I can’t remember the last time I heard Chris Squire approach the bass with this much unadulterated passion, with this much joy.
Take a spin through A Life Within A Day, his forthcoming collaboration with Genesis alum Steve Hackett, and their collaborative band name — kind of goofy, almost like a lark — suddenly starts making perfect sense. Squackett, quite frankly, makes Squire’s more recent work with Yes sound pent up, like a terse response rather than a statement of purpose.
Take “Tall Ships,” a track that maybe more than any other song on the Squackett project (due May 28, 2012, from Cherry Red Records) underscores this album’s sense of free-wheeling fun: Squire plays the bass with what can only be called a thundering joy, even as Hackett pulls in a series of interesting thoughts on guitar — some straight forward and others descending into a weird mystery. Riding Squire’s insistent sense of ecstasy, the tune keeps digging itself a dizzying groove, giving Hackett perhaps the album’s most spacious platform to explore.
Pop gems like “Perfect Love Song,” “Divided Self” and “Can’t Stop the Rain” also remind us how both of these men emerged from the intricate layers of classically inspired 1970s rock in Yes and Genesis to scale the pop charts a decade later. There’s not a whole lot of distance between some of these approachable new efforts and MTV-era hits like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” or “When the Heart Rules the Mind.” Of course, “Divided Self” aspires to more than that, as it comes crashing down toward song’s end into a brilliantly spooky, broken-Moviola dirge. And, truth be told, there are more than a few fantastical moments, notably on “Aliens” and “A Life Within A Day” — songs that are perfectly in keeping with the serpentine, darkly mysterious Roger Dean landscapes that we always assumed would be waiting for us at this late date in the future. “Stormchaser,” meanwhile, possesses what can only be called an ass-whipping thump — sounding, as does the title track at times, like nothing so much as their interpolation of prog-rock Zeppelin.
But, more often, A Life Within A Day (which also features producer Roger King on keyboards, Jeremy Stacey on drums and Amanda Lehmann on backing vocals) is a sun-filled, surprisingly light-hearted experience — a journey that’s both at peace with what came before, and yet somehow brand new in the way that it combines the sensibilities of Yes and Genesis without getting bound up in their pasts. “The Summer Backwards,” a showcase for King’s contributions on this album, offers a cascading moment of almost ineffable beauty — something that simply can’t be found on more recent Yes releases. “Can’t Stop the Rain,” a heartfelt meditation on our faltering ecology that Squire brought to this project, opens up into a glass-smooth chorus that boasts this diaphanous, all together disarming charm.
“Perfect Love Song,” an album high point, perhaps does the best job of combining familiar elements of both men’s legacies — the fizzy compositional twists and lofty backing vocals of Squire’s most recognizable tunes, and Hackett’s acclaimed fleet-fingered solos and penchant for whipsaw orchestral accompaniment. The cynic might be inclined to complain about its sleek production and air-tight pop hook, so far away from this duo’s initial myth-making sound, but then again there’s something to be said for the way Squackett manages to reanimate the best of both worlds.
Then there’s “Sea of Smiles” — which is, quite simply, a tour-de-force, this brilliantly conceived narrative that underscores everything fans of both Yes and Genesis have been hoping for from the Squackett project. As Squire’s thwacking bass again moves thrillingly to the fore, the song unfolds with a compact, episodic swiftness. Hackett and Squire’s voices, and then their instruments, tangle and untangle through a series of tempo and atmospheric changes — opening up a stirring vista of discoveries on repeated listenings.
That they sound so very happy — that Squire, in particular, does — only makes those return trips all the more pleasurable.