Steve Hackett, The Night Siren (InsideOut, 2017)
Tracks: Behind the Smoke (6:58), Martian Sea (4:41), Fifty Miles From the North Pole (7:08), El Nino (3:52), Other Side of the Wall (4:01), Anything But Love (5:56), Inca Terra (5:54), In Another Life (6:07), In the Skeleton Gallery (5:09), West to East (5:14), The Gift (2:45)
I think we all know by now that Steve Hackett is a genius. Over the last several years of this current wave of progressive rock, it seems that everything Mr. Hackett has touched has turned to gold. Indeed, he recently told the fine folks over at Prog magazine that he is currently in one of the most creative phases of his life (Prog 73). Considering his remarkable musical catalog, that is saying a lot. It rings true, however, when The Night Siren and his previous album Wolflight are concerned. They are some of the best albums of his solo career.
Both of these albums include a lot of what some might call “world music.” He features instruments and musicians from all over the world, including Azerbaijan, Scotland, Iceland, and Israel. He even includes both Jewish and Palestinian singers from Israel on the same song. Throughout all of this mix, Hackett’s message is clear: if we can have peace through musical collaboration, why can’t we have world political peace? This is certainly an excellent question to which it seems world leaders have no answer.
One might think that this conglomeration of disparate instruments and styles would create an off-putting wall of noise, but nothing could be further from the truth. Hackett masterfully blends these different influences with his signature guitar licks. The result is truly breathtaking.
The first track, “Behind the Smoke,” picks up where Wolflight left, complete with primal sounding drums and eery orchestral overtones. The bassline on this song is instantly reminiscent of Chris Squire’s work, which is fitting considering Squire’s last appearance on an album came on Wolflight.
Vocals on this album come mostly from Hackett’s warm voice, with several singers providing backup throughout. Nad Sylvan, live vocalist for Hackett’s touring band, sings lead on “Inca Terra,” and his Gabriel/Collins-esque voice, as well as the mythic nature of the lyrics, make the song sound like it came straight from Genesis’ recording sessions for Foxtrot and Nursery Cryme.
As I said before, the main theme of this album is peace. As such, there is an anti-nationalist political overtone to the album, but it does not come off as preachy. In fact, I didn’t really pick it up at first until I read a few Hackett interviews about the album. His resistance to current political movements is done subtly, with the result being quite good. Even if you disagree with Mr. Hackett, he has done this so well that it deserves respect. Furthermore, the music is so good here that it would be a shame to miss it just because of the lyrics.
The only real drawback in the music, for me at least, is the use of Middle Eastern sounds in several songs. Those sounds do nothing for me, as they seem to be juxtaposed to the musical tradition out of which progressive rock emerged. However, with the overall tones of peace and world music, it is obvious why Hackett chose to include these sounds. Plus, they are only used briefly in a few songs, and it does not overpower the album.
Overall, The Night Siren is just the latest in a long line of examples demonstrating Steve Hackett’s genius. I’m so happy to see him enthusiastically making new progressive music, something that cannot be said for the other members of Genesis. Hackett seems to only get better with age.