Luckily for progressive rock fans, Steve Hackett has been the sole ex-member keeping the Genesis flame burning. Not that the guitarist has rested on his laurels: In fact, Hackett has been producing vibrant new music for decades. The Night Siren, his 25th or so solo release, ups the ante with a combination of stunning world music, progressive epics which we have come to know and love from Steve Hackett, and guitar playing second to no one.
The lead off track “Behind the Smoke” combines many of these elements in a fast-paced look at the current state of the world. Hackett, who wrote all of the music and a majority of the lyrics for the album, pulls no punches, yet “Behind the Smoke” is not preachy or self-righteous. The end breakdown is stunning fun, with Steve Hackett at his fleet-fingered finest.
“Martian Sea” finds Hackett shifting gears with a fast-paced rev up and a distorted guitar solo that recalls his best work. Midway in, there are hints of Middle Eastern music with what sound like an oud, sitar and backwards guitar. It’s very retro, and very engaging. The lyrics, which are sung by Hackett, seem to focus on isolation and loneliness but are spirited along by drummer Nick D’Virgilio urgent backbeat.
Hackett, during his recent interview for Something Else!, referred to “Fifty Miles From the North Pole” as a song inspired by his visit to Iceland. The song is dark, desolate and mysterious. Hackett sets the mood with a tremolo sounding guitar but his voice confirms the isolation. He captured the feeling of bleakness with orchestration and trumpet, then switches gears with a time change accompanied by stunning Les Paul work. Is the timing change supposed to reflect the Northern Lights? Does the muted trumpet and frantic end represent the sunrise? Does it matter? This is progressive rock of the finest order.
“El Nino” ties in the tribal drums and Roger King’s orchestration with arpeggiated guitars in an instrumental which sounds nothing like Genesis, yet sounds assessable and as forceful as its title. “Anything But Love” lyrically covers familiar territory but musically Steve Hackett employs his flamenco guitar with great effect, providing percussion by tapping on the body of the guitar while finger picking with great affect. By the time the bands joins in, the song structure becomes more conventional but no less fascinating. The middle solo of the song is provided by a blues harp, which then builds to a riveting electric guitar outro.
“Inca Terra” combines Peruvian influence with percussion elements from Sardinia, and Iceland and Africa. The song builds from its initial vocal ensemble foundation to become something greater than the sum of its many divergent parts. The lyrics, written by Joy Hackett, seem to mesh effortlessly with the changing melody. The result is another combination of cultures which builds in complexity and scope, then ends with one of the most melodic solos of the album.
There is a Scottish folk feeling to the song “In Another Life.” The song has a hint of violence and melancholy. The mood is set by the acoustic guitar and the vocal of Nad Sylvan, which adds a touch of femininity and grace. The song, also written with Joy Hackett, ties in string patches with the lyrics creating images of sadness and wonder. The middle electric guitar solo is stellar, as all Hackett’s solos are, but could have been left out so that the song continued in the same sober mood with great impact.
“In the Skeleton Gallery,” co-written with Joy Hackett, was previewed on Something Else! a few weeks ago. Repeated listening reveal the combination of elements which make the song one of Steve Hackett’s finest. Lyrically as driving as it is moving, the song is a great representation of how The Night Siren successfully weaves melodies, time signature and sounds together to make an unforgettable music experience. Yes, at least today, this is my favorite song on the album.
The Night Siren closes with “The Gift,” the only song not penned by Steve Hackett – yet it seems a fitting way to end the remarkable effort. It continues a theme of unity explored in the preceding track “West To East,” where Hackett combines Israeli and Palestinian musicians together with orchestration to musically discuss the plight of the world and the impact of war. “The Gift,” through Hackett’s solo guitar, seems to take the listener full circle, providing a ray of hope that we can have a dialogue and resolve of differences. That’s quite an accomplishment given the song is an instrumental and under three minutes long. That’s how effective Steve Hackett’s vision and his execution are, both here and throughout The Night Siren.
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