Issue 2017-022: Steve Hackett - The Night Siren - DPRP Inter-review
The Night Siren is the upcoming 25th studio album from English guitarist Steve Hackett, scheduled for release on 24 March 2017 by Inside Out Music.
Hackett describes the album as "a bird's eye view of the world of a musical migrant ignoring borders and celebrating our common ancestry with a unity of spirit.... From territorial frontiers to walled-up gateways, boundaries often hold back the tide. But while the night siren wails, music breaches all defences."
This special DPRP feature includes a mini-interview with Hackett followed by one of our popular Round Table Reviews of his new album.
The release will be available on CD, a double vinyl set with a CD, a digital download, and a special edition CD and Blu-ray, featuring a 5.1 surround sound mix and a "making of" documentary. Hackett will support the album with his Genesis Revisited with Classic Hackett Tour through 2017, to commemorate the new album and the 40th anniversary of the Genesis' Wind & Wuthering, the last album recorded with Hackett in the band.
Steve: Thank you. I'm glad you enjoy it.
Steve: It's a need to keep looking around the next river bend or to keep checking to see what's behind the next horizon! I'm always looking to discover new ways of doing things, and musical phrases and ideas constantly come to me. I travel a lot too, not just for work but pleasure as well, and not only do the places and people inspire me, but I'm also intrigued by different music from the multiplicity of cultures.
Steve: I enjoy the music of bands like Muse and Elbow, who both employ aspects of what we might term progressive. It's good to see young musicians doing progressive music and sometimes involving female singers with strong and beautiful voices too. For me, to be progressive is to not be constrained by rules. That spirit should always stay alive.
Steve: I'm keen for different musical genres and cultures from around the world to speak to each other and for a multiplicity of instruments to contrast and blend, whether it's orchestra with tribal drums, trumpet with didgeridoo or Spanish flamenco guitar with blues harmonica! I'm as attracted to romance and orchestra in music as much as the hard hitting, experimental progressive sound. I love tribal drum rhythms, but I also find exploring floating soundscapes with atmosphere fascinating. I think this album is also different than before, because I'm dealing with the social concepts of peace, with the need for tolerance and unity in a divided world, where borders are being reinforced with a fortress-like mentality. Here we have an Israeli singing with a Palestinian, and people joining together from several regions, including the States and the Middle East.
Steve: I'm attracted to both melody and complexity. I felt I had grown out of only focussing on straight songs by the time I was in my late teens and it didn't work for me to go back to that. Occasionally a simple song feels refreshing, but I have too many other ideas to just stay with that. I guess we all have our own take on these things. There isn't a right or wrong.
Steve: Yes, it is tough as there are so many numbers I always want to play! I try to think of what I know people want to hear, as well as what feels right for the set. Each set has its own character. It's nice to be able to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Genesis album Wind and Wuthering this time, as well as being able to introduce my new album, along with old favourites.
Steve: Thank you. I admire many progressive artists and I'll continue to follow my own path. It's a constant road of discovery.
Steve Hackett - The Night Siren - Round Table Review
Though many fans seem to focus on his first few solo albums, his body of work in recent years is equal to, and often exceeds, the quality of his early work. Plus, his output always reflects that of an artist who is still aspiring to create his greatest work. It is certainly clear that he is in no way going through the motions. As respectful as I am of his talent, even I am a bit surprised to write that the The Night Siren is his best album in 20 years, and easily one of the finest albums of his entire career. Considering the extreme quality of his discography, that is no small feat.
Steve's enthusiasm, clearly on display throughout this album, is inspiring. It shines through in the songwriting, the production, and most of all, in the performances. His guitar work is simply off the charts. Fans of his early solo albums will find a lot to like here, because this album has the same quirky variety as those releases. Songs range from heavy and orchestral (Beyond the Smoke, In the Skeleton Gallery and Fifty Miles From the North Pole), acoustic, upbeat, harmonious (Martian Sea, Anything But Love, West to East and Other Side of the Wall) to adventurous prog (El Nino, Inca Terra and In Another Life). It is a truly diverse recording.
The album also contains some of the best instrumentation in Steve's career. There are very few songs that don't have at least a few minutes of extended jamming. One example, El Nino, is a corker that would have sounded very much at home on one of Steve's first few solo albums. One section of the song is actually reminiscent of the song Please Don't Touch. The beautiful instrumental album closer, The Gift, contains some of the most soulful guitar playing of Steve's career. I would be remiss to not mention the splendid work done by all of the musicians supporting Steve on this endeavour. The overall success of this album is, in large part, due to their contributions.
The Night Siren is an absolute testament to the talents of one of progressive rock's greatest musicians. Exciting, rousing, passionate, emotional and overwhelmingly entertaining, The Night Siren_ is an absolute triumph.
Unfortunately, given his wide musical contacts, Steve has again not used any world vocalists in a lead role for some of these songs and I feel he's missed a trick. Hackett's vocals are not always the strongest aspect of his albums (often treated and layered).
The album's theme is about world peace, embracing music from across the globe in conjunction with working with musicians from other countries. There is an Eastern style orchestration, and the use of world instruments such as the tar, Uilleann pipes, sitar and didgeridoo, that all add to the sense of a unified world.
As with many SH albums, there's a mixture of musical elements that make up the whole. For instance Martian Sea has sometimes a Beatlesque pop feel to it, complete with catchy hooks, rocky guitar and sitar solos. Elsewhere we have contrasting arrangements such as in the opener Behind the Smoke with its slow intro, giving way to heavy riffs, orchestration and a sublime guitar solo.
And no surprises for some beautiful acoustic guitar work, as in Anything But Love, another popish song with its very catchy chorus. This song includes another great guitar solo and some nice harmonica work by SH. There is also nice folky acoustic work during In Another Lifetime.
This album is littered with great solos from Steve. There's no point in listing the tracks here, as practically every song has at least one! There's not really a bad track on this album and if you are a SH fan, then you won't be disappointed. The song arrangements, instrumentation, vocal harmonies and overall sound have a fantastic production that shows off the musicianship to the highest degree.
Once again SH has excelled himself and continues to produce very interesting and complex music that certainly keeps the listener engaged. His vocals are always the debatable point, but he gets away with it in how they are treated and layered. This is a great album and I rate this 9 out of 10 (if he'd used some world music singers in a lead role it might have been a ten).
The Night Siren is a logical progression from Hackett's last solo album, Wolflight. Both feature a variety of what some might call world music. This includes various instruments and musicians from Azerbaijan, to Scotland, to Iceland and everywhere in between. This wide musical scope is a reflection of the various travels Hackett and his wife have taken over the years. Both have a profound interest in history and culture, which shows in his recent output.
Musically, this album is remarkably full. Hackett masterfully balances his signature guitar work with orchestral overtones and instruments from all over the globe. This, however, is still a rock album. Drums and bass are key throughout, especially on the first track, Behind the Smoke. The pounding drums give a primal feel to the music, and the outstanding bassline is eerily reminiscent of Chris Squire's work. Interestingly enough, Squire's final appearance on an album was on Hackett's last solo album. Since I wasn't given a detailed booklet along with this review copy, I can't tell you who played bass on this song.
On The Night Siren, Hackett continues to infuse his music with moments of classical guitar, such as on the beginning of Other Side of the Wall and Anything But Love, the latter of which is a uniquely proggy love song. Eat your heart out, Phil Collins. Hackett continues to awe the listener with his skill on the guitar throughout the album, whether it be on the electric or classical acoustic guitar. I'll readily admit that he is my favourite guitarist, and much of that, has to do with his unique tone.
In addition to masterful musicianship, Hackett has a very good singing voice. I really don't understand why he never sang backup vocals with Genesis, unless his voice has significantly improved over the years. Additionally, Hackett knows when to use other vocalists to balance his own voice, such as the use of Nad Sylvan's voice in harmony on Inca Terra. Because of Sylvan's Gabriel/Collins-esque voice, as well as the mythic nature of the lyrics, this song really sounds like it could have been on Foxtrot or Nursery Cryme.
When I first heard this album, I was hooked. After several weeks of listening, it still sounds remarkably fresh. However, for those that care about this sort of thing, there is an anti-right political backdrop to the album. Upon first listen, I didn't really pick it up, except for on West to East, and even that song is more of a call for peace than a political rant. Instead, Hackett shared his thoughts on the album in an article in Prog magazine, where he briefly stated that he was inspired by recent worldwide political events to write an album pushing back against more nationalist movements. However, Hackett does this remarkably well, and his opposition is very subtle. There is no overt preaching here, and there is certainly no political bashing. I believe Hackett is too wise to create anything as sophomoric as that. With all that said, even if you find yourself on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Mr. Hackett, this album is well worth your time. While I find him to be a bit naïve with his calls for peace, he should at least be commended for his courage. Plus, when the music is this good, lyrics and politics are easy to overlook.
The biggest drawback of the music, for me, is the use of Middle Eastern sounds in a few songs. This is obviously a personal preference, but those sounds do nothing for me. They clearly make sense when considering the other world influences, so if you don't mind those influences, there should be no problem. Furthermore, the Middle Eastern sounds are used briefly in only one or two songs. The only other real issue I have with this album has nothing to do with Hackett. Rather, it is the poor sonic quality of the review copy, which is such a shame because I know how good Hackett's last album sounds on the 5.1 surround-sound Blu-Ray. The subtleties of the music can often be lost in a highly compressed MP3 file.
Overall, The Night Siren is another example of the genius of Steve Hackett. Thus far, this is my favourite album of 2017. I'm encouraged by this recent creative spurt from Mr. Hackett, and I look forward to more from him in the near future. After all, Steve Hackett is like a fine wine: he keeps getting better with age.