Steve Hackett The Circus and the Nightwhale

Steve Hackett Explores Many Sides on ‘The Circus and the Nightwhale’

Steve Hackett proves he’s still a force to be reckoned with in progressive rock. He delivers an album worthy of his legacy while pointing to the future.

The Circus and the Nightwhale
Steve Hackett
InsideOut Music
16 February 2024

Observing the cover of Steve Hackett‘s The Circus and the Nightwhale, one could think this is a variation of the Jonah and the Whale allegory. It’s not immediately apparent what the whale is doing! Is it engulfing the circus tent or trying to save it?

In this setting, one can perceive the circus as the walks and tribulations of living, from memories of smoggy landscapes to a bad breakup. The lurid and bleak landscape left an indelible mark on the fictional character named Travla. The theme of love (some prog fans must be rolling their eyes by this point!) permeates some segments of the record. Among many other aspects, the account of the abrupt end of his first relationship gave Travla an incentive to succeed.

It can also be seen as a circus in the literal sense of the word because Steve Hackett used to live near a carnival fair. All that eclectic showmanship, the frenzy of the lights trying to get the watchfulness of the visitors, certainly had a lasting impact on Hackett.

As it turns out, and by admission on the man himself, his 30th solo release and first conceptual record since Voyage of the Acolyte from 1975 (which many consider a lost Genesis album) is autobiographical albeit metaphorical in the lyrical approach, hence the Tavla character. It is about an artist contemplating his life, from his first memories overlooking Battersea Power Station (many years before the pig flew between the iconic chimneys), his departure from Genesis, his love life, and beyond.

When Steve Hackett left Genesis, he took the progressive elements of the said band with him (They were his, to begin with!). For nearly 50 years as a solo artist, Hackett has been releasing his brand of progressive themes, featuring his trailblazing fretboard work and his explorations of the blues, classical, and world music. He has also been revisiting his work with Genesis, even performing albums in their entirety, more often than not, with the passion and the ardor of musicians half his age!

If you dislike concept albums, fear not. Even if you aren’t acquainted with the concept, the appeal of the music is still there. The lyrics are abstract and open to interpretation. A degree in philosophy is not required to understand or appreciate these compositions! It’s not Tales From Topographic Oceans (although I love that album).

If by progressive you think the songs are all over 20 minutes long, have endless instrumental passages (no, there are some vignettes), complex time signatures and changes (actually there are some), virtuoso guitar soloing (for sure!), endless clashes between musicians resembling an athletic competition, worry not! The music is tastefully composed, balanced, orchestral, and ethereal.

The Circus and the Nightwhale is a perfect summation of all that Steve Hackett has been exploring throughout the years. Many segments remind us of Genesis (as would be expected), others remit to the jazzy side of King Crimson, Mike Oldfield’s more commercial ventures, Jethro Tull‘s folk inflections, and even past collaborator and friend Bryan May’s melodic flourishes. But the music is never derivative; it’s made with care and attention to detail, expertly produced by Hackett, with all the instrumentation and vocals perfectly audible and balanced in the mix, which gives the music a sublime appeal. If he is composing with this level of creativity at 74, one can eagerly await what he will do next.

RATING 7 / 10