How Steve Hackett Re-Introduced Himself With ‘Please Don’t Touch’
Guitarist Steve Hackett had already put out one solo album by the time he decided to leave Genesis. Released in May of 1978, Please Don't Touch is his second solo outing, and as fitting a testament to his musical prowess as any album he has ever recorded.
Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel had pitched the groundbreaking prog-rock band as a "songwriters' collective" when he first invited Hackett to join their ranks. For Hackett – a versatile instrumentalist with a unique approach to composition – it was a match made in heaven. At first, anyway. The Hackett era of Genesis produced five of prog's finest masterworks, a jaw-dropping streak from 1971's Nursery Cryme through 1976's Wind & Wuthering.
Ultimately, though, the band's democratic approach to songwriting left Hackett feeling constricted. He first dabbled in solo work with Voyage of the Acolyte in 1975 and then, following the band's Wind & Wuthering tour, Hackett finally left Genesis. In many ways, Please Don't Touch is his proper solo debut: It's the first album he ever recorded without any assistance from his former band mates and, decades later, this excellently schizophrenic album remains his finest achievement.
The earlier Voyage of the Acolyte presented Hackett as more than just a guitarist, as he wrote the bulk of the material, producing along with John Acock. Yet it ultimately felt like a dumping ground for rejected Genesis material. The highlights were absolutely astounding (opener "Ace of Wands" could very well be Hackett's greatest composition), but Hackett was very much operating in the towering Genesis shadow at that point in time. Please Don't Touch sounds like a re-introduction, showcasing all sides of Hackett's musical personality – his rich English humor, his offbeat melodic sensibility, and his generally eclectic taste.
Jus as Voyage of the Acolyte jad featured all but keyboardist Tony Banks from the late-'70s model of Genesis, Please Don't Touch functions as a who's who of English-speaking prog. Featured are two members of Kansas (drummer Phil Ehart, vocalist Steve Walsh) and two Frank Zappa alumni (drummer Chester Thompson, bassist Tom Fowler), along with Hackett's brother John on flute, piccolo, and keyboards. More surprising were the other guest vocalists: folk icon Richie Havens and soul diva Randy Crawford.
Regardless of the star power on display, however, Hackett's dizzying vision still dominates. "Kim" is a brief, shimmering duet between Hackett's classical guitar and his brother John's stately flute. "Icarus Ascending" morphs from moody art-rock texture (with Havens' soothing croon) to a brief cocktail-jazz atmosphere, before circling back again. "How Can I?" (again featuring Havens) is psychedelic folk with a trippy, Beatles-esque melody. Meanwhile, the title track is a lost prog classic, blending Hackett's dramatic guitar layers with John Hackett's sublime flute runs. (Regarding this track, the liner notes read: "For maximum effect, this track should be listened to as loudly as possible with as much treble and bass as your system can muster. Not to be played to people with heart conditions or those in severely hallucinogenic states of mind.”)
The album's lone awkward moment is the super-cheesy piano ballad "Hoping Love Will Last," featuring Crawford's sore-thumb vibrato. All in all, it sounds like a lukewarm attempt at a radio hit, sort of like Hackett attempting a sappy Phil Collins B-side long before Collins wrote any himself. But that mish-mashed, try-anything-once sprawl is ultimately part of the album's DNA – and the exact element that makes it so fascinating.
Hackett's career has been defined by its jarring left turns (from prog to solo classical guitar to GTR's arena rock to world music to pop). Please Don't Touch is an album built on that principle.