If you know who Steve Hackett is, good on you for knowing your stuff. If you don’t, he was the lead guitarist for Genesis in the ‘70s before they went from big to BIG during their poppier ‘80s run. He’s been hailed for his technical innovation on the guitar that’s influenced several guitar legends (Eddie Van Halen, Alex Lifeson, etc) and since 1975 has released 26 solo records. His latest is elegantly titled Under A Mediterranean Sky, and it’s a far cry from the progressive rock Hackett made his bones with 50 years ago- although, given that this is prog we’re talking about, a lot of the elaborate compositions featured throughout this record make a lot more sense in context.
Where’s the guitar though? “Mdina (The Walled City)” starts off with a thunderous timpani roll and blooms into an open, suspenseful string arrangement; THEN the guitar hits suddenly and the dynamic switches into light strings and gentle, melodic arpeggios. “Adriatic Blue” continues with the easy (as in easy on the ears) sweeps, showing bits of folk but mostly continuing to sonically paint the picture of the vivid oceanic landscape the album’s title and cover suggest. “Sirocco” brings back the orchestra underneath Hackett’s graceful acoustic explorations, then an exotic percussion section for an added touch; “Joie de Vivre” bounces back to Hackett on his own, going wherever his instincts and fingers lead him. “The Memory of Myth” sounds at first like a cut from the soundtrack of The Godfather with a single violin communicating more on its own than an entire symphony combined; soon after the guitar and strings join in to create a full and complete composition based upon the emotions and foundation established.
The careful alternation between Hackett on his own and Hackett accompanied by many continues with “Scarlatti Sonata”, another demonstration out of many on this album alone of Hackett’s classical prowess. “Casa del Fauno”, complete with strings, guitar and flutes is a tune one could picture as the accompaniment to a sunset on a marble balcony on the hillside, overlooking the great, European water splashed against a wall of orange fading away below the horizon. Then there’s “The Dervish and the Djin”, a tune that starts out on a foreboding, ominous note and becomes more adventurous when the Eastern elements are introduced. The expectably more laid-back “Lorato” returns to the balcony once more, this time during the day as birds fly overhead and a breeze blows by to bring the summertime heat to a comfortable temperature. “Andalusian Heart” is more of a nighttime track, the sound of either an unfolding heartbreak or tragedy under the light of the stars, a wonderful exercise in artistic sense. The closer “The Call of the Sea” circles back somewhat to the beginning- the sweeps and vivid chords appear for one last dynamic dance, moving along smoothly towards a soft and peaceful exit; a beautifully fitting end to a record of this caliber.
Under A Mediterranean Sky is a stellar record for a number of reasons; not just because of its high musicality but of how visual and cinematic it is. You don’t just hear the songs and feel them from end to end, you see them as well and put images to them both static and kinesthetic. Colours, shades, sensations, all channelled through music, the product of a thriving imagination and a subconscious that never rests- this is what separates mere music from art. This kind of craft is the “progressive” in progressive rock; growing and blossoming into these greater stages of musical achievement. It reflects well on the mind and material of Steve Hackett, showing that rockers don’t just have to be rockers nor does any artist have to be strictly confined within set parameters. There are infinite dimensions of creation waiting to be conquered; all it takes is the artist having the willingness and courage to step into them, get lost and ultimately find their direction in the abyss.