While he is re-defining the Genesis catalogue, Hackett is free to experiment more in his newer releases, working with artists from around the world.
Label: Inside Out
Time: 11 tracks / 58 mins.
There seem to be three types of Steve Hackett release: the could-have-been-Genesis music: fluid, majoring on emotional guitar work (such as solo début Voyage of the Acolyte); the classical and acoustic material, often played with his brother John on flute (such as their work on Satie, or Hungarian Horizons); and then there are the eclectic albums that seem to collect whatever is going on at the time (like Please Don’t Touch).
The Night Siren is one of the latter. The siren warns of giving into the fear-founded, divisive populism that has given us Trump, Brexit and a near-miss in France.
Sometimes he is explicit about the problem and solution: powerful opener “Behind the Smoke” (whose Eastern tones almost make this to him what “Kashmir” is to Led Zeppelin) is about people having to flee from war. It is reprised to some extent by the gently anthemic “West to East” which pleas for peace, using singers from Israel and Palestine. (Guitar-wise he could have called this “Afterglow Pt. 2”).
Mainly, he simply addresses the issue by using musicians from across the world to model working together and prove that they don’t bite.
Two of these tracks could be among his best yet. The majestic “Anything but Love” begins with flamenco guitar, moves to a singable melody and some well-placed bluesy harmonica, then puts its foot on the gas for a blistering, face-scrunching solo before bringing everything together.
As forceful as its name suggests, “El Niño” features a synthetic strings intro that may take you to Jeff Lynne’s War of the Worlds. it’s a building instrumental that features a range of powerful guitar styles, from tapping to Jeff Beck-like phrasing. These two really reach past the brain to the heart.
The album eases out with “The Gift,” a simple, melodic instrumental that is slow, pure and heartfelt.
The way that Hackett includes multi-cultural and multi-stylistic elements puts pressure on the disc’s cohesion. Mostly it works.
A track inspired by his experience of playing in Iceland, “Fifty Miles from the North Pole,” which includes trumpet, didgeridoo, a well-used cameo children’s choir and some delightful twangy surf guitar, is certainly Hacketty enough to work. Similarly, a quintessentially Hackett song about having night terrors as a boy, "In the Skeleton Gallery" has a strong enough rock aesthetic to carry its mild eclecticism.
Elsewhere, though, fractures show between tracks, if not within them. “Martian Sea” develops some very tasty sitar and oud, and the chorus is instantly accessible, but its early-‘60s verse feels too vicious a jump away from the rock-guitar power of “Behind the Smoke,” which it follows.
The ballad “In Another Life” (where Troy Donockley’s Uilleann pipes are somewhat under-used) and particularly “Inca Terra” have strong elements, but can feel like ideas stuck together with barely enough glue.
Hackett recognises the dangers, admitting, “This is a little bit of a collage,” but insists, “There are no troughs at all, just a succession of peaks.” There are certainly some huge peaks, but there are troughs, too: “The Other Side of the Wall,” which reminds me of Genesis’ “For Absent Friends,” is just so-so.
Hackett often uses vocalists like Nad Sylvan (who shares vocals on “Inca Terra”) and Nik Kershaw, but here he sings a lot himself. His voice can do the louder parts, where he can get some power, but he should use a guest on the quieter sections.
Hackett is doing a brilliant job in re-defining the Genesis catalogue and now more of us are defining its quality years as ‘Hackett era’ rather than ‘Gabriel era.’ This looking back allows him time, cash and goodwill to be freer with a complementary range of songs, such as this, which keep his creativity flowing and save him from having to play only "Firth of Fifth" for the rest of his career.