Monday, April 22, 2024

Steve Hackett – The Circus and the Nightwhale

Whatever else can be said about Steve Hackett, being workshy isn’t one of them. On top of prodigious touring across the world, since 2019, he’s released three ‘live’ double albums based on his Genesis Revisited shows, as well as three studio albums, and he‘s now following these up with his first album of new music since 2021’s Surrender Of Silence. It’s an album consisting of a series of short tracks, with no extended soloing and no song outstaying its welcome.

Steve Hackett is now in the very fortunate position of being able to record whatever style of music he chooses. In recent years, this has included the classical Under A Mediterranean Sky a largely acoustic album, as well as rock albums like At The Edge Of Light, an album which also included elements of world music as well. Hackett has never stood still .. unlike his erstwhile colleagues in his previous band where the bigger they grew, the blander their music became. Whereas, Hackett’s always chosen to move forward; he’s never sold out and is still playing with the same passion and intensity as when he began his career.

But he’s probably best known for his adventures in prog and on this new record, he moves into attempting the dreaded ‘concept album’ – Something he has previously done as his first solo album, Voyage Of The Acolyte, was also a concept album. With Genesis, he played on ‘The Lamb ..’ so this isn’t new ground for him. Circus … though, is an autobiographical concept album based on the journey through the life of someone named Travla .. guess who? .. and his experiences growing up in post-war London. As Hackett says, “It’s the story of my life, with a surreal twist to it”, meaning there’s some creative licence involved here. So it’s a mix of faction and fiction. He summed up the album by saying, “It’s a lovely journey which starts dirty, scratchy & smoky and becomes heavenly and divine. How can you resist it?”

The album opens with ‘People Of The Smoke,’ featuring all kinds of 1950s sounds which’ll be familiar to anyone who grew up during this time, and from here Hackett takes us on a musically cinematic journey. Like a film for the aural senses, through some of his life memories, growing up in the shadow of the iconic Battersea Power Station, which includes encounters with a 9 yr old pyromaniac (‘Passing Clouds’), first love (‘Found And Lost’), being trapped in the ‘infernal circus’ (‘Circo Infernal’) and other adventures before he ultimately finds fulfilment and peace (‘White Dove’) where Hackett demonstrates his mastery of acoustic guitar. On the way to here, his mighty band of stellar musicians .. player for player, as good as any band on the scene at present .. provides a masterclass in seamlessly melding together Hackett’s improbable mix of varying influences, ranging from blues to world to prog. What stands out throughout the album is Hackett’s playing. Tracks like the atmospheric ‘All At Sea,’ ‘Get Me Out’ and the gorgeous ‘Enter The Ring‘ showcase Hackett and his very finest, with some breathtakingly brilliant playing. Breakout suggested Hackett’s tapped into his inner Dream Theatre, and on the atmospheric and very proggy ‘Into The Nightwhale’, his voice sounds eerily like Greg Lakes.

Steve Hackett remains, at 73, a superb musician as well as a prolific composer, and is still making new music, and doing so without the need to repeat himself. Circus … is a very eclectic and extremely good album, in this writer’s opinion, possibly one of the best he’s ever released, and shows Hackett’s willingness to push the boundaries again. Now, will he perform Circus … in its entirety on his 2024 tour ??

Laurence Todd
Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

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