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Steven Wilson - 4  CD (album) cover


Steven Wilson


Crossover Prog

3.52 | 457 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Modern progressive music icon and workaholic Steven Wilson could have rested on the popularity of his very well-received `Hand. Cannot. Erase' and `The Raven that Refused to Sing' albums and successful tours of recent years, (or better yet, got to work on a long awaited new Bass Communion album, hint hint!), but noooooo! He jumps right back a few months later with a superb budget-priced 37 minute compilation entitled `4 1/2', a reference to it being a stop-gap release before his next proper studio album. Sounding like a perfectly coherent true album as opposed to simply a selection of outtakes and newly completed original fragments that it is, it's comprised of three vocal driven tracks and just as many purely instrumental pieces that should please the faithful Wilson devotees that lap up his every release, but it also holds a few genuinely exciting and unexpected welcome surprises buried within as well.

The highlight of the disc is the opening almost ten-minute stunner `My Book of Regrets', an unpredictable mix of indie-rock, observational lyrics with a deceiving poppy chorus and plenty of proudly prog-rock instrumental flourishes over a range of tempos and numerous soloing spots. But the best surprise of all, Steven delivers a guitar solo in the middle that almost calls to mind all those beautiful Delirium Records-era Porcupine Tree releases like `Staircase Infinities', a spacey and chiming ethereal performance that compliments perfectly the finale of `Dark Matter' off Porcupine Tree's classic `Signify' album. Overall it's a terrific piece that covers plenty of ground both current and historical that Steven Wilson and his previous band Porcupine Tree moved through, and most prog rock fans should absolutely adore this one.

Thankfully the rest of the disc also offers very superior material. An outtake from the `Raven' recording sessions, the mysterious shimmering electric piano of instrumental `Year of the Plague' quickly gives way to reflective acoustic guitar, piano and a mix of sampled violin, choir and orchestral elements to give the piece a warmth and great heart. Written in 2003, recorded in 2014 with the musicians from the `Hand. Cannot. Erase' sessions, `Happiness III' reveals itself as one of those rare up-tempo and spirited intelligent (not to mention quite upbeat and joyous!) pop-rockers from the artist, powered by jangling distorted electric guitar strums, humming Hammond organ and a pleasing chorus.

Also from the same `Hand...' sessions, instrumental `Sunday Rain Sets In' (unsurprisingly) moves between gloomy and ghostly eerie instrumentation (some nice darkly jazzy piano runs here and there), but thankfully Steven's acoustic guitar brings little traces of warmth. Sadly, an obnoxious and thrashing heavy burst in the final quarter of the piece for only a few seconds is completely lazy and ruins the beautiful subtle mood the piece was drifting through.`Vermillioncore' just may be the best instrumental piece of all on the disc, a delirious and addictive mix of glistening electric piano, Elephant9-like organ violations and twitching electronics, relentless upfront bass with some heavier guttural spasms, gutsy guitar heaving and even Hawkwind-like up-tempo heavier races.

The album closes on a remake of the wonderful Porcupine Tree track `Don't Hate Me' from their terrific 1998 crossover album of prog rock and indie-pop `Stupid Dream', and while it hardly reinvents the piece completely, it's a worthwhile reinterpretation with plenty to offer. Certainly at the start it badly misses Colin Edwin's thoughtful and distinctive bass murmurs throughout the early verses, sounding quite naked and empty in comparison. A lot of listeners greatly enjoyed female singer Ninet Tayeb's contributions to the `Hand...' album, and she offers a very pleading alternative approach to the chorus compared to Steven's fragile and wounded original. But thankfully the middle instrumental passage lifts the track considerably, a frantic dash of spiralling electric piano, thrashing drum rumbles and bouncing fluid bass raised loud and proud all worthy of any Seventies jazz-fusion album, and Theo Travis delivers another gorgeous Gong-flavoured sax solo, a standout on both versions of the piece.

`4 1/2' is very much comparable to Porcupine Tree's b-sides and unreleased material release `Recordings', which was far more than some mere throwaway compilation (It could be argued that it's much more challenging and complex than the two proper studio albums `Stupid Dream' and `Lightbulb Sun' that came from the same sessions), and it proves that even apparently `lesser' Steven Wilson compositions may just be as worthwhile or even far superior to the strongest outwork of endless other progressive artists. Full of his usual intelligent ideas, plenty of his expected modern and vintage musical influence variety and impressive playing from his musical collaborators, `4 1/2' keeps Steven Wilson's reputation soaring nicely, and fans of both Porcupine Tree and his solo works will be very happy with the results here.

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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