Broken Skies Outspread Wings (1984 - 2006) (Limited Deluxe Artbook) explicit_lyrics
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"Broken Skies - Outspread Wings" is a comprehensive sequel to STEVE HACKETT's anthology release "Premonitions" (2015)! Spanning the years 1984 - 2006, this is a massive 6 CD plus 2 DVD artbook set offering the following albums all remastered in 2018 and expanded with a whole lot of bonus tracks: "Till We Have Faces", "Guitar Noir", "Darktown", "Feedback 86", "To Watch the Storms" and "Wild Orchids". Furthermore, this release offers two DVDs: one with several recent live rarities and 5.1 mixes of selected songs as well as the glorious "Somewhere in South America" live DVD capturing a set in Buenos Aires, seeing the former Genesis guitarist performing a brilliant set of songs. The "Broken Skies - Outspread Wings" artwork has been created again by the legendary Roger Dean (Yes, Uriah Heep), and the beautifully layouted set includes a 60 page artbook with liner notes, rare photos, lyrics and more.
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Alert: contrary to the misleading claim "expanded with a whole lot of bonus tracks", this package contains no new/rare/unreleased studio tracks except for the new re-recording of the GTR song "When the Heart Rules the Mind". All other "bonus" tracks have appeared on previous editions.
The 5.1 mixes and live DVD are somewhat nice extras but, as regards video, there are already quite many Hackett live concert DVDs on the market with similar content.
So: five stars for the five great albums.
Minus one star for:
-the false / misleading claim about bonus tracks
-the disappointing booklet which seems to have less art than we are led to believe and too many photos of Steve.
So much for context - what about content? 'Till We Have Faces' (1984) is restored to it's original running order and as you might expect benefits from the remastering process most noticeably. It is testament to the late John Acock's original co-production and the (then) state-of-the-art recording techniques that the music jumps out of the speakers with added depth and definition now. The album was well-ahead of the curve - it would be another six years before Paul Simon would record 'Rhythm of The Saints' - but Hackett immersed himself in the rich textures of Brazilian percussion and binary rhythms first. The results were in places a quantum leap away from what the fan-base perhaps expected, but the musical DNA from 'Highly Strung' is still very much there with tracks such as 'Duel' and 'Taking The Easy Way Out'.
'Feedback 86' follows - recorded with luminaries Brian May, Chris Thompson and Bonnie Tyler, it was intended as a fresh solo breakout following the success of Hackett's collaboration with Yes's Steve Howe (GTR). For whatever dull-minded record executive's reasons it remained on the shelf unreleased until the 2000s in spite of many stellar and commercial moments - 'Slot Machine', 'Prizefighters' among them. Maybe 80s execs couldn't take Hackett's uncompromising approach to musical juxtaposition (killer commercial chorus hooks sung over a synth version of a Victorian band one might hear on a pleasant Sunday afternoon promenade circa 1886) - which to his loyal fan-base was perhaps the whole point. The new re-recorded version of GTR's 'When The Heart Rules The Mind' is a bonus track here and shows off how far Steve has come as a vocalist with a range and power to his singing only hinted at in the original tracks here.
'Guitar Noir' was released after an apparent period of inactivity on the 'rock' front - Hackett presents a collection of more introspective, darker songs - some sounds and textures harking back to earlier work, but on the whole a giant leap forward with assured vocals to the fore. This disc presents the amended 1994 re-release running order including some songs in demo form and the trad-jazz 'Theatre of Sleep'.
'Darktown' is a significant milestone and marks the beginning of Hackett's full collaboration with Roger King. The results are a far more detailed and complex affair that rewards repeat listening - each song is designed as a 'film for the ear' and the remastering brings out some of these details in new ways. There are three bonus tracks from the same era including the Everly Brothers-tinged 'Flame'. With 'prog' on the verge of no longer being a dirty word, Hackett returns to some long-form atmospheric tunes with great effect - 'Dreaming With Open Eyes', 'Twice Round The Sun' and 'In Memoriam' all have space to stretch out and breathe.
'To Watch The Storms' is generally a lighter collection of songs and returns to the 'Please Don't Touch' approach of being massively diverse musically and thematically - from dreamy autobiographical 'Strutton Ground' to the full-on jazz-metal assault of 'Mechanical Bride , folk, classical, dance music and more - it's a totally immersive pan-genre approach absorbing textures and rhythms on a global scale. This is the 'special edition' version of the album with bonus tracks, plus a reworked version of 'The Air-Conditioned Nightmare' ('The Reconditioned Nightmare') complete with massively improved drum sound.
And so to 'Wild Orchids' - another musically dense collection that covers a huge range of styles and subject matter. Highlights include the touching 'To A Close' and it's companion piece 'She Moves in Memories'. Also thematically linked are 'Transylvanian Express' and 'A Dark Night in Toytown'. Again Hackett and King are free to explore long-form music - notably the immensely-detailed 'Down Street' and the 'Floydian' 'The Fundamentals of Brainwashing/Howl'. This is the special edition version with bonus tracks as per the original release.
Disc 7 is a DVD with 5.1 mixes of a broad selection of tracks and this format as imagined by Roger King really brings out the detail of the recordings making great use of the separation of channels, making immersion into the soundscapes even deeper. The DVD also features some very well shot single-camera videos of live performances by Volker Warncke. These serve as welcome additions and compliment the multi-camera concert 'Somewhere in South America' on Disc 8 where Steve and the band premiere several (then) new pieces including the sublime 'Serpentine Song'. There is a bonus video as per the original release of behind the scenes footage from Italy. This is all from that 'hard to believe it now' era when UK promoters couldn't imagine the size of arenas that Hackett now regularly sells out here and around the world - so an interesting insight into that time period.
This collection in testament to Hackett's uncompromising approach to making music and following his muse in a period where mainstream record labels just couldn't see the appeal. Hats off to all at Inside Out Records for this box set - a delight to have a really beautifully put-together LP-sized book, complete with all the album notes and lyrics and with many photos from Jo Hackett's personal archive and an original Roger Dean creation gracing the cover.
Hackett fans have much to re-discover here. We're well into 'Phase Three' now and next year there's another chapter with a new album that will without doubt build on the success of 'The Night Siren' et al.