What does it sound like?:
One thing that can be said for Steven Wilson is that he never stands still. Anyone who’s involved in so many bands, projects, side-projects and work for other artists is always going to be hard to pin down and that’s clearly the way he likes it.
That, of course, can have potential downsides, especially from a commercial point of view and there’s no guarantee that if you liked any of his previous work, you’re going to accept the next thing that comes along. I presume this is a risk that Wilson doesn’t care about as there’s either a) a pleasing progression over his last few albums as he gracefully changes tack and develops as an artist or b) an unwelcome move away from the more prog-tastic work of his earlier career as he chases a bit more commercial success. You’re going to have to pick a side with this new album.
‘Hand. Cannot. Erase’ is peak Wilson for me so far and this new album doesn’t change that. It continues the move towards generally shorter, more traditionally commercial pieces that started with ‘To The Bone’ and there’s no doubt that there are several excellent, melodic tracks on the album, some of which would be “hit singles” in world where that meant much anymore or it was easier for an artist to more easily get in front of more people.
Arrangements generally fit the mood and although I can’t comment on sound quality as this was early access via a stream I think you can safely say that it will be great – it’s a Steven Wilson album after all. There’s that nagging sense that you’ve heard some of the songs before which is either the mark of a brilliant songwriter or someone who has run out of ideas but the quality of the song writing is just too good to start thinking about that just yet. The album is littered with musical and production nods to the decades – at some points I felt as if I was listening to a 10cc album (and that’s a positive, by the way)!
I prefer Wilson when the sonic reins are let loose and although there are flashes of that, there’s no ‘Home Invasion/Regret #9’ here, with the possible exception of the lead taster from last year ‘Personal Shopper’. It’s the longest track at almost 10 minutes but a chunk of that is taken up with Sir Elton reading out a list of products and services hammering home Wilson’s point about consumerism. That also raises another issue for me in that just occasionally some of the lyrics and the overall feel of the narrative here are a bit too 6th form for an artist of Wilson’s stature and I find it grating at times, no matter how much I take the point he’s trying to make.
What does it all *mean*?
Overall, more sing-along than air guitar, there are undoubtedly some fine songs on this album and melodic content replaces the emotional power of some of the tracks from H.C.E.. I wonder if that’s enough? I felt much the same way about ‘To The Bone’ and it’s not an album I’ve gone back to many times. Having said that, I think this is step up from that album and I WILL be buying this (waiting for my pre-ordered copy as I write) and for the consumers amongst you, it is available in multiple formats, including 5.1 and even a Dolby Atmos mix if you’ve got the kit to listen to it.
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
A night on the Dodgers shopping