Thursday, July 21, 2016

Steve Hackett - 1979 "Spectral Mornings"

Spectral Mornings is the third release and the second post-Genesis album by British guitarist Steve Hackett.
The album is the first recording to feature Hackett's first true touring band, consisting of his brother John Hackett on flute, guitar and bass pedals, long-time collaborator keyboardist Nick Magnus, bassist/vocalist Dik Cadbury, drummer John Shearer and vocalist Peter Hicks.
In 2005, Spectral Mornings was remastered and re-released on Virgin Records. The new edition features updated liner notes and seven bonus tracks.

After the release of his previous album, Please Don't Touch!, in 1978, Hackett wished to tour the material from the album along with material from his previous solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte. This meant that he needed to assemble a touring band since the personnel on Please Don't Touch! had essentially consisted of guest musicians. The band that he created for this purpose became the band that he used in the studio for Spectral Mornings and the following album, 1980's Defector. Members of Genesis had contacted Hackett to say how much they really liked this and previous albums, since it was material Hackett felt he could have used with the band.
This is the second album for which Hackett used a Roland GR-500 Guitar Synthesizer. It can be heard on two tracks: "The Virgin and the Gypsy" and "Tigermoth".
Lead vocals on most of the album were provided by Peter Hicks, which were very often backed with harmonies by Steve Hackett and Dik Cadbury. Cadbury arranged the harmony vocals, having been trained as a counter tenor (falsetto) singer. Hackett himself sings lead on "The Ballad of the Decomposing Man".

To his credit, Steve Hackett learned from the mistakes made on Please Don't Touch, and delivered a much-improved mix of songs and instrumentals on 1979's Spectral Mornings. With a workable backing band that includes John Shearer, Nick Magnus, and former Decameron bassist Dik Cadbury, the ex-Genesis guitarist exploits his strengths: progressive instrumentals that skip between heaven and hell, pastoral pop songs, and a healthy dose of English humor. Vocalist Peter Hicks takes the lead on a few tracks, and as the honey-fied "The Virgin and the Gypsy" makes clear, his voice is much better suited to the material than Richie Havens. Hackett's lone vocal cameo, "The Ballad of the Decomposing Man," is a Pythonesque treat. The guitar work is typically top-notch, equally effective in acoustic sections that feature John Hackett's flute and in tempestuous arrangements where Steve's trademark electric guitar pierces through the chaos. The guitarist also extends his range to the Cantonese koto (presumably a variation on the Japanese koto) for the delicate instrumental "The Red Flower of Tachai Blooms Everywhere"; in typically mischievous fashion, it lulls the listener into a false sense of relaxation for the sonic onslaught of "Clocks -- The Angel of Mons." For many, Voyage of the Acolyte is the definitive Hackett record, but Spectral Mornings is more indicative of his range as a solo artist. The music is true to progressive rock in sound if not in scope, a trait which endears Hackett to Genesis fans who found that band's subsequent commercialization distasteful.

From the day I was introduced to this remarkable album (yes, in vinyl) when it was released in 1979, I have had shivers go up and down my spine every time I listen to Every Day, and the closing title track. And nothing in between disappoints, either. Rather, the other tracks lay the groundwork for future releases. Although I became rather enamored of the vocal deliveries of Pete Hicks, I missed him less and less as Hackett sang more and worked on his own delivery. This release stands as one of his absolute premiere recordings.

 Track Listings

  1. Every Day
  2. The Virgin And The Gypsy
  3. The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere
  4. Clocks-The Angel Of Mons
  5. The Ballad Of The Decomposing Man (Featuring...)
  6. Lost Time In Cordoba
  7. Tigermoth
  8. Spectral Mornings


    Steve Hackett – acoustic and electric guitars, Roland guitar synthesizer, vocals on "The Ballad of the Decomposing Man", koto on The Red Flowers of Tachai Blooms Everywhere", harmonica
    John Hackett – flute, bamboo flute, Taurus Moog bass pedals
    Dik Cadbury – bass, Taurus Moog bass pedals, vocals
    Peter Hicks – vocals except on "The Ballad of the Decomposing Man"
    Nick Magnus – keyboards, Vox String Thing, Novatron, Clavichord, clavinet, Fender Rhodes electric piano, Mini Moog, Roland string
    John Shearer – drums, percussions