Their moniker may be the goofiest rock and roll portmanteau since YOSO (ex-Yes / Toto). But Squackett’s debut, Life Within a Day, is serious stuff.
Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett and perpetual Yes bassist Chris Squire released their first solo albums nearly forty years ago. It’s heartening just knowing some progressive rock’s greatest champions are still out there plying their craft, but even more encouraging when two elder statesmen join forces in pursuit of a singular vision. We virtuoso musicians like Hackett and Squire now more than ever, to bear the prog torch in an age of instant gratification where computer-generated McMusic rules the pop charts. Genesis and Yes no longer rule the arenas, but—as their name demonstrates—Squackett have retained their humor along with a sense of purpose.
Hackett’s kept up his chops with the excellent Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth and Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, and recently he covered himself on a follow-up to 1996’s Genesis Revisited. Squire teamed with Hackett on the holiday project Swiss Choir in 2007 and dropped the surprisingly good Fly From Here with a revamped Yes in 2010. But Life Within a Day boasts some of The Fish’s busiest bass work ever.
Hackett handles the majority of lead vocals, with Squire doubling or backing with his rich choirboy tenor. Neither man belts with the range, phrasing, or inflection of, say, Peter Gabriel or Jon Anderson, but each holds his own—and the blend of the two familiar voices results in a subdued choral narrative befitting the otherworldly music. The disc also features remarkable contributions from producer / keyboardist Roger King and dexterous drummer Jeremy Stacey (Aztec Camera, Robbie Williams).
Themes here range from cosmic and grandiose (The Big Bang, extraterrestrials) to personal and introspective (aging, insanity), but at Life’s core is a treatise on Man and his (mis) treatment of the Earth.
The ambitious title cut opens with swirling synths that coalesce in a haunting, “Kashmir” (Led Zepplin) styled dirge that lopes like a brontosaur, courtesy Dick Driver’s double bass, Richard Stewart’s cello, and Christine Townsend’s viola. Hackett invites listeners back in time to witness to the dawn of creation, where reflections of myriad stars upon the nascent ocean invoke God, and Man commences a delicate symbiotic relationship with Nature. Phrases like “a hundred million suns” and “a thousand threshing windmills” conjure bold images indeed, but allusions to nuclear fusion (vs. turbine-harvested energy)—even annihilation (“one minute to midnight”)—become inescapable after a second listen. Have we done nothing right since creeping from the protoplasm?
But Hackett is optimistic. Evolution is a dynamic, wondrous process, after all, and people need the benefit of the doubt when it comes to finding their way in a complex universe and understanding What It’s All About. “Life Within a Day” encapsulates this excitement in slow musical builds, crests, and sonic wave breaks. At the midsection, Hackett’s Les Paul roars to life like a Ducati on an empty autobahn, whirring and growling like a feral beast over Squire’s breakneck bass and Stacey’s frantic percussion. There’s plenty of rapid-fire licks for guitar fans, with Hackett unleashing torrents of notes amid the (controlled) chaos. Guitarist Steve Howe—who played with Hackett in GTR—evoked a similar anarchy during the “war” section in Yes’ “Gates of Delirium.”
“Tall Ships” is a bass-propelled maritime metaphor for life’s journey, whereon red lanterns and Hunter’s moons guide us as “sunken church bells ring under the sea.” Sailor references recur on “Summer Backwards,” with Hackett lamenting the times we drift “dangerously close to the skeleton coast” but rejoicing in the “clear mornings” and “gold and silver days.”
“Divided Self” extrapolates the case study of a “prince without a plan” into an analogy for life’s large yin-yangs, where “the enemy within us knows heaven’s full of sinners,” and oxymorons abound (“crowded in this lonely room”). Given its Freudian lyric (recited by a narrator from a sanitarium), it’s quite the ear-tickler—bright, immediate, and engaging. Squire mined this technicolor cave before, during his pre-Yes days with The Syn: Jangly Rickenbackers harken the kaleidoscopic psychedia and acid-pop of the mid to late 60s. Hackett’s bright strumming keeps spirits up until his guitars are subdued by carnival organ, signifying the plunge into madness.
Squire premiered a working version of “Aliens” on Yes’ In the Present tour three years ago. The ethereal piece finds a home here, chronicling the voyage of space beings who travel through time accumulating knowledge—and whose “designated discoverers” may be of human ancestry. The whimsical, kinetic “Sea of Smiles” recalls the bouncier bits of Big Generator Yes cuts like “I’m Running” and “Almost Like Love,” the calypso beat pin-balling from verse to chorus and back again.
“Can’t Stop the Rain” finds Squire recalling his mother’s lessons about honesty and opportunity. It’s a lovely coming-of-age ballad emphasizing the importance not just of growing up—which happens all by itself, with or without or consent—but of growing into oneself so that one may be sincere with others.