“To Watch the Storms” is the new album of our beloved king of guitar and amazing musician-composer Steve Hackett. A CD that at first sight it seems to retrieve the rich atmospheres of his symphonic records from the seventies, according to the new front cover which is again a painting from his mate Kim Poor entitled“See no Evil”. I think it was about time he released a new record, because we’ve got to go back to the 1999 to find a work made as Steve Hackett. It was “Darktown”. A record that I recall as a powerful work in terms of melody and strong emotional compositions full of passion, as usual, but with a bit of artificial stuff that turned some of the passages a bit canned. The experimentation turned it, on my opinion, to a less charming record. But of course it is a personal point of view which you might not agree with.
On this new release we also find some elements coming out from some computer but not as many as on “Darktown”. With this “To Watch the Storms” Steve focus himself on a virtuoso acoustic guitar playing, going back to the beautiful surroundings of his early records which gives the whole thing a fantastic feeling. Nevertheless this is not a new “Spectral Mornings”. He takes bits of every artistic phase in his career, so we find a more melodic and symphonic stuff from the early years, some ethnic rhythms from the beginning of the eighties, some blues from the nineties, and also something more experimental following some of the work that he has done in the late nineties. He plays a bit of everything but with a main element that at the end of the records seems to touch everything which is a sweet strong acoustic and electric guitar.
We find 13 songs that go from the two and a half minutes to six. As you can see we haven’t got long suites. It starts with the magnificent “Strutton Ground” (3:04), a delicate and intimate ballad that takes us back in an exercise of pure regression, a beautiful piece from the late seventies. “Circus of Becoming” (3:48) is similar to the previous one but with a kind of a circus rhythm which reminds some songs from “Please don’t touch” or even “Spectral Mornings”. With “The Devil is an Englishman” (4:27) Steve gets out of his time machine to give us a more experimental piece with some canned vocal work and artificial-sounding instruments. “Frozen Statues” (2:58) goes back to his blues time, with a piano song taken from a stinky night club. ”Mechanical Bride” (6:40) must have been made with the influences of Ian McDonald because it is a real Crimson song with an amazing guitar work (it bears much resemble to the “21st century schizoid man”). “Wind, Sand and Stars” (5:08) is a wonder. A song similar to “Horizons” with a beautiful cord development that connects with an extraordinary key work.
“Brand new” (4:41) mixtures that chords with powerful rocky parts and some electronic elements. “This World” (5:19) and “Rebecca” (4:20) are both two nice ballads perfectly performed, with worked melodies and an excellent guitar section. “The Silk Road” (5:25) is the World-Music side of this great musician. Kitaro should check this out. “Come Away” (3:13), “The Moon Under Water” (2:14), and above all “Serpentine Song” (6:56) close the record with vocal harmonies and instrumental sensibility master class. An artist that has always used the melodies as a root to do things. A work that also reminds me the Anthony Phillips’ early records.
Steve Hackett will always be something else. He will always have some special thing that will make him go beyond the rest and that’s why this is always a good choice.