Archive for November, 2017

Album of the Week 47-2017: Steve Hackett – The Night Siren


After spending a lot of time touring with new interpretations of old  Genesis material, Steve Hackett finally found the time to release a new album of all original material again earlier this year. And that is great, because his last couple of albums were all really good. ‘The Night Siren’ is no different. In fact, it may be even better than the already impressive ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’. Here, Hackett tries to create a world fusion/progressive rock hybrid that works a lot better than earlier attempts at such a blend. Not just by Hackett himself, but by rock musicians in general.

What makes ‘The Night Siren’ work so well is that it is not the work of a western rock musician trying to show off how exotic he can be; Hackett really creates his own style with all these foreign influences, no doubt helped by the great arrangements and gorgeous, often Arabic sounding orchestrations of his keyboard player and co-producer Roger King. While exploring all corners of the world, Hackett and King keep the bottom end firm and relatively heavy, creating a record that is much more consistent than albums with such a journeyman mentality genereally tend to be.

Most of the songs on here could have been on any one of Hackett’s records and because of that, the songs do not sound like huge departures from what he usually does. Tracks like the amazing opener ‘Behind The Smoke’ and the lengthy guitar exercise ‘Fify Miles From The North Pole’ sound memorable and muscular, while the orchestrations give them a ‘Kashmir’-like atmosphere. Hackett’s work on the classical guitar makes ‘Other Side Of The Wall’ feel like a familiar, trusted song, while the folk morphing into prog approach of ‘Inca Terra’ would not have sounded out of place on Genesis’ ‘Wind & Wuthering’.

That does not mean that ‘The Night Siren’ is without surprises. ‘Martian Sea’ starts out sounding like one of the sixties pop inspired tracks that Hackett is known to be fond of, but turns into a somewhat psychedelic song with distinct Indian influences halfway through and the celtic folk-inspired first half of ‘In Another Life’ sounds unlike anything Hackett has ever done before. It also illustrates best how much Hackett’s vocals have improved recently: he sounds powerful and confident here. ‘Anything But Love’ slowly builds from a latin and flamenco inspired track to an inspired uptempo, but not too heavy rocker and ‘The Gift’ is almost cinematic in scope.

Honestly, 21st century progressive rock does not get much better than this. There is a spontaneity to ‘The Night Siren’ that is very rare in the meticulously composed genre. Of course, Hackett’s tasteful and not too flashy lead guitar work would make any album sound better, but compositorically, he has been in the shape of a lifetime for the last decade. ‘The Night Siren’ is a new highlight in the guitarist’s already impressive body of work. It is also one of the brightest gems of 2017 music. Highly recommended to everyone.

Recommended tracks: ‘Behind The Smoke’, ‘El Niño’, ‘Fifty Miles From The North Pole’

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Album of the Week 46-2017: Jamiroquai – The Return Of The Space Cowboy


While primarily known for their disco funk hits, Jamiroquai is actually one of the more versatile bands of the pop music landscape of the last few decades. No album proves this better than their sophomore record ‘The Return Of The Space Cowboy’. Sure, there is always a jazzy funk fundament, but what they choose to put on top of that varies wildly, resulting in their most accomplished and adventurous album thus far. Despite its experimental nature, the album is surprisingly consistent. Every song has a solid groove and an irresistible swing. Most of them have very strong choruses as well.

In addition, the album has a very pleasant live feel. Jamiroquai would experiment with electronic rhythms to varying degrees of success, but ‘The Return Of The Space Cowboy’ is full of lengthy jams, which transforms even the simplest vamp into a dance classic. This is easily what the band is best at and with all the musicians having different musical backgrounds, a myriad of influences is brought to the fore; not just funk and jazz, but also pop, hints of rock and the odd Carribean touch. As a result of that, every song on ‘The Return Of The Space Cowboy’ sounds different and has an identity of its own.

Though the album starts of on a high note with the remarkably complex, seventies Miles Davis-ish nine minute vamp of ‘Just Another Story’, the best material can all be found around the middle of the album. With its propulsive beat, ‘The Kids’ is likely the most aggressive song Jamiroquai ever recorded, ‘Mr. Moon’ is a delicious slab of late seventies funk and the soulful, socially counscious ‘Manifest Destiny’ is the brightest hidden jam in the band’s discography. ‘Scam’, while mainly super funky, has a bit of a psychedelic soul vibe, a genre that really isn’t practiced as much as it should be.

Of course, the album is not without its weird moments. The didgeridoo-lead instrumental ‘Journey To Arnhem’ couldn’t really be on any other artist’s album, but as a whole, ‘The Return Of The Space Cowboy’ is an album full of smooth, streamlined grooves. Smooth does not necessarily mean soft though. Sure, there are soft moments, such as the quiet storm-like ‘Morning Glory’ and the latin jazz-inspired ‘Stillness In Time’, but sometimes it’s just a matter of polishing up the raw potential of the band, such as the delightful closer ‘Space Cowboy’.

Anyone looking for proof that Jamiroquai is more than just the native American headgear and Stevie Wonder-inspired voice of frontman Jay Kay should look no further than ‘The Return Of The Space Cowboy’. The record is full of excellent interaction between the other band members, with especially bassist Stuart Zender and (at the time) new drummer Derrick McKenzie shining brightly. Jamiroquai would carry on to make singles that were even better than the songs here (‘Deeper Underground’, ‘Runaway’, ‘Cosmic Girl’), but they have yet to make an album full of performances as inspired as on this one. ‘Rock Dust Light Star’ came close, but ‘The Return Of The Space Cowboy’ still stands as a unique entry in Jamiroquai’s discography.

Recommended tracks: ‘Manifest Destiny’, ‘The Kids’, ‘Just Another Story’

Album of the Week 45-2017: Genesis – Wind & Wuthering


A popular opinion is that Genesis lost its progressive edge after the departure of original singer Peter Gabriel. Stating that they did after guitarist Steve Hackett left the band would be closer to the truth. His frustration about the diminshing role of his guitar is justified, but still there are notable guitar moments on his final record with the band. As a whole, ‘Wind & Wuthering’ is very much an early Genesis album, on which progressive song structures, lush keyboards and folky passages blend into one atmospheric whole. It might lack a ‘The Musical Box’-like highlight, but it is one of their most consistent records.

‘Wind & Wuthering’ is also more adventurous than its direct predecessor ‘A Trick Of The Tail’. Phil Collins has obviously grown into his new role as the lead singer and as a result, he is allowed to stretch out a little. It is not just Collins who sounds more comfortable on this record though. Keyboard player Tony Banks is quite obviously the main contributor here, but everyone – including Hackett – truly gives their best here, never getting in the way of the composition as most progressive rock bands tend to do.

The album contains Genesis’ first stab at a full-on pop song and though ‘Your Own Special Way’ is expertly written and arranged, it is by far the weakest song on the record. Fortunately, it is offset against instrumental tracks like ‘Wot Gorilla?’ – on which Collins’ drumwork is truly out of this world – and the highly atmospheric diptych of ‘Unquiet Slumbers For The Sleepers…’ and ‘…In That Quiet Earth’. The 10-minute ‘One For The Vine’ sort of switches back and forth between those two extremes and despite a somewhat confused middle section, it turns out to be another strong progressive track in the tradition of songs like ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’.

Hackett’s finest moment on ‘Wind & Wuthering’ surprisingly isn’t defined by his electric guitar, but by his skills on the classical guitar. ‘Blood On The Rooftops’ is an excellent, atmospheric track with fantastic performances by both Hackett and Collins. Opening track ‘Eleventh Earl Of Mar’ is another highlight. It is a light, but still substantial progressive rock song with strong melodies, multiple climaxes and some catchy sections carried by Collins’ excellent vocals. Closer ‘Afterglow’ was the live staple of this record and though it is good, it sort of feels like a reprise of the non-instrumental sections of ‘Firth Of Fifth’.

Despite sort of being the end of an era, ‘Wind & Wuthering’ does not feel like Genesis was running out of inspiration. In fact, it is easily their most inspired record since ‘Selling England By The Pound’ and has moments that exceed the seventies Genesis average by quite a margin. The instrumental tracks are all mindblowing and both “vocal” Hackett compositions are simply excellent. In addition, the album has a very pleasant flow that every other Genesis record seems to lack. As a fan of Hackett, I used to approach the album with caution, but I should not have. This is essential listening for fans of British progressive rock.

Recommended Tracks: ‘…In That Quiet Earth’, ‘Eleventh Earl Of Mar’, ‘Blood On The Rooftops’

Album of the Week 44-2017: Marillion – Seasons End


When original singer Fish left Marillion, it was considered the end of an era. However, it was also the beginning of a new era. Steve Hogarth, who still fronts te band to this day, has an emotional depth to his voice that Fish just did not have, allowing the band to branch out even further away from the strongly Genesis-inspired neo-prog of their earliest work. Along its predecessor ‘Clutching At Straws’, ‘Seasons End’ can be seen as sort of a transitional phase. Not because of the singer change between the albums, but because it signals Marillion’s shift towards the most emotional progressive rock created to date.

Most of the music had already been written before Hogarth, himself a great composer, joined the band, so it’s not too surprising that ‘Seasons End’ is stylistically similar to ‘Clutching At Straws’. The record has a dark, passionate vibe, with occasional lighter or more upbeat moments keeping the darkness from becoming too overwhelming. The ‘Incommunicado’-rewrite ‘Hooks In You’ is the most obvious example of this, but the opening one-two punch of ‘The King Of Sunset Town’ and ‘Easter’ is remarkably positive as well, even though the lyrical contents – about the turmoils in China and Northern Ireland respectively – is at times quite bleak.

As usual though, Marillion shines brightest in their darkest moments. Especially the finales of the original vinyl sides are nothing short of incredible. The moving ‘Seasons End’ has been built upon a haunting clean guitar line by Steve Rothery – who still has the most beautiful clean guitar sound in the world – and features bone chilling performances by both Rothery himself and Hogarth. Closing the album is ‘The Space…’, Hogarth’s first major compositional contribution to Marillion along with ‘Easter’. This synth-driven masterpiece works its way through multiple climaxes and features some incredible vocal work.

Despite those closers being the undisputed highlights of the record, most of Marillion’s albums are remarkably consistent and ‘Seasons End’ is no exception. Each and every one of the seven other songs are worth hearing. ‘Berlin’ in particular is a bit of a beautiful suite of shifting moods and building intensity. ‘Holloway Girl’ and the surprisingly short ‘After Me’ both start out as moody ballads and gradually turn into something more bombastic, while there are excellent performances by everyone involved all around. Steve Rothery in particular truly delivers. He is easily one of the most tasteful and melodic lead guitarists in contemporary music.

Though the singer change would spark an endless “who’s better?” debate, it was exactly what Marillion needed around the time ‘Seasons End’ was released. The album was an essential step in refining their own sound and evolving from their neo-prog beginnings into a truly progressive rock sound that encompasses various influences from the alternative pop and rock field. And even more importantly, ‘Seasons End’ shows that Marillion consists of a group of excellent songwriters that can do more than just play their instruments really well. They can carry a memorable tune much better than many other bands in the genre.

Recommended tracks: ‘Seasons End’, ‘The Space…’, ‘Berlin’