Just how progressive was 1980s pop music?
To mark Steven Wilson's new 80s-inspired album, we re-explore his cultural references and discover just how progressive the 1980s actually were…
Just over 30 seconds into Steven Wilson’s new album To The Bone, there’s a squall of harmonica. It’s one of the many meticulous details that has made Wilson the undisputed leader of his gang. But this is not any old harmonica squall. It’s the playing of Mark Feltham, the man who did similar on Talk Talk’s three greatest albums, The Colour Of Spring, Spirit Of Eden and Laughing Stock. Released in 1986, ’88 and ’91, these records were undoubtedly prog – in the truest sense of progressive music.
Wilson has located this 80s prog succinctly on To The Bone, making a record that sounds like the sum of its influences – Talk Talk, Kate Bush, So-era Peter Gabriel and, most importantly, Tears For Fears. These were the artists who, aside from Gabriel, had no visible prog past, but were adept at wearing their influences on their sleeves in a manner far more concomitant with the glossy yuppie decade than the standard-bearers for prog in those years, such as Marillion and IQ, who were unashamedly emulating their heroes.