"The journal of an inveterate dreamer" - Steve Hackett’s Wolflight album reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Wolflight. The darkest hour of the night, just before the dawn. The time when the edges of the worlds of fantasy and reality are blurred and indistinct and what seems real can be scarily unreal. Not the most promising of ideas for an album eh? Well, in some cases you might be right but when such a subject is in the hands of Steve Hackett then the results are, by turns, fascinating and challenging. What follows is a track by track look at the album and what it has to offer the listener.
Out Of The Body: The cry of a wolfpack and some primal drumming get the album off to a suitably dramatic start. Steve’s guitar itself howls as if it is a member of the same pack as Mr Hackett gives us yet another prime example of just how good he is at rock guitar work. The guitar weaves and dances like a veritable dervish creating eddies and patterns of incredibly intricate sounds before Mansur Malik’s tar playing leads us into…
Wolflight: The album’s title track and one of the most expansive and dramatic tracks that Steve has ever committed to record. There is simply too much going on in the almost ten minutes that this track lasts to really do it justice and anyone who tries to pigeonhole Mr Hackett will certainly have their work cut out with this one. Delicate and almost austere one moment, rampaging and terrifying the next this one is really a neat encapsulation of everything that is the essential Steve Hackett all rolled into one ten minute package and if you haven’t seen it, check out the superb video which was made to accompany it which is every bit as enjoyable I can tell you.
Love Song To A Vampire: Vampires have featured previously on Steve’s albums haven they; A Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite anyone? However, this time we have no surreal almost humorous tale but instead a deeply dark and evocative telling of a potential destructive relationship which reminds me in some aspects of the Sherlock Holmes story: The Sussex Vampyre (or as it was titled when it was televised: The Last Vampyre), here we have a superb evocation of someone who falls victim to a character who drains them emotionally rather than physically. Accompanied by vocals from Amanda Lehmann, whose harmonies lift this to sublime heights. I am sure that we have all experienced our personal “vampires” and here is a stunning evocation in music and lyrics to their destructive effect - stunning, simply stunning and once again accompanied by a marvellous video. Steve’s musical muse has continued to shine favourably on him and for me this track rates right up there with any of his previous efforts for drama, observation and magnificence. A film for the ears indeed!
The Wheel’s Turning: We are back to the fairground, a familiar reference of Steve’s but once again, this is more Tales Of The Unexpected than any candy floss sweet tale. There is always an underlying element of menace within the fairground and Steve has managed to encapsulate this all within the song another films cape for the ears and is it just me but are there several echoes of previous similar tales to be found within the track’s closing coda? Never mind, a good cast is worth repeating as they used to say in the movies!
Corycian Fire: Here the travelogue moves not only from the London of Steve’s childhood but to the Greece that was part of the childhood of mankind’s civilisation. Referencing the goings on during the religious festival associated with the God Dionysus, itself a dramatic event, here we have a wonderful combination of modern instrumentation and more ancient ones such as the oud accompanied by a superlative set of lyrics by Steve’s good lady, Jo, whose knowledge of the subject lends authority to the end result. Not for the faint hearted, this is WORLD music in the truest sense of the word and if you do not shiver whilst you are listening to this one then there is definitely something wrong with you!
Earthshine: An album of Steve’s would not be complete without its acoustic moment would it? And after all the angst and drama of the preceding track, here we are brought gently back into the sunlight with yet another beautiful example of the other side of the small orchestra - see if you can spot the reference to a previous acoustic work within it!
Loving Sea: The opening guitar refrain to this reminds me of both The Who and The Beatles in equal measure, especially the backwards guitar in the midst of it. A delightfully straightforward celebration of life’s simpler pleasures, well it can all be doom and gloom now can it? If there was any justice a song of this simple beauty would be topping the charts but the general public don’t know what they’re missing, do they?
Black Thunder: A song of an altogether different cast next as Steve takes us back to the days of plantations and slavery in the deep South. A foot stomping, balls to the wall tale of a servile insurrection and there is no room for sentiment here as the tale is told in full blooded blues style and I simply adore the line: “The earth slipped its moorings as the moon cracked a smile” I have no idea where that image came from but from the very first time I heard the lyric several months ago I was taken by its potent visual imagery and it is every bit as effective on the finished album. A blues stomp as only Mr Hackett can do it, this one should be a live favourite I hope if only to get to see Steve unleash his harmonica once more!
Dust And Dreams: From the deep South to the Middle East next as the travelogue continues although the almost reggae beat to this track belies its instrumentation. It is good to hear Steve’s old cohort Hugo Degenhardt on this one and I still have fond memories of his percussive work back in the days of Guitar Noir. This could just as easily be a leisurely trip along the Silk Road, or during its more dramatic moments, a cavalry charge with Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes which would be quite apposite given the album’s recurring theme of travel through time and distance.
Heart Song: The album concludes with an emphatic statement from Steve. This track is a celebration of the liberation which his new relationship has brought to him. As someone who has been fortunate enough to know Steve for some time now, I have to say that he is an altogether happier individual these days and that is in no small measure due to his new partner and collaborator, Jo and it is only right and proper that that marvellous partnership is celebrated and that is exactly what we have here bringing the album to a suitably joyful conclusion.
So, that is the standard album but if you have invested in the special edition, and who doesn’t these days, then you have two extra tracks as well as a whole heap of bonus interview footage to consider
The first bonus track: Pneuma, is another delightful example of Steve’s acoustic work, surprisingly given the Greek origins of the word, the over all feel of this is more Spanish to me but that is probably down to the origins of the guitar itself. Who cares? This is prime agnostic guitar work from Mr H and another magnificent addition to the canon of his acoustic work - the small orchestra has seldom sounded better!
The album is rounded off by Midnight Sun, a track which Steve guested on by Icelandic band, Todmobile and is the only track on which Steve is not the featured vocalist. Not that that is to the detriment of the track, far from it, as this is another gloriously celebratory anthem which brings the album to a wonderfully upbeat ending.
The Blu Ray disc which forms the second disc of the special edition contains the 5.1 version of the album alongside an extended interview with Steve where he talks at length about the recording of the album and the individual tracks themselves. All done in his own inimitable fashion, this will be another delight for fans wondering just how he put this album together.
So there you have yet another new album from Steve. Musically he has assembled a cast if not of thousands then enough to surely be referred to as a “rock orchestra”. All the usual suspects are in fine form throughout this masterly album and the additions of the likes of Christine Tonwsend, Chris Squire and Malik Mansurov bring extra elements to the finished result.
Steve’s albums are always adventurous but on this one I can say with confidence that Steve has taken infinitely more risks with his efforts and in the main, they have paid off. With so many different instruments and themes to get to grips with, Steve could perhaps be accused of over egging the pudding somewhat but when the end result is as musically satisfying as this is, then the odd indulgence can easily be forgiven as the end result is an album that Hackett fans will relish and also one which will continue to take you by surprise each and every time you hear it and how often can you say that about music these days?