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No-Man - Wild Opera CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.61 | 121 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
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.

russellk | 3/5 |


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