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Steven Wilson - Hand. Cannot. Erase. CD (album) cover


Steven Wilson


Crossover Prog

4.29 | 1689 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

5 stars 4.75 Stars.

So here is the hotly anticipated new album from SW which has been getting rave reviews from virtually every music critic on the internet. Its also worth me mentioning that Wilson's previous album (The Raven) remains one of my favourite albums of all time and easily the best thing he has ever written. So it's fair to say my hopes for this album were extremely high, as well as my fears of disappointment.

The concept of HCE is based around the true story of a young woman who isolated herself from the world in London and then dies. Nobody misses her for 3 years despite having lots of friends and family. Wilson created his own version of this woman and puts his own feelings and emotions into the character. You can see the level of detail he went to on the deluxe edition of the album, I was personally very impressed.

The first thing I noticed with HCE is how different it is from the Raven. The 70s Prog/Jazz -fusion that dominated the last album can only be properly found in 2 connected songs (Home Invasion and Regret #9) while the remainder of the album is a far more modern affair. HCE contains the incredibly catchy pop elements found on In Absenia along with some of the metal of FOABP and the electronic sounds of Insurgentes. This level of diversity runs the risk of making the album incoherent, but the story-line helps to successfully tie all these elements together and build momentum between songs.

In terms of mood this is actually one of the most positive albums SW has ever produced. 3 Years Older and the title track are gloriously uplifting and have some of the strongest hooks Wilson has ever written. The first half of the album is also very controlled musically, with extended solos being kept to a minimum and instead focusing on making the songs very tight and extremely detailed. It's only on the second half of HCE that Wilson allows some of the elements present on The Raven to creep back in. This is done again to tie in with the story as the main character gets lost in herself.

"First Regret" opens the album with some beautiful electronic music and piano playing. Much like GfD this piece is designed to set the mood for the album, however this time the music is engaging enough to be enjoyed as a standalone song. "3 Years Older" continues the mood on the previous song before going into an upbeat Rush style instrumental. The beat and instruments used are also very similar to the instrumental found on the second half of Genesis's The Cinema Show. Things settle down until all that remains is a simple but catchy acoustic guitar pop song. This gradually develops into a wonderful piece of Progressive Pop Rock, which combines flashy but very upbeat instrumentals with equally cheerful pop music. A wonderful song and one of my favourites from the album.

"Hand Cannot Erase" is a pure pop song, but it has to be one of the catchiest and engaging pop songs I have ever heard. Wilson does this by not compromising instrumentally and using the powerful bursts of energy found in the chorus (which is fully instrumental) to drive the entire song forward. Pop music really does not get better than this.

"Perfect Life" was the most difficult song for me to get into, mainly because of the first 2 minutes. We are introduced to guest actress Katherine Jenkins who narrates over the story. Spoken word during a song which lasts for minutes is something I personally hate as it usually bores me to sleep. Fortunately Wilson was aware of this danger and uses some engaging and constantly shifting electronic music in the background to keep me engaged. Finally the talking stops and Wilson sings the line "we have got perfect life" over and over but with much variation in the harmonies. After half a dozen listens this song really grew on me. But patience is needed when approaching this song.

"Routine" is for me the best and most original song on HCE and also one of his best songs full stop. It starts simply with Wilson singing sadly about his character being locked into a constant routine of chores. The song itself is dense and restrained musically which fits perfectly with the lyrics. Over time things gain pace and energy and Ninet's singing voice in introduced for the first time (she is a very fine singer by the way). Eventually things reach breaking point which results in her screaming in anguish in the end. The song-writing here had to be top notch for him to express the complex range of emotions, and he really pulled it off.

People who are paying attention to the story will know that the woman has now entered full isolation and is no longer in contact with anyone else. This is reflected in Home Invasion/Regret #9 which are a lot more free flowing, wild and overall more similar to The Raven. However it would be a mistake to say this is a copy-cat of his last album. As well as 70s Prog there is also modern Djent metal along with some electronic music which has been present on almost all the songs on HCE to some degree. As someone who adores The Raven these 2 songs were the most instantly accessible for me.

"Transience" and "Ancestral" make a notable change in the mood of the album. These songs are much darker and have strong connections with Insurgentes. Ancestral is the major epic of HCE and does well to live up to that role. The beginning section could have come directly from Insurgentes, it's very dark and full of electronic effects and texture. The song gradually builds and launches a powerful duet between Wilson and Ninet. What then follows is the longest instrumental on the album (around 7 minutes long!). This section contains the largest amount of metal Wilson has done since FOABP and its clear he has not lost his touch. There are plenty of twists and turns in the instrumental, all though I might have cut a minute from the running time to make it more concise. But given how concise most of the album has been, a little bit of over self-indulgence does no harm.

"Happy Returns" and "Ascendant Here On..." finish the album on a much more hopeful mood. The former has a great deal of emotion to it and a very potent instrumental while the latter is ambient music to finish the album on a gentle note. You can think of these 2 songs as Deform To Form a Star from GfD in terms of what Wilson was aiming at. We don't know if the main character survives or dies, SW left the ending to be open to interpretation.

For me personally this album does not reach the heights of The Raven, nor Fear of a Black Planet for that matter. However I still see this as one of his strongest albums and it's definitely one of his best written. What I love the most about HCE is that it manages to use the high level of detail present in Insurgentes, but this time each song is distinctive, engaging and just far more entertaining to listen to (something Insurgentes really lacked). There are very few faults here and plenty of fresh and modern ideas. The one thing I was a little disappointed was that Ninet's voice was not used all that much on the album. However alternative versions of Routine and Ancestral exist which just have her singing so it's not too big a deal.

So personally I really think HCE deserves the 5 star rating all the critics are giving it. There is such a depth of music to be enjoyed here and it has been wonderfully put together. Looks like Wilson has done a hat-trick of masterpieces, I hope he can keep it up.

LakeGlade12 | 5/5 |


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