I love Steve Hackett’s music. That is no secret. Any time he releases a new album, it’s a must-hear for me. But what really blows my mind about Hackett, though, is that he manages to continue to, well, blow my mind every time he creates new music. Please believe me when I say that “The Night Siren” is again a Hackett album of the highest order; an album that looks down at other “veteran” proggers’ efforts and laughs in soaring guitar solos.
Steve has been surrounded with musicians of the highest order, as well. These guys have been with him for years, mostly, to the point where they are pretty much just “part of the band”, so to speak. Steve obviously handles guitars and vocals, but he also is joined primarily by Roger King on keys, Rob Townsend on woodwinds, and Gary O’Toole on drums. Other guests include Christine Townsend on violin and viola, Troy Donockley on the Celtic Uilleann, Malik Mansurov on the Tar, Nad Sylvan on vocals, Nick D’Virgilio on drums, and many more. This, as you can see, is a truly massive experience featuring many minds.
It’s a shame that Hackett’s following isn’t worlds larger. What I love so much about his last three albums in particular is the diversity of style sewn into each lovingly-crafted song. His albums are like a celebration of the humanity in all its ethnicities and cultures, and so his songs take on various cultural trappings, but never in a cheesy fashion. His last album celebrated the primal, rebellious spirit of various cultures, and “The Night Gallery” again praises everything from folk to South and Central American spirit. We get eerie passages on “Martian Sea”, Celtic pipes on “In Another Life”, rolling instrumentals on “El Nino”, and primal tones of “Inca Terra”. The list could go on, though. Inserted in between all these masterful compositions, though, we get Hackett’s heart and soul in songs about love, too, such as “Anything But Love”. It’s the complete package, and I love every second of it.
“The Night Siren” switches from ultra-serious cinematic soundscapes to 70’s/80’s flavored ballads in the blink of an eye. Hackett is one of the most eclectic artists out there today, at least in terms of instrumentation. For example, “Martian Sea” transitions from a pop ballad with some folk stylings to this expansive ambient track that then becomes Asian-inspired. Another example would be “Fifty Miles from the North Pole”, which begins as this funky little track but then becomes this psychedelic soundscape. It’s a mind trip, really. No one else does this type of music, and Steve just keeps getting better at it.
This album is also very neoclassical and cinematic in nature, boasting huge orchestrations and this expansive feeling that you usually only get from his live performances. This album definitely sounds like more of a throwback to his 70’s work than any other recent album of his; however, it still contains his more modern monolithic style that just feels like the music is towering over you. Part of this is due to the wide variety of instruments used here. We get everything from harmonica and violin to flute and trumpet to Celtic Uilleann pipes and didgeridoo; Rob himself provides a huge variety of woodwinds, from sax to clarinet to flageolet. This is truly a eclectic album of diverse tones and sounds that will take your breath away.
I really feel like Steve has even upped his guitar game on this album, especially the acoustic side of things. Not that his guitar has been lacking, but that his compositions haven’t focused on it as much lately. In this album, though, we are treated to winding acoustic guitar several times, as well as fantastic solos of all stripes. That signature, indescribable Hackett sound is found throughout this album in all its epic glory. Additionally, his band is absolutely amazing. Gary’s drums are hefty and full, and Rob’s woodwind accents are truly sublime in every way, especially on an album called “The Night Siren”. If you’ve never gotten the chance to see these guys perform live, you are sorely missing an eye-opening experience.
Overall, a favorite track is impossible to choose, as every track is an experience. I love “Anything But Love” because it is this groovy, bluesy pop prog song with plenty of sweet guitar strings, harmonica, and a groove that, well, might just make me dance a little. I love “Inca Terra” because it such a massive song that sounds as if it were live, right in front of you. Its tribal drums and primal sounds are mixed with this huge symphony of keys, like a sublime combination of cultures and styles. It’s completely breathtaking.
I also love “Martian Sea”, “Fifty Miles from the North Pole”, “El Nino”, “In the Skeleton Gallery”, and “West to East”. I even love the short outro “The Gift”. Yeah, I love the whole album. But, I do think “In Another Life” might be my favorite track, if I was at gunpoint. It has huge balls, transitions all of the place, and this surreal pipes portion that gives me chills. Honestly, though, it is just so incredibly difficult to decide on a favorite because every song is a monument to Hackett’s originality and creativity, as well as his love of culture and especially the underappreciated peoples of this world.
“The Night Siren” is a triumph of diversity, unity, culture, and impeccable musicianship. Hackett’s composition skills see no signs of wavering, and they may even be getting stronger every year. I think it’s time to appreciate this musician for more than just his Genesis years. He’s making better music now than that band ever did.