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Steve Hackett - Out Of The Tunnel's Mouth CD (album) cover


Steve Hackett


Eclectic Prog

3.66 | 341 ratings

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4 stars This is the point where Steve's late-period resurgence went beyond a nice story and became a little terrifying. To Watch the Storms and Wild Orchids (and to a limited extent Dark Town) had been very nice additions to Hackett's catalogue, but they were just that: nice additions to a career whose center of relevancy still ultimately belonged to a handful of albums from the late 70s and early 80s. This album, and its eventual successor (Beyond the Shrouded Horizon), managed to completely rewrite the general arc of Steve's career; rather than following a path marked by an early prime, a shift downward and a nice shift upward at the end, Steve's career now had to be viewed as having two distinct primes, roughly 30 years apart. On here, and on Horizon, much of the material feels central to Steve's legacy, and while there are enough small details on each to keep me from giving them even higher grades, they are both essential albums for anybody who considers themselves a Hackett fan.

The first two songs on here have to be numbered among the best songs Hackett ever did, and oddly enough they're also the two where Yes bassist Chris Squire makes a contribution (he doesn't make his presence obvious, but there's a lot of power in the bass playing on these tracks). "Fire on the Moon" is a distillation of everything great about this era in Hackett's career; the verse melody is quiet but intense, growing out of a quiet music box melody (he used a similar trick to start off Wild Orchids, but it's more effective here), the "chorus" is huge and anthemic with wordless harmonies, and the two extended instrumental passages are led by monumental guitar passages that each have their own distinct personality and vibe. "Nomads," then, is Steve revisiting his fondness for middle- Eastern music, and it really comes across as the kind of song that "The Gulf" could have been if it hadn't gotten too stuck on its typically 80s synths. Much like with "Moon," the melody is a big ball of tension, reaching points of near ecstasy every time the "It's a cry from the heart, it's a crying soul" line pops up, and the climactic instrumental passage, growing out of a frantic acoustic part into a searing electric part, is sheer bliss to my ears. The final repetition of "It's a cry from the heart" might be somewhat predictable, but it's soooo necessary and satisfying.

Naturally, the album can't quite hold onto this level of enjoyment and intensity throughout, but it holds a pretty decent level nonetheless. "Emerald and Ash" really shouldn't be nine minutes long; the ballad portion (the "Emerald," I suppose) and the noisy rocker portion (the "Ash," I suppose) don't fit well together, certainly not as well as "The Fundamentals of Brainwashing" and "Howl" did. Still, I quite like the "Emerald" portion, which is awfully dark and moody for a track whose first lyric is "Sugarplum fairies on parade." The following instrumental "Tubehead" is basically just a noisy shredfest (with pounding up-tempo bass pushing it forward), and I kinda feel like its effect is muted a bit by coming right after the "Ash" portion, but it's definitely a lot of fun.

As far as multi-part epics go, "Sleepers" is much more impressive than "Emerald and Ash." The lengthy acoustic introduction gives way to an unsettlingly calm (and surprisingly memorable) verse melody, which in turn gives way to an intense darker melody (featuring a great lyric in one stanza: "Surveillance camera in the sky/Big big brother telling you why/Too many saviours on my cross/Might as well worship the Wizard of Oz"), which in turn gives way to an anthemic climax, culminating in the "All the sleepers send you their dreams" repeated line. If this track isn't in the top tier of Hackett tracks, then it's knocking on the door.

The album finishes quite strong as well. "Ghost in the Glass" makes the transition from moody acoustic instrumental to moody electric instrumental impeccably; "Still Waters" is a great pounding mid-tempo jazzy-gospel rocker that reminds me a lot of the little I've heard of Spiritualized; and the closing "Last Train to Istanbul," as tempting as it might be to call it an inferior little brother of "Nomads," does pseudo-ethnic music proud, from the great percussion to the flow of strings into flute and saxophone, and it's a great way to close things off.

If there's anything significantly to the album's detriment, aside from the "Emerald and Ash" and "Tubehead" pairing (both tracks are plenty enjoyable, but in a more hollow way than I prefer), it's that the album, for all of the interesting things that happen on it, doesn't really show much in the way of Steve stretching himself; even the best ideas feel mostly like a refinement of ideas that had come on earlier albums. Still, that's a relatively minor ding, and it's one that I don't really think about when I'm listening to it. If you like rock music that's at all artsy (not just Hackett) you need to hear this album.

PS: The 2010 2-CD special edition is worth mentioning, even if the additional material doesn't factor into the rating. Around this time, Steve started to re-embrace his past in his live performances, and this disc features live performances of "Blood on the Rooftops" (!!), "A Tower Struck Down," "Firth of Fifth" and "Fly on a Windshield/Broadway Melody of 1974" (the Genesis tracks feature drummer Gary O'Toole on vocals). The three Genesis tracks would later appear on Live Rails, but it's still a lot of fun to have additional versions of these. The disc also contains what's essentially a remix mash-up of "Sleepers" and "Still Waters" called "Every Star in the Night Sky," and it's a nice treat for people who enjoy those two tracks.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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