I have an endless amount of respect for Steve Hackett. How could I not? While I do tend to take many-a-shot at old timers who have spent the vast amount of their careers cashing in on past successes, there are some old dudes that seem to continually push themselves well into their autumn years. Steve Hackett is one such example. In fact I'd go as far to say that the last decade has easily been his most consistently excellent since the 70s. Starting with 1999's Darktown, Hackett has churned out a succession of brilliant albums in both his moving Classical and eclectic Progressive Rock style. He seems content to consistently put his former Genesis band-mates to shame with not only his continued artistic integrity, but also in the sheer pace of production.
The most astonishing fact is that with each release he is only improving as a songwriter. His latest collection of compositions, Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth, continues in much the same vein as his previous Prog Rock outings. 2006's Wild Orchids was, at that time, an album I proclaimed to be one of his most consistently enjoyable in decades. It didn't take many listens to his latest creation to come to the conclusion that this is indeed his best since Spectral Mornings. Of all the legendary Progressive greats, there is no doubt that Steve Hackett is the only one who just keeps getting better and better with age. Don't believe me? Listen to the two-part epic Emerald And Ash. The first half, a beautiful ballad (perhaps the Emerald), transforms effortlessly into the second-half rocker with guitars ablaze (clearly the Ash). This is a sign of a mature composer who isn't afraid to toy with the structure of his songs and use the power of contrast to aid in his storytelling. This advanced craftsmanship in the art of building music in the boundlessness world of Progressive Rock is a sign of a master at the peak of his game.
While fans of Steve's frantic licks will relish in the hard-rocking fusion-esque Tubehead (you know he was fret tapping years before Van Halen), fans of the complete Hackett package will soak up every second of the extend length of Sleepers. Beginning with yet another shining example of his classical guitar prowess, the song shifts and grows through just about every style the man has been perfecting all these years. The album's finale, Last Train To Istanbul, fusses huge violin riffs and powerful drumming in a way that very much reflects the song's title perfectly.
As I'm known to be rather picky when it comes to sound quality and production in music, you'll be happy to know that this album gets full marks in my books. The production is lush and very dynamic. I applaud Hackett's continued resistance to do like so many of his contemporaries and overuse compression and limiting during the mastering process. (For an example of the worst of this, see the recent Genesis remix/remasters. Yugh. Steve had little involvement in those. Damn you Tony Banks!) The album alternates in between the gigantic and the intimate. You would never know the fact that this was recorded in Steve's living room! This is the perfect example of how modern recording technology can be utilized tastefully. Sadly, at the present time you can only purchase this excellent album from Steve's very own website. As you may know, his recent separation from his wife has caused all sorts of legal problems with his former label, leading Hackett to produce this album very much independently. This shouldn't stop you from ordering it, by the way. If anyone deserves enormous success going the independent route, it surely is Steve Hackett. While the big bucks in the music industry continue to flow the way of cheap talentless hacks (no pun intended), Mr. Hackett is most deserving of every penny he earns for being the model of artistic integrity. Bravo Steve.