The dips, peaks and fascinating contours of a 22-year journey.
Listening to the work of an artist whose catalogue spans several decades is always a fascinating undertaking. Taking the long view, certain albums stand apart, acquiring distinct characteristics wherein transitional points in the musical process are perceived. Of course, some of these contours on the artistic journey would have been evident at the time while others are only now clearly discernible with the benefit of hindsight. If the period covered by 2015’s Premonitions boxed set, detailing Hackett’s tenure with the
HE FASHIONS NOTES WITH NUANCED DEPTH TO DEVASTATING EFFECT.
Charisma label, represents something of a reliably classic era for him, this latest collection enters a new chapter, where the ground is decidedly more uneven in places.
Infused with an exoticism generated by the inclusion of Brazilian percussion, 1984’s Till We Have Faces demonstrates a willingness to push his material away from more obvious paths. As a vocalist, Hackett sounds stronger and more dynamic than ever before, injecting an emotive urgency on the cross-cultural pop-orientated adventures of A Doll That’s Made In Japan, while Matilda Smith-Williams Home For The Aged bristles with the kind of percussive energy Paul Simon would co-opt on Rhythm Of The Saints six years later.
Hackett’s open ears and open-mindedness occasionally let him down. Recorded in 1986 off the back of his GTR venture with Steve Howe but not released until 1990, Feedback 86’s production is quintessential big-boom 80s, wherein drums are not so much played as detonated. Yet even the fullthroated emoting from Bonnie Tyler and Manfred Mann’s Chris Thompson can’t enliven the dreary Layla knock-off Cassandra or the punch-drunk anthem Prizefighters. In the accompanying booklet, Hackett judges it to be “Well worth a listen”, and while GTR fans may revel in the 2018 reworking of the MTV-friendly When The Heart Rules The Mind, the reek of misplaced AOR opportunism remains offputting.
From 1993’s Guitar Noir through to the powerful 2006 release Wild Orchids, Hackett sounds like he’s in control and on a mission. His ability to take a single note and fashion it into an expression of nuanced depths and meaning has always been one of his great strengths as an instrumentalist, a capacity he uses to devastating effect. At the other end of the spectrum, he’s never afraid to pepper his work with a sense of humour that often pricks any inclinations to pomposity.
Though remastered and featuring selected surroundsound mixes and in-concert video, the paucity of in-depth alternative studio tracks, early sketches or out-takes that one expects from today’s big boxes strikes a jarring chord in an otherwise exemplary collection.