"Last Train To Istanbul and other nomadic interludes"
Steve Hackett's new album, Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth reviewed in typically biased fashion by: Alan Hewitt.
So, here we are again with another new album by Steve for our aural delectation. A while has passed since I had the pleasure of hearing the album in Steve's car which is not the most conducive place to form a real opinion but even on that first hearing, I got a definite feel for the direction that Steve was heading for with this, his nineteenth studio album. And now, courtesy of those good people at The Publicity Connection, I have the opportunity to wax lyrical about it for the readers of Hackettsongs! Those of you who know me or who know my work for TWR will know what to expect. For the rest of you, what follows is a totally biased review and for that I make no apologies whatsoever.
The album opens with Fire On The Moon, already a favourite in Steve's new live show and deservedly so. Of late, Steve has taken to write in a much more personal fashion and none more so than here. Fire On The Moon, is an unadorned examination of the failure of his relationship with Kim. Obviously, comparisons with Phil Collins's divorce-inspired works will be made. Not here though, Phil and Steve speak in entirely different musical languages. What is not in doubt is the pain and at times anger which Steve is expressing through this song. Musically, the song starts deceptively calmly although if you listen carefully the musical box sound that runs through the opening gradually becomes more out of tune, a metaphor for the failing relationship perhaps? This is shattered by the anguished shout of vocal and instruments as Steve pours his heart out in the most heartfelt way I have ever heard - strong stuff.
Nomads, could also be taken as a reflection on Steve's own peripatetic lifestyle as a touring musician as well as a beautiful homage to the Flamenco music which has been such an inspiration to Steve over the years. Always one to have his music viewed at more than one level, Nomads is also a reflection on the fact that the people who created such a marvellous art form as Flamenco music in the first place; gypsies. A people viewed with suspicion and distrust in many parts of the world - great art always comes out of adversity and none more so than this loving tribute.
Emerald And Ash, another poignant reference to relationships gone wrong. Discordant strings and flute set the nerves on edge before Steve's beautifully wrought vocal reveals the story in truly heartbreaking detail. Lyrically, this is Steve at his most emotional whilst the guitar playing creates the image of a soul in torment which, given the circumstances surrounding the song, is quite apposite and superbly played without once descending into mawkishness and bathos.
Tubehead, despite what you may think, is not a homage to the London Underground, oh no! Here Steve pays vivid, almost violent tribute to the wonderful world of Marshall cabinets, amplifiers and the assorted paraphernalia without which a Rock musician could not ply his/her trade. Hackett the axe man is out on the loose on this one, you have been warned!
Sleepers, inspired by a text message sent to Steve by his friend (and brother John's lyricist) Nick Clabburn resulted in yet another marvellous song that in some respects is the "theatre of dreams" writ large - a "phantasmagoria of dreams" as the press release describes it. Opening with shimmering twelve string chords reminiscent of White Mountain, this is a glorious opening, the widescreen has never been wider than here and when Steve lets rip with some power chords the dream becomes an aural nightmare!
Ghost In The Glass, a title given to Steve by Roger King, a brittle jazz tinged gem this. Hackett meets Al di Meola and ne'er the join will be seen! Best enjoyed in the smoke filled atmosphere of some downtown nightclub (if you can find one in these health conscious days!) a real treat and one which features some more amazing electric guitar work from our hero - Clapton, eat your heart out!
Still Waters, don't you believe it! An out and out blues stomp which owes its existence to the streets of New Orleans and the bayous of that part of the world. Delicate and tasteful? Not a bit of it! Raucous, loud and as politically incorrect as you can get and all the better for it. Steve got bitten by the blues many years ago and it is always great when that "infection" rears its head as it does here in typical Hackett style.
Last Train To Istanbul. Well, anyone who has heard Steve's latest rock albums will be well aware of his ability to create aural sound pictures of places and peoples. "World Music " is something that Steve explored long before the likes of Paul Simon and even his old cohort, Peter Gabriel. 1994's Till We Have Faces album was the first tentative exploration of that facet of music and Steve has matured considerably since then. To my ears, Last Train To Istanbul marries the sounds of East and West in a marvellous heady blend, redolent of Turkish tobacco and jasmine. Being of a historical frame of mind, the track also brought to my mind the scene before the walls of Constantinople as that city lay besieged for the final time by the armies of the Ottoman Turks who were about to bring to an end the thousand year old Eastern Roman Empire - a confrontation of cultures and beliefs musical and religious, all depicted here with a typical Hackett eye for detail. Incessantly rhythmic and imbued with an urgency and immediacy that is seldom found in music these days, this is what genuine "fusion" music should be all about - a wonderful tribute to music at its best whichever prophet you follow - a magnificent ending to another classic offering from Steve.
What makes this offering even more amazing is that it was quite literally recorded in Steve's living room! The fact that you would not know it unless you were told, is a credit not only to Steve but also especially to engineer/producer/keyboard player extraordinaire; Roger King. The end result is as polished as anything that has gone before and once again, Steve has managed to rope in some truly remarkably talented musicians and singers to augment the finished product. Who wouldn't want two bass-meisters such as Chris Squire and Nick Beggs on a project? Add to that heady mix the vocal talents of Joanna and Amanda Lehmann as well as Roger King's daughter Lauren, and the twelve string talents of one Anthony Edwin Phillips, then you have a recipe for a truly remarkable album and with Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth, that is precisely what you get - well done to all involved!