|Steven Wilson||To The Bone|
Steven Wilson — To The Bone (August 18, 2017) ★ Prolific collaborator and solo artist in addition to his duties as frontman for contemporary prog band Porcupine Tree.
Birth name: Steven John Wilson
Born: November 3, 1967 in Kingston~upon~Thames, London, England
Location: Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, England
Album release: August 18, 2017
Record Label: Caroline International
Genre: Progressive Rock
01. To The Bone 6:42
02. Nowhere Now 4:04
03. Pariah 4:47
04. The Same Asylum As Before 5:15
05. Refuge 6:45
06. Permanating 3:35
07. Blank Tapes 2:09
08. People Who Eat Darkness 6:03
09. Song of I 5:22
10. Detonation 9:20
11. Song of Unborn 5:56
★ Steven Wilson — guitars, vocals, production
★ David Kollar — guitars
★ Mark Feltham — harmonica on To the Bone
★ Nick Beggs — bass, Chapman stick
★ Andy Partridge — composer
★ Jeremy Stacey — drums
★ Craig Blundell — drums
★ Ninet Tayeb — vocals on Pariah and Blank Tapes
★ Adam Holzman — keyboards
★ Sophie Hunger — vocals on Song of I
★ Paul Stacey — engineering
ABOUT TO THE BONE
•→√•→ “My fifth record is in many ways inspired by the hugely ambitious progressive pop records that I loved in my youth (think Peter Gabriel’s So, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, Talk Talk’s Colour of Spring and Tears for Fears’ Seeds of Love).
•→√•→ Lyrically, the album’s eleven tracks veer from the paranoid chaos of the current era in which truth can apparently be a flexible notion, observations of the everyday lives of refugees, terrorists and religious fundamentalists, and a welcome shot of some of the most joyous wide~eyed escapism I’ve created in my career so far. Something for all the family!” — Steven Wilson
by Jonathon Rose on July 19, 2017
• SONGWRITING & LYRICS: 8.5
• OVERALL SOUND: 9.0
• BOTTOM LINE
• Steven Wilson has succeeded fully in bringing an intelligent, mature work of progressive pop to the modern world. ‘To The Bone’ sets out to show that catchy, pop based material can still be written with depth and substance, and it does so brilliantly.
•→ In the world of modern progressive rock and metal, there are few who are as well known, respected, and revered as Steven Wilson. Both his current solo career and his years as the mastermind behind Porcupine Tree have earned him legions of fans around the world. It therefore caused quite a stir of excitement in the prog community when it was announced that his upcoming album, ‘To The Bone’ would be released this August. Then it was revealed to be a progressive pop album, and singles began to be released. And so as fate would have it, it quickly went from being one of the most anticipated albums of the year to what is undoubtedly the most controversial prog album of the year.
•→ Spend any time in a prog forum or social media group and you will quickly discover that people with a limited understanding of what progressive music is, will consider progressive pop to be an oxymoron. Amusingly enough, Steven has been doing it for about twenty five years now. From no~man’s ‘Flowermouth’ (1994) to his Blackfield project, he has been making maturely~written pop music for a long time now. This time, however, Wilson is taking many of his cues from the progressive pop that came to fruition in the 80s. Peter Gabriel released a string of well~made and artistic progressive pop albums, not to mention one of Steven’s oft~mentioned influences and loves; the Queen of prog herself, Kate Bush. Add in a love for the catchy pop writing of Abba and a few nods to ELO, and you have the foundation on which this album is built. It IS possible to write interesting, mature, intelligent, and legitimately progressive music within a pop format, and ‘To The Bone’ is an excellent example of it.
•→ The album starts with the title track “To The Bone” and is a bright and punchy pop~sounding song, which is often key~based, but with a steady use of jaunty and frequently heavier guitar riffs as well. The theme is the modern nature of truth, whether it is all relative to one’s own perspective, or if actual objective truth is a real thing. The song, like most of the songs on the album, is strong on vocal melody, and in this instance uses female background singers to strengthen the melodies on the chorus. As shouldn’t be surprising for fans of Wilson, the pop aspect is only one part of the music. There are also longer instrumental sections, guitar solos, and vocal harmonies that would not have been out of place on the Porcupine Tree classic ‘Stupid Dream,’ and that is very much the case for most of the album.
•→ Moving ahead, we come to “Pariah,” which is one of the album’s singles and videos. It is co~sung by Ninet Tayeb who made a critical contribution to the heartbreaking song “Routine” off Steven’s last album ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ While certainly not rivaling her performance then, her vocals are essential to making the song work. The tone and feel of the song should be familiar to any Wilson fan as, while “pop” in nature, it has his signature style to it as well. The song unsurprisingly deals with post~breakup musings. Lost love and loneliness is a very common theme of his, so it comes this is to be expected.
•→ While I’m not going to go track by track, it does so happen that the next tack, “The Same Asylum As Before,” is one of my favorites and one that worms its way into your head long after the album is over. In spite of the catchy melody, or perhaps because of it, the song is guitar heavy and in fact heavy in general. It’s much more of a driving rock song, which happens to contain great melodies and vocal harmonies, than a pop song that happens to have some guitar. It goes against the grain of what “pop” is supposed to sound like, which is really the heart and essence of the album. It is also why I don’t think the singles are at all representative of the album as a whole, and is a prime example of why I don’t like to listen to singles out of context of the album: They very often give a false impression of what the album will be. Similarly, the following song “Refuge” isn’t in any definition of the word a pop song. It begins dark and slow, and very moody with Steven singing over the top, before changing directions and heavy riffing begins, and the drums take on a diverse almost jazz like direction. The majority of the second half of the nearly 7~minute track is entirely instrumental, and it closes with a bluesy bit of harmonica countering minimalist piano work.
•→ By contrast, “Permanating” is entirely pop and another single; a single that has been met with a good bit of derision. In the press release for this song Steven stated that it was meant to be in the style of Jeff Lynn and ELO. I’ve been saying for years now, that Wilson is second only to Jeff Lynn in writing great melodies, so I had some hopes for the song. And it DOES capture some of the feeling of ELO. Only it sounds like ELO if Lynn wasn’t trying very hard, and had to throw a song together in five minutes. This song will surely drive some people insane, and while I don’t think it’s quite that awful, it’s certainly the weakest song on the album in my opinion.
•→ The final released single is “Song of I” and in many ways is the polar opposite of “Permanating.” While “Permanating” is an upbeat, almost danceable song, “Song of I” is slow, brooding, and awash with dark synth music. The vocals are once again shared, this time by Sophie Hunger who has a low, almost seductively smoky voice, which works well with the music. The song was released with a music video which is several minutes longer than the album version, and drags out the chorus considerably more. And while it can be viewed as a pop song, it’s certainly not a typical one.
•→ To reiterate the variety on this album and how it retains its prog nature (and that the singles are misleading) we come to “Detonation,” which is one of the strongest on the album and is solidly on the prog (borderline metal) side of things. The longest song on the album at over 9 minutes it deals lyrically with religious extremism, and given what London has seen in recent months, lines such as ‘detonation for the greater good’ are more than a bit chilling. What really makes the song stand out, though, are the two extended instrumental sections, which are dark, heavy, and sum up most of the things that Steven has been known for over the years. As many of his better songs over the years have done, it builds with intensity and gets more interesting as it goes along. I honestly feel that if this song had appeared on Porcupine Tree’s ‘Deadwing’ people wouldn’t have thought it was out of place in the slightest, and while not a classic, it would certainly have gone over well. The best guitar work and drumming are also saved for this track, reminding people that prog and complex writing still holds an important place in his work.
•→ The album closes with “Songs of Unborn” which feels similar in tone and style to “Happy Returns” which closed out his last album. It is melancholy and evolves slowly, and with lines such as ‘the dreams that you will have are public domain’ are classic Wilson in nature. It’s a sad, moody closer to what is otherwise an often upbeat and surprisingly fun album. While it hits on the sadder emotions that he’s so known for, it is certainly also the happiest sounding album that Steven has ever put out.
•→ It still has issues, of course; the above mentioned “Permanating” will either be a love or hate song, and might (foolishly) dissuade people from buying the album. The album may also take a while to grow on some people. I rather enjoyed it the first time through, but I definitely found myself enjoying it more the more I listened, and the more the layers of music came through. For many, especially if you’re upset that we didn’t get ‘The Raven That Refused to Sing: Part II’ this one might take a while to enjoy. It also lacks a single song that really grabs the listener by the throat and throttles them, in the manner “The Raven That Refused to Sing” or “Routine” do. And while not every album is going to have such a song, his albums nearly always do, so I at least don’t get the same sort of high I get from some of his other work. Love it, or hate it, just do so based on what the album actually IS and sets out to be. Not what you wanted it to be.
•→ Ultimately, Steven Wilson has succeeded fully in bringing an intelligent, mature work of progressive pop to the modern world. ‘To The Bone’ sets out to show that catchy, pop based material can still be written with depth and substance, and it does so brilliantly. Fans with an open mind will find a lot to love here, and plenty to return to get more out of on repeated listens. It might well be his more controversial album to date, but it’s also one of his boldest, and shows an artist who doesn’t want to sit still with his past accomplishments and regurgitate what he’s always done. Recommended.
Steven Wilson 2018 tour dates
••→ Jan 31: Lisbon, Sala Tejo at the MEO Arena, Portugal
••→ Feb 01: Madrid Wiznik Centre, Spain
••→ Feb 03: Barcelona L’Auditori, Spain
••→ Feb 04: Marseille Silo, France
••→ Feb 06: Lyon Le Transbordeur, France
••→ Feb 07: Zurich Halle 622, Switzerland
••→ Feb 09: Milan Teatro Degli Arcimboldi, Italy
••→ Feb 10: Rome Atlantico, Italy
••→ Feb 12: Frankfurt Alte Oper, Germany
••→ Feb 13: Ravensburg Oberachwabenhalle, Germany
••→ Feb 14: Vienna Gasometer, Austria
••→ Feb 15: Berlin Admiralpalast, Germany
••→ Feb 17: Zabrze House of Music and Dance, Poland
••→ Feb 18: Poznan Earth Hall, Poland
••→ Feb 20: Hamburg Mehr Theatre, Germany
••→ Feb 24: Helsinki The Circus, Finland
••→ Feb 26: Stockholm Cirkus, Sweden
••→ Feb 27: Oslo Concert House, Norway
••→ Feb 28: Bergen USF Verftet, Norway
••→ Mar 01: Stavanger Konserthuset Zetlitz, Norway
••→ Mar 03: Copenhagen Vega Main Hall, Denmark
••→ Mar 05: Essen Colosseum, Germany
••→ Mar 07: Amsterdam Heineken Music Hall, Netherlands
••→ Mar 09: Brussels AB, Belgium
••→ Mar 10: Luxembourg Rockhal Club, Luxembourg
••→ Mar 12: Paris The Olympia, France
••→ Mar 13: Lille Theatre Sebastopol, Lille
••→ Mar 17: Belfast Mandela Hall, UK
••→ Mar 19: Dublin Olympia Theatre, Ireland
••→ Mar 21: Cardiff St David’s Hall, UK
••→ Mar 22: Birmingham Symphony Hall, UK
••→ Mar 24: Glasgow Clyde Auditorium, UK
••→ Mar 25: Gateshead Sage 1, UK
••→ Mar 27: London Royal Albert Hall, UK
••→ Mar 31: Manchester Bridgewater Hall, UK
|Steven Wilson||To The Bone|