Squackett, a portmanteau of the creators Chris SQUire and Steve HaCKETT combined names, is the project of the duo demonstrating their work together over the last few years.
Here for review is the 2012 release of their first project together as Squackett, an album that Steve Hackett looked to record by the sounds of the album between Out of The Tunnel’s Mouth and Beyond the Shrouded Horizon as there are elements of both of these projects of Steve’s within the writing, performance and production style. Mind you having Roger King on board was always going to make it easy to draw production similarities between Steve’s work and the Squackett project. But Roger works so well I cannot imagine the project having anyone else at the helm!
I do not have a physical copy of the album so I cannot reference artwork or sleeve notes. And, although I have been given a Digital Promo (MP3), I will buy the Deluxe 5.1 Surround version as any other version would seem a little pointless given the amount of music and the depth of the mixes that are bursting for the listeners ears.
I can readily admit to having heard work in progress versions of some of these tracks whilst I interviewed Steve Hackett on two occasions in 2010 and I think 2011 and the songs have developed since according to my memories. Let’s begin with a quick-ish review of the album, focussing on the highlights.
A Life Within A Day begins with arpeggiated Electric Piano leading into demonic strong strings. The middle eastern influence strings grace this piece in a rather serious way, as does Steve Hackett’s processed voice, a trait of the artist. I am unsure what the lyrics mean but it’s all rather clever stuff, for example “Evoke the Deity…” This song contains some rather similar Steve Hackett/Roger King production styles, which is a good thing. The altered vocals, various electric guitar styles and a rather alternative bass style from Chris Squire to remind you of his joint input into this project. Listen out for some of Chris’s excellent bass nodling around the 3 minute 28 second mark, the song sort of bookends itself with that serious string movement closing the frivolity of Chris’s Bass and Steve’s guitar work. There is a refrain of two main sections, one with heavy drums pushing the track. At one point, after some fret tapping, Steve mutates his axe into a neighing horse by pulling the reigns, aka yanking the whammy bar. I’ve seen comparisons to Led Zepplin’s ‘Kashmir’ – but I see that as lazy and not as on the button as some may think. Worth noting though.
Tall Ships, starts with an acoustic guitar in a rather Reverb’ed way, this gives way to a Bass line from Chris that I think is rather similar to something I have heard before, suffice to say – I know what I like and I like what I know with this funk bass playing from Chris. The vocals have an effect applied to them, which in my opinion does not distract from the song. This effect is tastefully deployed, also listen out for strings that appear and some more Fusion/Funk electric guitar. An interesting percussion part way through the piece calms the song down before the next part of the song.
Divided Self, has a jangly 12 string sound that could be a Rickenbacker (I’m sure Steve played this one as a work in progress and stated it was a Rickenbacker) starts the song. This song has a strong lean towards Jeff Lynne/ELO and that is not a bad thing in terms of vocal effects and production. The song has some interesting twists and turns as well as what sounds like backwards guitar (throughout the album is some backward guitar) and it climax’s in a rather interesting spot. I am not certain what the song is about the references seem scattered, from Sigmund Freud to perhaps an emotional breakdown. Suffice to say it’s ending is rather bizarre and a bit moving.
Aliens, a fantastic song and my favourite. It is pure progressive rock with its lyrical content about aliens who use time travel for their historical studies. At first you might be mistaken in thinking the lyrics do not scan well, nevertheless once you have heard the song for a second time you’ll be hooked. “We are the class of four thousand and seven” is pinnacle and the most imaginative line is “The day will come, we’ll have passports to the sun…” it could have been influenced by Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure but it’s told from a time much more advance and developed from our current time. It is likely Steve is referencing an old Sci Fi film as he appears to be an advocate of them. All the elements of this song paint an interesting picture so well, my only gripe is the piano intro (sorry Roger) that I would have edited out from the first 10 seconds of this song, then in my opinion it would have been perfect.
Storm Chaser is full blown rock. Starting with big reverb drums (ala When the Levee Breaks – I’m not saying the songs sound similar, just the feel and sound of the big drums) Chris and Steve wake the listener up and it’s almost something you could picture Joe Bonamassa writing/singing, think Dust Bowl, but with Chris Squire’s Bass and Steve’s trademark Electric guitar styles along with Roger King’s production, I swear I can hear a theremin in it too. Storm Chaser was played live in public as early as March 2009 on the Italian leg of the Breaking Waves tour.
Overall, it was first hard to notice Squire’s input, however it is there through vocals (solo and in harmony) and bass. Some of the songs are a bit lacklustre and a bit typical Steve, however most have a more cheerful sound and harking back to the 60s. The highlights above I particularly like, and the overall mood of the album is psychedelic and funk driven. A good album, however there is room for more and we hope they work together again. The 5.1 surround sound mix might emphasis detail and improve my opinion of a few of the other 4 tracks not reviewed here, as well as the ones that I have.
For those of you who are on the ball you might have noticed that Gary O’Toole isn’t drumming on this album but an equally talented drummer by the name of Jeremy Stacey whose style fits this project very well and who Roger has given a different sound to than the sound he normally uses for Gary’s drumming.
I hope Steve and Chris work together again and that more of these songs are played live at some point soon, either together or solo.
- A Life Within A Day
- Tall Ships
- Divided Self
- Sea Of Smiles
- The Summer Backwards
- Storm Chaser
- Cant Stop The Rain
- Perfect Love Song
Head over to Steve Hackett’s official website to order your copy.