Geoffrey Feakes — On Track... Steve Hackett - Every Album, Every Song [book]
The 2019 On Track... The Moody Blues volume was my introduction to the fine On Track series of books published by Sonicbond Publishing. DPRP-colleague Geoffrey Feakes managed to spark the flame in me again for the music of that band, by combining his in-depth knowledge of the band's catalogue with juicy details on recording processes, his genuine enthusiasm for the band, the open and honest description of his own musical preferences and an easy way of writing. Geoff also wrote an edition on The Who released last year.
And now he's back with his third volume in the series, this time on prog legend Steve Hackett who transformed from a rather shy and silent, but extraordinarily playing guitarist in Genesis, to the excellent, prolific and versatile prog musician he is now.
In the 160-page volume all 26 (!) solo albums since 1975 are dealt with, while his collaborations with his brother John Hackett (on the album Sketches Of Satie as well as in several of John's songs on different albums), Steve Howe (in GTR), Chris Squire (in Squackett) and Djabe are shortly mentioned in a separate chapter at the end of the book. The numerous live albums are also treated separately, which is a fine service to all those who had lost sight of the vast array on official and not-so-official live renditions.
It leaves the author some 140 pages to describe the wide variation of musical styles that Hackett has embraced since the release of Voyage Of The Acolyte, still one of the highlights in his career. Feakes is very up-to-date as he has included 2021's Under A Mediterranean Sky but Hackett keeps on recording, so his latest studio album Surrender To Silence could not be included. There is simply no way in keeping pace with his output!
With so many albums and such a limited number of pages available, it was impossible to go into much detail on the songs, the recording processes, the tour details or everything else that passes by with each new release. Yet Feakes provides all the information on the musicians that contributed to the albums which costs, in the case of Genesis Revisited II more than a full page.
He does it all very well. He knows what he is writing about, he knows the instruments that can be heard and he has more than enough background information at hand to provide interesting context to the individual songs. He is again honest in mentioning his preferences. The first four albums, often referred to as Hackett's 'classics', certainly rank among the authors' choice. The 80s albums get a far less enthusiastic description, although his criticism is milder than I anticipated.
Personally I think that the three rock albums from that period (1981's Cured, 1983's Highly Strung and 1984's Till We Have Faces) are far below-par but Feakes seeks the positive sides in the songs and thus turns them into 'transitional' albums.
For after these mediocre albums things start to go crescendo for Hackett, because he receives full credit for his classical acoustic albums but also because from Guitar Noir, the studio albums simply become better. Even Blues With A Feeling, an album that many prog fans have second thoughts about, as blues is often far outside their musical taste, has so much quality and honesty that the author can write about it with true affection.
Special mention should be given to the description of the six instrumental albums that Hackett has released: 1983 Bay Of Kings, 1988 Momentum, 1997 A Midsummers' Night Dream, 2005 Metamorpheus, 2008 Tribute and 2021 Under A Mediterranean Sky. Describing instrumental music, especially when just one instrument is featured, is quite challenging. Understandably the descriptions of the songs are limited-yet-to-the-point and therefore satisfactory. When describing the Midsummers' Night Dream and Metamorpheus albums, Feakes uses the music to illustrate the stories behind the songs, and that proves to be a very fine asset of the book.
Another fine feature is the inclusion of all bonus tracks on the albums, with reference to the different versions that were released in different parts of the world. I guess that many readers will use this information to get hold of tracks they haven't heard before, as was the case with me. As said, the numerous collaborations get their own short but illustrative description. Compiling all the live albums and dvd's must have been quite a task also, especially since Hackett has released many of these recently. These descriptions are very short and to-the-point and, so far as I can judge, complete.
With such a limited space and so many albums to deal with, there was simply no room to include extras such as quotes from interviews or peculiar remarks in reviews, aspects that would have worked as well as they did in the recent volume on Camel (reviewed by Feakes himself here). That is a pity but also inevitable with so many releases to deal with. The book is therefore rather straightforward but the level of information is more than enough to make this a very nice read. The 16-page photo middle section including all the album covers and many live photos are a welcome addition to the text.
The only criticism I have is that Kim Poor, who has been Hackett's muse and partner for more than three decades, is almost absent in the text. While she painted almost all the album covers until their unhappy divorce in 2008 and while he regularly wrote songs inspired by his love for her and also lived for a considerable time in Poor's home country Brazil, almost nothing of this all is mentioned in the text. The divorce was a nasty one which may be the reason, yet her role should at least have been referred to much often in this historical account. Of course the book is primarily on the music and not on personal relationships but in this case it would have been suitable.
This On Track volume on one of the prog legends is a solid, satisfactory read with a good balance in completeness, background, journalism and personal taste. It pays genuine credit to the artist, as the author avoids to mention too much of his personal admiration without becoming completely neutral, which is very good. Hackett's output is so varied that is impossible to like it all and that may shine through. With this formula, Hacketts' former colleagues Gabriel, Rutherford, Banks and Collins can also be dealt with in separate volumes to come. Recommended!
Graeme Scarfe — On Track... Peter Gabriel - Every Album, Every Song [Book]
When Peter Gabriel left Genesis in 1975 at the end of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour, he took time out to consider his future, rather than rushing headlong into a solo career. His eponymous debut appeared in 1977 and, along with the third album, it remains one of my favourites. I saw Gabriel on his first solo tour in 1977 and as I recall I came away a little disappointed. He sang just one Genesis song, and although the band were good, they weren't Genesis.
Graeme Scarfe's book is dedicated to Gabriel's solo output and, with the exception of the introduction to the debut album, he makes only the occasional reference to his former band. The book is divided into five parts, each one documenting Gabriel's work in a specific period or category.
In addition to the studio albums, the sections on the live releases and compilations are particularly well detailed. My personal interest in Gabriel was reawakened with the excellent Secret World Live video in 1994 (especially his duets with the wonderful Paula Cole) and rightly it receives due praise from Scarfe.
Although every studio album is comprehensively documented, unsurprisingly, particular attention is paid to Gabriel's most popular recordings: So , Us, and Up. When discussing the earlier albums, Scarfe's detailed analysis of the story behind each song is sometimes at the expense of the music itself, but for these later releases, he gets the balance just about right. Except a short "Afterword", the book concludes with the Flotsam And Jetsam compilation released in September 2019 which, as far as I know, is Gabriel's last release.
This is another fine addition to Sonicbond's On Track series and personally, I know a great deal more about Peter Gabriel's extensive body of work than I did before I picked up the book. It's encouraged me to revisit some of those long-since-played albums and while I write, Gabriel and Cole are singing Don't Give Up on my computer screen. I can't think of a better recommendation.