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Steven Wilson - Cover Version CD (album) cover

COVER VERSION

Steven Wilson

 

Crossover Prog

3.21 | 141 ratings

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torvald
4 stars Steven Wilson's solo career in the aftermath of Porcupine Tree, has been a mixed bag to me. Despite retaining the poise and ambition evident in everything he's done since his earliest days, much of his more recent output occasionally seems laboriously constructed and self-consciously targeted at the neo-prog audiences, almost name checking specific tropes and influences that are by now routine business for Wilson and co. Even in terms of pure musicality, the limber touch of PT, the more abstract electronica that gave his earlier releases a truly innovative edge and especially the experimental streak running through much of his work outside of his well known projects, seem to have gone missing in favor of more bombastic, virtuoso playing and formulaic proggy arrangements and compositions that never manage to top his earlier, more tongue in cheek and slightly detached postmodern fascination with prog as merely one idiom to be toyed with amongst others.

Not so with Cover Version, which wears its disparate influences quite literally on its sleeve and made this release a very pleasant surprise indeed, if not one of his most unexpectedly satisfying and creative efforts in years, despite being a compilation of sorts. Both the cover versions themselves, as well as the original tracks that have all been lying around for ages in single version or other media, manage to cohere with remarkable grace and occasionally complement each other quite well. The instrumentation is predominantly acoustic, veering between guitar and piano with the occasional trademark mellotron hue or electronic texture providing ambience, making the whole album feel like a very intimate and personal singer/songwriter project, something strikingly missing from his other solo output.

The mood is almost uniformly sombre and melancholy, which might make this heavy going for anyone expecting something chirpier or more varied, and is perhaps my only point of relative criticism. Not that Wilson's music ever strays far from darker moods of course. There is simply a certain lack of much differentiation in mood or instrumentation here, that renders the whole rather too homogeneous; then again, it was never really meant as an LP so such issues of tracklisting are perhaps to be expected.

The two most remarkable tracks remain the most decidedly funereal ones anyhow: his mostly a capella version of the traditional tune ''The Unquiet Grave'' with multitracked vocals providing a wall of resonance undescoring it being amongst the most experimental tracks he has ever given us, almost sounding in the vein of his ambient work in Bass Communion or Brian Eno's similarly voice based tracks in Music for Airports. Equally stunning is ''An End to End'' ,which takes some skeletal melancholy piano chords resounding against a wall of choral textures to create a truly haunting cinematic ballad.

Alanis Morissette's ''Thank U'' becomes a heartaching bit of acoustic balladry, with Wilson playfully changing a lyric at one point ''because it doesn't make sense'', a reminder of how iconoclastic and eventful he can be when he's not pandering to his usual audiences, but going for more idiosyncratic ends. The Cure's ''A Forest'' is one of the few more kinetic songs in the list, a subtle electronic pulse and rare bit of electric guitar solo animating its murky mood, while Prince's ''Sign o the Times'' is probably the weakest moment, playfully reinventing a pop tune with a heavier edge towards the end that has been far better handled in its full band version for subsequent live shows, especially in tribute to that musician's recent death. Abba's ''Day before you came'' becomes a stately acoustic lament of daily inanities in anticipation of emotional revival, while Momus' delightfully ironic ''Guitar Lesson'' follows in similarly melancholy confessional mood, its poetic lyrics retaining their power intact and in some ways perfectly complementing an earlier PT track such as ''Piano Lessons''. A rare moment of psychedelic folk follows in Donovan's ''Lord of the Reedy River'', while the piano based ballad ''Please Come Home'' that could've graced any Blackfield album to date and ''Well you're Wrong'', a retro ditty in the vein of PT's ''How is your life today'' conclude the tracklist.

All in all a very satisfying collection of moments in time, which though slow burning and not as grandiose in scope as Wilson's band based efforts, manages not only to offer some of his most intricate offerings ever, but also allows both his talent and love for the more unexpected or disparate sources and musical influences to shine through much more directly and meaningfully than anywhere else in later years. Long term fans of the totality of his oeuvre should find this to be amongst his most interesting song based efforts, even if his more prog minded fans are destined to be disappointed. I personally consider it the most personal of his solo records since Insurgentes and far more satisfying overall than much of his later work, but to each their own undoubtedly.

torvald | 4/5 |

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