By Geoff Bailie
Take a look at Steve Hackett’s output over the last 10 years: six “rock” studio albums, one classical studio album, five live albums (actually six if you count the DVD that didn’t have a companion CD release), a collaboration with Chris Squire, and two expertly curated box sets focusing on earlier periods on his career. That excludes many guest appearances and collaborations, and doesn’t even mention the number of tours he has undertaken. For someone you could mistakenly class as a “heritage artist”, he is very much in the present. 2019 brings this new album, 160 tour dates (mixing the “Selling England by the Pound” album, his iconic “Spectral Mornings” album plus new music)… and who knows what else.
‘At The Edge Of The Light’ shows that Hackett is still an explorer and, unlike many of his peers, the stream of new music has not stopped. His global touring brings with it the fulfillment that musicians enjoying bringing their work to adoring crowds, but also exposes Steve to the countries and locations that provide inspiration to this continually creative artist. So in keeping with a lot of his back catalogue, the album is not stuck with a single genre or style or line up – Hackett populates his audio canvas with the sounds and players who bring his vision to life. A glance at the credits show instruments such as sitar, didgeridoo, violin, tar, duduk, door and flute woven in along with the traditional rock instruments. While Hackett’s core touring band members (Roger King, Jonas Reingold, Rob Townsend and Gary O’Toole) feature, you also have appearances by Nick D’Virgilio, Simon Phillips, the McBroom sister, and his brother John amongst the cast – the album is cast like a movie with the best person for the job being employed for that moment.
Hackett explains that while this isn’t a concept album, there is a unity of themes throughout the music and listening to it from start to finish, it is well paced, reaching a finale in the trilogy of tracks, “Descent”, “Conflict” and “Peace” at the end of the album.
“Fallen Walls and Pedestals” has great examples of Hackett’s signature lead style, both melodic and manic(!) which set the scene for what lies ahead. In his early solo years, Hackett used a variety of guest vocalists, but in more recent days he has been inclined to use his own voice more and more on albums and this is entirely suitable for the themes he explores on this album which you can tell he is personally passionate about. “Beasts of our Time” address the subject of darkness and light in the world today, mixing acoustic and strident sections to illustrate the contrasts, the story told by the lyrics and the sound pictures. The layered vocal harmonies on “Under The Eye Of The Sun” give way to some of atmospheric world music elements mentioned above, combined with some very prog keyboard playing. The McBroom sisters’ performance on “Underground Railroad” is a real highlight and, I think, one of the first times Steve has brought a gospel style to his music – but that’s just one colour in this incredibly diverse, yet coherent, track.
Special mention, however, must go to the final three tracks which draw everything together and to a close. “Descent” begins with a dark, Bolero-esque military rhythm, with minor chord voicing and thunderous sound effects, joined by sustained guitar tones, and cinematic orchestral sweeps before a sudden end and a virtual silence.”Conflict” picks up with speeding and furious rhythms and percussion, ending with the fading strings before a piano picks up the melody of “Peace”. Beginning with a sole piano and voice, the song builds as the hopeful lyrics are echoed by a choir. Then the band joins and the song lifts to muted guitar solo, rising to a triumphant harmonized guitar section, and leading to a lyrical closing solo. The three tracks combined are an incredible piece of music, especially considering that many only know Steve as “the guy who used to play guitar in Genesis”. I’m particular excited to hear these tracks in the 5.1 mix that features on the DVD on the deluxe edition as I think that will be an all encompassing experience.
So don’t be fooled into thinking that Mr. Hackett is spending his later years simply Revisiting Genesis – yes, that is certainly a part of his live show, and even then, he’s being adventurous enough to tackle some cuts so deep, even the band themselves had never played them live. But actually he is also continuing his musical journey in a myriad of styles in this adventurous new album.
Released on Jan. 25th, 2019 on InsideOut Music
Key Tracks: Beast In Our Time, Under the Eye of the Sun, Descent
1. Fallen Walls And Pedestals (02:16)
2. Beasts In Our Time (06:21)
3. Under The Eye Of The Sun (07:07)
4. Underground Railroad (06:23)
5. Those Golden Wings (11:20)
6. Shadow And Flame (04:24)
7. Hungry Years (04:34)
8. Descent (04:21)
9. Conflict (02:37)
10. Peace (05:02)
Line-Up (on this recording):
Steve Hackett – electric & acoustic guitars, 12
strings, dobro, bass, harmonica, vocals
Gulli Briem – drums, percussion
Dick Driver – double bass
Benedict Fenner – keyboards & programming
John Hackett – flute
Roger King – keyboards, programming &
Amanda Lehmann – vocals
Durga McBroom – vocals
Lorelei McBroom – vocals
Malik Mansurov – tar
Sheema Mukherjee – sitar
Gary O’Toole – drums
Simon Phillips – drums
Jonas Reingold – bass
Paul Stillwell – didgeridoo
Christine Townsend – violin, viola
Rob Townsend – tenor sax, flute, duduk, bass
Nick D’Virgilio – drums