Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
The 1980s aren’t generally regarded as the best decade for fans of progressive rock, but with the massive success of prog supergroup Asia and both Yes & Genesis breaking into the mainstream via a more radio-friendly sound, there was plenty to enjoy for those of us who didn’t mind a more streamlined approach to our favorite genre. Expectations were incredibly high when guitarists Steve Howe (ex-Yes/Asia) and Steve Hackett (ex-Genesis) announced their new collaboration, but even though GTR (“guitar” abbreviated) had a Top 20 album and single, they never reached their full potential and split up after the tour in support of their self-titled debut album. Many fans were turned off by the over-the-top production, courtesy of Howe’s former Asia bandmate Geoff Downes, and it’s hard to argue with that opinion even though I’ve always enjoyed this record. A more sympathetic sonic approach might have better served these songs, most of which are full of melodic hooks and incredible instrumental flourishes. Not only did the two guitar legends bring their A-games, but drummer Jonathan Mover proved himself to be an immensely talented player. Briefly a member of Marillion during their early years, Mover would make a name for himself during Joe Satriani’s rise to fame in the late-‘80s, and has since played with dozens of artists in numerous genres. Lead singer Max Bacon’s voice was the perfect choice for GTR, echoing vocalists like Steve Walsh (Kansas) and Dennis DeYoung (Styx). Lead-off single “When The Heart Rules The Mind” was an excellent calling card for the album and still sounds great to me. Album closer “Imagining” is a propulsive gem. “The Hunter” and “Jekyll And Hyde” might be a little bombastic but their catchy melodies always linger in my head. Howe and Hackett each contribute an instrumental track, the acoustic “Sketches In The Sun” and the blistering “Hackett To Bits,” respectively, solidifying their reputations as guitar gods.
Ah, the mid’80s. For many music fans this was the nadir, a vast wasteland of drum machines, Fairlight synthesizers and all-around sterile productions. Having been a teenager & in my early 20s during that decade I had no problem with those sonic choices, but I also admit that many recordings from that time have aged more poorly than the music of just about any other era. In some cases, however, the production flourishes couldn’t take away from the performances, and the sole album by GTR is an example of that. A collaboration between former Yes/Asia guitarist Steve Howe and former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett, they embraced modern technology but surrounded themselves with musicians (drummer Jonathan Mover and bassist Phil Spaulding) and a vocalist (Max Bacon) who kept their melodic prog/pop songs grounded. This album isn’t for everyone, but if you like the slightly bombastic nature of Asia’s prog/pop hybrid from a few years earlier, you would find a lot to like here. “When The Heart Rules The Mind” was a Top 20 hit and, with a little more promotion, songs like “The Hunter” and “Imagining” could have had similar success. GTR is a rare example of an album that sounds dated & timeless in equal measure.
So, how do you feel about GTR? Were you a fan back in ’86? If so, does it hold up for you after three decades? Or maybe you never liked it in spite of the group’s potential. I look forward to hearing all points of view.