Album of the Week 25-2016: Steve Hackett – Spectral Mornings

Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett is to me one of those people who should consistently be mentioned in any list of guitar heroes, but somehow hardly ever is. Maybe it’s because he focuses on tasteful, melodically oriented leads rather than constant speedy runs, although the is perfectly capable of writing the latter. Another reason why he deserves all the praise he can get is the fact that his records are infinitely more listenable than those of any neoclassical shredder. Hackett is an excellent composer and though his consistent embrace of technology makes some of his efforts sound a bit dated, his third album ‘Spectral Mornings’ was his first masterpiece. Definitely worth a listen.

Like the vast majority of his solo records, ‘Spectral Mornings’ is a bit of a hodgepodge, which can make it sound a little uneven at times. It’s not completely fair to judge it by that, because he tackles every style on the album with an elegance and an expertise that makes it nearly impossible not to admire Hackett for it. Even the humorous, vaguely Carribean sounding ‘The Ballad Of A Decomposing Man’, which does stand out like a sore thumb in a way, because the rest of the record is such stately, progressive music.

The most important reason for me to love this record is opening track ‘Every Day’. It starts out reasonably poppy with a prominent role for Nick Magnus’ synthesizers and the excellent vocal harmonies Hackett shares with bassist Dik Cadbury and lead singer Pete Hicks, but it’s the second half that turns the whole song into gold. Lead by a myriad of fantastic melodies, these are quite likely the most beautiful three minutes of guitar music ever laid down on tape. Hackett’s playing is highly expressive, but the melodies are also extremely well-written. The backing by his band, Magnus especially, is subtle, but just right for the part.

So ‘Every Day’ starts the record off in a mindblowing fashion, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything else to be enjoyed here. The closing title track is more proof that Hackett is an excellent guitarist who refuses to let his playing get in the way of the composition. ‘Clocks – The Angel Of Mons’ is another great instrumental built upon a strong recurring theme and features an overwhelming drum solo by John Shearer, which I suspect is double tracked. But even outside of his pastoral Progrock sound, Hackett and his band excel: ‘Last Time In Cordoba’ is a vehicle for the guitarist’s considerable skills on the classical guitar, while ‘The Virgin And The Gypsy’ highlights his Folk origins beautifully.

Anyone who doesn’t consider Steve Hackett a guitar hero obviously hasn’t heard him play. Maybe part of the “problem” is that the calm, sympathetic Brit has never had the ego to impose himself onto the audience as the next facemelting shredder, but his best records feature some of the most tasteful, pleasant guitar music ever made. And he’s still going strong. His three most recent studio records are every bit as good as this one, but if you’re looking for a way to get into the man’s impressive skills, look no further than the last three minutes of ‘Every Day’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Every Day’, ‘Spectral Mornings’, ‘Last Time In Cordoba’

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