“Stormchasing Aliens” - The new Squackett album, A Life Within A Day, reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
This one has been much talked about before even a note of it has been heard. Speculation has been rife and anticipation high for this collaboration between two such rock alumni. Does the end result match the hype? Let’s see shall we…
The album’s title track, A Life Within A Day opens with a keyboard phrase and guitar riff which would not be out of place on an Asia album before the striding colossus that is Chris Squire’s bass and some impeccable strings take this entirely somewhere else. This one definitely owes something to Steve’s work on both Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth and in particular Last Train To Istanbul and is a suitably impressive opening to the album and one which has the unmistakable Hackett stamp all over it.
Tall Ships gets under way with some jazz tinged acoustic playing before once again, Squire’s unmistakable bass sets up an incredibly catchy rhythm. To me, this one has definite echoes of latter day Yes and at times Hackett sounds eerily like his counterpart in that band, Steve Howe. Intentional or not, I can see this one getting a modicum of success if it were released as a single as both Yes and Genesis fans would lap it up. Laid back and marvellously catchy this is one you will never grow tired of hearing!
Divided Self features the unmistakable acerbic lyrics of one Mr Nick Clabburn and the opening verse is a delight in terms of the sheer amount of tongue in cheek humour and puns that appear in it. Musically this one harks back to the fifties with some delightfully jangly guitar playing which wouldn’t sound out of place in a dance hall. Steve and Chris sound as if they were having a blast when they were putting this one together, and the underlying sense of fun is a joy to behold - who said Prog rockers were po-faced and miserable, eh?
Aliens and its delightful premise that aliens are merely future humans is definitely cast in the Yes mould, not surprising really as this one had been performed by the band. A somewhat dated keyboard sound accompanies some impeccable guitar work. The harmony vocals that Steve and Chris summon up work incredibly well, and Squire’s bass work is surprisingly sparse here but the delicate nature of the song would be ruined had he not done so and the true mark of an artist is knowing when to restrain yourself and the end result here is another delight.
The album’s single is next, Sea Of Smiles in which Roger King’s keyboards set up a rhythmic tune reminiscent of the Halloween film soundtrack but there is much more going on here than that. Once again, Chris and Steve lay down a superb vocal harmony and there is enough musical adventure here to keep any fan happy although once again, there are definite echoes in Steve’s playing of some of his most recent work but hey, that’s no bad thing!
The Summer Backwards continues Steve’s fascination with travel. A delicate acoustic guitar and some tasteful use of effects makes this an infinitely more likely single than the track which has been chosen. There are so many references to Steve’s previous work here especially lyrically, spot them for yourselves as you bask in the reflected warmth of The Summer Backwards.
Storm Chaser is one track I was looking forward to hearing in its studio incarnation, having been lucky enough to hear it in the live context back in 2009. There it was a fantastic out and out rocker. Here, sadly, the end result lacks something although I can’t put my finger on what it is. It certainly isn’t Squire’s bass which will still threaten to blow out the woofers on any but the hardiest of hi fi systems but this one doesn’t cut it for me, not even the passing nod to vintage Proggers King Crimson can redeem it. This is one that will definitely benefit from live performance though.
Can’t Stop The Rain, ironic title given the current wash-out summer that we are experiencing here in the UK, is next. A sedate and refined keyboard and percussion combo get this one under way. Chris Squire’s vocal takes the lead here and remind us exactly how good a singer he is in his own right. I can’t get a couple of songs by Tony Banks out of my head when I hear this one, don’t ask me why! A much more satisfying effort than its predecessor, this is the beating heart of the album.
Perfect Love Song brings the album to a close in a suitably dramatic fashion. Steve’s ethereal guitar and Roger’s symphonic keyboards merge to create a magnificently vast sounds cape. Into this are carefully placed the incredibly evocative harmonies of both protagonists. Steve lays down some fierce licks here whilst Chris underpins the entire performance with a rock solid bass line all of which emphasises that this collaboration is based on mutual respect and empathy, a good sign and with an album as well crafted as this one, the possibilities are endless for Messrs Squire and Hackett!