Album Review: Steve Rothery - 'The Ghosts of Pripyat'.
Hot on the heels of last month’s ‘Live In Rome’ comes ‘The Ghosts Of Pripyat’, Steve Rothery’s first ever solo studio album. Working on the tracks right up to the production deadline, the album has been a real labour of love for the Marillion guitarist. Financed through an incredibly successful ‘Kickstarter’ crowd-funding campaign, it’s Rothey’s first ‘proper’ solo release in a thirty-two year career.
Inspired by the fruits of a band put together out of necessity, when Rothery was asked to perform at the Plovdiv International Guitar Festival in Bulgaria, ‘The Ghosts Of Pripyat’ is an album that treads the same musical paths as modern day Marillion, i.e. expansive, epic soundscapes that stimulate the emotions. The approach has one crucial difference however, as Rothery himself states; “these days in Marillion we’re a two keyboard band with one guitarist, so sometimes the music can’t help but be guided by that dynamic. Here it’s very much the guitars that rule the roost”.
As an entirely instrumental affair, the music follows a ‘soundtrack’ format, with each piece creating a stunning aural vista to suit the prevailing mood suggested in its theme. Rothery already has form in this area, having previously won a regional Emmy award in the USA for his work on the anti-bullying documentary ‘From The Heart’.
Those who have heard the live album will know exactly what to expect, as all of the tracks featured here are available on ‘Live In Rome’, with the sole exception of the title track. Aside from the obvious benefits that a studio production brings, the main difference between the two (aside from the DVD and other bonus materials available on both packages), is the presence of a pair of big name musical guests from the Prog world that appear on the studio release.
The opening ‘Morpheus’ contains the first guest, in the form of Steve Hackett. It’s a joy to hear Rothery play off against another guitarist, and Hackett’s fluid and melodic style perfectly complements Rothery’s on this cinematic and atmospheric track. As on the live release, it’s followed by ‘Kendris’. A song that drives along with Eastern boogie, it brings with it an upbeat and uplifting tone. Keyboardist Riccardo Romano really shines here, adding subtle colour to the melodious guitars.
‘The Old Man Of The Sea’ meanwhile, is the album’s centrepiece. Clocking in at just under twelve minutes, like all of the best epics, it doesn’t seem overlong or laboured. A moody first half featuring tempered soloing over a trademark picked guitar passage highlights just what a master of understatement Rothery is. The brooding second half of the song however, will be the real treat for progressive music fans, and sees Rothery joined again by Hackett, along with the album’s other guest Steven Wilson, with all three taking lengthy solos.
In contrast stylistically, the genteel shuffle of ‘White Pass’ conceals some of the most melancholic melodies on the album within its warm sentiments. ‘Yesterday’s Hero’ is warmer still, with achingly beautiful melodies and arpeggios that radiate over a summery groove before breaking into a jaunty jig.
The album’s highlight however, is the initially laidback ‘Summer’s End’, which contains some of the albums most sublime passages. A juxtaposing song of two halves, making good on his promise that “there’s a lot of ‘heavier’ type stuff that we don’t tend to do in Marillion anymore”, it also contains some of the angriest guitar parts that Rothery has ever played, bolstered by the hard hitting drumming skills of Leon Parr.
Finally, the brief (by comparison) title track closes the album, with a picked steel string guitar setting a folky tone before the song comes alive with sprightly drums, lively bass and tuneful keys topped off by more exquisite soloing.
“I wanted it to be fantastic. You only have one chance to make an album like this, your first proper solo album” states Rothery. Judging by the results he’s succeeded, creating a cohesive body that stands up effortlessly against that of his day-job. On an instrumental album with real depth and feel, the ghosts of Pripyat at last have a voice.
First published on uberrock.co.uk, 26 September 2014.