As Steve Hackett prepares to release his second set of reimagined Genesis songs, following 1996’s Watcher of the Skies, it’s confession time: The John Wetton-led update of “Firth of Fifth” from that ’96 set has long since replaced the original in my iPhone.
The same, I’m ready to admit, is likely to happen again with several key cuts from his sprawling double-disc Genesis Revisited II, set for release October 22, 2012 via InsideOut Music. Among them: Neal Morse’s fleet remake of 1971’s “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” (from 1971’s Nursery Cryme, Hackett’s Genesis debut), Steven Wilson’s brilliant turn on 1972’s “Can-Utility and the Coastliners,” and Wetton’s deeply emotional take on “Afterglow,” originally found on 1976’s Wind and Wuthering, Hackett’s finale with the band.
In each instance, and this is probably blasphemy to some, I hear new and deeper complexities, even as Hackett uses all of the intervening experience and technology to give the surrounding music its own fresh resonance.
See, for all of the compositional wonder of Peter Gabriel-era music from Genesis, his vocals could be a difficult and acquired taste. Though Gabriel would begin to handle lyrics with a far more intriguing complexity as a solo artist, he hadn’t yet developed that nuance and power. Occasionally, he simply grates. At the same time, Hackett was (with a tip of the old chapeau to Phil Collins at the drums) the most involving instrumentalist in the band.
Is it any wonder, then, that Hackett’s solo reworkings of classic Genesis, most of which have boasted both superior vocalists and a more mature approach to his own contributions, often seem every bit the equal (and sometimes the better) of the original versions?
Even tracks like “Supper’s Ready” from ’72’s Foxtrot, which for some reason I’ve never completely connected with, come to hold new intrigues here. Hackett brings to bear decades of experience exploring the intertwining wonders of Bach, while Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt finds new voicings, and ultimately new meaning, too. Elsewhere, “Horizons,” the instrumental from Foxtrot, is given a authoritative re-reading, while 1976’s “Entangled” (with Jakko Jakszyk on vocals) has such clarity that it sounds born anew. Legacy fans will also thrill to new instrumental elements on The Music Box, which originally ended up on the editing room floor back in 1971. Hackett also includes remakes of several solo offerings, the best of which are a pair of tracks from his 1975 debut — which, of course, included major contributions from Genesis bandmates Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford.
Of course, with a project this expansive, not all of it rises to the level of definitive. For instance, Amanda Lehmann’s turn at the mic for “Ripples,” admirable though it may be, can’t touch the emotional sweep of Collins’ initial version on Trick of the Tail, also from ’76. Nad Sylvan of Agents of Mercy manages both a dead-on Gabriel during 1974’s “The Chamber of 32 Doors” and a spitting-image Collins on “Eleventh Earl Of Mar” from Wind and Wuthering, but not much more.
Yet even then, nothing about this collection is rote. I was particularly struck by Hackett’s ruminative explorations of the instrumentals “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers/In That Quiet Earth” from Wind and Wuthering — moments which illustrate, over and over again, a lasting passion for this era of music. It’s something, quite frankly, his former bandmates are apparently unable to muster. Rutherford and Gabriel never seem to reference this period in their on-going tours, Tony Banks has turned to classical, and Collins has long since retired.
That leaves Hackett as the gatekeeper, steward and cheerleader for this sound, for this whole portion of the Genesis legacy. I, for one, am glad he’s here to do it — if for no other reason than this: He’s given me a opportunity to listen to these old favorites in a new way, and sometimes to discover something I like even more than the original.
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