Style: Progressive Rock
Release Date: 29 Jan 2021
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Maverick British musician Steven Wilson has travelled through a lot of musical territory in his time and he only gets more intriguing with each release. This sixth solo album plays in one of his frequent genres, prog rock, but it's laced with so much electronica that we'd see it as a synthpop album if only it didn't bear so many nods to Pink Floyd. Apparently, they're one of the two foundation stones that underpin almost everything he does, the other being Donna Summer, which explains a lot.
Yeah, that's an odd pairing but there's reason for it. He's said that his roots are in a couple of albums that his parents bought for each other for Christmas sometime in the mid-seventies: The Dark Side of the Moon and Love to Love You Baby. I'm hardly the world's greatest expert on Donna Summer, but it isn't difficult to hear prog and disco combine on this album. The third factor is dystopia, which tips a virtual scale back towards the Floyd. For all that it sounds perky, this is a dark album and the various music videos emphasise that. The video for Personal Shopper is this album in microcosm.
The more I listen to it, the better it gets and the more that it burrows under my skin. A lot of what it does reminds me of the new Foo Fighters album, which I reviewed yesterday, as both are pop albums as much as they're rock albums, musically upbeat and quintessentially catchy. However, rock is always the winner of any imaginary battle, even here where so much is electronic. As dance-oriented as it is, it always feels like we're supposed to listen to it rather than get up and shake our booties.
Also, even when the dance feel is at its most potent, with electronic beats and soulful backing vocals, not to mention Wilson's own ventures into falsetto, there's always a guitar chord waiting for its cue that's so Floydian that I'm still not convinced that many of them aren't samples from Welcome to the Machine. I almost sang along to that a number of times on Eminent Sleaze and during the narrative section on Personal Shopper.
The latter, which at almost ten minutes is the magnum opus of this album and probably its greatest highlight, brings another name to light. That's Gary Numan, as so many of the synth textures appear familiar from his early eighties work. This menaces like Floyd but swells like Numan and maybe some Nine Inch Nails too, when it really gets moving, even if the vocals in those sections are soulful rather than pained. The darkness is there in the video and the savage attack on consumerism.
I clearly haven't paid anywhere enough attention to Steven Wilson's work as I should. This is a strong album indeed, one with nine tracks, seven of which count as songs proper and five of which have been released as singles. Even though it runs over forty minutes, I want more, which is glorious irony given the lyrical themes. There are another six original tracks on the limited edition deluxe box set, whose very existence is further irony given its mention in the lyrics of Personal Shopper, plus some remixes.
I want to cast my net wider though. Just browsing Wikipedia's notes on who he's worked with and the genres his musical diversification has encompassed suggests that I'm way behind on someone I ought to follow. So much good music, so little time.
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