Album Reviews

Issue 2017-063

Steven Wilson - To The Bone - Round Table Review

Steven Wilson - To The Bone
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 59:46
Track List:
To The Bone (6:41), Nowhere Now (4:03), Pariah (4:46), The Same Asylum As Before (5:14), Refuge (6:43), Permanating (3:34), Blank Tapes (2:08), People Who Eat Darkness (6:02), Song Of I (5:21), Detonation (9:19), Song Of Unborn (5:55)
Patrick McAfee's Review
It is hardly surprising to see progressive rock fans react negatively to an established act moving in a more commercial musical direction. Thirty years on, there is still vitriol directed at bands like Genesis and Yes for their 1980s output. Certain fans take these changes personally, and with this new release, Steven Wilson is just the latest in a long line of artists who have been accused, by some, of selling out.

I don't see it that way, and as many of my reviews have stated, a solid mix of pop and progressive rock can result in excellence. For the prog genre to maintain relevance, or even exist, it is important that it prospers and continues to acquire new fans. In the same way that albums like 90215 or Invisible Touch introduced music listeners to prog, it is more essential than ever that commercial progressive rock exists.

When Wilson stated that To The Bone was inspired by progressive pop records such as Peter Gabriel's So, Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, Talk Talk's The Colour of Spring and Tears for Fears' The Seeds of Love, I was intrigued. I am a strong admirer of all of those albums. But some fan feedback to the announcement was not as enthusiastic. With the early release of a few tracks, this escalated and comments ranged from the typically critical to the extreme. Some stated that they wouldn't buy it (without even hearing it), while others compared the songs to pop acts like Lady Gaga. To anyone who has listened to Wilson's work over the years, there should be nothing surprising about To The Bone.

Steven has been clear on his admiration for artists like Abba and E.L.O., and that influence has often been reflected in his music. The songs definitely feel more direct, but Wilson's discography is full of accessible moments, both in subtle and obvious forms. His fondness for great pop music is a bit more apparant here, but have no fear, this is a Wilson album through and through. The great news is that To The Bone can stand proudly with the works that influenced it.

The changes in musical direction can be instantly recognised when listening to the title track. There is an effective, almost funky drive to the song, that is, at first, a bit surprising. That said, the central core of the song falls very much in line with a more traditional Wilson sound. As the album opener, it immediately confirms, that although he has continued the tradition of switching things up with each release, it is certainly not the musical side-turn that some naysayers would have you believe.

Nowhere Now is reminiscent of Stupid Dream-era Porcupine Tree. The song is incredibly melodic and also one of the best songs that he has ever written. The first track that was pre-released from the album, Pariah, is an effective ballad that owes a debt of gratitude to Peter Gabriel's Don't Give Up. Viewed from that perspective, Ninet Tayeb covers the Kate Bush section in stunning fashion. Her performance excels the track to a higher level, as does her other fantastic work throughout the album.

The Same Asylum As Before is a more direct rocker that works well, as does Refuge, a musically diverse and lyrically sincere ode to Syrian refugees. The song's quiet and potent opening, transitions to a powerful and somewhat unsettling instrumental combination of Paul Stacey's guitar and Mark Feltham's harmonica work. Permanating has created the most amount of debate with fans. With it's joyous tone and accompanying video featuring Bollywood dancers, it is truly unlike anything Steven has recorded to date. Ultimately, that is just one of the many reasons to celebrate this fun and upbeat song.

Blank Tapes, again featuring Ninet Tayeb, is a short, acoustic and eloquent ballad that tells the story of a doomed relationship from both sides. The track leads into the more traditional People Who Eat Darkness, which is a strong rock song that will undoubtedly make for a great live performance.

Despite all of the debate around Permanating, Song of I was the track that alienated me the most initially. As with much of Wilson's work though, the vibe of the song did grab hold after a few listens, and I now enjoy it quite a bit. Also a duet, this time with Sophie Hunger, the song stands as another example of how effectively Steven is using female vocalists in his music.

Detonation is likely the song that will most satisfy the sceptics out there. Running at nine minutes, and featuring some very impactful instrumental moments, it is classic Wilson and definitely a highlight track. Song of Unborn is a lyrically powerful hymn, featuring choral moments that feel respectfully similar to Kate Bush's, All The Love. As Steven will often do, the song ends the album in a way that powerfully resonates with the listener.

Debate aside, To The Bone is another excellent album from Steven Wilson. Yes, it is musically more compact, but his usual stamp is all over it. In fact, from beginning to end, I may argue that this is his most impressive solo album. It's just different enough, whilst the songwriting, performances and production are all top notch. He will likely earn new fans due to its more accessible style, but that is a positive. Simply put, the world of progressive rock needs more fans.

Ultimately, this is a compelling work and is certainly not a standard pop album. The enthusiasm that Wilson had in creating the music contained within, is obvious. Don't be swayed by some of the short-sighted opinions that exist out there. This is another substantially strong release from Steve Wilson, and easily one of the best albums of the year.
Guille Palladino's Review
After his previous success with albums such as The Raven That Refused To Sing and more recently hand.cannot.erase, Steven Wilson is back with his new offering entitled To The Bone. The immediate impression is that this is a less progressive rock-influenced one.

Actually, this is not a progressive rock album. I think this is a more personal approach, made by the artist, not only in homage to some of his musical roots and influences, but also to walk away from the depressive compositions which are the mainstay of his recent albums.

About To The Bone Wilson has said: "My fifth record is in many ways inspired by the hugely ambitious progressive pop records that I loved in my youth." Indeed, the main influences here are pop rock and ballads with a lesser presence of jazz/funk, alongside his trademark progressive rock style. Wilson added: "For me it's still a significant moment in a journey that began almost two years ago with the thought that I wanted, and needed, to create something quite different to what has gone before."

Overall this is a great record, composed in a more relaxed and fresher way. The problems our world is facing have been put to one side. A friendly Wilson is finally emerging. Perhaps to seduce a wider audience. The #3 new entry reached this week in the UK album harts with this album, is an irrefutable proof of its success.

The line-up for this record has not remained the same as hand.cannot.erase. The personnel list is huge including the lovely Ninet Tayeb, who contributes remarkable work with her vocals in three songs. We have Adam Holzmann on keyboards and Craig Blundell and Jeremy Stacey on drums, leaving Wilson with the major job of guitars and bass playing. Other members of Wilson's band from previous records appear as guest artists.

For me this album demonstrates again the musical maturity, versatility and acknowledgement Wilson has reached over the years, from the various musical projects in which he has been involved. This is another intimate, but more accessible work created by him. The highlight tracks for me are Pariah, The Same Asylum as Before, Refuge, Detonation and Song of Unborn. Reviewed under a non-progressive microscope, this is a highly recommended album. Enjoy!
Jerry van Kooten's Review
I have never been a fan of Steven Wilson's music. It's not about the man, because I do not know him. But I've listened to several of his projects in the past and the music just never did anything for me. For the things that I heard, I can say it was constructed well, but it left me cold. This applies to many bands I hear. It is just a matter of taste. A few things, like Blackfield, really annoyed me - music, performance, attitude - I got really irritated. This also applies to several bands I hear.

But as with food I don't like, I try and taste some of it again once in a while to see if my taste has changed. So I thought that it would be a good idea to listen to some Steven Wilson again. I've read the comments. It appears to be an album many people didn't expect. I also read Wilson was interested in doing something he never did before. That sounds progressive to me. But I also read about pop. Ah, I'll just forget everything I knew about Wilson (which is not a lot) and listen to this with an open heart and mind.

There are different sides to this album. The differences are too big for me to enjoy such an album as a whole, but it has its good bits, to be honest.

The opening track starts off kind of proggy but then turns into something like Kula Shaker playing Peter Gabriel. All the promise of the intro is gone and I feel I'm back in the 1990s with electro beats and clangy strumming.

There is more prog in People Who Eat Darkness, with a touch of Muse. The different bits make more sense as a whole here, rather than the patchwork on some other tracks. The best song on the album for me. Good for repeated listening, though?

Detonation is the longest track and was expected to be on the prog side of this album. Partly correct. The first part is too electronic for my taste, but it is also not interesting as a song. From the six-minute mark the music changes and becomes a different song. Really different. Instrumental, with a foundation like a Santana song for different types of breaks, and solos also in the Santana style. A proggy ending though.

But there is other stuff as well. Nowhere Now is the poppy stuff he warned us of. A decent pop song, but would we ever review an album of this stuff on DPRP? I think not.

More pop in Song Of I. Way too electronic (and I mean cold) for my taste. With an orchestral middle section, I hear a bit of David Bowie, but it is too short to make it interesting, before we get back to the electronic foundation of the song, which makes the track rather bleak.

Permanting is another pop offering, with both the music and singing in a very 1980s style. Think Hall & Oates. I don't like Hall & Oates. Song Of Unborn has a very melodic rock ending but it takes too long to get there, and it will probably not please the pop fans who will like the first part. If you like the voice, then it could be a nice track though.

More different things. Pariah is a dreamy pop song. Composition and performance are dime a dozen. Only the instrumental bit in the last minute is a bit, and here's the different part, post-rocky, very unexpected in a song like this. But after a decade of post rock bands, I hear just a cliché from a different genre. I don't know the guest vocalist on this track, but the vocal lines are nice, not unlike Anneke van Giersbergen. She's also on Blank Tapes, which is a short ballad that might appeal more to you than it does to me.

More post-rock as well in Refuge, which has a slow start, then builds up slowly, getting heavier and adding layers. It is a rather classic pop song feeling, flowing into a post-rock build-up, with a Floyd-like keyboard section. Just two minutes, unfortunately. The last two minutes build down, what the first two minutes built up. Typical post-rock structure with poppy sounds - neither fish nor fowl, really.

The Same Asylum As Before begins rocky. Except that I really hate falsetto! The chorus has no falsetto and is decent, but reminds me of Blackfield. The sudden break brings us a Van Halen hit song. And another sudden break into a slower Floydy solo. The Van Halen part returns over a fade-out chorus. Fade-out? 2017!

Overall, I think my opinion of Wilson's music has not changed. From what I remember, parts of this are definitely better than the Blackfield I heard. Production-wise this is very good but that is easy nowadays. The songwriting is something altogether and on this album there are a few nice parts, but the rest either leaves me cold (at best) or cringing at several elements. Nothing stays with me.

As a whole, to me this is a mediocre album. Maybe it is true that Wilson wanted to do something he had never done before, but to me it sounds like he did things others have already done too many times before.
John Wenlock-Smith's Review
There has been a huge out-pouring of opinion about this album already all over social media, Twitter, Facebook et al. So I doubt if my few words will add too much to that debate. But for what it is worth, this is an album worthy of investigation by anyone open-minded enough to listen to it for what it is, which is an hour's worth of fine songs and music by an artist who is not afraid to step further from his comfort zone to make music that appeals to him. This is an album that shows its influences clearly on its sleeve without apology, yet one that strives to draw people into a realm that they may be unfamiliar with.

So the much lauded "remixer" uses his not insignificant skills, and combines those with his influences and love of classic 80s pop, to craft this masterful release. Over its 60-minutes you can hear traces of Talk Talk, Tears For Fears and So-era Peter Gabriel amongst many others. Yet what is clear is the strength of the compositions and Wilson's lack of fear in offering this rather personal music for mass consumption.

He must be doing something right as he was even on BBC's popular Breakfast Time TV show last week, talking about this album and progressive music. He even cracked a smile or two to jettison his Serious Man Of Prog tag. Maybe this is the time for prog fans not to be possessive and let the wider world into the quirky world that Mr Wilson inhabits so well.

Top class songs and strong performances make this more than worthy a successor to hand.cannot.erase. Buy with confidence, but let tracks like Pariah surround you and seduce you slowly.
Patrick McAfee: 9.5 out of 10
Guille Palladino: 8 out of 10
Jerry van Kooten: 5 out of 10
John Wenlock-Smith: 8 out of 10
Album Reviews