album which you can read in #78, the character in the song is a composite of many of the ladies who have been in Steve’s life and the portraits are brilliantly brought to life in words and music.
Catwalk brings us back to Steve’s early love of the Blues an outrageous rampage through Satan’s stomp boxes which you can imagine Steve having a blast recording. Surely a Blues show by Hackett is in the offing at some point?!
The standard album closes with Turn This Island Earth, which has changed completely
since I first heard it over some two years ago. Well, we have had a trip round
the globe, and so on this one we have a trip round the universe - Hackett’s
very own “Lost In Space” typical of the man really! An epic performance
here with everything including the kitchen sink thrown in you will either love
it or hate it. Me? I am quite fond of it myself!
But the story of Beyond The Shrouded Horizon doesn’t end there gentles, oh no! There is another disc of material to digest if you, like me have invested in the special edition of the album.
Opening with Four Winds : North, another blistering blues tinged guitar instrumental, which is sadly all too short., this is followed by Four Winds: South, a brittle jazz tinged gem featuring Steve on acoustic guitar and Roger King on piano. Four Winds: East might be familiar to anyone who owns the Japanese edition of Darktown, where it was known under the title of The Well At World’s End, another excellent blues styled piece with a wonderful sustained guitar performance from Steve and some understated organ from Roger. The four winds theme concludes with Four Winds: West where the music takes a turn towards the Baroque with a lovely orchestral performance by the Underground Orchestra, something that is frustratingly far too short in my opinion but a delight to hear nonetheless.
Pieds En L’Air, continues the acoustic theme with a performance which would have graced the Tribute album, Steve at his very best here but once again, the performance is far too short for my liking, something I think most fans will agree with although as the track was actually written by Peter Warlock, he can’t be blamed for that for once!
She Said Maybe takes us in an altogether different direction. Here we have Steve in full blown Jazz mode, echoes of Al di Meola here and this one might take some fans by surprise but it will be an enjoyable one, I assure you!
Enter The Night will also be familiar to many fans under its previous guise as the instrumental Depth Charge/Riding The Colossus. Already a magnificent track, here at last , Steve has added a vocal to it which takes the piece to a higher dimension, this is a definite live classic and I can’t wait to ladder my tights air guitaring to it at the forthcoming gigs!
The album ends with a further pairing of tracks which had previously appeared on the Japanese edition of Wild Orchids. Eruption: Tommy is a classic track by Dutch band; Focus, a warm, mellow opening leads into another fantastic soaring guitar break from Steve before things quieten down again but it is the calm before the storm as Reconditioned Nightmare (Air Conditioned Nightmare to most of us) brings the album to a suitably up tempo close.
There you have it. Almost ninety minutes of music to get your teeth into. Without
doubt, this is Steve’s most eclectic album to date, there is definitely
something for everybody here and it makes for a challenging album to try and
do justice to in a review but I have done my best! Although Steve’s name
is on the cover, don’t forget that there is a truly stellar cast of musicians
who have helped him nurture this baby along to delivery including the current
members of Steve’s band; Simon Phillips on drums, Chris Squire and the
members of the Underground Orchestra all of whom have played their part in the
process. Steve’s twenty second studio release definitely measures up to
anything that has gone before it - well done, Steve!