Here we are at the release of another Steven Wilson solo work. The fireworks in the fan commentary have been as predictable as ever, but perhaps this album doesn’t follow suit. The new album is called “The Future Bites”, and it releases today, January 29th, through Caroline International. I have some thoughts.
Why even bother to introduce Steven Wilson? We all know who he is, from Porcupine Tree to No Man to his solo works, among other things. Though I’m not sure of the accuracy of this information, the lineup for this album appears to be Steven Wilson on vocals, guitars, keyboards; Nick Beggs on bass and Chapman Stick; Adam Holzman on keyboards; and Craig Blundell on drums. Ninet Tayeb also provides backing vocals. From another source, I’ve seen it listed as also including: Richard Barbieri, David Kosten, Michael Spearman, and vocalists Wendy Harriot, Bobbie Gordon, and Crystal Williams. I will confirm when I can.
Wilson has a knack for being both a god and an object of disdain for so many progheads worldwide. For some reason, they just can’t let go; they can’t allow Wilson to explore different sounds and tones without constantly reminding him of how much better his “old” stuff is. Usually those people are talking about the Raven and Hand Cannot Erase albums, which is ironic. Wilson has been progressing in his current direction for several albums now, and so by now you’d think that fans would have reoriented their expectations. But, no, all it takes is a trip through the social media comments or the reviews on Prog Archives to see the tragic sorrow that Wilson has apparently caused.
Here’s the long and short of it: “The Future Bites” is a progressive pop album; think Tears for Fears, Peter Gabriel, Susanne Sundfør, 80s Genesis, etc. The melodies are strong, there are electronic beats and loops, and the music is actually layered and quite complex, once you step back from expecting highly technical rock. Wilson doesn’t pretend that this album is some higher form of music for him, even over what he has produced in the past. No, this is, quite simply, the music that he wants to make right now. If you don’t like it, then you just don’t like it. Wilson doesn’t need to bend to fit whatever shape you want him to be.
Personally, I’ve never been a huge Wilson fan, but, especially after I listened through all of the Porcupine Tree albums last year, this sound isn’t all that alien to what he has done in the past. Many of these songs could have been on any of the PT albums, or maybe on a No Man or Blackfield record. Wilson’s keen sense of melody and composition are unchanged; this is recognizably a Steven Wilson production, from the writing to the sound design. Some fans, though, would rather just complain than simply say that they don’t like it, and then move on.
“The Future Bites” is a strong album. I honestly like “To the Bone” just a bit more because of how dark and haunting it felt, but this new album feels far more British and classy to me. I suppose that is just a matter of taste. I mean, Sir Elton John features on one track, as we all know, and the music is honestly reminiscent of something he would done at some point. To say that this album is a failure or “terrible” is just not true. This is a great album. Will it be my favorite of the year? No. Will it be an earth-shattering legend? No. Is it worth your time and is it extremely well-crafted? Absolutely.
The album has nine songs, and five of them were released as singles. We’ve all heard them. For my tastes, I think that “Personal Shopper” is a brilliant mini-epic of sorts with a strong message. I think “12 Things I Forgot” is a gorgeous song that sonically could have been on “Deadwing”. I like the other singles quite a bit, too, but my favorite of them all is “King Ghost”, a song that has an ethereal, alluring aura, dark lyrics, and an incredibly catchy chorus. It will certainly be one of my favorite songs of the year.
The rest of the album is just as good. The album starts with “Unself” and “Self”. Together, they are only about 4 minutes in length, but they are richly mixed and beautifully wrought. I love the lyrics and the fantastic vocal lines, as Wilson is sounding very good indeed. “Follower” is probably my least favorite song on the record, as it feels a bit too upbeat and even a little punk for my tastes. Yet, I still enjoy it for what it is, and I think it has the most “rock” vibe on the album, and the last half even sounds a bit 70s prog rock to me. The final song on the album is probably my second favorite overall, being “Count of Unease”. This is the “Collapse the Light into Earth” moment on the album. It is an ambient ballad of sorts, with heart-rending vocals lines, unearthly melodic auras, and a much bigger presence than you would expect. This song will sound absolutely atmospheric live.
As usual, Wilson’s lyrics are very good. And I think his message here is one that addresses what I assume he knew would be his fans’ reaction, and so the whole thing is an ironic circle, which explains him including 180-gram vinyl re-releases in his list of consumerist idols. In a way, it feels like he knows the monsters he has created. His message isn’t completely anti-consumerism, but it is one of balance, priorities, and finding one’s self through one’s own creation, not through the creations of others. So many of us define ourselves by what we “like”, instead of who we are and what we produce or how we love. I think that is the point here. In fact, it’s not a far cry from Riverside’s “Shrine of New Generation Slaves”, so it feels familiar.
Steven Wilson is battling his own prog image in “The Future Bites”. He is pushing back against those who have idolized him for decades, and I admire that. He isn’t afraid to lose some people along the way because he seems to believe that no person should have that much admiration from us. The album itself is one of tender layers, production perfection, and memorable melodies, and I find myself listening to various songs over and over again. Yes, it is more accessible than the progressive community may like to associate with, but that’s our problem, not his. For those who can unclench their sphincters for just a moment, this album may hold hidden treasure.
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