Reviewing At the Edge of Light the new album by Steve Hackett (Inside Out, 2019)
Empiric chords stab through sound as Hackett’s guitar soars and rages,
Walls of harmony falling like Bob Dylan’s hard acid rain,
Defiance in D and indeed all the others, the notes dealt, deft and deadly,
Cast as dark cards in God’s game. Steve Hackett’s new album arrives,
And a fearsome overture introduces the orchestra in his fingers,
And those of course in support. Hackett is a musician whose hands
Have never failed those who listen, over fifty years music,
His new songs attain colour, from the boundaries he still searches
Back to the influences jestered in Robert Fripp’s crimson court.
Fallen Walls and Pedestals shake with the forging of a refined heavy metal,
Hackett’s melody masters and goes onto reshape a set form;
With each phrase a new turn, a fresh twist to stringed language,
At the edge of light, is the spectrum from which a new prism or shade
Can be born. Beasts in Our Time seques in with an eerie stumbling pattern,
Its thrust and persuasion speaks of a dark carnival,
The one in which we’re ensnared by those we elect to control us,
Feeding on us, as a past time, while making modern life itself, cannibal.
And yet as in all of his progressions, there is a change to one of the album’s few
Acoustics, an immaculate voicing speaking of ‘poisons in the minds of men,’
Here is warning and call for reason and sense to find focus, as enchanted sounds
Portent and the patterns in death weave again. Rob Townshend’s sax blazes through,
As John Hackett’s flute softens. Steve Hackett’s guitar captures fire, and Roger King’s
Synths glacier. All weathers at once that fuse to condemn the sad climate
In which the scarred landscape we live on is somehow celebrated
By such a skilled composition and rarefied atmosphere.
Under the Eye of the Sun shows how wilderness itself can be captured
With the didgeridoo of Paul Stillwell and Rob Townshend’s Duduk,
Preceeded by stuttering bass and the guitar sheets of Hackett, conjuring strata
With anthemic scope and song hook. There is a trace of Watcher of the Skies
To this piece as Hackett keeps the land venerated. The speed and force of the music
Is an aerial flight through terrain that shows that music that soars beyond the charts
Needs no atlas as it maps its own bright horizons in vocal glory and near majestic refrain.
Three pieces in there is rock in a literal sense revered clearly and rock music also
Meeting its own form of advance. Hackett and co.’s energy is a true and pure package,
That makes manufactured pop the real desert, around which the laziest feet
Attempt dance. ‘Hot on the trail, the trail of the wind’ a pinball wizard guitar thrall
Skitters across the known air and ear, it is in the magic of change that soon gives way
To the plaintive as those ancient sounds enter, as if ghosts in sunlight were suddenly
Brought to appear. Hackett is restless. He tours across all the world’s stages
And now across ages, often in a moment and in a flutter of sky sent notes and words.
Each musical phrase immediately sisters another, in this and all pieces,
No chance to transform is deferred. Underground Railroad claws through with Hackett’s
Searing Harmonica and blues stricken dobro. Lorelei and Druga Mcbroom stand guard,
To lead a gospel infused invocation, soothed on a voice bed that the soon warning strings
Crease and shift. Here is Hackett’s song cinema, a casting of the roles
He has acted, across twenty six albums of playing with genre,
And placing song’s cards into twist. He combines an almost frenzied technique
With the heat of invention, his love of the search after so long
Allows his relevance to stay set. As one of the few of his time who seek to exceed
Their first sources, without denying the difference that first brought excitement
To the boy in South London and the audience waiting for what truly progressive
Sound could address. These Golden Wings swoops straight in with Orchestral Strings
There as skyscape and the guitar strings fused echo, that holds the magic
Of Hackett’s first solo LP; Voyage of the Acolyte will remain as one of the finest
First albums and this new song sits central all of his reverberation and work,
Revealing renewed vibrancy. ‘You rejected the notion of a scorecard God,’ is a line
That one expects in a poem, and here it is delivered with beauty, ageless at once
And profound. The orchestra rivers through as Hackett sails across the turned waters,
In a quest across danger that the very air itself disavows.
From what could be a Soothsayer’s song to a Carl Orff informed choral,
The classic journey’s a painting, depicted in spume and in gale, that the protagonist fights,
Turning every hand to the challenge, all the while elevating a song through the octaves
Onto and into a thoroughly epic scale. Shadows and Flame frames the east,
As Sheema Mukherjee’s Sitar soundtracks clearly the path through the markets
And exotic airs of the song. Tabla measures each step as the keyboards stab
Through the daylight, rendering the exotic to the listener’s need to belong.
For the song is a world, as is each on this album. Hackett becomes globalist
And travel writer, along with Jo, his wife and his Passapetout, Roger King,
Whose keyboards and co-writes have formed a steady course through the travel
From which Hackett’s Phileas Fogg has made music, and atmosphere echoed
In the invention and joy he now sings. Each finger shift and found song is proof
To all of the power, not only on display here but in music, almost beyond other forms.
You convey more in a note than in a paragraph or a poem, so much more can conjured,
As the heart’s heard expression crests across sound, unadorned.
Hungry Years could be pop, as the east is traded now across water.
The Western ear recognises a disguised lullaby. It seems to cycle around a Byrds’ like
Guitar jangle, Hackett’s voice sweetly chorused as the survival’s reassurance arrives.
From explorations of place to enthusiasm forged for the present,
At the edge of Light reveals promise to be gleaned or witnessed by the peripheral truth
Of the eye. Descent is conveyed by a stutter of drums and chord warning.
A dark shadow forming over once bright land, that stops life.
A singular guitar squeal is paint across a troubling canvas, that has been stretched
Beyond reason, marked and starkly scarred by the brush. Chilling strings taint the air,
While musically translating the sadness that has brought about danger that each firing
String tries to crush. The instrumental gives way to Conflict, made from a far more
Furious pattern, in which those previously troubled forces have tried to make their assault.
There is the sense of a battle above and perhaps a step or two from Dance on a Volcano,
As if all of Hackett’s instrumentals across his career have been sought.
That this piece now evolves into Peace with a dignified chord in its fading
To reveal a stately piano that has a McCartneyesque feel reveals hope.
There is a trace of Lennon here, too, in the tidy form Hackett masters,
Showing that heroic guitar and songwriting and simple appeal can ring through.
‘Trust in all you know,’ Hackett sings, ‘Love will always show,’ he continues,
And it is as direct as the couplet that completed The Beatles and indeed ‘Abbey Road.’
Hope heard in the heart and now sung through the dark also.
At the Edge of Light, what is left us is all of the chance we are owed.
This most prolific of men has continued to serve his muse grandly.
He tours and shelters the group with whom he found fame and new work.
He works with the most impressive of teams, as his loving wife writes with
And supports him. This new album from Hackett, as in all the work given,
Still stuns and surprises, making him an Emporer of sound
Whose found kingdoms glory each aspect, dressing them grandly
In the very richest of clothes. Hackett is prepared for each change
And chases warmth itself, as you listen.
Adventure’s gates remain open.
Unlock the heart.
Light can’t close.
Photo by Tina Korhonen
David Erdos 9/1/19