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Steven Wilson - Cover Version CD (album) cover


Steven Wilson

Crossover Prog

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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-[&*!#] 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 [%*!#]ing 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:

Report this review (#1266702)
Posted Wednesday, September 3, 2014 | Review Permalink
2 stars 2.4 stars.

Cover Version is a album with quite a bit of backstory to it. It was originally released as 6 singles over the course of 2003-2010, each with a cover version and original song. They were the first pieces of music released under Wilson's own name while Porcupine Tree was his main band. Each song was made with a very short period of production time, therefore they do have a raw and demo feel to them.

With such little time being spent on the songs the quality of both the cover and original songs are mixed. Wilson himself admits some of these songs were not very good. The music for the most part is simplistic pop, although some Prog elements can be found which would be the seeds that created Insurgentes and GfD.

"Thank You" sets the general tone of the album with its gentle and slow acoustic guitar and piano driven tune. The song is focused entirely on Wilson's vocals and to be fair he does a solid job there, putting a good amount of emotion and gloom into the track. "Moment I Lost" is very similar to the previous song, its extremely slow and simple in its structure and has lots of melancholy. Again Wilson's vocals are centre stage.

To stop this review getting repetitive lets just say tracks 3, 4 and 10 are very similar to the above songs. People who are not big fans of Wilson's singing (which we have to admit has never been amazing) will get very fed up with these songs very quickly. You won't find a shred of Prog here.

Now onto the more interesting tracks. "A Forrest" is a fantastic cover from The Cure and has a lot of the ideas that appeared on Insurgentes. There is a lot of texture and electronics to be found. The song is repetitive in nature however over time more layers are added and the pounding darkness intensifies over time. "Four Trees Down" however sounds very similar to GfD and is full of that gloomy atmosphere which Wilson is an expert in. The "Guitar Lesson" uses the same structure of the boring pop tracks however this time he creates a lot of tension and malice though his voice and how he uses the instruments. It perfectly suits his style and really sounds like something Wilson himself would write. "The Unquiet Grave" has strong connections to his side project Bass Communion and is for the most part pure ambient music. The only thing that separates it from BC is the very gentle singing where he recites the lyrics of a very old traditional folk song. As someone who is not into BC this song does not leave any better lasting impression.

"Sign ' O The times" is the best song on the album by far. He combines the addictive and funky melody that Prince wrote with the furious blast of noise found on Insurgentes along with some metal riffs. The result sounds fantastic and worthy of his more recent material.

While the Prince cover is the best song, the last 2 songs make for the best "single". "Lord of the Reedy River" is a haunting song that sounds like a throwback to the old psychedelic PT days. "An End To End" follows the atmospheric theme perfectly while finishing the album on a high note.

Cover Version has a good amount of interesting ideas that would help create great albums, however there is even more weak material to get though in order to get to those gems. I would only recommend it to dedicated solo SW fans (no necessarily PT fans even) so 2 stars is all I can give.

Report this review (#1362636)
Posted Thursday, February 5, 2015 | Review Permalink
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.

Report this review (#1631775)
Posted Thursday, October 13, 2016 | Review Permalink

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