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It’s here at last, the eagerly anticipated semi-autobiographical concept album with a touch of the Moby Dicks about it, as the metaphor of life as a circus that is swallowed by a whale is explored.

“People of the Smoke” is a stunning opener as it revisits nostalgic sound clips from Hackett’s youth, with Roger King’s orchestrations leading to a piece that has everything: mesmeric guitar runs, an angelic chorus, clanging bells, steam trains, a synth run, a GRIEG-like classical passage, all reflecting the changing landscape of Britain. ‘These Passing Clouds’ is a lovely balladic interlude with strings leading into the shapeshifting ‘Taking You Down’ with hints of ‘Willie the Pimp’, and Rob Townsend’s welcome sax. Another bluesy interlude segues into ‘Enter the Ring’ with strident flute from John Hackett, guitar from Steve that is by turns liquid and aching, with swirling fairground music and lyrics about putting on your poker face and playing the game in a circus of pain, feeling like a marionette unable to feel. On ‘Get Me Out’ (of this hell) the guitar is more bluesy in style; an intense piece, becoming increasingly frantic. ‘Ghost Moon and Living Love’ is the longest piece, at 6:43, and a beautiful one (kudos to the choir), reminiscent of his early solo days whilst in Genesis; it might be a 12-string mandolin I hear. ‘Circo Inferno’ features some soaring sax amongst its ingenuous twists and turns, with Arabic tones (Malik Mansurov plays a tar I believe, the word is of Persian origin and is a long-necked member of the lute family). ‘Breakout’ is a heavy guitar riff-based piece which segues, with the ‘cry of a whale’, into ‘Into the Nightwhale’, an epic piece which has a similar impact to ‘Shadow of the Hierophant’ and is based on an ascending scale as the circus is swallowed by the whale. ‘Wherever You Are’ has more stunning musicianship, and the album concludes introspectively with a gorgeous solo acoustic piece, ‘White Dove’.

‘The Circus and the Nightwhale’ is right up there with the best of Steve Hackett’s illustrious career as band leader. The line-up is completed by Nad Sylvan and Amanda Lehman on vocals, Jonas Reingold on bass, Craig Blundell, the main drummer with appearances also by Nick D’Virgilio and Hugo Regenhardt. Roger King plays keys in addition to his programming and orchestrations and Benedict Ferrer is listed as an additional keyboard player.

A full feature is scheduled for the next issue of ACID DRAGON, arriving in late Spring I would guess.

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