Steve Hackett: Beyond the Shrouded Horizon
Steve Hackett never ceases to amaze me. He has been steadily recording music for four decades without getting stale. This is not to say everything he does is a masterpiece. There were definitely some serious missteps in the 80’s. His latter output has been consistently high in quality, yet some are definitely better than others. While I enjoyed 2009’s “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth” I found it to be the weakest of his new millennium albums. This is understandable considering what was going on in Steve’s life at the time, and that he recorded the album at home. The tour however was fantastic.
So two years later we have a new album. Being a stalwart fan, I purchased “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” without hearing a single note. Even after my modest disappointment with his previous effort, expectations were high. I anticipated some rejuvenation after the extensive touring, and it turned out to be a correct assumption.
What is really interesting is the similarity of feel between the two albums. Now Steve has said that all of the songs were written at the same time but it seems to me as if he decided to take another stab at “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth.” I liken it to what Robert Fripp did on “In the Wake of Poseidon.” He basically did take two on “In the Court of the Crimson King,” and came up with a better album (I know, I know, I can hear you all screaming while I am typing this, but that is my opinion). In this case it is not so obvious. The format is not directly copied, but the sound is very familiar. I wouldn’t be surprised if Hackett took good look at his most recent work and said, “I can do better.” Throw in a bona fide prog epic, and “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” is the album “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth” should have been.
Now because of similarity the album does suffer from one of my previous complaints. I do get a bit of the same stale taste as before. This is especially true on tracks like “Til These Eyes” and “Between the Sunset and the Coconut Palms.” On the first listen you might almost think you have heard these songs before. Good tunes yes, just nothing new. Steve’s overall sound has remained somewhat consistent over the last decade and there really is no straying from form here.
The qualities that make this album superior are revitalized energy and some strong compositions. There are the usual themes such as eastern sounds on “Two Faces of Cairo” and the gut wrenching blues of “Catwalk.” The latter also features the best vocal performance of Hackett’s career. I find “Looking for Fantasy” interesting in that it could be about his ex, Kim Poor (of course that is only speculation). The big treat on disc one is “Turn This Island Earth.” He hasn’t done an epic close to this since “Voyage of the Acolyte.” Don’t be expecting another “Shadow of the Hierophant,” this is modern Hackett prog. Shredding, strings and layered vocals abound.
It may have been a bit misleading to say that the only epic offering is at the end of disc one. Disc two opens with the all instrumental “Four Winds” suite. True they are four separate tracks, but it is obviously one piece. There is a lot more of interest on the second disc as well, which is why I highly recommend the deluxe edition. Additional material, while interesting, is usually additional for a reason. This set could have actually been another album. It could have been a very good independent release with just a couple of tweaks. “Enter the Night” is kind of lame, and sounds like it was written during the dark days of GTR. “Reconditioned Nightmare” is a new recording of what was probably the best song on “Cured,” but that very fact makes it bonus track material. The A material is also where Steve pushes the boundaries of his comfort zone. Granted they aren’t pushed too far, but honest to goodness inspiration was obviously present when this music was written.
There is a lot to love on this album, not to mention the appearance of Chris Squire on several tracks. As I said before there is no ground being broken. Instead we have a collection of very good music from an old friend. Hats off Steve and keep on proggin’!
Nick Beggs – bass, chapman stick, pink ukele
Dick Driver – double bass
John Hackett – flute, vocals
Steve Hackett – guitars, vocals, harmonica
Roger King – keyboards, programming
Amanda Lehmann – vocals, guitar
Gary O’Toole – drums, vocals
Simon Phillips – drums
Chris Squire – bass
Richard Stuart – cello
Christine Townsend – violin, viola
Rob Townsend – sax, whistle, bass clarinet
Benedict Fenner – keyboards, programming