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


Steven Wilson


Crossover Prog

4.30 | 1605 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Oh happy days, now I can finally get to review some Steven Wilson, surely one of, if not the most polarizing figure in prog these days.

(I'll also try to refrain from calling him the David Gilmore of Porcupine Trees' "Pink Floyd", if you get the connection)

And surely the old prog faithful lambaste him for being boring, pathetic, unoriginal. And yet apparently David Gilmore wasn't on his solo albums, yet I could make the same argument there, lest I get persecuted by the old Pink Floyd faithful. Except those two bands, Floyd and Tree, sure got an awful lot in common.

But perhaps I'll get to that in a future Wilson album, I don't want to discuss that here.

Especially here on a more lively album in Wilson's repertoire. Yes, the album is based on a young girl's life and death (or murder), but especially on "3 Years Later", it's in much higher spirits than "Grace For Drowning" or "Insurgentes". It seems kinda funny since Porcupine Tree was one of those bands that seemed to always produce depressing music, or at least, that's what it appeared on the surface, underneath though there was so much more action happening.

"3 Years Older" is a perfect example. The instrumental intro is so lively and spritely, and Wilson's vocal harmonics are always a pleaser in my mind, very Beatles-esque those harmonic overlays, something surprisingly absent in most music these days. And the outro is spiffy as well. Then again, I shouldn't be surprised since we got Guthrie Govan on guitars, bit of a technical guy, but focuses more melodically than just straight shredding. And then you got Marco Minneman on the beats, frankly the closest guy you can get to replace someone of Gavin Harrison's character: he made most of those Porcupine Tree songs so much more interesting, he saved about half those.

But it really is a rare specimen, this. Wilson is only good at making depressing music, how the hell can he write happy music? Simple, by focusing on the simpler things.

"Hand Cannot Erase" is about as simple as it can get. Apart from the syncopation in Wilson's vocals, it sounds like a happy pop rock track, and "Perfect Life" just oozes ambiance and warmth. It doesn't get any better than that. One of, if not the biggest keys to Wilson's success and fame is this: he knows how to set the mood, and that can make or break an album, let alone a single song. Without the right atmosphere or mood set at the beginning of a song, the listener is left without an anchor to grab onto. Thus, he/she is less likely to be interested throughout the remainder of the song. Sure, there are some songs that are saved by future material, but they're just the exceptions to the rule.

And even the material just seems to sound right with what's going on. "Routine" is the perfect title for this song, it sounds typical, like a slow PT tribute song, but when you take into account the lyrics, and the monotony of it all, it somehow works. It's a soundtrack to an unfilmed movie that actually works.

Of course, the myth is that Wilson doesn't like fast action, that he prefers soft, slow, depressing blah. 1) That's absolute garbage. 2) You probably haven't listened to "Home Invasion" yet.

The title is self explanatory if you're following the dialog, but it's just such a groovy piece, with rock organ providing a little pizzazz, Minneman rocking like a fiend through time signature changes and groovy fills. It's a non-stop ride, with Govan providing some meat in his riffs as well. This is a jam, very blusey, very Pink Floydian like (oops, did I just mention them again?). One of the highlights of the album. And it just flows right into "Regret #9", another jam filled with fantastic keyboard and guitar solos. It's wonderful, a modern interpretation of Floyd if I've ever heard.

Yes, there are more somber spots, the acoustic driven "Transience" is one, and the electronic drum led intro of "Ancestral" is another, the latter moving in and out of mysterious, dissonant chords, with Ninet Tayeb providing some wonderfully haunting vocals here and there. Clearly, we're in the sad part of the story, so there's not going to be much happy here, but there are licks, by Govan and Minneman, before it all spastically accelerates to the finish with some quips from flute contributor Theo Travis before an almost Dream Theater-like finish.

"Happy Returns" is the final song of interest before the outro "Ascendent". It's another Wilsonian acoustic led ballad, but it's not really depressing. Unlike Dream Theater's "Metropolis, Pt. 2" which was "mostly" focused on the tragedy, and the mourning of a passing, this album seems more the opposite, more focused on the celebration of a life once lived. And yes, there are many nods to Pink Floyd that I hear, but I can't compare Wilson to Gilmore or Floyd to Tree anymore. Both are separate identities, the bands and the men. Gilmore, thriving in an age of space rock that contemplated human behaviors, Wilson, thriving in an age of pop that also contemplated human behaviors. Both are the same, living in different eras.

Except, not. Gilmore, to me, couldn't survive creating his own identity from his mothership band. Wilson couldn't have survived UNLESS he created his own identity from his mothership band. And the main reason for this difference, is Roger Waters. I'd like to think Gavin Harrison save a lot of PT songs from being boring, but then again, throw another prog drummer like Minneman here for example, and all is well. Wilson didn't have another mind (or ego, if you talk to some) like Gilmore did with Waters. Floyd couldn't survive in its famous state with those two butting heads. Tree, to me, could've survived as a Wilson solo project, even though their last album seemed to be rather created without an interest in actually making it from the band.

In the end, though, there are some genuinely good tunes to listen to here, not just an album that's best appreciated all the way through once in a while, which hurt some of PT and Wilson albums in the past. Original? Not in the slightest. But is it good? I'd say so. Revolutionary? Not really, but then again, what is anymore? What Wilson has done is take a beloved sound of Porcupine Tree and infused some life in it, partially from his backing band, and partially from his compositional skills, skills that dare I say could even rival that of one sir Paul McCartney? The resemblance is uncanny, and NO, it's not because they're both British.

But now with several grenades thrown, you, the unlucky reviewer who just read this entire piece of crap, can decide with your opinion. The decision on the wealth of music on this album has already been made: Almost certainly it'll be one of the best albums of the year, by far.

Wicket | 5/5 |


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