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Steven Wilson - To The Bone CD (album) cover


Steven Wilson

Crossover Prog

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5 stars Wilson has done it again. And the album is just what he said it would be: a celebration of the great art pop albums of the eighties and nineties. Let's do a song by song analysis.

- To the Bone - It starts off with a female voice, American accent, about the fact that everybody has his or her own perception of Truth. Trump would approve of this song! Lyrics for the entire song are courtesy of the great Andy Partridge of XTC-fame. After this introduction a guitar strum kicks in that "echoes" Pink Floyd (pun intended) and then Steven's clear voice comes in. A wonderful start of of the album which makes you crave for more. The lyric "Rain down on me" preludes on the forthcoming Refuge. Or does it hark back to Radiohead's Paranoid Android? You never now.

- Nowhere Now - The first "poppy" song of the album. Still proggy enough for me. Would have fitted perfectly on the Porcupine Tree albums Lightbulb Sun or Stupid Dream.

- Pariah - The song where Ninet Tayeb lends her voice to a song that ends in a marvelous hair raising crescendo. And in the end these chilling words sung by Steven: "Don't you worry, don't worry about a thing, 'cause nothing really dies, nothing really ends." Steven's first nod to Peter "So" Gabriel (Don't Give Up featuring Kate Bush, anyone?): a man and women duet about a society outcast.

- The Same Asylum as Before - Another PT era song, this time more in the vein of let's say Deadwing.

- Refuge - The opening sounds make you instantly think Peter Gabriel is going to shout out "Red Rain coming down" any moment now, but Steven keeps us in suspense. It is not until 2:39 that SW really bursts into full Peter Gabriel mode. And although he is not singing PG's words, the lyrics carry more or less the same message. Finding a shelter from modern day disturbances. The song is supposed to deal with refugees, but my interpretation dares to be deviant. Kind of blend between Red Rain and Gabriel's San Jacinto (esp. the chord structure).

- Permanating - The ABBA/ELO/Beatles song. Upbeat and uplifting. A well crafted popsong, but, with the SW touch which makes this a standout song after all.

- Blank Tapes - Early Genesis mellotron and guitar open this lovely quiet song about a love that's lost. Somehow reminds me of the Robert Fripp song Mary on his 1979 Exposure album.

- People Who Eat Darkness - The third PT song on the album. I would say Fear of a Blank Planet era. Another sonic treat. Fabulous U2-like guitar solo!

- Song of I - Sophie Hunger lends her voice to this one. Not the gritty quality of Ninet Tayeb's voice, but much clearer. Perfect fit for this song. Second hint at Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush with the lyric "Give it up" as opposed to "Don't give up"?

- Detonation - SW starts off in Radiohead mode. From 1:19 to 1:30 the reference to Thom Yorke is more than obvious. But it's not like a rip off of any kind. SW has this special way of borrowing from other musicians without becoming cheesy or a complete clone. Influences from King Crimson have always been blatant in Wilson's work, but in this track he seems to have amalgamated Radiohead, King Crimson, his own Porcupine Tree and a whiff of Tears for Fears. By far the "proggiest" track of the album with an epic length of 9:20.

- Song of Unborn - The album's closer sounds like It would have fitted perfectly on Wilson's Hand.Cannot.Erase album. A lovely finale to a contemporary progpop album. An instant classic if you ask me.

The "dirty" harmonica in several of the songs adds a bluesy touch that gives these songs this extra uhmpf. And in places it reminds you of Supertramp, which was supposedly the idea.

I'm probably biased, but it seems I am just unable to dislike anything Steven Wilson keeps churning out. I've known his musical output since 2005, watched him three times live and God knows what this man will be releasing in the future. There's just no end to his genius and inventiveness. He keeps baffling me with his ideas. Takes a new turn with every album and never fails to astonish me.

As I already pointed out, Steven's musical influences are very clear from beginning to end, but in his hands it never gets a total rip-off. He managed to turn this album into the new "OK Computer", twenty years after the release of that seminal Radiohead album.

Well done Steven! Keep it up.

Report this review (#1765674)
Posted Sunday, July 23, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars Less can be more when given the right frame of mind. Popular melodies are not to be given disrespect, and simple phrases are sometimes the longest lasting mind catching linear feelings. This is Steven's latest attempt to be more commercial and gain a larger following, based on his innovative approach to the rock genre. No one has the ability to make a sad song like this man, and infuse his thoughts and emotion in such a way as to leave a lasting impression on the listener. Don't you worry, don't worry about a thing. Nothing really ends. I would give this record 4 stars because it attains what it sets out to do.
Report this review (#1772268)
Posted Thursday, August 17, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars Much to my surprise, Steven Wilson pre-released five of the eleven songs from his latest album To The Bone. This appears to have been part of the marketing campaign which seeks to maximise discussion and exposure prior to release. Personally I am not convinced that this has been effective but time will tell.

Sadly there are no songs of the scale and calibre of Luminol or Ancestral from the last two releases and the longest track is just over nine minutes. Unlike the last two albums, this is not a concept album. Wilson describes the album as "progressive pop", something he has never attempted before as he tries to emulate the albums he loved from the 80s which include Peter Gabriel's So and Kate Bush's Hounds Of Love amongst others.

Like other songwriters this year, Wilson has chosen to comment on topical issues such as post truth. However the messages don't come over as strongly as they do on the IT, Roger Waters or The Tangent releases this year.

The album opens with the title track To The Bone. This is a pacey, toe-tapping rocker which is further brightened by an excellent harmonica solo.

Nowhere Now is more melancholic with a minimalistic intro that builds in tempo.

The third track Pariah was an early pre-release. The song is a duet with Ninet Tayeb who sang so wonderfully on HCE. I enjoyed Pariah when I first heard it and I am growing to love it the more I listen to it. It is a beautiful ballad that grows into a wall of sound in its final quarter.

The fourth track, The Same Asylum As Before, was another pre-release and is another rocker with a catchy tune. Wilson initially sings falsetto but then returns to his normal range.

The fifth track, Refuge, was also pre-released and returns to a melancholic theme with an atmospheric introduction that picks up tempo as the drumming develops and intensity builds to a wall of sound like Pariah but returns to a more ambient sound at the close. This track is the highlight of the album. Beautifully crafted.

Permanating is the sixth track and was also pre-released. Wilson describes the song as "what ABBA and the Electric Light Orchestra would sound like if produced by Daft Punk". This is certainly the most up-tempo of all the tracks and is considerably more excitable than say Meantime was when released by Porcupine Tree. Meantime was quite a surprise at the time and this one really did surprise me. Of the pre-releases, I disliked this one the most but now that I hear it on the album I am tolerating it but it will probably be the first to be deleted from the album playlist.

Blank Tapes also features Ninet Tayeb but the song appears less well suited to her vocal range. This is the shortest track on the album at just over two minutes. This is quite a restrained melancholic song but the melody does not stand out for me.

People Who Eat Darkness is another rocker but, as a song, doesn't do a lot for me.

Song Of I was the fifth pre-release from the album. The song uses some interesting pauses to good effect and develops an almost cinematic sound mid-way through.

Detonation is the tenth and longest track at just over nine minutes. This is one of the few tracks where the theme is developed in a way that allows for solos.

The final track is Song Of Unborn which is a more typical Wilson ballad and again uses pauses to interesting effect. A beautiful melody is further enhanced by a choir arrangement in the middle part.

I am one of Steven Wilson's most devoted fans and I admire him for what he is trying to do in progressing his music. Personally I don't feel that he has come anywhere close to the brilliance of Peter Gabriel's So but this is an interesting album with many good songs and I believe is worthy of a four star rating.

Report this review (#1772574)
Posted Friday, August 18, 2017 | Review Permalink
Heavy / RPI / Symphonic Prog Team
4 stars When we heard that Steven was making a Pop album, people were skeptical. Did he sell his soul to the devil? How can this artist that has a reputation to make some "serious Prog Music" can go in that direction? And then when we listen to the album we realized that he was probably already making music that contains some Pop in it, his Blackfield project is another example. What makes Steven Wilson a great composer is his talent to absorb all his past influences to create his own music. So, this album is not that different than it's previous solo album, sure it's less jazzy, experimental and metal, except for the longest track "Detonation" who has all the Wilson trademark."Pariah" is this gorgeous ballad brighten up by the voice of Ninet Hayeb and ending in an intense post-rock atmosphere. In the "Same Asylum Ase Before", he can go to a catchy chorus to a short Porcupine Tree heavy part.In the song"Refuge" the melody is developed slowly before the drums that remind me Manu Katch starts to bring the pace up to let the guitars and the harmonica take the lead in some intense playing. "Permanating" is the real Pop song of the album, enjoyable and placed carefully in the middle of the album to change the mood. "People who eat Darkness" could have been a Porcupine Tree song. "Song of I" show his influence for Kate Busch and Peter Gabriel but with some ambient soundscape, and with a little bit of middle-eastern music at the end. So, this is not a radical change in the solo career of Steven Wilson. I did find the similarity in his songwriting style with all his projects, and no he has not sold his soul to the devil, he is still the half-god half human we all know.
Report this review (#1774718)
Posted Thursday, August 24, 2017 | Review Permalink
1 stars ...and here's the next stage of personal evolution of Steven Wilson as a solo artist. From a boldly experimenting musician of widest creative range and full creative freedom - to a prudent, almost pre-programmed artist who knows very well what his audience expects from him, and does nothing but what's expected. Stage one, 2008: Insurgentes. Sounds somewhat bashful, as if the musician hadn't yet used to consider himself a solo artist and was constantly glancing behind his practice in Porcupine Tree. Stage two, 2011: Grace For Drowning. A masterpiece for all times, a true chef d'oeuvre, really an encyclopedic concept album of highest level and amazing diversity, maybe better than any Porcupine Tree release. Stage three, 2013: The Raven... is just an excellent album, not as profound and thrilling as Grace For Drowning, but an unquestionable achievement. Stage four, 2015: Hand. Cannot. Erase seems to be mostly pre-composed by Wilson's fans though has a few interesting and 'risky' moments (Perfect Life for example). Stage four-and-a-half, 2016: nice, nice, very nice. And nothing essential, nothing deserving a discussion. And finally, 2017: since To The Bone, no more risk that some day the artist will deceive his audience's expectations. Nothing is new, nothing is surprising, nothing is experimental and/or explorative, everything is self- repetitive and approbated in the previous releases (despite all attractive phrases about 'fusing futurist rock' and 'gloriously dynamic Modernist Pop' in the distributor's advert). Well, in brief - there's no genuine Steven Wilson in Steven Wilson's new work. Is the album To The Bone good? Yes it is. It's flawless. It's perfectly composed, built, arranged, performed, produced, engineered and recorded. Is the album bad? Yes it is! It's musically empty. It's withering. The only spring of fresh water in this harmonious desert is Permanating, not due to its musical merits but just because late 1970s disco tunes are not typical for Wilson. All the rest is... no, not silence of course, but if the current tendency in Wilson's career will continue, perhaps silence would be better.
Report this review (#1780598)
Posted Saturday, September 9, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars Selected thoughts about selected songs

To the Bone: Interesting sounds sometimes, engaging enough and well-produced, has its moments but a bit repetitive; microcosm of this album in some ways.

Permanating: fun to listen to and surprisingly hasn't gotten old yet. Hope though this is a one-off experiment with a new sound and not a first ode to commercialism and mass appeal a la Asia and Genesis at their worst.

Detonation: and the progarchives community sighs a collective sigh of relief; ah yes there is one truly hard-hitting and progressive song on this sometimes hard-to-categorize album. Hard to describe the moment of surprise and release when the prog-metal-esque riff takes off like a starter's pistol has been fired, letting up for only a few brief respites for the rest of the runtime. Plays out as a series of engaging variations and undulations on that one core riff for an overall effect that, although lighter and less daring than Ancestral and similar unforgettable career peaks, still resolves into a unique jazzy smoothness this track can call all its own.

Song of Unborn: had to listen to this one a few times but it really grew on me and now hits me hard every time I listen to it. Unquestionably the most beautiful song on this album, capping everything off finally with an incredibly hopeful and moving sound and message, building and building in a series of choruses that become more ornate and more heartfelt as the song goes on, and as you listen to it again and again.

Report this review (#1781376)
Posted Tuesday, September 12, 2017 | Review Permalink
3 stars Review # 66. Before anything else, I think I should write that I consider myself as a 'fan' of Porcupine Tree, but not Steven Wilson as a solo artist. I have all the albums he released either with Porcupine Tree or Blackfield and his solo releases as well. When I heard the first rumors about his new album To the Bone, I must say that I was surprised. Steven Wilson will be releasing a Pop album? How is that even possible? Well, everything is possible you know, especially when some gifted and talented musician is fed up, and wants to try something different. That's not bad in my opinion, especially since he keeps his usual high quality standards intact. Many people rushed to 'bury' him, but I don't understand why. David Bowie for example, was praised by doing the same thing. He never stood still, and for that reason, he was named as the 'chameleon' of Rock music. He played many different styles, he changed his image I don't know how many times, and he was worshiped for that. So, why are you accusing Steve Wilson for trying to do something like that? (I am not trying to compare these two musicians, I am trying to set an example). So, To the Bone is it really a Pop album? The answer is no! Is it a Prog album? Again, no! This time Steven Wilson tried to combine many different music styles, including Pop, Rock, Prog, etc. And the result is this really enjoyable album, easy to listen to, which includes some really fine moments. There are songs here, that will remind you of his days with Porcupine Tree, some others that sound like Blackfield, and some others that doesn't sound like anything Steven Wilson did before. But they do sound like Peter Gabriel from the 80's for example, or even Abba! As you can probably understand, To the Bone is a music 'salad' which is including some fine ingredients in it. A very enjoyable album in my opinion, but not recommended to the 'devoted' Progressive Rock fans. All the others will definitely find something(s) that they will like in it. Favorite songs: To the Bone, Pariah, Blank Tapes, and Song of Unborn. My rating 3.5 stars (but I will rate it with 3.0, since I can't rate it with 3.5)

Report this review (#1781939)
Posted Thursday, September 14, 2017 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars Nothing like a little controversy to draw some attention to yourself. Steven announces his new album and how it's in the poppier mode and well let the discussions begin, as they have. The album cover is so immature and I'm not sure of the reason for that other than it's more controversy. Lots to like though over the one hour of music here, and much of it sounds familiar reminding me of PORCUPINE TREE and past Wilson solo albums. It does feel like a re-hash of sorts but there's some new ideas here as well but unfortunately they don't save this album for me.

"To The Bone" opens with spoken female words giving us Steven's kool-aid. It suddenly turns powerful with plenty of atmosphere and harmonica too. It becomes more open sounding when the vocals arrive a minute in. It picks up as the vocals continue. Lots of beats in this one and an extended guitar solo during the instrumental section. It's okay. "Nowhere Now" has reserved vocals and piano before it turns powerful a minute in, then it picks up with vocals. Catchy stuff.

"Pariah" is easily my favourite thanks to Ninet Hayeb's gorgeous and moving vocals. And that's the thing with this song it really moves me. "The Same Asylum As Before" has these expressive guitar melodies and a beat as these really high pitched vocals from Steven arrive(haha). When he sings normally this song turns into something that's really good. Like something off of "Stupid Dream" or "Lightbulb Sun". I like when it turns powerful before 2 1/2 minutes. Back to the chorus 4 minutes in before kicking back hard late.

"Refuge" opens with piano and fragile vocals. There's those high pitched vocals Steven seems intent on doing on this album. Yikes! I like when it kicks into gear following this and check out the harmonica too. followed by a guitar solo. Reserved vocals and piano end it. "Permanating" is my least favourite song by far. A catchy beat with drums, piano and mono-toned vocals. When it kicks in Steven uses his newly found high voice. And this does not work here at all.

"Blank Tapes" is a short laid back piece that's pretty good. "People Who Eat Darkness" reminds me too much of "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here" once it kicks in after the "F" bomb in the intro. Yes this sounds amazing but it's too familiar. "Song Of I" has percussion and a dark mood as reserved vocals join in. An electronic vibe to this one, lots of atmosphere halfway through. Some ethreal female vocal melodies later.

"Detonation" is the longest track at almost 9 1/2 minutes but it's far from the best track. Electronics as relaxed vocals join in with plenty of atmosphere. It kicks in surprisingly hard before 2 1/2 minutes. The vocals return as it stays uptempo. Some nice guitar after 7 1/2 minutes during the catchy instrumental section. "Song Of Unborn" is the mellow closer in the Steven Wilson tradition and it's one of my favourites from the album. The chorus is beautiful with vocals, piano, a beat and atmosphere. It does turn more powerful which I really enjoy.

A good album but there's too many things that I don't enjoy to offer up that fourth star.

Report this review (#1783460)
Posted Sunday, September 17, 2017 | Review Permalink
4 stars I get why this album isn't as rated as highly as Steven Wilson's other records. It's not as overly proggy, the arrangements are more simple, and the playing is more like Porcupine Tree in the later 90s (impressive as heck, but not jaw-dropping), And that is okay, because the songs are still there. Despite the insistence of some, this is not pop. I won't say this is one of my favorite SW records to date, but it would be a fairly accessible one for someone who has never heard him before, and for longtime fans like myself, it's another worthy addition to his stunning catalogue. 4 stars out of 5.
Report this review (#1815069)
Posted Saturday, October 21, 2017 | Review Permalink
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars The last several years have seen British multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer extraordinaire Steven Wilson well and truly leave his Porcupine Tree past behind him and gradually hone a rewarding solo career that's been a mix of welcome experimentation and reliable expected moody alt-rock with lashings of both modern and retro-flavoured prog-rock. His last full studio album, 2015's `Hand. Cannot. Erase' delivered a mix of melodic tunes with experimental rock instrumentation that served as a good foot in the door for newcomers both young and older, so perhaps it was little surprise that Wilson might reign back his indulgences even that little bit more to capitalise on this fresh outside interest on a future recording. He's an artist that has managed to build great credibility and an elevated status but who can still fly under the radar just enough to allow himself to indulge in works like this, 2017's `To the Bone'.

Fuelled by THAT cover art, an early press release that proudly proclaimed the album as a pop work, a bouncy jangly pure-pop first single that had most of the prog-rock fans racing for the hills (and it's probably quite surprising that it wasn't a self-titled disc), `To The Bone' was instantly hit with the dreaded `sell out' tag and dismissed as career suicide. But careful and patient repeated listens reveal an album that has much merit, with plenty of the usual smart art-rock and blending of styles already associated with the well as some rather (slight!) disappointing surprises.

First issue to address: `To The Bone' is NOT a pop album, even if it has several more obviously poppy moments scattered throughout it. Nor is it so far removed from prog-rock as to be unrecognisable, and if anything many parts wouldn't have sounded out of place on mid-period `Stupid Dream/Lightbulb Sun'-era Porcupine Tree with their indie-rock crossover appeal. It's just that where his former bandmates (and even Wilson on his recent solo albums) would likely offering sublime instrumental passages, here Steven usually works in ambitious vocal arrangements of multi-part harmonies instead of show-boating soloing.

On to the disc - Steven and his frequent co-singer Ninet Tayeb open with the title track `To The Bone', a smouldering groover with plenty of ragged guitar soloing and a catchy lyrically defiant chorus, but for an album that many are ready to instantly dismiss as too straightforward or `pop', the piece also drifts into languid enveloping harmonies full of dreaminess in the climax that you sure wouldn't hear on the radio. `Nowhere Now' is just a great uptempo poppier tune that finds Steven in great spirits with a loved up and freed chorus. But the first `wow' moment of the disc has Steven teaming again with Ninet for `Pariah', a tender ballad that has already drawn comparisons to Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush's `Don't Give Up', and along with its weary yet supportive lyric, it also delivers a big bold emotionally charged finale that soars to the heavens with great poise and overall class.

The lyrically pessimistic `The Same Asylum As Before' is powered by punchy drumming and swampy grinding guitars burning around Steven's crooning falsetto, and there's a lovely laid-back interlude in the middle with lightly jazzy flavours to Steven's guitar bursts and some sparkling electric piano. Sure to be a favourite of many of his existing fans, `Refuge' is bookended with a low-key unhurried melancholic introspection and that sad beauty that Wilson has perfected to a fine art over the years, and some carefully executed dramatic lifts give the piece a weight and great tension. After wallowing in brooding contemplation, the `controversial' first single `Permanating' then proves a welcome respite, a buoyant and proudly peppy piano n' falsetto-powered pop burst that not only reveals Wilson's keen honing of strong melodic sensibilities, but is unashamedly comparable in parts to Electric Light Orchestra! Lighten up, people, and just enjoy a cool and (whisper it!) fun pop tune. `Blank Tapes' is then a fragile little ballad interlude of a pristine aching beauty and precious warmth.

Lyrically threatening and instrumentally brash (just listen to Steven's bouncing thick bass pounding away in parts, you'd swear it was Nick Beggs on this one - perhaps it was and there was a misprint in the CD booklet?!), `People Who Eat Darkness' is a relentlessly sleek indie-rocker that is bound to become a live favourite on the tour supporting this album. `Song Of I' is a darkly cool fusion of New Wave and eerie electronica that has Ninet and Steven swapping confessional lyrics over gloomy piano and maddening breathless orchestration.

The longest piece at just over nine minutes is `Detonation', and among its clipping electronic programming, delicate chiming guitars and Steven's purring words that are laced with spite and hostility, the instrumental second half slinks in and out of aggressive blasts, fiery near jazz-fusion-like runs and dreamy shimmering caresses - see, still much here for the snootiest of prog fans! Closer `Song Of Unborn' is a tender piano ballad with exquisite ethereal choir work that replaces gentle regret with reassuring optimism for its smart chorus, and it might not only be one of the most stirring finales to appear on a Wilson/Porcupine Tree disc, but one of his loveliest songs overall.

After all of that, there's little things that do let down `To the Bone' in a few surprising ways. While there's not a truly bad song to be found on the disc, much of what is included can perhaps be considered `reliable', with little that could be placed among Wilson's very best work, even if there's a few occasionally genuinely thrilling moments here and there. It's also a far cry from being the new direction or unexplored area of his sound that was hinted at in the press release, as it still sounds very much like a typical Wilson product, mood and lyrical theme wise. Honestly, the thought of Wilson writing a REAL pop album is more intriguing and daring than many parts of what was included here!

But `To the Bone' is still consistently enjoyable all the way through and can be especially appreciated as a less demanding background listen full of cool tunes and great playing that rarely gives in to instrumental self-indulgence. While it's not one of his best works, it achieves the enviable balance of being able to be enjoyed by existing fans of both his solo work and previous band, as well as being inviting to newcomers and non-prog rock fans (call them `muggles' if you like, prog snobs!), and it still showcases Wilson as an intelligent artist well deserving of his status in both the general music industry overall and as a modern progressive music icon of note.

Three and a half stars for just a great rock album.

Report this review (#1823073)
Posted Tuesday, November 14, 2017 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
4 stars I've often heard Wilson say in interviews that he feels with each album he releases that he loses fans, but gains new ones. Technically, this can't be correct, becuase his popularity has been steadily increasing for the past decade; however, the point is that his sound changes incrementally, alienating some but catching the ear of others.

You probably read that thinking that I'm going to talk about how To the Bone is a significant departure that will cause Wilson's prog base to abandon him--a departure which we'll look back to as the start of Wilson's commercial break-out. This is definitely not the case. To the Bone is not a pop album ... not even sort of kind of a pop album. But, it's not a prog album, at least not in the way that his early solo works were. To the Bone is exceptionally well inspired and very artistic rock music which I think will do the impossible: please prog fans AND attract new fans among people who don't obsess over the groups tucked away here on the archives.

Case in point ...

The other day I played the album while my fiancee (definitely not a prog fan), and I were lounging in the living room, each engaged in a different activity. The next day, she asked me to share To the Bone with her so she could listen to it again at work. Boom. Thank you Steven Wilson; you've done the impossible and not only pleased me (a prog snob whose 20's were pretty much defined by your music) and my soon to be wife (who thinks bands like Yes are just noise). Bravo.

Is To the Bone a masterwork? I don't think so--but its very close. But more importantly, it's approachable hooks, highly polished and emotive instrumental work, interesting and creative songwriting, and quietly optimistic lyrics make it a perfect entry point to the world of progressive (or at least artistic) music. Essential for Wilson fans, and highly recommended for everyone else.

Songwriting: 4 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 4 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 5

Report this review (#1867202)
Posted Tuesday, January 16, 2018 | Review Permalink
2 stars 2.4 Stars. Nothing new under the sun

I think the saying "all good things must come to an end" is the perfect summery to how I feel about Steven Wilson's new album To The Bone (TTB). After a hat trick of masterful albums Wilson seems to running dry on new ideas for this album. While there are a few surprises and good ideas to be found here, most of the songs can be pigeonholed into specific previous albums of phases of his career.

The main focus of TTB is on the progressive-pop genre, with the song writing trying to strike the fine balance between pop accessibility and Prog's more unpredictable nature. Steven has released several great Prog-pop albums throughout his career, with Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream being the highlight. When comparing the two albums it becomes very clear how lacking TTb is in terms of not only creative Prog, but also the strength of the pop hooks that are meant to repeatedly play in your head.

The album starts with the title track, which is one of the few original sounding songs on the album. A great balance is struck between the powerful instrumentals and infectious chorus, and no loss of energy occurs between these sections. Nowhere Now is unfortunately a large drop in quality, sounding like a mid-tempo Blackfield track but without the lyrical or creative magic of that duo. A generic AOR rock song that I would expect from a past-their-best artist.

Pariah begins as a generic 80s powder balled between Steven Wilson and Ninet Tayeb. As someone who grew up listening to this kind of music it really is a sub-par tick boxing pop-ballet, which is a big shame as I know Wilson can write fantastic pop songs. The second half of the song is more interesting with a instrumental noise assault, but it is not enough to save the song.

The Same Asylum As Before is best described as more uneven version of Prodigal (from In Absentia), but with some VERY bad vocals in places. Wilson has tried singing in a much higher pitch than normal in parts of the album, and it's something I (and many other people I have spoken to) are not a fan of.

Refuge is one of the better songs on TTB. A slow building and very emotive piece that focuses on the difficulties of people living in refuge. There is an extended instrumental at the end which reminds of a more focused Regret #9 (from Hand Cannot Erase) followed by a gentle ambience. This is more in line with the kind of music you would expect from PT or his solo albums.

Permanating on the other hand will catch most SW fans by complete surprise! A bouncy, happy and full-blown pop piece which stands in complete contrast to the majority of this back catalogue. You have to go all the way back to On The Sunday Of Life to find something this bright and sunny. Nevertheless it's not a bad pop song, and is the most original statement made on the album.

Blank Tapes takes the album back into gloom. Another slow and simple duet with Ninet, which leaves little impression. People Who Eat Darkness is the hard rocker of the album, which takes no prisoners both instrumentally and lyrically. Along with Detonation this song rips into the mentality of suicide bombers, which a bold approach. While this song does not offer a lot of Prog it is still a good song.

Song of I is another duet, this time with Sophie Hunger. This one sounds like it was ripped from Insurgentes and given a glossy finish. The beginning of the song sounds cool and promising, but it is not given the freedom to develop naturally and stagnates by the time it end. Wasted potential.

As already mentioned Detonation is the other song about suicide bombers, with lyrics that may be insulting to some but are not without merit. This is the only full-blown Prog track on the album, with large portions of it being dedicated to extended and fast-pased instrumentals. The final 3 minutes are worth mentioning, with Wilson taking a more electric-rock-prog approach which is fresh-sounding. Despite its 9 min running time, it actually feels underdeveloped in places and ends without warning. It needs an extra 3-4 minutes at least to be brought to its full potential, but it is still a good song.

Finally Song of Unborn ends with a more post-rock style layout. It begins quietly with ambience and piano, followed by the tasteful use of a choir. It eventually builds into a load and haunting instrumental, which finishes the album on a high note.

TTB is a tricky album to rate, as the quality varies wildly between 1 and 4 star songs. The reason why I am giving this 2 stars is simply due to it not being on the same level of any of his albums dating back to Lightbulb Sun (which I gave 3 stars). However that was at least was an important transitional album and had Wilson experiment with new ideas. TTB on the other hand has very little that is new to offer, and does not perform very well as a pop album. So sadly 2 stars is all I can give for this one.

Report this review (#1903015)
Posted Tuesday, March 13, 2018 | Review Permalink
4 stars Steven Wilson Trying to Be a Pop Star and Failing but Making Good Music anyways

Steven Wilson is changing his artistic approach to music and re-thinking his role as a solo artist. More specifically, he wants the audience standing and dancing, he wants to reach mainstream success, and he wants to steer away from the progressive rock label. The album is fairly successful in a musical sense, but indicates a troubling change of direction for the artist, especially if you pay attention to his wants in interviews and speeches on stage. I fear his choices for his favorite tunes in the album, as they are among his most derivative songs of his solo career. The production of the album is also troubling, as if Steven Wilson wanted to make a tribute out of the 80s and eliminating complex percussion and some modern recording techniques. As far as reaching wide success, this album is a colossal failure and not surprisingly, given his sheer musical output experience and age, the general audience would not get drawn in by song knock offs from Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, ELO, or ABBA (some of the singles)

Before the overhyped album was released, there was a surprising number of tracks released to draw enthusiasm, and they were less impressive than what Wilson generally is capable of. 'Pariah' is very pretty but suffers from unimaginative lyrics, a grating volume imbalance in its ending, and sounds derivative from Peter Gabriel's 'Don't Give Up' structurally and sonically. 'The Same Asylum' sounds like a second rate Porcupine Tree tune trying to be catchy but does feature more involved instrumentation. 'Permanating' is legitimately catchy, though the influences are quite obvious and is awkwardly placed after single 'Refuge', which is somber, grander in scope, but borrows heavily from Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel. 'Nowhere Now' has a more ambitious music video and is a pretty good pop song and overall one of the better singles here. The one single that really stood out for me is the electronic 'Song of I' - structurally progressive rock with a steady beat but always shifting music with no clear structutal pattern yet blended in with clearly mainstream modern features. It is experimental, creative, and very memorable.

Outside the singles, the remaining songs fare pretty well. 'To The Bone' is more of an earworm than any of the singles except maybe Permanating. 'People Who Eat Darkness' has an angry punk sound and carries the most energetic rhythms of the album. 'Detonation' has a sinister mood, syncopated synthesized bass, and a bizarre transition to an extended macabre dance song that takes a lot of listens to accept and enjoy - it really came to life when played live. 'Song of Unborn' is the other clear standout of the album with sparse, but progressively more symphonic music, some of his best lyrics of his career, with a massive but pleasant wall of sound in finale.

The music is overall successful and does show a different kind of musical maturity, mainly in restrained and melody writing. However, it is a troubling new direction that I feel is not sustainable as this approach can quickly get stale. Nervously anticipating what a new album would sound like, hopefully another new direction but involving a more flexible genre than pop. I also want to sit on stage - his music is not meant for standing!

Report this review (#2041649)
Posted Saturday, October 6, 2018 | Review Permalink
4 stars I admit that when I first listened to some of the tracks from this album, I was sceptical due to how its more mainstream sound greatly contrasted with his two previous jazz influenced albums, 'Hand.Cannot.Erase' and 'The Raven That Refused to Sing'. However, I now come to regard this album highly in the Steven Wilson catalogue as it is a clear example of what prog rock is all about: developing or 'progressing' the sound of music. Like most of his albums, this one has its own new and unique sound which is exciting and makes a refreshing change from his previous albums ? he has progressed his own sound. Therefore, while the album may sound less progressive, the fact that Wilson has chosen to do something different makes this album stand out in the progressive world.

It is unfair to label this a pop album, like a few fans sometimes do, as that is an immature way of looking at it. The most obvious point to make is that the album features a nine-minute song called 'Detonation' ? not many pop albums include a song of such length. While this would probably please many prog fans, for me this is not the strongest song on the album. Many of the ideas in the song are repeated at different dynamics and textures which at times is highly effective and sounds awesome. However, this repetition is excessive for a nine-minute song and it would have been nice for one or two other sections to have been introduced to add a greater variety. There are definitely stronger songs on the album such as 'Song of I'. This again is not pop like at all, it is more prog due to its ambiguity and atypical three-part structure. The climax at 2:16 is a thing of sheer beauty, almost like an explosion of bottled-up emotion, featuring a beautiful string section that creates occasional dissonance against the other instruments. This then returns to how the song begun, texturally bare and full of tension ? such a fantastic contrast. Other songs from the album do a similar thing, such as 'Pariah' and 'Refuge' ? two of the strongest songs that build an atmosphere in slightly different ways. 'Pariah' follows the conventional verse-chorus structure that showcases Ninet Tayeb's angelic voice perfectly. What makes this song so impressive is the moment at 3:29 when the listener is suddenly hit by an unexpected but glorious wall of noise. It is so overwhelming, and I can't help but smile with joy when I hear it. 'Refuge' has a similar effect on me yet differs from 'Pariah' in the respect that we can hear it building to a climax throughout which succeeds in filling the listener with a strong sense of anticipation. My favourite bit of the song, however, comes at the end when all that can be heard after this immense guitar solo are these harmonically rich piano chords accompanying a harmonica and then Wilson's voice to end ? such a magical moment.

Wilson cleverly balances the album out with more upbeat and rockier songs in order to counteract the many songs on the album that are more mellow and atmospheric. 'People Who Eat Darkness' is very catchy and energetic, displaying the main overdriven guitar tone used on the album ? a superb tone that is an example of an overdrive that is clean and crisp if that makes sense. My favourite bit is the chordal transition from the verse into the pre-chorus as it is an unusual chord change that is unexpected and sounds very cool indeed. The other most obvious upbeat track on the album is 'Permanating' which seems to have divided Steven Wilson fans the most due to many believing it to be a cheesy pop song. This is an unfair judgement; yes, it is a pop song, but the chords used are not typical of many modern-day pop songs, especially the descending intro chords ? I find this interesting rather than problematic. I'm not ashamed to say that I like this song, I admire Wilson's bravery in including such a divisive song but after all he is doing what he wants to do and not allowing himself to be directed creatively by his audience's desires and tastes. I think this is fair to say about the album as a whole, he has gone in the direction he wanted to pursue despite what listeners might think. Although an album such as 'Hand.Cannot.Erase' is a masterpiece start to finish, if Wilson had created a copy of this album I personally wouldn't be as interested in listening to it because it wouldn't be anything new to listen to. Despite what people may think, 'To the Bone' is a new and exciting album with few flaws in it and much to analyse. It is a shining example of what prog is all about: developing and creating new sounds which Wilson has successfully done within his own body of work.

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Posted Sunday, April 28, 2019 | Review Permalink
1 stars Oh god Steve... what did you do? This is pretty abhorrent, as a huge Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree fan... this is as bad as It gets. No Progressive Rock at all on this album... maybe a few bits here and there are Prog-Related but for the most part it's all Pop. I loved 'The Raven that refused to Sing' and 'Hand Cannot Erase' but... what the hell happened? A worse version of Steven Wilson 'Covers'? But original? Nothing technically hard, nothing super atmospheric, nothing to grasp at... not even Clutching At Straws?! (Pun intended). I'm sorry, but this album is as bad as it gets. If this was PopArchives, this would get 5/5 on my scale... but look... this is ProgArchives... ok? Is this prog? No. I hope the new album in 2020 is better because this album is just... abhorrent... for lack of stronger word.
Report this review (#2261528)
Posted Sunday, September 15, 2019 | Review Permalink

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