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Steven Wilson - Insurgentes CD (album) cover


Steven Wilson


Crossover Prog

3.82 | 1031 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars When an artist as unbelievably prolific as Steven Wilson at long last finds time to step away from the group effort format (even when they've been the acknowledged leader of said cooperative partnerships) and issues a solo work, the listener needs to dispose of all preconceived notions and be willing to accept the art wholly on his terms. Otherwise, don't go there. For, unlike his associated bands that have an image to uphold as well as a commitment to respect the wants of their loyal fan base, in most cases the individual is serving up offerings that are intended only to please their own ears and express emotions and impulses that are extremely personal. With "Insurgentes" I feel as if I'm covertly peeking into Steven's diary of innermost thoughts and yearnings, especially when the lyrical content is so unusually sparse (poignant words being an aspect of his songs that I've always admired in particular). The lines sung are very subjective and abstract for the most part, as if they only mean something to him. And that's okay. Like I inferred, it's his blank canvas propped up on the easel here, let him paint it any way he wants. We are here to observe.

While other reviewers have referenced, with good reason, Nine Inch Nails, Peter Gabriel and several other entities as being major inspirations for many of these tunes, I can't honestly label any track (with the exception of one) as consistently sounding like someone else's music. This is unmistakably Wilson's baby from start to finish, let there be no doubt cast. Like a handful of colorful crayons that have melted in the hot sun and coagulated together into a collage of swirling hues, Steven's influences and preferences run throughout the tracks but never completely infiltrate or dominate them. Here Wilson doesn't have to answer to anyone (including us) and the result is a CD of high quality composing coupled with undeniable studio expertise, just what I expected from a musician as talented as this.

In a move reminiscent of his approach to constructing the brilliant "Fear of a Blank Planet," the album begins with ringing guitars for "Harmony Korine," an accessible rock number that sports an 8/4 time signature performed with a semi-waltz feel that's deceptively seamless. Steven and the incomparable Gavin Harrison on drums are the sole contributors but they fill up the room with bold, ferocious sounds. It's also a great example of how deftly Wilson uses and manipulates the contrast of light and dark shadings in his music. On "Abandoner" he utilizes programmed drums for the foundation and goes on to create layers of cool, dreamy atmospheres where interesting atonal snippets hover and circle constantly. Then an incredibly dense and monstrous amalgam of guitars and synthesizers descends like the muscled arm of God Almighty, decapitating your senses. In the end only the original, virgin melody survives the cleansing flood.

"Salvaging" is one of the most experimental and boundary-stretching tunes Steven's ever put together. It begins in a drone motif based on a simple repeating riff as he sings moodily about "God always shouts/and you always kick/through passionless hours/yeah, you make me feel sick." just as wicked, sharp-edged guitars begin to strike like lightning bolts all around. Things get heavier and more intense as a stinging solo buzzes your head like an angry hornet before King Silence raises its scepter and decrees a halt. An ingenious orchestral score (arranged by SW and Dave Stewart) floats in like a soft, white cloud and provides beauty amidst harshness. It's like a golden epiphany of absolute clarity. Later on Gavin's thrashing drums reenter and a terrific symphonic "rise" occurs to lift you upward like some kind of surreal rapture. It is greatness. But the next cut is no slouch, either. "Veneno Para Las Hadas" has a serene start, then a throbbing bass pulse guides you like a passenger aboard an amusement park boat ride drifting through a phosphorescent cave. Jordan Rudess' piano playing is touchingly delicate and serene sounds waft through like fog banks as Theo Travis' clarinet and Sand Snowman's recorders blend into a phenomenally smooth salve for the soul.

Up to this point Mr. Harrison has been kept on a short leash but on "No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun" Wilson takes the shackles off and lets him run free. The most aggressive song on the album, it's initially akin to waking from a drug-induced coma or groggily coming out of a demonic nightmare as its tricky time signature seemingly derived solely from the weirdness of the central riff (a challenge that poses absolutely no problem for drum-man extraordinaire Gavin) terrorizes like an infuriated poltergeist. The track dives down and splashes up a bleak background for some sinister vocals where he obtusely intones "I see what I suppose/I breathe what I dispose/black wheels get yellow in the sand/I steal every idea that I can." and then follows with a lighter segment. Tony Levin's bass lines are fabulous here (I expected nothing less) and when Rudess' piano slides in surreptitiously to reinforce the pleasant progression Jordan lulls you to sleep with gorgeous trills and fluent streaks. But in the end Wilson swings his heavy hammer once again and slugs you with a deafening onslaught of the thematic riff in full force.

"Significant Other" may be as close to a love song as Steven can venture and it's only fitting that it comes off as sort of a Blackfield outtake. It owns a simple but lovely melody line and it will behoove you to pay attention to the subtle bass runs Levin comes traipsing through with because they're amazing. He's one of a kind. The verses are sweet, the choruses are tense, Harrison gets busy toward the end with some passionate drum fills and for the finale Wilson lets the bottom drop out, leaving you with the sound of a lonesome music box playing. "Only Child" is the weakest tune of the bunch, though. It's an honorable tribute to Kurt Cobain, to be sure, but the overwhelming Nirvana vibe is a little too obvious and the depressing dirge grows old in a hurry. But the magical instrumental "Twilight Coda" arrives just in time to resuscitate the flow. This demure, relatively short and spacey piece intrigues and mesmerizes the mind and Steven's tactful employment of filtered noise is masterfully done.

"Get All You Deserve" begins in a Trent Reznor-ish industrial haze where an ominous piano stands conspicuously alone. The track steadily grows ever more menacing as gigantic guitars plunge into the fray before a cacophony of dense aural confetti blows up like an atomic bomb's mushroom canopy to obliterate all that is decent and moral in the mortal realm. "Love more than you can know/have more than you'll ever need from me/get all that you deserve in this world." he sings. I can understand why many might not like the song's blunt brutality but I'm floored by it. The title tune and closer has quite the opposite effect. A calming piano and Michiyo Yagi's 17-string bass koto make this number a unique gem. It's as soft as a prayer and just as intimate. By the fade out you feel like a desert drifter who's been given a drink of reinvigorating spring water.

The brazen, uncompromising cover photo reveals volumes about this eclectic collection of tunes and their designer. For "Insurgentes" Steven Wilson has donned a gas mask, signifying that he has quarantined himself from the polluted, overtly-commercial environment of the present age and is giving us a sample of his unadulterated imagination and creativity to do with as we wish. For those of us who enjoy most everything he produces, this is no exception. I'll admit that I won't reach for it as often as I do PT's "Fear of a Blank Planet," "Deadwing," or even "Blackfield II" but that doesn't mean I'm disappointed in this album. Not at all. It's everything I thought it would be and more. Thanks for sharing, Steven. 4.3 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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