Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Squackett - 5 Stars - A Prog/Pop Classic
What Shitty Band Are You In?
I can well understand that perhaps not every song of every project a musician may attempt will please every listener. It's appreciated that occasionally, a musician or band will make a misstep, or fail to connect in some way with some fan, some critic. However, for someone to dismiss a fine effort by two extremely seasoned professionals who have done their best and delivered a product well within the parameters of probability and acceptability causes me to wonder just what goes through the mind of someone who reacts with malice, and vitriol. Makes me wonder what they have done that enables and authorizes them to castigate so harshly. It makes me want to ask, "So, what shitty band are you in?"
I don't write about music I don't enjoy, it's that simple. Why would I? Why would I spend valuable time and energy with something that gave me no fulfillment? I could write from now until the very end of time, and not be able to fully express my thoughts about that which I do enjoy, so why waste time with grousing and deriding that which holds little value for me? I get little pleasure from disappointing or angering an artist, or an artist's fans, who most likely have no interest in reading what someone doesn't like about their favorites. I have less than no desire to be amongst the minions who rain down criticism from on high. I'd rather spend my time telling you what I do enjoy about the new Squackett album, and there is much that I enjoy.
Hackett's guitar playing is astounding - one minute he is chiming chirpingly and you are dreaming of Brit-pop of the ages, whether it be The Fab Four or XTC, then you blink and he is pushing a crescendo of rapid fire distortion through the atmosphere with his Fernandes Sustainer and Whammy pedal. His histrionics are equally acrobatic and lyrical - for all his shredding (and there is a good deal), his playing is marvelously melodic and in a most unpredictable manner. His style is his own, and his musicianship is developed to the point whereby his inspirations are a long forgotten memory, replaced by his own stamp of creativity. If Squackett were the work of a new talent we'd have a new guitar super hero - as it is we simply have an underrated one.
The album also has a somewhat secret weapon - it comes in the form of longtime a Hackett cohort, producer and keyboardist Roger King. Throughout the proceedings, King does a fantastic job. To my ears this is everything the last Yes album wasn't, but should have been. As a producer, he has done a marvelous job of putting together a record that sounds wonderfully cohesive, especially given that in all likelihood there was little time to woodshed the material, or for the band to spend much time actually in the same room. This is just part of the way that many project type records are made these days due to economic necessity and the fact that a musician can't stand still for long and earn his daily bread. The job that's been done here is pretty great - much akin to the job done by Bill Evans and the members of Flying Colors on their stunning debut earlier this year.
A Life Within A Day - Epic prog/pop. There are those who say mentioning Zeppelin here is inappropriate, but that would be like not acknowledging the 800 pound gorilla in the corner. Of course the chugging, mid-tempo, Eastern riffing evokes Kashmir. However, there is also the fabulous intro that is pastoral and elegant. Then there is the solo section that takes off on an incredible path, leaving behind anything reminiscent of LZ's blues rock - Hackett lets loose with some heavily effected, dissonant squalling that somehow remains wonderfully melodic, as Squire underscores his soloing with some characteristically furious busyness. As these two instrumental giants joust, Roger King is fast in the thick of it, and the entire section becomes a fantastic journey that finds the listener gripping his chair, and holding his breath. Alas, they pull out of it having avoided disaster and then it's back into the now familiar riff, and vocals that by now have you singing along. Amazing as the rifled riffing is here, it is the song you walk away singing.
Divided Self - A great dose of Brit pop that's wise lyric may be lost in the happy sonic landslide that sees both Steve and Chris strapping on Rickenbackers to perfect effect - Hackett both chimes and plays great fills (exactly in the style of the great tradition) as Squire reminds us that XTC's Colin Moulding may have listened to a few Yes albums on his way to greatness. It's a joy to listen to Squire playing marvelously busy, melodic, and effective bass under Hackett's solo. Two absolute masters of their craft - you can almost hear them listening to one another and reacting in the instrumental sections. If there's not enough playing on this record, you're really not listening very closely.
Aliens - A Squire tune that sees Hackett, King, and Stacey providing some gentle backing that keeps things moving while the bassist weaves his tale of extraterrestrial possibilities.
The Summer Backwards - More folkish, pastoral harmonies, and some gorgeous melodies abound that again seems to having Squackett thanking Andy Partridge for thanking them. This would fit lovely on XTC's Skylarking, one of the truly classic summer pop records. This one is Hackett's, and it is much lighter in tone and mood than much of his recent solo output.
Can't Stop The Sun - I get the sense that Chris Squire has finally got his well-deserved obsession with The Beatles out of his system a bit with Squackett. The marriage of melody, harmony, and a bass driven engine is beautifully executed, and we have another tale of the philosophies of love that is as pleasant in the light of day, as it is at midnight. That's a fascinating thing about this album - I've noticed that it delivers a wealth of sunshine and sunny weather, but also has a nice undercurrent that makes it quite good after midnight.
So, I'll end where I started with a simple question.
What shitty band are you in? Really, if you are amongst this record's critics, I'd love to hear what you have better to offer. In the meantime, lighten up and enjoy a cool, cool piece of music.
If this was a record by a bunch of unknowns, I suspect it would be lauded widely. If it had been released in 1972 as a side project between Yes and Genesis albums, it would have been acclaimed as the great success that it is.
Squackett is a great record. It does exactly what Squire and Hackett set out to do - record an album of songs that well represents their careers and talents. I congratulate and thank them, as I am personally enjoying it tremendously. It hasn't left my presence since it arrived, and it will most likely be a major part of the soundtrack to my summer. With that, I am well pleased.
My thanks to Steve Hackett, Jo Hackett, and Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red Records.