Ex Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett has proved himself to be something of a musical chameleon in his solo career, ranging from easier listening classical guitar albums (1996s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) to guitar rock on 1999s elegiac Darktown.
So where does he travel on To Watch The Storms? The answer is a bit of everywhere, and the result is a thoroughly entertaining album drawing on a collage of musical styles. An underlying theme in the album is one of Englishness, the sort that gave early Genesis albums a kind of rustic charm along with the feats of progressiveness. All that is present here, dressed in modern studio technology, with Hackett’s zest for music totally undimmed.
The opening Strutton Ground, with its lyrics “from Kent to Cornwall there’s so much by the swirling tide”, draws heavily on folk influences but threatens to set a twee precedent. Fear not, for the guitars kick in with a vengeance on the following Circus Of Becoming, some impressive axe work from Hackett signalling a traversal down Progressive Avenue – I defy you not to play air guitar!
That’s not a criticism, for Hackett tends to reign in excesses, the best example being the King Crimson stabs of Mechanical Bride, a ghostly sound effect punctuating the frenzied ensemble figures. It’s a modern cousin to the band’s 21st Century Schizoid Man.
Meanwhile Brand New is pure pop, a euphoric chorus rising out of a plaintive verse. Again the music threatens to descend into schmaltz immediately after but is rescued by the torch bearing chorus of This World. The Thomas Dolby penned opus The Devil Is An Englishman is a fantastically gothic number, hammed up with theatrical harpsichord, sound effects and macabre bass, with lyrics of “scorpions living in the brain”. Nice.
Hackett’s tendency to indulge in some lighter folk music results in Rebecca, a gently sung opus with a lilting melody. A cousin of this is the closing Serpentine Song, Hackett totally content with his music. And well he should be. The musicianship on To Watch The Storms is outstanding. Amongst the many guitar techniques employed by Hackett is a flamenco effect on the acoustic, and with excellent drumming from Gary O’Toole the ensemble is tight. Guest slots include brother John (flute) and Ian McDonald (saxophone).
Existing fans should not hesitate to buy this, and nor should rock music buffs in search of something to keep them on their toes!