Monday, December 21, 2009

Voyage Of The Acolyte

Steve Hackett/1975

It’s commonly referred to as “an embarrassment of riches.” In the case of Genesis, it was an overabundance of talent. Not only were these guys great players, but also great songwriters/composers. Problem was, there's only so much space on an album. So somebody's material had to be sacrificed. This great wealth fueled the five albums leading up to their magnum opus in 1974, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, before the wheels abruptly came off. Lead singer Peter Gabriel quit immediately after The Lamb tour for an ultimately successful (but maddeningly slow) solo career. Genesis was now left to wander in the wilderness sans that one crucial element: a lead singer. Having lost their eccentric, much-talked-about vocalist and media focus (Gabriel was getting all the buzz, the guy on stage wearing bizarre costumes and scary masks, acting out the characters in the songs, etc.) some fans felt the band had lost its soul. If not its soul, then at least its bat-winged figurehead. So it was, during this tumultuous downtime when people were unsure if Genesis would even continue to exist, that guitarist Steve Hackett decided to take a break from the madness and record a solo album – using all the music floating around in his head that would probably not make it onto a Genesis album, especially with material from keyboardist Tony Banks and bassist Mike Rutherford crowding him out. Thus, Voyage of the Acolyte was released and – in the absence of a proper Genesis album – was looked upon as a legitimate Genesis album in its own right. And why not? Reinforcing this perception was the fact that both Rutherford and Genesis drummer/vocalist Phil Collins contributed mightily to Acolyte. Not surprisingly, the album sounded very much like a Genesis album…minus Gabriel, of course. The familiar lush mellotrons were present and accounted for, wafting across moody-scary-symphonic landscapes like “Hands of the Priestess” and “Shadow of the Hierophant,” both tracks resembling long-lost instrumental sections from some alternate-universe Genesis epic. Add to that Collins’ familiar voice on "Star of Sirius" (having sung harmonies and the occasional lead vocal on previous Genesis albums) plus his drum playing throughout the album, and things are sounding more and more like Genesis all the time. Add one final and recognizable Genesis ingredient – Hackett’s wailing, sighing, bobbing and weaving guitar lines – and who needs Genesis when you’ve got all this? What keeps Acolyte from actually becoming a Genesis album clone (aside from the fact that Banks didn’t participate) is a pervading atmosphere of longing, melancholy and menace. Whereas a Genesis album would lean a bit toward the ominously quaint and quirky, this one is more ominously solemn and spooky. When not sounding like the mournful music one might hear at a church memorial service for a lost friend, it pummels you with martial riffs like an aural army of darkness marching through your living room. Genesis, as it turned out, would survive just fine and reach even greater success (with Collins eventually taking on the front-man/lead vocalist role) than ever attained in the Gabriel/Hackett years. And Hackett, after thoroughly enjoying his first taste of a musical dictatorship (where he, most importantly, was the dictator) would stay with Genesis for only two more albums before embarking on his own full-time solo career, thus eliminating any limitations on his contributions to an album. In a sense, it was this “phantom” Genesis album that inspired another crucial loss for the real Genesis – and a fateful new voyage for Hackett.

Essential Tracks: “Ace of Wands” “Hands of the Priestess/A Tower Struck Down” “Shadow of the Hierophant”


  1. I remember buying this album. The next day I was going on the road for a couple weeks, so I let someone borrow it. I never saw it again and have never even heard it.

  2. Mark, run out and get this one NOW!!!

  3. Gary I bought this LP and was wide-eyed with pleasure. The day I bought it I played it about four time in a row. Steve sure had stuff in his head waiting to come out. I was kind of freaked that the band was falling apart, so the day was saved with Steve's Fabulous and Haunting 'Voyage"..great review and album.

  4. Thanks, Bryan. A pal had taped the album when a radio station played it in its entirety before it came out, but he used a crappy little cassette recorder (he literally placed it in front of one of the speakers and hit "record"!) Sound quality wasn't great, but we played the hell out of that cassette tape (the music was that good). Needless to say, couldn't wait to get our hands on the album when it was finally released.