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Steve Hackett - Beyond The Shrouded Horizon CD (album) cover


Steve Hackett


Eclectic Prog

3.85 | 401 ratings

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4 stars It's mindblowing to me that my second favorite Steve Hackett album was released 32 years after my favorite of his solo albums (Spectral Mornings) and 40 years after his first relevant recording (as Genesis' guitarist on Nursery Cryme). Yes, I think it's a better album than Acolyte; it won't satisfy people looking for "pure" progressive rock in the way that album would, but as a demonstration and celebration of Steve's multiple preferred forms of musical expression, it's hard to beat. Interestingly, all of the tracks also contain writing credits for Roger King (producer and keyboardist) and Jo Hackett (his new wife; he'd divorced Kim Poor a few years earlier), and while I don't know how much input they actually had (I'd guess Roger had a lot, and Jo some, though I might be wrong), their input clearly didn't hurt things.

To be honest, for as much as I like this album, I don't really love how it begins. The first couple of minutes of "Loch Lomond," after the great guitar and keyboard sounds that kick it off, are built around a stiff and leaden old-man hard rock riff, and if the entire track had been built around this things might have been problematic. Fortunately, this riff eventually takes its place as a mere supporting element of the track, popping out intermittently from a Scottish-tinged acoustic ballad, full of nice melody and arrangement twists. Following this mixed bag of an opener, we enter an extended stretch that has to rank up there with Hackett's best. "The Phoenix Flown" is a two-minute instrumental with Hackett doing his minimalist-yet-fluid electric guitar thing as well as ever, "Wanderlust" is a nice 45-second acoustic interlude, and then we come to the main attractions of the album. "'Til These Eyes" is an AMAZING acoustic ballad; the build from the verses into the "'Til these eyes have seen enough" parts, ending with "'Til these eyes have seen love," strikes me as pop perfection. I don't like to break out "if you don't like such-and-such track then I can't understand you and your musical taste" comments very often, but if you don't like "'Til These Eyes" then I can't understand you and your musical taste.

"Prairie Angel" (which features writing credits from Steve Howe and old GTR drummer Jonathan Mover) and "A Place Called Freedom" are indexed as separate tracks, but they're really two parts of the same piece, and I can't imagine listening to one without the other. "Prairie Angel" starts with a nearly perfect (to my ears) set of slowly unfolding and rising guitar lines, before bursting into an AWESOME set of bluesy guitar riffs (eventually featuring Steve on harmonica), which in turn segue into "A Place Called Freedom." I don't especially care for the chorus/title (I've always had a weird instinctual allergy to tracks with the word "freedom" in the title, with some exceptions), though it makes for a nice climax every time it pops up, but the rest of track is amazing. The way the track effortlessly moves between the folksy/country-ish acoustic-guitar-driven verses, the breaks after the chorus (with a slow guitar line over an underpinning acoustic guitar part that brings to mind "Carpet Crawlers" in a good way), and the main ideas of "Prairie Angel" leaves me wanting to hear the track (and its predecessor) over and over, and the extended outro only makes this urge stronger. It's a shame such a great pair of tracks ended up on an album so (relatively) few people will ever hear; I guarantee that if U2 had done this track (which wouldn't be fully out of the realm of possibility) it would be universally beloved.

Anything after this stretch can't help but be a small letdown, but it's only a small one. "Between the Sunset and the Coconut Palms" is a nice atmospheric acoustic ballad about taking a boat into the horizon, and it's an effective low-key respite from the overpowering beauty of "Prairie Angel"/"A Place Called Freedom." "Waking to Life" is another of Steve's incorporations of ambiguously foreign music into his core style, and the combination of the catchy-as-hell verses (culminating in the great "and I've never seen your face before") hook and all of the frenetic instrumental parts a la "Last Train to Istanbul" make it every bit as fun as, say, "Last Train" or "A Doll That's Made in Japan." "Two Faces of Cairo" is an instrumental that Steve wrote while visiting the Sphinx, and while it's definitely a little directionless and primarily geared towards atmosphere, it's fine enough atmosphere for me.

"Looking for Fantasy" is another instance (see: "Camino Royale") of Steve writing a song where part of the song came from a dream (this time a dream where he heard Jimi Hendrix singing this melody), and it's yet another of Steve's nice atmospheric ballads, about looking for meaning in things that aren't really grounded in reality (best line: "In an open top car the Kennedys passed by/To this day she swears that Jack gave her the eye"). "Summer's Breath" is another nice acoustic snippet (probably no better than the average track on Bay of Kings or Momentum, but as I've always said, it's better to have these tracks surrounded by tracks of other styles), "Catwalk" is decent pounding mid-tempo blues (with Chris Squire on bass), and finally we come to the conclusion, "Turn This Island Earth." At first it seems like it's going to be something irritatingly faux-majestic in a queasy "Valley of the Kings" sort of way, which doesn't seem promising for a 12-minute track, but these parts turn out just to be an extended introduction, and for a while the rest of the track is decent enough. An atmospheric distorted vocal slowly fades in, the song takes shape, there's a synth part playing what had been the bluesy riff from "Prairie Angel" (interestingly, this track also has a Steve Howe/Jonathan Mover credit, so I have to assume the bluesy riff is the GTR leftover that prompted the credit), and eventually the bluesy riff becomes the center of an extended instrumental bit, before the song then basically becomes a dumping ground for various ideas (such as a snippet that could have been the center of a nice McCartney-ish ballad). Truth be told, on first listen I was almost ready to call this my favorite track, but now I consider it a relatively weak point, and enough to keep me from giving the album an even higher grade.

In addition to the standard release, there was also a 2-CD special edition version, and that's the one I have, so I'll briefly mention the contents. It's only about half an hour, and it's clearly not an essential addition to the album, but I like the disc for the most part. The first four tracks are part of an instrumental suite called "Four Winds," with the four parts naturally called "North," "South," "East" and "West," and while none of the parts show Hackett at his very best, they're nice for somebody who generally enjoys this era of his career. "Pieds En L'Air" is an odd inclusion, in that it's a strings-only cover of a song by an old Welsh composer who went by the pseudonym Peter Warlock; it's weird to have a track on a Steve Hackett album that doesn't involve Hackett at all, but I have to assume that the piece meant a lot to Steve, so I don't begrudge him throwing it on. "She Said Maybe" isn't an amazing guitar-driven instrumental, but it's a decent one; I wouldn't have minded having it on the main album. "Enter the Night" is a reworking of "Depth Charge"/"Riding the Colossus" to finally give it vocals, and honestly the track finally sounds finished; it was always a good instrumental, but here it feels like it finally reached its full low-key 80s-arena rock (if such a genre can be low-key) potential. "Eruption: Tommy" is an instrumental snippet from an old Focus (one of the lesser-known 70s prog bands) that depicted, sure enough, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, and it fits in well with Steve's gifts as a guitarist. And finally, "The Reconditioned Nightmare" is slight reworking, in a live context, of "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare" (from Cured, remember that one?), and it's every bit as much goofy fun here as it was before.

So ok, it's not as polished as Spectral Mornings is, and while there was a brief time where I thought it might be my favorite Hackett album, that time has passed and won't return (the decline in my feelings towards "Turn This Island Earth" is the biggest reason). If that's the extent of criticism I can give, though, then I can't help but have a lot of good feelings towards this album. If you're somebody who only has Voyage and/or Acolyte, and you're looking for a place to start getting into Steve's later studio albums, this or Tunnel is the place to start.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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