Friday, 31 August 2012

Steve Hackett Remasters

I’ve always had to suppress my inner Luddite when it comes to music technology.  Back in the 80s I was never entirely convinced that CDs were ‘better’ than LPs.  More convenient, certainly, but not necessarily better in terms of sound quality.  This attitude has passed into the present where I use an iPod constantly for convenience sake but frankly the sound quality is only average.  The other area where I feel I’ve been had several times over is in the area of ‘re-mastering’ back catalogue.

Over the years I have bought various albums several times, usually as the format changes but also whilst caught on the lure of better quality sound as a result of re-mastering old albums.  Almost without exception, these new products sound ‘different’ but not necessarily ‘better’ and in some case they are just downright worse.  So I am pleased to report that I have just purchased downloads of Steve Hackett’s first three solo albums in re-mastered format and guess what?  They are superb.

I’ve always had a fondness for Hackett’s first three albums as they represent three different approaches to his art.  The first, ‘Voyage of the Acolyte’ is basically what Genesis’ ‘And Then There Were Three’ might have sounded like if it had been Tony Banks that had left rather than Hackett.  It’s a sort of Genesis-with-guitars rather than the Genesis-with-keyboards of the official band – and no worse off for it.  The use of Collins and Rutherford as a backing band gives it a familiar sound but it is definitely a Hackett showcase.  I remember buying this and ‘Trick of the Tail’ together circa 1976 and preferring this.

The second, ‘Please Don’t Touch’ is an attempt at a Transatlantic Genesis complete with American vocalists and production.  Some of this works (Randy Crawford’s fabulous take on ‘Hoping Love Will Last’ is wonderful) and some doesn’t but it still has the trademark snatches of classical guitar and general melancholic atmosphere that pervades his best work.

The third, ‘Spectral Mornings’ is the first of what would become a run of ‘Steve Hackett Band’ albums with a stable line-up of musicians.  Here it is in its infancy containing some cracking instrumentals and a wide diversity of material.  Subsequent albums wrung the Band sound dry and got more formulaic as the restrictions of a set line-up chafed so this first of the bunch sounds so much fresher and more direct.

For the first time, I can definitely attest to the benefits of re-mastering.  These albums sound more detailed, bringing out the tonality of the instruments and have revealed little additional parts in the mix that were once buried.  My original CDs sound very thin in comparison to the new re-masters.  It’s almost as if the old analogue sound has been reinstated giving a fuller warmer, yet more detailed sound and I’m very glad to have digital files of this quality back in my collection.  I understand that Steve himself oversaw the work on this project.  Perhaps it takes the original creator to know what it should sound like?

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