It’s rare that two albums released by the same artist sound so disparate. Yet, by simultaneously issuing Steve Hackett’s lost Feedback 86 album and 1999’s Darktown, InsideOut Music has demonstrated just how musically flexible and dexterous the former Genesis guitar player can be. Hackett’s body of solo work – known for its complexity, distinctness and experimentation – is substantial, dating back to the mid-Seventies and encompassing a wide variety of musical styles. Fans no doubt have their favorite eras, and that’s why you’re likely to dig one of these two albums more than the other.
Feedback 86 has been touted as the never-released second album by GTR, the commercial progressive rock band formed by Hackett and Yes guitarist Steve Howe in 1986, with session singer Max Bacon on vocals. After the release of GTR’s self-titled debut, the band toured briefly and dissolved. Most, if not all of the eight tracks on Feedback 86 have been available in bootleg form for years, and some of them appear on other Hackett albums. “Prizefighters,” written by Hackett and Howe and featuring Bonnie Tyler on vocals, even is included (with Bacon on vocals) on GTR’s King Biscuit Flower Hour live album released in 1997, which documents a 1986 gig. Much of this material – featuring guest performances from Tyler, guitarist Brian May (Queen), singer Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) and drummer Ian Mosely and bass player Pete Trewavas (Marillion) – sounds extremely dated (virtual drums, anyone?) and such tracks as “Cassandra” and “Oh How I Love You” would have made a decent GTR record had they been expanded to provide a fuller sound spectrum. Hackett wrote six of the eight songs himself, and he sings lead on two of them, joining Thompson and Tyler on the rest – save the lone instrumental, “Notre Dame Des Fleurs.” The album, while an intriguing listen, feels incomplete and slightly cold.
Contrasting sharply with Feedback 86 is Darktown, the appropriate title given to what is perhaps Hackett’s most personal record – as well as one of his more technically progressive outings in recent years. Bleak instrumentation, sparse and sometimes quirky soundscapes and creepy narrated passages characterize Darktown, which features session players instead of special guests. The liner notes include song-by-song descriptions from Hackett, some of them quite witty. For example, he describes the title of the hypnotic cacophony of “Omega Metallicus” as “of course, old Etruscan for ‘Let’s party,’ ” and says that during the song, “guitars were stretched and frets were rattled,” but “no instruments were injured.” Other songs boast less quote-worthy commentary but revel in off-key grandiosity (the title track), bells, woodwinds and children’s choirs (“The Golden Age of Steam”) and themes of reincarnation and survival (“Rise Again”). Hackett slaps his guitar and enlists guys to make noises with their windshield wipers on “Dreaming With Open Eyes,” while he claims to hold “possibly the longest sustained guitar note in the history of modern recording” on “Twice Around the Sun.”
Practically nothing on Darktown sounds like it came from the same man who recorded Feedback 86, but that’s the beauty of both records. The post-Genesis Hackett didn’t follow the same superstar trajectory as Phil Collins, nor did he pledge allegiance to the healing power of world beats embraced by Peter Gabriel. Instead, the man quietly went about the business of making rewarding music, regardless of who might appreciate it. And that, my friends, is reason enough to appreciate each of these albums.
Note: The number of stars awarded to these albums collectively is based on three for Feedback 86 and four for Darktown.