"From Faces to Wild Orchids" - The Steve Hackett album re-issues reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
The past few years have been ones of mixed fortunes for Steve. His divorce from Kim Poor being particularly acrimonious and resulting in the demise of his own record label; Camino Records with the result that the majority of his back catalogue on that label is currently unavailable.
Thankfully, steps have been taken to address this problem and the first fruits of that are to be heard in this batch of re-issues which takes up the Steve Hackett story from the Till We Have Faces album which was initially issued in 1984. Now I freely admit that this is one of those “problem” albums which I don’t listen to that often. Back in ‘84 the album was seen by most of Steve’s fans as a step too far after the shocks we had received when Steve finally stepped centre stage and started to develop his own vocal craft with 1981’s Cured album and its successor; 1983’s Highly Strung which was to give Steve his last UK chart entry until the recent release of Genesis Revisited II.
Anyway, back to Till We Have Faces. The current edition features the same track listing as the original CD version which may be something of a disappointment for existing Hackett fans. However, the real aim of this exercise is to get the albums back out there for newer fans to have the chance to explore albums they may have missed. As such, this album still doesn’t really rate among my top ten Hackett albums although there are some delightful moments on it, not least the brilliantly tongue-in-cheek Matilda Smith-Williams Home For The Aged which even now makes me smile and the single, A Doll That’s Made In Japan is still an impressive slice of oriental Prog. As Steve has stated previously, there are many tracks left over from the recording sessions for this album and the inclusion of some of them might have made this a slightly more interesting prospect as would the inclusion of the single B side; Just The Bones. Who knows? Maybe they are being saved for the eventual Hackett retrospective box set?
We then take a leap forward of nine years to an album that is definitely one of the most pivotal in Steve’s career; 1993’s Guitar Noir. This is the album where Steve definitively found his voice in more ways than one. Here we have the first indications of the increasingly personal writing style which Steve has adopted more and more ever since this album was released. Several latter day classics are to be found here not least the searing Sierra Quemada and the haunting Like An Arrow. An album from the darker side of life but one peopled with brilliantly observed characters and an essential item in any Hackett collection.
Ironically, the next album in this series is the first Genesis Revisited project. At the time of its release this took most fans by surprise and opinion was divided. Many fans found the experimental manner in which some of the tracks had been treated, disrespectful and others loved it. Looked back on now with the benefit of sixteen years, the finished result is still one of great contrasts. Songs such as Your Own Special Way, are taken to new heights while the re-workings of the likes of Waiting Room Only and Fountain Of Salmacis might not be to everyone’s taste, but if the premise of the album was to make people re-assess the originals then it was and is a successful album and another which new fans will find both challenging and rewarding.
Moving on a further two years and we come to Darktown, without a doubt, the most challenging album in Steve’s entire catalogue. If Guitar Noir was the beginning of Steve’s exorcism of his inner demons, then this album sees that exorcism reach its conclusion and what a tour de force it is! Darktown itself examines the victim/perpetrator relationship of the school playground. Rise Again a veritable hymn to the afterlife and the brittle beauty of a relationship ruined by drugs that is Jane Austen’s Door. Not an album for the faint hearted, Darktown is nonetheless another essential part of any fan’s Hackett collection.
2000’s Feedback ‘86 had a longer gestation period than just about any other project that Steve has committed to record. Ostensibly a follow-up album to GTR, Feedback was shelved due to legal and other problems before finally seeing the light of day not just in a new decade but a new century/millennium! Fortunately, time has been quite kind to the album and it certainly does not sound as dated as you would expect. Slot Machine, for example would still make a great single as far as I am concerned. Some tracks work better than others but over all another enjoyable effort.
Steve’s purple patch really began with the next album in this re-issues series, 2003’s To Watch The Storms. “A street with thirteen bungalows on it, each with a different frontage” as one reviewer (can’t think who though…?) put it. If Darktown was Steve’s very own Primal Scream therapy session, then this album takes us out of the dark and into the light with some of Steve’s best work in many a year. Strutton Ground, another of Steve’s “list” songs takes us on a guided tour of some of the places that have helped form our hero. The Silk Road is a brilliantly observed piece of what is now known as “World Music” and there is something to delight and fascinate (and amuse) at just about every turn on this one making it one of Steve’s best albums in my opinion.
The final album in this batch is 2006’s Wild Orchids. Something of a mixed bag this one. Light and shade are to be found here from the maniacal Transylvanian Express and Down Street to more gentle examples of Steve’s craft such as the lush To A Close. There is even space for something of a rarity in the shape of the cover of Dylan’s classic Man In The Long Black Coat which Steve delivers in a suitably enigmatic fashion.
There you have it. Existing fans may not find these releases of great interest, there is nothing therein to excite anything more than curiosity but for the newer fans whom this series is squarely aimed at, there is much to revel in and enjoy. With the prospect of further re-issues including hopefully Steve’s brilliant acoustic (Bay Of Kings/ Momentum) and the marvellous orchestral works (A Midsummer Night’s Dream/ Metamorpheus) there is much for new fans to look forward to and these re-issues get the ball rolling extremely well.