If I was asked to describe Squackett’s debut album in two words, I wouldn’t choose “Progressive Masterpeice.” That said, I certainly wouldn’t choose “absolutely dreadful” or “horribly disappointing” either. Squackett is the second “supergroup” of the year to feature reknowned and virtuosic progressive rock musicians coming together to make a poppier kind of progressive rock (the first being Flying Colors), and though it may not be the progressive masterpiece some were hoping for, the album definitely works.
“A Life Within A Day” wastes no time, featuring a very brief keyboard fill before a bombastic guitar part bursts forth. It’s an energetic and dynamic opening to an album that I’m sure many were afraid would be dull or overdone, but Messrs. Squire and Hackett prove immediately that they aren’t just navel-gazing or dwelling on the past with a pulsing vocal part that seems fairly fresh and new compared to the sound for which they are each respectively known. There is some instrumental noodling that perhaps keeps the track from being as tight as it could have been, but there’s nothing wrong with two virtuoso musicians wanting to show off their chops as long as it doesn’t seem overblown or intrusive, and it certainly doesn’t here. Hackett in particular turns in some truly exceptional guitar work and the general orchestration of the track suits the playing of the two front-men very well.
If the first track was Hackett’s time to shine, though, “Tall Ships” is firmly Squire’s. Beginning with a pastoral intro that drops into an absolutely killer bass groove, the track has a very dreamy, floaty feel aided by very restrained, tasteful playing from the supporting musicians and excellent vocal harmonies. Additionally, though it’s Squire’s bass that’s placed firmly at the front of the track, Hackett’s presence is far from absent, and in a time when music is often dominated by musicians “overplaying’ their instruments it’s nice to be reminded how effective restrained playing can be in the right context.
“Divided Self” largely forsakes the more modern sounding, atmospheric composition of the first two tracks for a sound that could have come straight off of a Beatles or ELO album. With musical themes and vocals harmonies so cheery they sound almost sugary providing an interesting contrast to some… less than happy lyrics, the track is a great throwback to a different era of music that manages to avoid sounding overly trite or clone-y. There is, however, a strangely placed outtro that modulates the main theme into a minor key and puts it against a backtrack that sounds like a classical orchestra playing circus music. It’s kind of a strange thing to tack on the end of what is essentially a pop song, and in my opinion it doesn’t really add much to the track.
“Aliens” begins with a very pretty piano intro before delving into another very cool, dreamy piece that again makes excellent use of vocal harmony as well as the playing of both men. Despite the more modern sound it manages to maintain a rather vintage vibe through its lyrics and vocal delivery; for example, the line “the day we’ll come/we’ll have passports to the sun” seems straight out of the 70s, and the delivery is pure Pink Floyd. This definitely gives the song a great sense of fun, but it also sounds a bit hokey at times. “Aliens are only us/are only us from the future” sounds much more like something written by a couple of teenagers than by two such well established musicians, but if you can take of the deadly-serious prog hat and just enjoy the copious side helping of cheese, “Aliens” is a very fun song.
“Sea of Smiles” is perhaps the most reminiscent of Genesis and/or Yes; despite a very poppy (and very catchy) chorus, the arrangement and interplay between instruments feels very proggy, even if the composition isn’t necessarily. There’s a very good guitar solo as well, and the percussion really has some chances to shine as well.
“The Summer Backwards” lets vocals take the lead over relatively spare guitar background, and to be quite frank, the biggest thing that sticks out about the track is that it is dead-on for Moon Safari. Whether that shows a kind of circular influence or merely reinforces these two men’s influence throughout years of Prog rock is a debate for another time and place, but the fact is if you’ve heard Moon Safari you have a pretty good idea for what this track is going to sound like. That’s certainly not a bad thing, though, as “The Summer Backwards” pulls off all the gorgeous vocal harmonies and winsome (if comparatively simple) playing that makes the other band so fun to listen to. If nothing else, let it never be said that Chris Squire and Steve Hackett don’t know how to put a tune together.
“Stormchaser,” on the other hand, opts for a much heavier, more rhythmic sound with lots of pounding bass and percussion. Of course, heavy is a relative term, and “Stormchaser” still contains all manner of extremely singable melodies and dreamy harmonies. Steve Hackett manages to wrench some very cool sounds and effects out of his guitar as well, emulating howling winds but still staying within the tonality of the track. It’s a neat track, though far from the most notable of the 10 on the album.
“Can’t Stop the Rain” is another exceedingly charming track, featuring a very languid, pulsing bass line and of course the same floaty vocal harmonies that have been all over this album. There’s some incredibly nuanced playing from Steve Hackett as well, mixing delicate fingerpicking with smooth electric lines to create an incredibly hypnotic atmosphere that’s certainly aided by Squire’s low rumblings. Overall, it’s simply a very relaxing track and a great piece to lighten the mood between “Stormchaser” and the decidedly intense finale.
“Perfect Love Song” is that finale, closing out the album on a note that is decidedly Neal Morse-ian. You can debate the correctness of comparing Squire and Hackett to a man who they so obviously inspired, but “Perfect Love Songs” sounds to me like it could much more easily have come off a Spock’s Beard album than a Yes or Genesis release. It’s a great closer, though; despite its somewhat AOR-esque title (and frankly, lyrics) it’s loaded with searing guitar solos and insistent bass lines as well as excellent support from percussion. It’s a great song that feels like it was meant to be an album closer, and because of that feel it gives a great sense of finality to the album.
Thus, if I had to describe this album in two words, I think “good pop” would just about sum it up (or perhaps “vocal harmonies”). There’s nothing mindblowing or super-experimental here, just two incredible musicians who have known each other a long time enjoying playing together and making fun, accessible music. Enjoy it for what it is and A Life Within A Day should prove a satisfying, engaging, and most importantly, fun album.
1. A Life Within a Day
2. Tall Ships
3. Divided Self
5. Sea of Smiles
6. The Summer Backwards
7. Storm Chaser
8. Can’t Stop the Rain
9. Perfect Love Song
Sections of this review originally appeared on Progarchives.com