If You Buy One Album Out This Week, Make It...
Steven Wilson - 4½
Steven Wilson’s new record is a mini album. A clearly proclaimed “interim” between last year’s full-length creation Hand.Cannot.Erase and his next. It consists of already-written songs that didn’t make it onto previous records (four from the Hand... sessions, one from 2013’s The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), and one recorded in 1998 with his old band Porcupine Tree). And it’s got a ½ in the title.
Armed with these stats, you might deduce the following: 1) It’s a half-arsed excuse to sell a few more enigmatic T-shirts (and generally cash in on Wilson’s devout following). 2) Steven Wilson is a compulsive workaholic who needs a project at all times. 3) He needs the money for a sexy new mellotron he’s been eyeing up. 4) There was genuinely first-class material from those recording sessions that simply didn’t quite fit their respective end products.
Let’s be uncynical and by-pass the first and third options. The second one? Well, that probably is true, as far as the fan/onlooker/critic can tell. Which brings us to the third, and the real reason 4 ½ is definitely worth your attention – these songs deserved to be released, and they sound great together. Featuring SW regulars like Guthrie Govan, Nick Beggs and Dave Kilminster (plus Ninet Tayeb for Don’t Hate Me, stylishly recut as a duet), it works.
From the urgent electric strum of My Book Of Regrets, there are tastes from the whole Wilson history; not just the sessions from which they sprung. The aforementioned opener has a pleasingly familiar hint of Time Flies from (PT album) The Incident. Industrial jazz touches in Vermillionicore echo the twistier, avant-rock side of Grace For Drowning – plus the riffy prog-metal of Deadwing-era Porcupine Tree.
Still, there are moments that would have sat comfortably on Hand. Cannot. Erase. The lustily upbeat Happiness III is one such track – about as close to ‘pop’ as Wilson gets, while embracing themes of modern-day disillusionment that have peppered his music (on-and-off) for years now. “It’s all been said,” he sings, retaining lightness of touch amid beautifully thoughtful rock progressions. 21st century blues have seldom sounded so...well, un-bluesy.
You’ll find haunting instrumental passages and hooky refrains. Weirdness and heart-warming familiarity. It might be small (clocking in at 37 minutes) but 4 ½ is no half-baked off-cut. Well worth checking out.