Artists | Issues | CD Reviews | Interviews | Concert Reviews | DVD/Video Reviews | Book Reviews | Who We Are | Staff | Home
Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Steve Hackett

Wild Orchids

Review by Steve Alspach

While Messrs. Banks, Rutherford, Collins and Gabriel release albums at a snail's pace, leave it to Genesis' no. 2 ex-guitarist to take the lion's share of post-Genesis releases. Wild Orchids finds Steve mining the same fertile grounds that he did for To Watch the Storms. With Steve you can expect a little bit of everything, and if that's your cup of tea, then you won't be disappointed here. Orchestral, rock, jazz explorations, and the occasional googly all get served up here, and with Hackett's history as a musical purveyor, it all comes together.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 5 at

Track by Track Review
Transylvanian Express
Hackett often opens his rock albums with a dramatic instrumental, and so he does with "Transylvanian Express," an excellent piece evocative of Hammer horror soundtracks. The Underworld Orchestra, that accompanied Hackett on his Metamorpheus album, is here. The strings and harpsichord drive home the point, and Hackett uses his acoustic guitar to a gentle effect and the electric to add a sense of the macabre.
Waters of the Wild
Eastern modalities are explored here as Hackett borrows from Yeats' "The Stolen Child" (and it took me some doing to get the Waterboys' rendition of Yeats' poem out of my head), but the lively percussion here gives this track considerable punch. 
Set Your Compass
Co-written with John Hackett, "Compass" is a dreamy composition. The waltz feel and 12-string work are strikingly similar to Genesis' "Entangled" (one listen to this will clear up any doubts who had the upper hand in "Entangled"'s composition), and Hackett deftly uses overlaying vocals for a relaxing effect. 
Down Street
Hackett has an alter ego, a vampiric denizen of the underworld, who usually makes an appearance on his albums. A smack should be delivered to the head to whoever designed the CD booklet for leaving out half the lyrics on this song. Hackett throws in a wide variety of tricks here - harmonica solo, guitar solo, little bouncy carousel passages, swing jazz, a cornucopia of ideas packed in 7.33.
A Girl Called Linda
Described as a "Sunday brunch in the park" song, "Linda" is a very light piece with brush drums, vibraphone and keyboards, in contrast to its predecessor. One can almost visualize the live-animated scene from "Mary Poppins" with this. Rob Townsend gets a nice flute solo during the middle section and the end, and Hackett plays a rare acoustic guitar solo as well. It's a track that conjures images of London in the summer, and I'm always a sucker for that sort of thing.
Blue Child
Referred to as "Progressive Blues," "Blue Child" has a non-bluesy chord structure. In fact, it's quite reminiscent of "Spectral Mornings,” but Hackett allows himself to blow some tasty guitar lines over the progression. I've always admired Hackett's emphasis on melodic structures in his solos and, though he could probably shred with the best of them, that's never been his forte.
To A Close
Another soft, romantic piece, much like "Compass," this one looks at the misfortunes of a fallen woman from society into prostitution. Hackett's harmonized vocals are feather-on-the-water delicate.
Ego and Id
Here's one not written by Steve! "Ego and Id" is a pounding rocker, though not too fast of a tempo. Gary O'Toole's drums give considerable power to this.
Man in the Long Black Coat
Now he's into covering Dylan. Here he covers this track from Dylan's "Oh Mercy" album (he seems to have a "pinnacle" album every decade - this is it for the ‘80s). Hackett gets a little swampy with the introduction (harmonica over acoustic guitar, both played to great effect), and he lets himself go totally bluesy on the electric solo. 
Cedars of Lebanon
An intriguing piece, "Cedars…" starts with a galloping rhythm, but his dramatic vocals on the verses are responded to by succinct orchestral passages. He also uses a nylon-string guitar as a background rhythmic device. An homage to the war-torn country, this is an intense piece of music. 
What sounds like a continuation of "…Lebanon" with a string section turns quickly into a rock piece. The string section remains, but the drums enter, and the strings pulse on the quarter notes. The electric guitar lays low during the chorus. There are a number of different effects here, and Hackett pulls a "Hammer-on pull-off 101" solo. After all the different moods, tricks, and gadgets, it becomes obvious that Hackett isn't being too serious here.
Surely the oddest cut here (and perhaps in his solo career), Hackett imitates a singer from the ‘20s, accompanied by the Optigan, a favorite instrument of his that captures the spirit of the roaring ‘20s. (He used it to good effect on "Sentimental Institution" from 1980's "Defector" album.) At 47 seconds it's a quicky, and the lyrics ("I'd go on singing forever / But cremation won't be long") knock the listener for a loop.
She Moves in Memories
The original backing track to "To a Close," this is an orchestral arrangement of that song. Hackett apparently felt it too good for exclusion, and you can't blame him - full of strings and woodwinds, "Memories" really is a gorgeous track. 
The Fundamentals of Brainwashing
A bit of a Lennon-like feel captures this piece with the heavy drumming and prominent piano chords. Hackett's lyrics are a bit obtuse here, but there's no denying his disgust at what history has to teach us.
The coda to "Fundamentals," the heavy-handedness continues. Keyboardist Roger King gets a lengthy solo here. Steve's soloing is more elongated with screaming overtone notes, and the whole thing is a lengthy "f*** you!" to the brainwashers that we all seem to be plagued with.
A Dark Night in Toytown
Aha! I get it! This song leads off the "conventional" release of this CD, but the ideas here are first heard in the opening cut. This is a nightmarish cut, driving and dramatic, and the first image I had was the cover of Please Don't Touch where the toys all come to life, for not-so-benevolent purposes. 
Until the Last Butterfly
Well, it's not a Hackett CD without a solo classical guitar piece, is it? So here you are - a swirl of notes that would do Christopher Parkening or Sharon Isbin proud. 
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
More CD Reviews
Metal/Prog Metal
Progressive Rock

   Creative Commons License
   This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

    © 2024 Music Street Journal                                                                           Site design and programming by Studio Fyra, Inc./