“It’s a new challenge to keep changing your music. I like words like transformation, reinvention, and chameleon. Because one word I don’t like is predictable.”
I’m sort of paraphrasing a quote from Naomi Campbell there, I like the way that, to me, it seems to describe how I view Steven Wilson and his music.
There’s lots of words to describe this artist, challenging and pioneering are two but predictable he definitely is not! I was a big fan of Porcupine Tree but it took me a long time to become enamoured with his solo work and I’m still not a big fan of albums such as ‘Insurgentes’ and ‘Grace For Drowning’. While they were no doubt groundbreaking and forging a new way for his music, I didn’t subscribe to the hype at the time.
I’ve grown to love ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing’ and ‘Hand.Cannot Erase.’, although both were uneasy relationships at first. Through every release he has sought to change his style, not any major changes but subtle transitions that have transformed each piece of work.
Now comes possibly his most controversial work and one that seems to have split the music community in two, ‘To The Bone’.
After many years with Kscope Steven has now signed to Caroline International and his new album is described as:
“A gloriously dynamic modernist pop record as imagined by the UK’s biggest underground artist…”
There’s been a flurry of singles released from the album but I’m going to review it as whole and, with a break from tradition, I’m not going to dissect each track but just give a relatively short synopsis of how they feel to me after a few listens.
Let’s just say that ‘To The Bone’ is a really accessible album but one which also has longevity, the opening and title track To The Bone starts with a voice over before hitting you with something that is rather edgy, full of a funky guitar riff and with some rather tasty harmonica work that adds a driving pop-infused groove to the whole track. Nowhere Now seems like a homage to the bombastic 80’s stadium rock that was the forte of bands like U2 and can still be heard in the alternative rock of Foo Fighters today. A memorable, catchy chorus and some excellent guitar work are the icing on the cake.
The first single release from the album, Pariah, features the unforgettable tones of Ninet Tayeb and is a lush, cinematic piece of intelligent and emotive pop music. A song with a serious overtone and one which envelops the listener in a cosseting soundscape and fuzzy, dynamic guitars. It’s possibly the best song on this release and is immediately followed by another great track, The Same Asylum As Before. This time we’re treated to power chords and crunching riffs that are mingled with chiming pop sensibilities and a falsetto vocal (an abomination to some but I like them) to give an acute and perceptive discourse on the world we live in today.
Refuge is a slow burning, incredibly immersive piece of music that captures the imagination and draws the listener in to its dark world of sanctuary. Haunting and deeply meaningful, the music plays its part in giving the song an otherworldly, almost alien, edge especially with the squalling guitar and harmonica soliloquy and the slow, gentle ambience that closes out the track.
Now onto the marmite song on the album, Permanating is either a wonderful piece of modern, driving pop music, Mr Wilson’s homage to ABBA and E.L.O or empty, mindless pop. I fall firmly in the first camp and love the pastiche and the good feeling that emanates from every note. To each their own and I can see both viewpoints, make your own mind up on this one. Sepia tinged nostalgia drips from every note of the criminally short Blank Tapes, a song that channels Porcupine Tree to these ears. The heartfelt vocals and hushed, delicate music add a huge dose of pathos, just make it longer!
Post-punk Pop with clashing guitars and edgy vocals, People Who Eat Darkness is another fast-paced and hard living track that has hints of Steven’s earlier solo works. A toe tapping song with undertones of developing anger amid the quieter moments., it fits right in with the current mindset of this troubled world. Song Of I is ‘a story of unrepentant obsession set to a sharp-as-a-tack rhythm track and an orchestral sandstorm’ and is the one track on the album that fails to reach the lofty ambitions of the others. It’s a track I have to be in the mood to listen to other wise it is just a meandering piece of music that seems to have no destination and is in no hurry to get there. Perhaps a victim of it’s own sagacity, it would be no detriment if it wasn’t included.
Detonation is the longest song on the album at just over nine minutes and never outstays its welcome, building layer by layer of hypnotic and haunting music amid vocals that seem slightly disconnected and uneasy, it has a chilling tone. Primeval guitars and a discordant rhythm section add to the tense and agitated aura that pervades. A modern mystery where the answers always seem just out of reach. The album closes with the wistful grace of Song of Unborn with its touching chorus and sepia tinged ambience. A piece of music that almost makes you hold your breath before breaking out into a dynamic, soul-stirring wall of sound dominated by a solemn guitar solo.
‘To The Bone’ is intelligent,driving modern pop music with vibrant punk and rock roots and sees Steven Wilson cement his position in the music fraternity. Who’s to say his next release won’t be a 70’s disco-funk pastiche? And who’s betting that, even if it is, it won’t be as good as this striking new album.
Released 18th August 2017