Steven Wilson‘s fifth solo studio album, ‘To the Bone’, is his most accessible yet – so much so that many of the tracks sound like echoes of songs we have heard before. The record is a clear homage to artists like Peter Gabriel and David Bowie, who have influenced Wilson’s work from the start in more subtle ways.
He didn’t aspire to recreate the darker and more serious mood of Porcupine Tree’s music – a band that came to an end in 2010 after he decided to concentrate on his solo work. As he told The Telegraph, this time he “pared away a lot of the conceptual side of the music and focussed very much on the art of writing pop songs”. However, he was quick to point out that by “pop”, he means “pop in the way the Beatles are pop” and “Depeche Mode are pop”. Indeed, ‘To the Bone’ is not pop music in the sense that Katy Perry or Rihanna is, but, despite the layered composition and sophisticated production, it’s not Wilson’s signature progressive rock sound either.
What we have here are standalone songs, most of which are very radio-friendly. The album opens with a contemplative statement about the subjective nature of “truth” and a psychedelic guitar solo reminiscent of David Gilmour’s style. However, after the first minute there’s a sudden change in tone, and the funky chorus of the title track explodes. Two of the highlights are ‘Pariah’ and ‘Black Tapes’, both of which feature beautiful melancholic vocals by Wilson’s returning collaborator, Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb. Another catchy duet is ‘Song of I’ with Swiss artist Sophie Hunger.
Although not a concept album, ‘To the Bone’ has a theme of social commentary stretching through it. Many of the lyrics talk about the political anxieties of today, while others address the everyday difficulties in romantic relationships.
Judging whether this record is Wilson’s best or worst is as subjective as truth itself is. Those who hail him as a modern master of progressive rock probably won’t appreciate ‘To the Bone’ as much as those who simply love quality pop music. Anyhow, this album has the potential to reach a wider audience than any other project Wilson has ever been involved in.
This week has seen a number of interesting new releases by young artists. These include ‘The Road, Pt. 1’ by UNKLE, ‘Painter Ruins’ by Grizzly Bear, ‘S/T’ by Rainer Maria and ‘Time Well’ by Cloakroom. Although neither of these is extremely original or innovative, they do experiment a little bit, and they also all have at least put some palpable effort into composition and production, offering a refreshing escape from today’s popular mainstream tunes.
UNKLE are a London-based duo mixing symphonic electronica with alternative rock. They once collaborated with Thom Yorke, and although the new record isn’t their best, it can still provide a pleasantly ambient soundtrack for a relaxing evening. Art rock band Grizzly Bear use electronic beats and synthesizer melodies, at times invoking the past while maintaining a contemporary sound.
Rainer Maria are labelled emo, but ‘S/T’ brilliantly combines indie with hard rock, featuring heavy bass lines and Siouxsie Sioux-inspired melodic vocals by Caithlin De Marrais. Cloakroom’s second record ‘Time Well’ has distorted metal riffs alternating with softer moody segments throughout, and the result is a dark sound that comes across as the most experimental of the LP’s that have come out this week.
Pianist Matthew Bourne‘s new album ‘Isotach’ is also worth mentioning. It’s a collection of acoustic, avant-garde compositions where the sometimes lengthy silence between notes provides a dramatic contrast. Bourne is a master of haunting minimalism, which has the power to penetrate deep into the soul.