(Inside Out Music, out 24th March on CD)
The Night Siren is the 25th album of Steve Hackett’s long and distinguished solo career. Of course, his CV also includes the small matter of having been lead guitarist in Genesis, during their most creative period. While primarily associated with prog rock, his music has exhibited considerable diversity, also encompassing jazz, blues, and classical genres. World music flavours are added to the mix with this album.
The opening track, ‘Behind the Smoke’, is a song about refugees through the ages. It is powerful and highly impressive. Musical tension builds until pierced by Hackett’s distinctive guitar, which sounds as compellingly mesmeric as ever.
‘Martian Sea’ is a much jauntier number (featuring Hackett on sitar as well as guitar), while paradoxically the lyrics relate to a failed relationship. The music indicating the sense of liberation that comes from escaping that situation.
Contrary to what many Scots might first think, ‘Fifty Miles from the North Pole’ was inspired by a gig Hackett played in Iceland, rather than memories of a summer holiday in Saltcoats. Brrrr! The song is incredibly atmospheric, with great backing vocals by Amanda Lehmann.
‘Anything But Love’ opens with some fabulous flamenco guitar, before gaining pace, energy (and electric guitar) as it builds to its epic conclusion.
Perhaps the most haunting song on the album is ‘The Other Side of the Wall’, a tale of forbidden love. It is rich in luscious acoustic guitar and gentle vocals.
‘Inca Terra’ features a gloriously memorable cascade of rising and falling harmonies. This song was inspired by travels in Peru, but a didgeridoo makes an effective cameo appearance.
A Caledonian element is introduced on ‘In Another Life’, which begins in the form of a Celtic folk song. It builds to a much more rock-oriented number, fading out with some gorgeous Uilleann pipes.
‘In the Skeleton Gallery’ undergoes several changes of pace and features a brief echo of ‘The Golden Age of Steam’ from Hackett’s 1999 Darktown album. Rob Townsend’s sax is dramatically effective.
‘West to East’ is an anthem for peace, featuring the talents of (among others) Israeli and Palestinian singers.
As an album, this really showcases Hackett’s formidable musical talents. While embracing his past, he’s also exploring new musical vistas. With each fresh listen, this becomes a more rewarding experience, revealing new threads of the rich musical tapestry.
A solid argument can be made that The Night Siren is the best work of Hackett’s solo career. Certainly, it shows him at the top of his musical game. There are changes of style and tone throughout. Each song stands on its own, while complementing the others on the album. Essentially, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, while each of the parts is pretty special.
Often, the creativity and output of many musicians diminishes with the passage of time. The Night Siren demonstrates that Hackett’s creative muse burns as brightly as ever, his musical odyssey is progressive in the truest sense of the word. If Hackett has a musical mission statement, it appears to be inspired by the words of Robert Browning: ‘Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be…’.
The siren songs of Greek myth were an irresistible temptation. These Siren songs certainly have compelling appeal.