To many, bassist Chris Squire and guitarist Steve Hackett are two of the most important and interesting musicians in the realm of progressive rock. As invaluable members of Yes (currently) and Genesis (formerly), respectively, as well as prolific solo artists, they’ve played pivotal roles in shaping the genre. While it wasn’t exactly inevitable that they’d start their own project, this new partnership does make a ton of sense (as does its name, Squackett). Fortunately, rather than sound like mere emulation of their previous work, the group’s debut, “A Life Within a Day,” is extremely original, distinct, and memorable. Considering how long the duo has been making music, it’s fair to say that the record is far more inventive and catchy than many may expect.
Joining Squire and Hackett are Roger King (keyboards), Jeremy Stacey (drums), and Amanda Lehmann (guitar). Previously, the duo has appeared on a few of each other’s releases, and as the story usually goes, they decided to expand their one-off meetings into a full-fledged venture. In an interview with Classic Rock Revisited, Hackett described the process of making the album by saying:
I gave Chris the pick of my material for this project. We spent so much time together on this album that we really became good friends. A lot of this music was made at home, in my living room with three main songwriters, Roger King, who produced, engineered and played keyboards on the album, Chris and myself. It is very much a home grown project.
Regardless of how it was made, one thing’s for sure: it’s a remarkable record.
The title track opens the record, and it’s full of prog greatness. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the harmonies; they’re amazing. Squire has always utilizes his falsetto voice when backing up Jon Anderson or singing solo, and the way he and Hackett combine theirs is fantastic. The song is pretty epic in scope, too; strings complement sharp guitar riffs, which dance around complex syncopation and spacey keyboard wizardry. Of course, Squire’s trademark thick bass lines are in full effect. Eventually, the jamming harbors the chaotic majesty of Yes’ wonderful “The Gates of Delirium.” Oddly, though, this track also sounds a lot like Amplifier’s latest opus, “The Octopus.” Take that as you will.
Another highlight is “Aliens.” Its central melody is extremely enjoyable, as is the atmospheric production. Of course, Hackett’s acoustic guitar arpeggios are wonderfully calming and regal. “Sea of Smiles” contains the same optimistic, sunny appeal as the classic output by The Moody Blues (although it’s much denser and more intricate here), while “The Summer Backwards,” with it warmth and freedom, is absolutely sublime. The percussion and crunchy riffs of “Storm Chaser” seems to take a page from Led Zeppelin songs like “The Rover,” and the way “Can’t Stop the Rain” segues into the album closer, “Perfect Love Song,” is awesome. There isn’t a wasted moment on “A Life Within a Day.”
The two most remarkable things about “A Life Within a Day” are that it sounds surprisingly unique (despite the aforementioned comparisons) and that it features such strong songwriting. Granted, Squire and Hackett have always exceled at that aspect of music, but considering how so much new progressive rock prioritizes virtuosity over melody, it’s still quite refreshing. Best of all, every element falls perfectly in place, so there isn’t a shred of egotism in the mix. If Squackett was comprised of newcomers, it’d still rank as one of the top prog albums of the year, but the fact that its masterminds are two of the genre’s most beloved musicians makes it even more special.