Steve Hackett: The Charisma Years: 1975-1983 box set review

Steve Hackett’s solo output restored to glorious vinyl.

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Last year’s 14-CD box set Premonitions would have satisfied Steve Hackett fans keen to delve into the furthest corners of his early recordings, but for vinyl loyalists, this weighty, remastered nine-LP collection (10 if you count the double live album) is a welcome treat.

From the very first bars of debut solo album, 1975’s Voyage Of The Acolyte, you can sense a lust for freedom. There’s something almost proto-punk about the furious pace of the opening tracks, Hackett like a dog let off its leash.

A weighty nine-LP collection that’s a welcome treat.

Steven Wilson has given these albums a mastering makeover, and that’s evident even on the supposedly sonically inferior vinyl format. The master tapes for Acolyte and 1980’s Defector couldn’t be tracked down, meaning they don’t get the full-blown 5.1 Surround Sound treatment, but either way, floatier tracks such as Hands Of The Priestess and the epic Shadow Of The Hierophant sound more sumptuous than ever, and the keyboard maelstrom of A Tower Struck Down has noticeably more Sturm und Drang to it.

Please Don’t Touch (1977) saw Hackett newly departed from Genesis, and his brave choice of guest vocalists only look shrewder with time. Wilson’s mastering touch-ups make Richie Havens’ earthy tones on How Can I? sound all the richer, shot through with warmth and gravitas. Randy Crawford’s supremely soulful contribution to Hoping Love Will Last hasn’t dated a day.

Spectral Mornings remains a big favourite among the faithful, and this remaster does it proud. The transcendent guitar of the title track remains a staple of his live shows and it fills the room in spine-tingling style, and the new mix lifts up the beautiful three-part harmonies on The Virgin And
The Gypsy
. On Defector, the instrumental passages of The Steppes remain highlights, while Cured still sounds like
a commercially-minded mis-step. Released in ’83, Highly Strung was a little more agreeably proggy, but despite Mr Wilson’s best effort, the 80s gated drum sound inevitably dates the production.

Considerably more rewarding are the two new-to-vinyl live albums: Live At The New Theatre Oxford 1979, and Live At The Reading Festival 1981, the latter exuding vibrant energy on more challenging fare such as A Tower Struck Down. EP I Know What I Like Live 1979 is another delight. And, as this is at 45rpm, you might have the curious experience of a mogadon-voiced man groaning, “It’s one o’clock and time for lunch…”

It’s just one more of the many joys unique to these shiny black discs. If finances allow, it’s time to make room on your shelf for a few more.