Steven Wilson is a man who will need no real introduction for the faithful followers of his brand of Progressive Rock, but he is now gaining a larger following, being announced as the most successful British artist you’ve never heard of (imagine a British version of what people have been calling Rush for years). For rock/prog rock fans, his work with Porcupine Tree and as a producer is legendary, but he is starting to massive headlines in mainstream publications as well. It has been a year since his mini-album 4½ and two since his last full album Hand. Cannot. Erase. (our review cleverly linked here), he has been working at a ferocious pace and he does not seem to be slowing down any time soon. His latest album To The Bone was released on 18th August 2017 and has been doing great business around the world, but what does it actually sound like?
01 - To The Bone
Steven Wilson starts the album with a song about how everything is incredibly harsh these days, how everyone seems to be on attack mode and there is a lack of compassion that has infected the planet. Musically, "To The Bone" is a song which could only have been created by Steven Wilson, it contains all his signature point and it is full of beauty and light. The harmonica in the solo does not sound out of place, the slow bridge towards the end is subtle and delicate, the main riff is truly inventive and it all comes together in a six-minute song that seems to pass over much too quickly.
02 - Nowhere Now
Starting with a synth/vocal passage "Nowhere Now" is a song about escapism, wanting to float above all the pain, the misery, everything that is wrong with the world and to be free. As You have come to expect with any work from Mr. Wilson, it is a dramatic progressive piece, an anthemic song that smooths the worries away with a flight of fancy. The overall positive nature of the song feels slightly strange to these ears, it is not the natural position I am used to finding Mr. Wilson occupying. It is a good song, but still slightly unnerving in a way.
03 - Parish
"Parish" is a song which looks at the isolation that can occur when a union dissolves and everything is going to the dogs. There is an exhausted feeling which comes from the song, one of lethargic destruction, the slow rotting of a soul in decay, but still having to live. Musically, it is a beautiful and reflective number, it ends sooner than I was expecting as it just starts to hit its stride when it reaches the end. But this duet with Ninet Tayeb is a little gem to cherish, further advancing their great work together. For me, this is one of the highlights of the records.
04 - The Same Asylum as Before
A political song, one with a message that nothing ever really changes, that the inmates and wardens are the same as before due to the way Whitehall is ran. Musically, the song is string heavy, the guitars take a back seat for the most part, full of dramatic moments after each chorus, long passages of building beauty and a passionate performance as always. It is a gorgeous song, one that works better in the context of the album, rather than being looked at as a separate piece by itself.
05 - Refuge
I am not sure what this one is about to be honest. Is it about wanting to leave someone? Is it about finding the courage to stay? Is it about the 'grin & bare it' attitude that acts as a malaise against a world that is going to shit? Lyrically, this song feels as if it has less focus than other piece, but musically it is following the pattern of the record to perfection. It also feels like it touches on previous themes that has already been explored on this record, giving it a summary feeling. A strange number when all is said and done, but it is not a bad track.
06 - Permanating
Steven Wilson has gone pop! "Permanating" is a flat out pop number, a fistful of fun that is a throwback to the sound of 70's/80's rock/pop, an unashamed number that will have the coldest of hearts smiling in joy. It has a joyous heart, it has a sound that has flavours of ABBA, Mika, , Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and a sense of sunshine. Lyrically, it is looking at the subject of age, the steady progression of time, the way that old age is sometimes given a tint of sadness when reflecting on the past. This song might seem throwaway, but it has real depth that is not to be underestimated.
07 - Blank Tapes"Blank Tapes" is a short, almost acoustic song that is looking at the remnants of a broken relationship. The only thing that is left of the union is some old mixtapes in a car, everything else is void and vanished. It is a step back after the bombastic "Permanating", it acts as a brief pause to gain some breath and it is okay for what it is - a small interlude.
08 - People Who Eat Darkness
This is the tale of a broken family unit, where everything will never be right again and there is a need for them to tell others how best to live their lives, whilst their own home is a tale of lies. This is one of the most powerful numbers on this album, dealing in how appearances can be deceiving and it can be the people who give the outwards appearance of normality who are the most damage. It is not a song I would say I liked or hated, it is an average number from a great artist, so it is still a good song when all is said and done. It has a powerful riff at its core, an interesting story and a performance that almost matches those words, but it sadly leaves me a little cold.
09 - Song of I
This song seems to be about reaching the bottom of your own personal hell, where there is no comfort, joy, solution or refuge as everything is abandoned and left where it stood. It is a menacing number, one that reminds me of the Bristol Underground Music scene which started in the 1990's. It has a dark and brooding dynamic, one that sparks excitement and it is very enticing. It is another great song on this album, one that feels dark, mysterious and is still unfathomable after repeated listens.
10 - Detonation
The penultimate song of this album is called "Detonation", it is a nine minute plus endurance test that will sort the casual fans from the hardcore Wilson fanatics. It is a slow building number, one that does not come into life until the two minute, twenty second mark. At that point, it becomes the all-out prog rock explosion that you would have come to expect from Steven Wilson. It has so many layers and twists that is impossible not to love it, even if it does go on a moment or two too far. But whilst it might indulge itself a little bit in excess for my tastes, it is still a great song, one which will be received by the faithful with opened arms and tears of joy.
11 - Song of Unborn
The finale is a song wrote to an unborn soul, preparing them for the world, letting them know the challenges that life will have for them and how it can be handle. It offers guidance to which paths to take to be a better person, also letting them know that it is not an easy ride. "Song of Unborn" ends this album on a reflective note, one that has a honest message at its very centre and it sounds beautiful.
For me personally, I do not think that Steven Wilson is capable of producing a poor album, he just seems to have the Midas touch when it comes to creating prog rock. To The Bone has some amazing moments to add to his impressive back catalogue and it is an album worthy of the praise it has been receiving. However, it is also an album that has followed the jaw dropping Hands. Cannot. Erase. and the brilliant odd-cut delights of 4½, so it is stuck in the shadows of its dominate brothers to a certain extent. But when all is said and done, this does not stop this album being a truly great release in 2017, one that will hopefully gain more fans and be an introduction to people for this great musician.
8 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart
Top track - Permanating
You can purchase To The Bone on Amazon here.
You can visit the Steven Wilson website here.
You can follow the activities of Steven Wilson on Facebook here.
You can stream To The Bone on Spotify here.
You can stream To The Bone on Deezer here.
You can stream To The Bone on Tidal here.