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Steven Wilson - Cover Version CD (album) cover


Steven Wilson


Crossover Prog

3.21 | 141 ratings

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3 stars In Which Steven Comes Second, For Once

This was Steven Wilson's first true solo album. Unless you count Unreleased Electronic Music Vol 1, this was Wilson's first actual release under his own name, and it's the only actual release under his own name that is a real solo album. Sure, Insurgentes had the whole experimental- weird-shit solo album vibe to it, but this one has the singer-songwriter, vocals-and-guitar vibe, it's really just Steven singing by himself for the most part, along with some covers of a rather diverse range of stuff. This album was released over several years from 2003 to 2008, as a series of CD singles, each containing one cover, and one original track, most being off-cuts, or tracks that Steven started to write, but never developed completely. And now, we finally have a legitimate CD version of Cover Version, released through Kscope as a single CD or double vinyl.

But honestly, the weirdest part of this album is how weak Steven's original material is in comparison to the covers here. Steven has long been my favourite composer, and I can honestly say that every single one of his albums, with the exception of a couple of No-Man records and I.E.M., contains material that I absolutely love, I just simply adore the way he writes music. But the tracks here that he has penned are just a bit low-end and uninteresting. Even Blackfield, Steven's pop rock project, had some of the best pop songs I have ever heard, and the music here certainly feels closest to that project than anything else he has done.

Pretty much everything here, including most of the covers, is arranged rather simply, with most of the instrumentation on this record being acoustic guitar and piano overlaying each other. On some songs, the piano takes the lead, and the guitar provides accompaniment, but there are songs that flip that. Occasionally, an organ or a mellotron will provide some distant ambience, usually as the track builds, and there are even drums in one track here ('Please Come Home') and a bass makes a brief appearance (played by Steven himself, during 'The Day Before You Came'). But pleasant as they are, Wilson's original contributions to this record rarely feel like much more than interludes, and in the first few listens to this record, I barely even noticed them passing. It's certainly obvious that many of these are scrapped ideas for Blackfield tracks, where Wilson has decided against developing them early on, so what's left is a brief 3-minute venture of vague niceness. Out of the acoustic ones, 'Well You're Wrong' is probably the only one that's slightly memorable, containing a wonderful vocal melody, and is quite a bit happier than many of Wilson's Blackfield material

But on the flip side, the covers here are exactly what I would want from a cover record. Most covers albums take a bunch of tracks and play them, more or less identically to the original, and it becomes the same track with a different vocalist. Here, Steven has taken six songs from completely different fields within the music world, and changed them up to fit his quaint alternative singer/songwriter vibe of this album, despite them all coming from different places musically. I don't know any of the original versions of the songs here, although I'm sure I've heard 'The Day Before You Came' before, I can't really tell whether I have actually heard it or it's because every ABBA song has the same vocal melody. The album opens with Alanis Morissette's 'Thank U', which certainly fits nicely amongst the guitar-and-vocal tracks Steven has penned, but honestly sits comfortably above them compositionally. I won't talk about the rather average lyrics here, but the 'thank you disillusionment' hook line in the chorus is rather beautiful, although Steven certainly strains a bit going out of his range. It's not a massively groundbreaking track, but one simple little hook is all you need to make a singer-songwriter track go from meh to amazing, and that certainly is one of them.

But the real highlights of this album, and I'm sure nearly everyone will agree, are the tracks that foreshadow the dark and mysterious style that Insurgentes would continue ' the covers of 'Sign O the Times' and 'The Forest'. After hearing this, I've decided that I truly must get my hands on that Prince album, because if a skinny white boy can make this track sound bad ass, then the original must be phenomenal. But Steven brings some of his own devices to this track that certainly make it sound like him. This is the only time on the album when Steven's characteristic distorted guitar comes in, ripping the lead riff after that chorus, with him singing the hook in full telephone-voice mode. I'll admit, I'm not too fond of the way the track starts, and how the rather irritating beat continues even into the heavy part. Steven does sound a bit weak (and white) in the verses, but when he gets his metal raging in the chorus, it really pulls off. And then after the second chorus, when you're really starting to get into it'

Wall of fucking noise.

Steven's obsession with this wall of noise was my favourite part of Insurgentes, how he'd take a relatively standard track, play it out for a few minutes, then just destroy it in this harsh drone, and it was absolutely amazing. This here, as well as the cover of 'The Forest', is the true seed of Steven's solo project. Once again, I am not familiar with this Cure track, but its origin within the dark post-punk scene is obvious, Steven has taken the darkness and put his own twist on it, with some weird electronics and effects on his voice, and even a driving synth line that reminds me a lot of 'Abandoner', so much that this could actually have been the inspiration for it. I must also mention briefly the Wilson original track here 'The Unquiet Grave' because it is not only the longest here, but it's also the only one that breaks the singer-songwriter vibe of the other originals. It's a textbook Wilson track from his solo albums, dark and moody and covered in mellotron. I would like it, but I have heard that kind of ambience from Wilson at least a hundred times, even down to the exact same mellotron sounds, and the melody isn't terribly unique either.

In the end, the best parts of Cover Version are the parts that would come onto Insurgentes a short time later, but aside from Prince and The Cure, we have a rather nice series of acoustic tracks. They don't break any ground, and they're pretty low-level even compared to Blackfield, but for SW completists, this release isn't entirely unnecessary, and I'll be grabbing myself a copy when the CD release drops.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Gallifrey | 3/5 |


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