Issue 2010-025: Steve Hackett - Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth - Round Table Review
Round Table Review
Tracklist: Fire On The Moon (6:11), Nomads (4:31), Emerald And Ash (8:59), Tubehead (3:36), Sleepers (8:50), Ghost In The Glass (2:59), Still Waters (4:35), Last Train To Istanbul (5:56)
Geoff Feakes' Review
I read somewhere that this is Steve Hackett’s 22nd solo studio album since his departure from Genesis in 1977 and whilst I haven’t been keeping count myself I can very well believe it. Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth has in fact been available through Steve’s website and live shows for some time now and this month sees the European release of a two disc ‘Special Edition’ which is also out in North America on 8th June. Anyone that’s been following Steve’s lengthy career will be aware that his eclectic tastes often manifest themselves in his work and this release is no exception. It has also been labelled as his first prog album since 2006’s (for me) disappointing Wild Orchids collection although it contains his usual mix of diverse (and to my ears not always compatible) styles.
Helping out are some regular Hackett contributors including his brother John (flute), Rob Townsend (soprano sax) and Dick Driver (double bass). Additional muscle is provided by some very familiar names in prog circles like Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman Stick), Chris Squire (bass) and Anthony Philips (twelve string guitar). Despite the auspicious line-up, the album is centred around the core pairing of Hackett himself (guitars, vocals) and Roger King (keyboards, programming). Although the album is very percussive there is no drummer credited so presumably King’s ‘programming’ is partly responsible which would at least explain the mechanical (albeit weighty) rhythms.
The album includes what have become some very familiar Hackett themes like the train imagery in the song titles and the travelogue style of the music. Both are explored in the album artwork with Steve, guitar case in hand shrouded in steam and the atmospheric closing song Last Train To Istanbul. Here the music has a Middle Eastern flavour that teases the senses conjuring up images of Turkish bazaars and mosques. Likewise, following some superb Spanish guitar picking, Nomads develops into a rousing gypsy flamenco complete with authentic castanets and hand clapping where I could almost taste the sangria and paella.
The album gets off to a humdinger of a start however with the mighty and majestic Fire On The Moon. It’s the kind of song that oozes restrained power that Steve does so well with his own massed choral chant underpinned by a soaring guitar solo. Emerald And Ash on the other hand sounds typically Hackett in laidback mode where Rob Townsend and Ant Phillips come into their own with lyrical soprano sax and 12 string respectively. It’s a song I found a little disconcerting however. Firstly because the melody sounds naggingly familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it and secondly because it reminded me of one of those slushy MOR ditties that artists like the New Seekers put out in the early 70’s. Just when I was about to pull my hair out in frustration it morphs into a monumental riff that sounds like a cross between Led Zeppelin and Red era King Crimson with electric guitar howling aggressively over the top.
The mood continues with the fast and furious Tubehead which has all the energy of a runaway train with Steve’s guitar screaming and wailing for all its worth. In contrast the albums second instrumental Ghost In The Glass opens with tranquil acoustic guitar before taking flight with a scorching electric solo. It’s in the same style but not the same class as Darktown’s Twice Around The Sun from over 10 years ago. Still Waters is almost a contradiction in itself with the heavy and bluesy guitar shredding sitting uncomfortably alongside the anthemic chorus with its lush female backing voices.
Probably my favourite track here however is the lengthy centrepiece Sleepers which is divided into three distinctively different parts. It opens with a beautifully romantic classical guitar and strings overture reminiscent of the epic Mont St Michel from Mike Oldfield’s Voyager album and for me could have gone on forever. It segues gracefully into a plaintiff song where Steve’s voice is at its most wistful before finally succumbing (like many of the songs here) to a heavyweight rhythm with distorted vocals and equally distorted guitar histrionics.
Steve Hackett is undoubtedly a guitarist that’s influenced a whole generation with his familiar technique finding favour with the likes of Steve Rothery, Roine Stolt, Nick Barrett and Mike Holmes to name just a few. He has however come a long way from the lilting style exemplified on albums like Selling England By The Pound, Voyage Of The Acolyte and Spectral Mornings. These days his music seems to veer between a sweet acoustic style and a dark electric intensity, usually in the course of the same song. If I had to find fault then I would say that it sometimes lacks a middle ground where I found myself yearning for a good old fashioned, melodic electric guitar instrumental. That being said, it’s all cleverly constructed reflecting Steve’s position as one of the most skilled and respected musicians in the business.
Menno Von Brucken Fock's Review
Steve Hackett needs no introduction, the man is a legend with more than twenty studio albums to his credit - his history with Genesis and his contributions to many recordings by other artists. This particular album was 'constructed' on a computer using solely Apple Logic software and primarily Roger King but also Jo Lehmann helped out with composing and lyrics respectively. Steve went through a difficult period in his life because after some 32 years his marriage to Kim Poor came to an end. Sometimes the most beautiful music is inspired by personal grief and maybe that's why this a truly great album!
Opening track is called Fire On The Moon and references both the Musical Box era as well as the more atmospheric songs on Trick Of The Tail. Subtle melancholic verses alternated with bombastic symphonic choruses and accompanied by Chris Squire's bass in a 'Bolero' rhythm. The first solo on his acoustic guitar, Steve pays tribute to the beautiful county of Andalusia with Spanish gypsy-music, followed by Flamenco music and then as a contrast, electric music with Steve's characteristic guitar sound. The best of his early solo work is remembered in Emerald And Ash. At first slow, tasteful and featuring multiple vocal harmonies by Steve and Ant Phillips on his twelve string: that's what I would call the Emerald part. Then comes the Ash part with more haunting atmospheres and heavier guitars like in Steve's version of The Devil Is An Englishman (by Thomas Dolby) on the album To Watch The Storms. Steve's guitar is razor sharp in this instrumental piece. The last part of the track is very melodic again and features Rob Townsend on his soprano sax. Also instrumental is Tubehead, an up tempo track with references to Edgar Winter's Frankenstein. Steve proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that his guitar playing is still top notch!
An orchestrated little gem, with Steve handling the nylon strings, is the sweet beginning piece of the track Sleepers. The second part of this song is a mellow pop tune, with good singing by Steve and tasteful harmonies by Amanda Lehmann. The atmosphere again reminds of the old (and as far as I'm concerned the best) Genesis period. More rock and a touch of blues in the last part, some of the music comes close to works by Ayreon (Arjen Lucassen) and the melody is the same as While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Harrison - The Beatles). The closing section is the same mellow pop tune as earlier in the track.
In Ghost In The Glass we hear the masterfully played acoustic guitar once more, followed by the electric guitar playing a melody over mellotron-sounds, an orchestra, a fretless bass (by Nick Beggs) and some drums. Whereas we have a homage to New Orleans in the bluesy tune Still Waters and Steve shows he hasn't forgotten how to play the blues... his way, but pure and at his best! Inspired by Turkish music Steve picked up while he was in Sarajevo, is the final track Last Train To Istanbul. Both rhythm, atmosphere as well as the overall instrumentation and sound are very 'oriental'. Rob Townsend's sax and Christine Townsend's viola contribute to the orchestral feel.
In conclusion I would call this album the ultimate time travel through Steve Hackett's musical history, recorded with modern technology and with highly trained musicians. I'm inclined to rank this offering between the best albums by Mr. Hackett to date. Classical, blues, symphonic, folkloristic and rock are blended together seemingly effortless by Steve's acoustic guitar, his axe and his distinctive voice, which became better and better through the years. Highly recommended!
Gert Hulshof's Review
Is there an introduction needed for a guitar player, musician of the name and fame of Steve Hackett, I don’t think so. He been around four decades now, still going strong and producing high standard music. With Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth he treats us once more with music of different nature. The album consists of eight songs and what a collection of songs it turns out to be. I will come to that shortly.
When asked to do a review on the new Steve Hackett I was thrilled. Steve has always belonged in the top of my favourite guitar players.
The line-up for this album is a long one: we have Nick Beggs, Dick Driver and Chris Squire playing bass; Anthony Phillips on 12 string guitar; Ferenc Kovacs and Christine Townsend on violin; John Hackett playing flute and Rob Townsend on soprano sax; Amanda Lehmann, Jo Lehmann and Laura King on vocals. Roger King does the keyboards and programming. And of course Steve himself playing guitar and vocals. So much for the credits, it is time to write about the music.
We start off in a Hackett song all the way, Fire On The Moon, the song reminded me of an older Hackett song by the name of Brand New. These two songs more or less have the same typical Hackett style orchestral structure. Starting with a calm melody building up to a fierce orchestral instrumental phase. Classical song writing I believe, but in this case also high school and not easily out done.
Continuing with the second track I believe I have arrived in ancient Spain or the Mediterranean in the least picking the strings on the acoustic guitar pure. Nomads, superb how the acoustic sound grows into the electric guitar sound.
Emerald & Ash, the longest of the songs on this album, is an Epic with superb 12 string guitar by Anthony Phillips - both emotionally and compositional very strong and with just the right touch - as can only be heard from the best in their field. After so many years I am always overwhelmed by the absolutely magnificent guitar playing of Steve Hackett.
Just when you think we will take things easier now, you are in for a treat. What we get is an almost hard rocking instrumental track very appropriately called Tubehead as it almost feels like we are running through a Tube (Tunnel) at high speed.
Then we really do take a break with the acoustic and orchestral starting track, Sleepers. We are taken into a deep sleep, to really dream of faraway places, beautiful lyrics and guitar work of highest quality.
Rising from a wave of helping hands
A woman holds a statue till he
becomes a man
Captured in her eyes he’s finally complete
All the sleepers send you their dreams
Am I raving too much? I don’t think so, I am literally blown out of my chair by the beauty Mr. Hackett has created once more. Half way in to the track things step into a higher pace. Bringing our dreams to the higher levels.
We can dream further with another instrumental track, Ghost In The Glass, as a follow up to a Genie In The Bottle perhaps. I keep on dreaming with this high class instrumental song.
Running into Stillwaters, a cliché like lyric, "still waters run deep", is rocking all the way with a heavy thumping Stick bass to keep things rolling. I would say this is music found in the New Orleans region - high energy oozing from the speakers.
Still waters run deep
Smoke rising from beneath
White lightning in the heat
We've reached the last track already with Last Train To Istanbul, with a real mystic Eastern sound created by the flute, violin, sax. You can almost hear the gypsies coming around - excellent. A true creation of Turkish spirit through Western eyes.
Then suddenly the album is at an end. I haven’t been able to detect anything negative other than it is "too..... short" - I want more. Or am I just too used to receiving and listening to albums of 60 minutes or more. Most artists these days try to put as much on a CD as is possible. At times good, but more often there will be too many fillers. This is an album with no fillers, only high class music and once again an album of a beauty that I cannot find words for.
Concluding: An absolute must for all music lovers, not just prog heads. All music lovers need to have this album in their CD collection. Now you will not see me giving out a non improvable conclusion, because nothing is impeccable, but Steve certainly got very close to it...