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Audio CD, Limited Edition, Import, January 13, 2008
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For almost 40 years now, Steve Hackett has been one of the most innovative artists on acoustic and electric guitar. His technique came to be known as landmark in the musical business and influenced rock giants like the original Genesis formation, among others. As a solo artist, he skillfully moves between various musical spheres of refined rock music. After the release of his classical album Metamorpheus, he again has produced in Wild Orchids a real rock album that bursts with experimentalism, playfulness and vigour and shines with its jazzy and folky elements. The unique artwork, which is quite characteristic for all Hackett's works, derives its ideas entirely from Kim Poor, his wife
Until his back catalog was recently reissued, it was easy to forget what an important musician Steve Hackett was in the late 1970s and very early '80s. That was when the former Genesis guitarist was releasing LPs like Voyage of the Acolyte and Spectral Mornings. Though he's continued to record albums at a steady clip, ranging from forgettable pop to flirtations with classical music, he still faded away in the '80s. Wild Orchids finds him in the terrain of many post-prog rockers, moving all over the stylistic map. He jumps from classical on the orchestral "She Moves in Memories" to American folk on Bob Dylan's "Man in the Long Black Coat." He sings the latter in a deep baritone reminiscent of Leonard Cohen and tears off some blistering distorted blues guitar leads in the process. "A Dark Night in Toytown" almost sounds like an art song (as in classical, not art-rock) touched by a bit of Broadway. There are many echoes of the '60s, including references to Pink Floyd and especially the Beatles. "Waters of the Wild" calls up the spirit of "Tomorrow Never Knows" with a trancy rhythm and Eastern overtones as Hackett mutates his guitar from a sitar to electric sarangi. An instrumental called "Howl" ends the album, and its demonic groove and afterburner guitar recalls one of his earliest songs, "A Tower Struck Down." It reminds us that Steve Hackett hasn't quite found a voice that resonates the way it did 30 years ago--but Wild Orchids makes me think it should. --John Diliberto
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Hackett indulges every one of his musical personalities here: cinematic-sounding themes (Transylvanian Express), gentle ballads (Set Your Compass), blues (Blue Child), lighthearted and silly (Down Street), solo nylon acoustic guitar (The Last Butterfly), Indian/Middle Eastern (Waters of the Wild) and so on.
Hackett's voice at its best is adequate. He uses a lot of processing to tailor his vocal sound to the selection and he does so to great effect. His guitar playing is, as always, top-shelf.
Aside from musical refinement, the presence of Hackett's "Underworld Orchestra" is the primary difference between this and "Storms." Some would call that presence a link between this album and his "Metamorpheus," but stylistically, this is a pop-rock album, not anything resembling one of his more "serious" compositional works.
It's impressive that 30 years after leaving Genesis, Hackett is still producing very listenable albums, long after some of his former colleagues have run out of steam.
The biggest problem with this album is the overall lack of melody that makes Steve such a gift to music. In some places, there isn't even any guitar. It's just sort of a thick wall of experimentation, where the guitar takes a backseat to the rest of the stuff. It's as though he got tired of putting out high-quality music rich in melody and color, and decided to experiment with a variety of new sounds and moods. Many are dark and simplistic, others just plod along.
The other problem is that the mix and sound equalization is weighted towards the bass end. There's not really any clarity on the high end, that brings out the dynamics and harmonics of the instrumentation and vocals. It's sort of a thick sludge.
The only songs that are reminiscent of, and true to, Steve's music tradition are: Set Your Compass and To a Close. The only other notable track is Cedars of Lebanon.