The bewitching call of the Sirens is reported to have been irresistible. Mesmerised by the enchanting beauty of their songs, sailors were lured to their inevitable destruction on the rocks surrounding Scylla and Charybdis. Only two people are recorded as having escaped the compelling singing of these beautiful hybrid creatures: Odysseus returning home from the Trojan War who ordered his men to fill their ears with wax whilst lashing himself to the mast of his ship and Jason, leading his Argonauts to find the Golden Fleece, who overcame their siren call with the equally enthralling playing of Orpheus.
The parallels between the mythological narratives of the Sirens and Steve Hackett’s 25th solo album The Night Siren, are as fascinating as they are disconcerting. The two rocks, starkly framed on the album cover against the captivating aurora of the northern lights, may well be a nod to Scylla and Charybdis but it is also a clarion call to the need in these present dark times to carefully steer our way between the rocks and the hard places which threaten to engulf us.
Hackett believes that “it seems the world has been plunged into darkness. Wherever you look, extremism and intolerance are dominant, and people are getting fed up with politicians. They are losing faith in the way they behave.” We live in a time of discord, animosity, fighting and bitter divisions. The Night Siren is a wake-up call, an unsettling shaking of the foundations on which we stand designed to open our minds, rouse us from our complacency and heed the urgent call to empathy, unity and peace.
To that end, much like the Sirens themselves, the album is a hybrid mosaic of songs featuring instruments, collaborators and musicians from around the world. Indeed, the graceful, elegant beauty of The Night Siren lies precisely in the delightful diversity of its songs as well as the endearing variety of the instruments and sounds heard within each song. The sound of the Indian sitar, the strings of a Peruvian charango, Celtic Uilleann pipes along with the tar and oud originating from the Middle East all contribute to the wonderful montage of musical voices which inspire hope and the desire for peace.
The album openly elevates, celebrates and embraces our unity within diversity. Unlike other recordings on which he has worked, The Night Siren took Hackett well over a year to make. Recording took place in multiple locations, in a variety of different countries, using studios, rooms, wherever they could get the musicians together. “What I wanted to do was show that we can all communicate through the universality of one language – and that is music. It brings us all together.”
Making the album in this way not only adds greater flexibility to the music but also brings people together – and sometimes people who are unnatural allies – to demonstrate in a simple fashion that the multi-cultural approach offers us light in the darkness. Hackett is adamant that the album “represents a bird’s eye view of the world of a musical migrant ignoring borders and celebrating our common ancestry with a unity of spirit”. Bringing together singers and musicians from Israel and Palestine, the USA and Iraq he firmly believes the spirit of cooperation, collegiality and the bonds of friendship which can be formed through music make this his best album yet.
It is hard to disagree. If the Sirens of war, division, destruction, envy, spite and brutality are seducing the world in which we live, Hackett’s performance on The Night Siren is no less akin to the enthralling musicianship of Orpheus leading us through these troubled waters. Music, he believes, “breaches all defences” and there is no doubting that his playing exudes an assured, masterful confidence and authority which is as infectious as it is inspiring.
There is an exhilarating sense of anticipation in hearing the way his guitar work interacts with and responds to the unique and dynamic combinations evolving within each song. Even with all the different styles, rhythms and tempos, he displays a blistering, stand-out musicianship which is wholly organic to, and of a natural piece with, the flow and momentum of the music. It feels right. Each and every time, it feels so right, so perfectly suited to the context of the other instruments and immaculately aligned with the way the song unfolds.
This has always been Hackett’s singular gift; a magical combination of exceptional talent and a nuanced insight which allows him to draw on the momentum present in the natural flow of the music and then rise above it with a passion and brilliance that often defies imagination. At times his playing is simply sublime. The space opens up for the guitar to speak and he fills it with riffs and solos that are beautifully refined, deftly played and charmingly sumptuous. He brings an understanding to the music which is movingly perceptive, poignant and evocative.
When you listen to music which is this articulate, played in ways which carry an unrivalled eloquence and charm by virtue not just of the central figure but also because of the virtuosity of those who surround him, the message he wants to convey cannot but be heard – and heard with a persuasiveness that only music can achieve. Forget about the boundaries, the walls, the frontiers, the borders. The Night Siren will shake the ground on which you stand and make you feel the world anew through music because of the coming together of people from across the world who show the way to us all exactly what humanity can achieve when we come together in the name of unity and peace.
1. Behind the Smoke
2. Martian Sea
3. Fifty Miles from the North Pole
4. El Niño
5. Other Side of the Wall
6. Anything but Love
7. Inca Terra
8. In Another Life
9. In the Skeleton Gallery
10. West to East
11. The Gift
24th March 2017
Format: Special Edition CD/Blu-Ray 5.1 Mediabook, CD / Gatefold black 2LP Vinyl / Digital
Label: Inside Out Music
This review originally appeared for Progradar