Steven Wilson’s solo albums are something which I have been following since ‘Insurgentes’, 2008’s masterpiece. Well, this man can do anything starting from producing and mastering iconic metal/progressive albums to composing brilliant rock/pop albums that will haunt your soul and play with your emotions. If one digs deeper, the foundation of his albums lies within his eccentric musical ideas, mind-baffling harmonies, production skills, melodies and that too delivered with an impeccable English accent-which alone can leave quite an impression on listeners.
Cutting to the chase, ‘To the Bone’ (2017) marks the departure of Guthrie Govan (Aristocrats, Hans Zimmer) and Marco Minnemann (Joe Satriani, Aristocrats), whose absence could be felt in this album. The overall feel of this album is more pop like than his previous solo records; people familiar with ‘Stupid Dreams’ would catch the drift easily. By the way, here pop does not refer to what you hear on the radio nowadays but the pop which progressive fans will embrace; To be honest, I like to call it “art-pop” and as SW says: the balance which it has maintained can only be perceived by your ears in line with the works of Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush.
This album consists of 11 tracks, out of which 4 songs have been released as singles. The first track is the title track, which is catchy as well as intelligent from a production point of view, surrounding the subject of human perspective. The percussion in this song is kind of surprising though; it’s simple and provides the pop feel. It features Mark Feltham (long term band member of blues rock legend Rory Gallagher).
The second track, ‘Nowhere Now” at first seems like it’s out of Blackfield’s catalogue, then slowly builds up into a Prince like ambience with some distortions that oozes out the melody. This song gets better with every listen.
This is followed by “Pariah”, which is one of the most beautiful duets I have heard in lately with Ninet hitting the notes with all glory. I do not know how to describe her voice, I think smoky is an apt description. Previously she played a huge part in songs like “Routine”, “Ancestral” in SW’s previous albums and this composition shows that she’s the perfect artist for the job.
“The Same Asylum As Before” is the 4th track and starts off with SW’s falsetto which I am not a big fan of. But soon it builds up into a heavily distorted section, which I love and it removes all the notion of being a pop record.
The next song “Refuge” follows a bit of conventional art-pop arrangement like the vocal tone and the drums but the song writing is spectacular here aided by a haunting harmonica and guitar solo featuring Mark Feltham. This basically describes the life of a refugee in the chaos ridden city.
“Permanenting” is my least favourite track off the album. Though it is an unconventional pop song, it sounds too happy and uplifting for this album.
The seventh song, “Blank Tapes” is a beautiful and short ballad in the line of songs like “Routine” (HCE), “Lullaby” (Blackfield) featuring Ninet again. The bass line gives me an 80’s vibe, which does not cut out the current relevance of the song but rather harmonizes with it to portray a picture of hopelessness. “People Who Eat Darkness” is the next track. It starts off with a rock n’ roll vibe and gives sort of an Arctic Monkeys and Cage the Elephant feel, but then fades into SW’s sound which is good but nothing surprising. I’m not a big fan of this track too. “Song Of I” is like a trip hop wet dream, blissfully arranged with the right amount of electronic elements. It is one of the most ambient songs off the album; it shows how SW is capable of creating a crazy soundscape with anything. It feels like a movie soundtrack when the string section kicks in; I closed my eyes and imagined a scene of Blade Runner, and the way it synched gave me goose bumps.
The tenth track is the longest and most probably the most “progressive” track in this album, considering the surprises in this track and a long instrumental section. Despite having alot of Prince Influences, it is a fun track that will keep the listeners glued. I would rather not speak a lot about this song; trust me you will be surprised to hear this after listening to the other tracks.
The ending track is perfect-a signature Wilson ballad with a memorable melody. The song is an anti-thesis of current human ambitions. It provides a perfect ending to the album by saying,” It’s not the years you pass, it’s about the moments that last” signifying the importance of the later.
In conclusion, this is a very well-balanced album which will attract more audience to explore SW as well as it’s a homage to some of the idols that SW’s has grown up listening. To prog fans, you need to be patient with the album as it will grow on you slowly; songs like “Detonation” will be a part of your prog playlist soon. I loved the album slightly less than Raven. To the Bone is a bit more accessible than SW’s previous works but it is not a bad thing; The way he blends all elements is something to experience from this album.
Overall Rating – 8/10
– Sayandip Pahari (Guest Writer)