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25 December, 2003

Review: To Watch The Storms (Steve Hackett, 2003)

As usual for a Hackett album, I found this very mixed - some tracks I liked immensely from the first play, others I didn't, and still others have emerged on repeated listening.  One of the many favourable aspects of Hackett's work is that each time I play one of his albums, the experience is different - I fix on some aspect I'd missed the last time; often that same aspect doesn't sound so special the next time, but that keeps things fresh too!

A one-word review would be: 'eclectic'; the tracklist ranges from homely, almost sentimental, to experimental, via jazz, blues, and 'Come Away' is apparently a mazurka, though the arrangement sounds stereotypically Pacific rather than Eastern European (it's probably the instrumentation). I haven't liked all of Hackett's experimentation over the years, but that's the nature of experimental music, and there are only two tracks on 'TWTS' that I routinely skip: 'The Mechanical Bride' and 'The Devil Is An Englishman'. The former is the only song I'd heard before the release of the album - Hackett has been playing it live for a while, but familiarity hasn't drawn me in. 'The Devil...' is a cover of a Thomas Dolby song, with the consequent disadvantages - it's slightly bizarre without developing the central idea, and features Dolby's signature repetition and eighties rhythm. Hackett's affected upper-class English drawl is amusing, but I've only listened to the whole song a couple of times.

'Strutton Ground' and 'Serpentine Song' are high points, though probably the least challenging tracks, while 'Marijuana Assassin of Youth' has a more visceral, rock'n'roll attraction. The piece which sold the album to me, however, is gleefully whimsical. The only audio sample available at the Inside Out website was the first minute or so of 'Circus Of Becoming': the sombre organ intro giving way to the childlike optigan 'solo', establishing a strong rhythm elegantly modulated as the song itself begins.

I have the extended 'Special Edition', with an extra acoustic track and cased in a hardback book, itself in a thick card slipcase. As always, Inside Out's packaging is excellent, and not sold at a premium price, so I'd recommend the special edition if available. Including the album cover, the packaging features 18 paintings (powdered glass painted onto steel) by Kim Poor, Hackett's wife.


I'd say that Mechanical Bride is a little too close to King Crimson's "21st century schizoid man" for my tastes. I really didn't like the track for this reason. There were some interesting parts in the middle, but for the most part I just felt like I'd heard it all before.

Posted by Seamus at April 18, 2004 11:51 PM
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