1981 was an interesting time for progressive rock. The changing tides of the music scene are reflected in the music that Steve Hackett created for his fifth album entitled Cured. For starters Hackett choose to work in the studio as a duo for the album. Keyboardist Nick Magnus was brought back while the rest of the band that Hackett had worked with on his prior two albums were not present. In place of a drummer Hackett and Magnus utilized what was then new technology, the Linn drum machine. This is a decesion that turned off some fans. I personally do not have an issue with this choice. Progressive rock could not have moved forward if it did not embrace new techniques and technology.
Overall Cured showcases songs with an emphasis on commercial appeal. That said the music is still uniquely Steve Hackett’s. Although the material may be more commercial Hackett’s guitar work is still prevalent. More than anything the most noticeable difference is Hackett stepping up to the microphone and handling all of the lead vocals. It would be a few albums before he found his true voice, but I feel that he did an admirable job here vocally.
From a songwriting standpoint I suspect that Hackett was attempting to replicate the success that he had with the song Everyday. The opening track from his album Spectral Morning (1979), Everyday is clearly a progressive rock song. But it is also an extremely catchy song with commercial appeal. Hackett successfully wrote another song in a similar vein with Time To Get Out, from his Defector (1980) album. Four songs on Cured; Hope I Don’t Wake, Picture Postcard, Can’t Let Go and Funny Feeling sound like attempts to write another Everyday. Hackett successful injected progressive rock elements into these very commercial songs. Of the four tracks I would say that Funny Feeling is the best of the batch. The song is extremely catchy with a killer instrumental midsection. However, none of these songs are as well written and memorable as Everyday.
The album’s other four songs offer quite a contrast. There is the guitar heavy instrumental The Air Conditioned Nightmare. The mandatory Steve Hackett classical guitar instrumental is present in A Cradle Of Swans. The album’s penultimate song is the prog tour de force Overnight Sleeper. For my money this is one of Steve Hackett’s finest achievements. The song also rates as the best vocal performance on Cured. John Hackett makes a guest appearance adding his distinctive flute sounds to the track. The album ends with a slow, reflective love song called Turn Back Time.
From a guitar standpoint Cured showcases another stage of Hackett’s evolution. Overall his guitar tone is a bit more overdriven with a harder edge. The general vibe of Cured is a bit more laid-back when compared to Hackett’s prior albums. There are quite a few passages of clean guitars throughout the album. When the album does rock Hackett’s new guitar tones are on display. Songs like The Air Conditioned Nightmare and Overnight Sleeper showcase Hackett’s heavier guitar tones. I should also mention that he does an exception job handling the bass parts on the album.
The ever reliable Nick Magnus was called upon to perform triple duty on Cured. He provides his usual keyboard wizardry to the album. Magnus’ keyboards are a large part of the sound of the early years of Steve Hackett’s solo career. Steve Hackett is first and foremost a guitarist, however he leaves a great deal of room for keyboards on his albums. Magnus proved to be an excellent musical partner during his time with Hackett. Cured is no exception. Magnus also co-produced the album, and programmed the drum machine.
Another aspect about Cured that differs from prior Hackett albums is the album cover. One can not talk about a Steve Hackett album and not mention the album cover. The majority of Hackett’s album covers feature eye catching images. Cured is one of the few exceptions. It is the first of his albums to feature photography on the cover. His four prior albums featured stunning paintings created by his then wife Kim Poor. Poor is credited as the photographer of Cured album cover photo. When compared to the rest of Hackett’s albums Cured is an atypical album cover. It does not fit the general aesthetic of a Steve Hackett album cover. The enigmatic and dreamlike imagery is not present in the Cured cover.
Cured may not be one of Steve Hackett’s best works, but I am a big fan of the album. It is a solid collections of songs that showcase an artist in transition. Steve Hackett could have continued to produced albums in the exact same vein as Spectral Mornings and Defector. Some fans would have been content with such a decision. However that would have been contrary to Hackett’s musical personality. Steve Hackett is truly a progressive musical artist. From his time in Genesis to his long and productive solo career he has continued to hone his craft. He is a musician who has refused to stay in one place. As a fan I continue to enjoy his ever changing and adventurous musical journey. Love it or hate it Cured is one of many stepping stones in Steve Hackett’s career.