“Passport to the universe” - Steve Hackett’s new album, The Night Siren reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Travel has always been a theme underpinning Steve’s albums and let’s face it, over the last few years in particular he has certainly seen more than his fair share of the world during his travels touring. That has evidently been brought to bear in this, his twenty fifth studio album as we shall see….
The album opens with Behind The Smoke, the opening theme is reminiscent of Corycian Fire from 2015’s Wolflight album but we are soon taken off in an entirely different direction. A wonderfully observed examination in to the conflicted state of the world at present and what the future may hold. The plight of refugees is thrown into sharp focus with what is undoubtedly one of Steve’s most intense performances. A leap into the unknown, what lies Behind The Smoke may be dangerous , fatal even to consider and yet one must look back if only to understand the here and now, and to possibly contemplate the future… echoes of other places and times are all to be heard in this piece which can truly be called “world” music.
Martian Sea, don’t be fooled by the title folks, this has nowt to do with space travel, instead it is a celebration of escape from the shackles of a failed relationship. This is another particularly feisty performance from Steve and lyrically it is a deeply biting and acerbic and brutally honest examination of the failure of his previous marriage. Not quite as brutal as Mr Collins’ efforts in this department but nevertheless, an astonishingly forthright examination of a failed relationship.
Fifty Miles From The North Pole…. Steve has been a visitor to Iceland recently and this is reflected in the music here. Iceland is a place where myths and magic combine with an astonishing landscape, all of which is reflected here in the music, which vividly brings all of that to life in an aural portrait which is breathtaking in its execution and detail. From soaring guitar to wailing Valkyrie-like vocals, this one has the lot… an Icelandic saga in seven or so minutes!
El Nino, the ocean current which periodically disrupts the natural order of things is vividly described in musical detail here. Driven along by some ferocious percussion and searing guitar work from Steve, this is one of the most superbly descriptive instrumentals that he has penned in a long time. Hackett hacks it in fine style here!
The Other Side Of The Wall, an imagining of what might lie behind a walled up doorway in a garden… The Midnight Garden meets Narnia perhaps? Or lovers cruelly separated, the metaphor is there for you to decide upon folks. Driven by a delightful acoustic refrain and strings, a wonderful slice of romantic Hackett, but as always, there is a darker undertone, the warmth turns to darkness anguish and anger … an operetta of a song.
Anything But Love, Steve’s love of Spanish guitar is given full play here with a flamenco driven piece, there are echoes of previous offerings here but the end result is a superb evocation of love won and love lost, a song with an evidently personal meaning but one which will resonate with the listener. Steve’s harmonica also makes a welcome appearance here too.
Inca Terra, a beautiful evocation of South America driven along by percussion and charango and with some delightfully racy guitar work from Steve. Harmony vocals to die for here.
In Another Life is the one track which, on first listening did not seem to fit within the framework of this album, but several listenings later have made me change my mind. A tale of injustice in the Scottish highlands as told in typically eclectic style here. Even the slightly “Spinal Tap“ moment (you will know it when you hear it) does not detract from the over all drama and musicality of the piece. Not quite a Hackett classic, but a track which grows with time.
In The Skeleton Gallery however, redeems its predecessor with a superb Zeppelinesque slow driving riff and some fine ensemble playing which will ensure that this will be a live favourite on the up coming shows. Steve’s childhood nightmares brought frighteningly to life here… brrr!
West To East, is a truly world music affair with musicians from several different parts of the world taking part. A plea for tolerance amid an increasingly intolerant world and featuring contributions from Israeli and Palestinian musicians among others, a brave and uplifting hymn to hope and tolerance, the beating heart of the album and without doubt, one of the strongest and most heartfelt compositions Steve has ever committed to record… Hackett’s own “Imagine” if you like, and once you hear the track you will understand the comparison.
And we come to the last track of the album, The Gift, aptly titled as this is without doubt one of the loveliest instrumentals Steve has committed to record in a while. A soaring guitar overlays a shimmering keyboard refrain… Stately and restrained, majestic even, a beacon of light illuminating the world’s night sky… simply beautiful.
There you have it. As usual, Steve has not taken the easy path here and some of these tracks take repeated listens before they really sink in. This is a truly WORLD music album as it literally spans the globe in its scale and scope. Yes, there is a lot of recapitulation of previous musical ideas here too, and not everything works on every level as in some cases I think Steve has tried too hard and also tried to embrace too much within the confines of one album but you cannot help but admire a musician who, after all these years, is still prepared to take musical chances and to actually SAY something worthy of listening to with his music. Steve has made some brave decisions with this record, and it is his most intensely personal one to date.