Charterhouse days re-revisited

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Fans of ex-Genesis guitar virtuoso Steve Hackett will be aware that he’s been revisiting the back catalogue of that band to an ever increasing extent in the last few years at his live shows. Hackett finds himself in much the same position as his old bandmate Mr Collins, insofar as he has continually enjoyed much respect from his musical peers (notably Eddie Van Halen who credits him with pioneering the tapping technique utilised to much-admired effect on Eruption) whilst being virtually ignored by the mainstream press. Unlike his former colleague, he has managed to avoid the frankly hysterical levels of media hostility and also in contrast to Collins and fellow guitarist Mike Rutherford he has continued to plow a musical furrow that prioritizes exploration, challenge and technique over singer-songwriting convention or radio airplay. For all the critical vitriol spat upon Genesis and Collins in the last two decades, their megastar status during the ’80s remains undeniable: indeed, their refusal to be swept away by the New Wave and actually grow in popular stature is undoubtedly at the heart of much of their, frankly unjustifyable vilification.

Whilst much of ex-Genesis singer, Peter Gabriel‘s solo catalogue has been defiantly progressive in spirit, and the Collins-led trio continued to dabble with long-form, complex composition right up to the end, Hackett stands apart among that band’s former membership with respect to his flying the flag for prog rock per-se; and revisiting the early Gabriel-fronted albums in particular. In 1996 he released Watcher of the Skies: Genesis Revisited which featured new studio arrangements of material from the first seven albums, plus two previously unheard recordings, to mixed but generally positive acclaim from critics and fans.

18 years later he’s doing it again, teaming up with a newer generation of musicians, along with some scene veterans. This second chapter of covers – imaginitively-titled Genesis Revisited II – features a dazzling array of contemporary prog talent, including Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth, Bloodbath), Conrad Keeley (…Trail Of Dead) and Simon Collins (son of Phil); as well as long term studio and live collaborators including Amanda Lehmann, Nick Beggs and Hackett‘s flautist brother John; and prog-loving pop veteran Nik Kershaw (further boosting his prog credentials following last year’s guest spot on DeeExpus‘s King of Number 33).

As was the case with volume one, the new arrangements are variously similar and significantly different to the original versions. In general the songs sparkle with new embellishments; Hackett‘s playing is tighter and cleaner than in days of yore and, of course, the recording, production and mix are up to a contemporary standard in contrast to the sometimes woolly  sound of the ’70s. What really impresses, though, are the songs themselves: as much as Genesis was a leading exponent of the art/prog rock movement and as such, aspired to high standards of musicianship, they were always songwriters first and foremost. Consequently, whilst some of the more outre experimentations from the ’60s and ’70s has come to sound clunky and willfully obscure, Genesis‘ output for the most part stands up really well: even signature, symphonic extravaganza Supper’s Ready still boasts enough by way of melodic hooks and hummable tunes amongst the widdly-diddly to ensure that its 23-minute duration feels much shorter.

Genesis fans will undoubtedly love this; but even if you’re not a fan this is an excellent opportunity to dip your toe into the dark and mysterious currents of an exceptionally-creative and much-maligned chapter in British rock music.

And you can try before you buy: Prog magazine are streaming the album from their site here

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