SQUACKETT - A Life Within A Day CD - Review by Andy Garibaldi

Debut album from band led by ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett and Yes bassist Chris Squire - so is it prog-rock heaven? Well, it's heaven, put it like that.

A collection of 9 songs ranging from three to just over 6 minutes long has you immediately realising that you're most certainly not into "Close To The Edge" or "Supper's Ready" territory here. Instead, the focus is firmly and squarely on the songs, written and arranged to a degree where the surprise is actually just how much instrumental space they have managed to fit in along the way. Armed with a keys/synths player plus drummer and backing singer, they've come up with a surprisingly good album - the title track manages to be a mix of Led Zep's "Kashmir", any one of Hacketts's best songs with plenty of vocal harmonies and a mid-section instrumental that's as crazy as a distilled jazzy version of Yes' "Gates Of Delerium" - and, for all the elements, a song that really stirs you into listening. "Tall Ships" launches with upfront bass, burst of guitars, deliberately crunching drums and an expansive backdrop as the guitar drifts on the wind, the vocals come in softly but purposefully and there's a decided whiff of "Division Bell"-era Floyd to it. The huge sounding harmony vocals, the synth undercurrent and the overall pace somehow manage to make it sound like a decelerated version of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear The Reaper" gone slightly progressive - and if that puts you off, don't let it, 'coz this is a seriously strong song. The 4 minute "Divided Self" would make a great single - if it was still the seventies, that is - with twangy guitar, huge harmonies, soaring vocals, stirring arrangements, solid rhythms, a chorus of sorts and the sort of thing that would have taken the top ten by storm, way back when, yet oddly sounding all warm and fuzzy in this day and age, and you always need something warm and fuzzy in your life!!! "Aliens" is up next and is 5 and a half minutes that starts more like a prog version of Clannad with flowing textures, huge swathes of harmony and lead vocals, slow arrangements, great attention to detail, solid yet warm and a song that's got emotion pouring out of it in buckets, one of those expansive sounding songs that somehow mix prog, AOR, folk and MOR to a rather fine end result.

The 5 minute "Sea Of Smiles" continues in this vein, initially softer and more reflective, but then the bass bubbles up, a more menacing, brooding vocal appears and the track flares up into a sunny sky of piano, synths, harmonies and rhythm section, eventually flying high into a chorus, before dropping back to earth to start the process all over, again both mesmerising and memorable. At 3 minutes long, "The Summer Backwards" sounds like some long lost prog-oriented outtake to Stackridge's "Man In The Bowler Hat" album and is just one glorious little ballad. The 5 and a half minute "Stormchaser" finally introduces some rock into your life as the band positively pound through a piece where the rhythms are hard, the production is epic, the harmonies huge and the playing both solid and expansive, again with more than a feel of later era Pink Floyd to it all, but with more biting guitar leads and pounding upfront bass among the swathes of synths and beefy drumming. The near 6 minute "Can't Stop The Rain" is a slowly moving prog-rock ballad that's sumptuous and full-sounding, produced to rich degree like icing on a wedding cake but with crisp touches of guitar work, deep bass, unforgettable melodies and full of warm feelings, the vocals smooth sounding and affectionate, again, a mix of Hackett's best songs, Stackridge and Floyd. The album ends with the 4 minute "Perfect Love Song" which is actually quite strident for its subject matter, and arguably the nearest thing to an MOR-mets-prog pop song that they've completed on the album so far, but totally in keeping with the overall feel of the album to date, despite being the only song to feature a really biting, albeit brief, Hackett guitar solo. Overall - I like it a lot - but I would hazard a guess that, like the finest icing on a cake, it may prove too rich to enjoy on a regular basis.

Andy Garibaldi (Dead Earnest) 05-12