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4 stars I'm going to assume that most of the readers of this review are fans of PORCUPINE TREE and Steven Wilson and are now looking to collect No-man's back catalog to 'get more' as is, was my case. Well, I think you will get more with Wid Opera. I'm still collecting No-man, and probably the main question is, what is it like in comparison to PT? Well, much of it is similar to early PT works, ambient soundscapes with the very mellow, pretty, smooth voice of Tim Bowness and of course great lyric. The lyrics are usually somewhat surreal, and allegorical in nature. It also looks as if in the earlier No-man works, drum machines, and a more techno-dance background is present. Now it seems that Steven has grown tired of drum machines and has limited them in the later No-man works going for a more ambient sound. That said, WILD OPERA would belong to the earlier No-man catagory. It's a crazy Wilson,soundscape with various sax, bass, piano, guitar, violin, well, all sorts of sounds, and samples, drum machine and some real drums, I think? 'Housewives Hooked On Heroin' has to be a standout, if even for the title alone. This album has so many flavors and sounds that will remind you of many things, yet it has a very unique feel. There are some jazz moments, techno, Brian Eno new wave, all kinds of stuff.This is a great bunch of songs and I would assume any fan of PT would grow to really enjoy Wild Opera. I loved it, first spin.
Report this review (#18254)
Posted Tuesday, March 29, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars This is the album in which BOWNESS and WILSON take their obsession with small things to its extreme. The soundscapes are small, a significant change from their previous album, 'Flowermouth'. The subjects of the songs are also small: BOWNESS's lyrics have always focused on the intimate and the seemingly trivial, but the emotional palette here, while even deeper than before, is very narrow.

The music of 'Wild Opera' has few of the space-rock leanings of 'Flowermouth', instead finding a hybrid place between the techno-pop of 1993 and the space-rock of 1994. There are far more jazz motifs on the album than techno or space-rock. There remains no moment when WILSON lets himself go: his instrumentation is uncharacteristically restrained and understated, giving the album a sophisticated, jazzy feel but, in my opinion, robbing it of the lush, wide dynamic that characterised all NO-MAN efforts after their debut ('Lovesighs'). The track lengths reflect this, averaging under four minutes and mostly doing without extended instrumental sections.

Despite this, there's plenty of interest here. The opener, 'Radiant City', is as good as anything on 'Loveblows & Lovecries'. 'Sinister Jazz' is exactly that, ultimately dispensable but of interest on first listen. The absurdly titled single 'Housewives Hooked on Heroin' lifts the album momentarily, which is then jerked sideways by the experimentation of 'Libertine Libretto'. 'Taste My Dream' is more atmospheric, followed by another single, 'Dry Cleaning Ray' - also the title of an EP that I regard as a companion (and slightly superior) album to 'Wild Opera'. The song is well worth a listen. 'My Revenge on Seattle' is perhaps the most accomplished song here, harking back to 'Flowermouth' for its beat and building finish.

I'm speculating here, but I suspect the key to understanding this album is the rise of PORCUPINE TREE. STEVEN WILSON was now in the difficult position of distributing his talent and songwriting ability between two major projects. I can imagine him having to decide which direction to shape a particular song, and 'Wild Opera' thus ended up sounding atypical for NO-MAN because it evolved in contrast to PORCUPINE TREE's 'Signify'. As PT's star rose, so NO-MAN went into limbo, and the next NO-MAN album did not appear until five years later, in 2001. By then, of course, PORCUPINE TREE was well established as WILSON's major vehicle.

Sophisticated, small scale and interesting, this album is by no means my favourite NO-MAN album. I'd direct listeners first to 'Flowermouth' or the indescribably brilliant 2003 offering, 'Together We're Stranger'. But come back to 1996/7, by all means, and listen to this album and the 'Dry Cleaning Ray' EP.

Report this review (#144894)
Posted Monday, October 15, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Wild Opera is modern prog and therefore will obviously not appeal to many PA purists as this is way raunchier electronica than many would accept and hence,, far from the usual prog suspects: Sympho, Retro, Rio, Neo and Proto (sounds like the Marx Brothers!, where's Chico, Harpo and Groucho when you need them?). This is progressive Dance/Electronica with an edge, insanily superb production, oblique rhythms, odd effects, quirky patterns and outright disturbing themes. The opener "Radiant City" is a fine example of psychotic drum beats, probing bass synth, zippy guitar thrashes, all sounding very cosmo-urbane and contemporary, laced with a Mel Collins sax eruption set to disturb loudly and jostle with creepy lunacy. "Pretty Genius" is a smooth groove, equal doses of chilly electro-jazz, very soundtrackish strings a la Hooverphonic/Portishead, some fluttering flute wisps and those slippery preoccupied vocals by Mr.Bowness. I love this kind of orchestrated cool, so I am in all the way! "Infant Phenomenon" is a paranoid jumble, a bruising affair led by a saturated fuzzed out bass, with weird and unblessed exhortations ("Sickening Sensation of Love") that reveal a deep inner turmoil. In order to confirm the latent schizophrenia, the somberly magnificent "Sinister Jazz" affords some spoken word spectral oddity verging on intense evil ("and never going home"), both threatening and glitzy, hence the à propos title. Again, love the bizarre! And should you want to further stretch the envelope of insanity, the curiously perverted "Housewives Hooked on Heroin" strays into the abysses of despair and agony, a drugged out lament about apathy and deranged dysfunction, ("His paradise became his living Hell"), a raging guitar mid section that illustrates the disdain of a troubled soul. Weirder yet is the following "Libertine Libretto" an experimental, no wait, just a mental whack out, that unifies dissonance, echoed vocal passages, a loopy collage of disjointed doodling piano, buzz-fuzz guitar and effects into this massive cauldron of madness. The contrasting "Taste my Dream" is a celestial ballade that flows groovily along for over 6 minutes, unyielding in structure and adamant in melody, with some gorgeous pools of mood music, exceptionally expressive vocals from Tim Bowness and overall top-notch instrumental expertise. "Dry Cleaning Ray" is the proverbial pop song here, a scintillating piece of music that is both catchy and accessible (a bit like the future Blackfield), with a repeated organ roll that sears the brain. Hard to resist this again, it's Wilson at his best, with that ability to squeeze out a huge chorus from literally nothing! "Sheeploop" grooves unsettlingly, sort of a cold -jazz electronic ode to runaway from a vodka martini overload, stressed by the urban merry-go-round, ("this loving demands no part of me") and passes out with bubbling synths. "My Rival Trevor" is a funny tirade, a quite amusing synth-pop ride with muffled voices, hysterical axe drippings, hinting at "Clever Trevor", the Ian Dury hit from the 80s. The huge drum programming sound works well in distilling the cold harsh reality of modern electronic music. "Time Travel in Texas" continues the schizo theme, ("See Where it Gets us" rhymes with the title, cute!), essentially a minimalist effect-laden brew that pursues the inner scorn and crushes it further. Bizarre again, but a good bizarre! "My Revenge on Seattle" has some extraordinary vocals from Tim, soaring like some mythical bird over vast horizons of sultry synthesized winds, puffy clouds of piano and placid beats, and the immortal last words "maybe there is more to life than writing songs , maybe not..."! A hidden track ends this genial recording , the title track "Wild Opera" with a sustained piano note gurgling with synthesized wasps, thriving bass blasting away, a shard of dissonance cutting nicely through the sinews. Definitely a worthy follow up to Flowermouth and a strong recommendation for the sonically adventurous. I love wild opera anyway .4.5 untamed Verdis
Report this review (#204324)
Posted Thursday, February 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Wild Opera is No-man's third official full length. It marks a great musical development for No-Man as it mixes the best of their early techno-pop debut with the more spacey Flowermouth. The album is very eclectic and absorbs all kind of influences from other developments that were going on in the 90's sub-cultures and underground.

Radiant City is a great opener, with a beat reminiscent of Industrial pop of the end of the 80's. The funky-techno beat and droning vocals remind me of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, but most people will be more familiar with Nine Inch Nails' debut.

Pretty Genius is another fabulous track, pure trip-hop with some interesting flute samples and spacey sounds. It never reaches the lonely heights of Massive Attack and Portishead that it so clearly borrows from, but it's good nevertheless.

Industrial jungle beats follow on Infant Phenomenon. It has a decent groove but it lacks a memorable hook to make it really work.

Sinister Jazz explains itself. It starts from the trip-hop of Portishead but it amplifies the sonic experimentation and alienated feel of that music. This track is very minimal, mainly repeating the basic theme for 5 minutes but what an atmosphere. A real gem. Fans of Cinematic Orchestra or Thievery Corporation should sure check this out.

Housewives Hooked on Heroin makes place for a more standard but very catchy rock song with a kind of psychedelic vibe. Wilson does some backing vocals here and provides for a beautiful harmonious chorus. This chorus is so catchy that it almost sounds like the kind pop classic that everyone knows. But be not fooled. The spacey arrangement and unsettling subject material might put off mainstream audiences.

Libertine Libretto is an experimental beat, distorted vocals, dissonant samples, eerie repeated guitar loops. Just like Infant Phenomenon, this songs misses that sparkle needed to make it memorable.

Taste My Dream goes in entirely different directions again. A crooner ballad on a discreet trip-hop beat. It's a beautiful fragile song that couldn't be sung by anybody else then Tim Bowness. He's strong throughout the album, but his worried tone really does magic here. It brings the listener in the mood for a more of the same dreamy melancholy, but psychedelic pop is what we get.

But whatever style Wilson and Bowness try their hand on it all works here. Dry Cleaning Ray is fantastic. A psychedelic organ twirls loops around your ears and is simply impossible to resist. Almost offhandedly they charm you into an even deeper spell with the dreamy chorus that follow. Genius really.

Sheeploop gets the best out of Portishead's loungey soft jazz. It's a very minimalist track with a repeated beat and looping jazz samples. The instrumentation is very sparse, but again Wilson shows his unmatched talent for laying down very subtle atmospheres. Another very strong track that won't disappoint trip-hop fans.

At that point the album seems to run out of fuel. My Rival Trevor and Time Travel come off as less inspired exercises in 80's pop, similar to what featured on the debut. The solution is to skip right to the sugar-sweet sadness of My Revenge On Seatle, which could have been a fitting closer immediately after Sheeploop.

Despite the unfortunate slip at the end, I do enjoy the continuous 37 minute minutes of excellence on this dark art rock trip. 3.5 stars

Report this review (#280584)
Posted Wednesday, May 5, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Wild Opera is No-man's 3rd official full length LP. It was released in 1996, 2 years after the critically acclaimed 'Flowermouth'. It was also released on a new label than previously, the same label used by 'Spacemen 3' and 'Bark Psychosis'. The album is full of tracks that are still reminiscent of their previous album, but this time the songs are more improvised than they were previously. The dubs and loops used in this album are taken from sessions that were improvised, not written out and planned as previously. The songs are also deal more with dark subjects, and the tone of the songs also reflect that.

Even though the songs are composed on an improvised basis, they are mostly short, and with one exception, stay around the 5 minute mark. In my opinion, this actually makes them not only more accessible, but more enjoyable. Previously, No-man's songs reminded me of more dance floor music, while this album approaches the art rock style and is an important stepping stone towards the bands more progressive style.

Of course you still get Tim's lush vocals, but the influence of Steven Wilson is so much more apparent on this album. There are many times throughout the album when you can detect snippets of ideas that are similar in sound to Porcupine Tree's 'Voyage 34' or 'The Sky Moves Sideways' and also Wilson's early electronic music. For example, the flute in the trip-hop song 'Pretty Genius' is very reminiscent of Wilson's early sound. The turn from a distinct hard beat to psychedelic guitar meanderings in 'Radiant City' is an obvious Wilson trick.

There are a lot of jazz leanings in the feel of the music also. 'Sinister Jazz' and 'Taste My Dream' are great examples of this on the album, among other tracks. For the most part, the music is lush, dark and above all, very interesting. The trip hop aspects are there too, along with plenty of art rock aspects. You can feel the move the band is making towards the more sophisticated atmosphere and sound of what their future albums will sound like. 'Portishead' fans will appreciate this sound, as it is in the same vein as their music, maybe a little more lush, but many times just as experimental.

There are a few less interesting songs here, namely 'Infant Phenomenon' and 'Libertine Libretto', but other than these slightly mediocre tracks, there is plenty of originality and inventiveness to keep the listener satisfied. There is a slight tendancy towards ambience and the dance beat feeling is still there, but the music is a huge step forward throughout the album. Another great track here is 'Dry Cleaning Ray' which features an amazing and unique guitar solo. Steely Dan fans will appreciate 'Sheeploop' and some of the other tracks that lean a bit jazz-ward. Prog fans will appreciate that Mel Collins, Richard Barbieri and Robert Fripp provide much of the sample material on this album, and you will hear their influence on the album (for example; 'Radiant City', 'My Rival Trevor' and 'Time Travel in Texas') including some Frippertronic aspects. This turn more experimental and louder, with more guitar influence, on the last half of the album.

This album holds something for everyone. If you are not sure whether you like trip hop and dub/loop influences in Progressive Rock, then you should hear this album. Even though the lyrics at times get a little repetitive, everything else going on here will hold your attention and guarantee your returning to this album and this band many more times. The album is not their best, but it is still great, but the best is yet to come, and this album is a giant step towards that. Not only that, but it gets better everytime you listen to it. That is always a great indication of an excellent album. My favorites are always the one that have to grow on you. And there is plenty here to keep your intelligence challenged and your tastes appeased. Great addition to your collection.

Report this review (#1988585)
Posted Monday, August 20, 2018 | Review Permalink

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