Steven Wilson finally gets to release his long-delayed, much-anticipated, new album that as usual, has generated a breadth of opinion as wide as a very wide thing. “I forgot what it was that I was” – never a truer word spoken. The man with no inhibitions gets to work.
Release date: 29th January 2021
Label: Caroline International
Format: CD / LP / Cassette / Blu-ray / Limited Edition Box Set
At risk of lapsing into the profane, something we don’t delight in doing At The Barrier, Steven Wilson genuinely delights in not giving a f**k. In his lockdown indulgence with Tim Bowness, the excellent The Album Years podcast, he regularly declares his admiration for artists and their records that show a similar philosophy.
It’s no surprise that he’s bucking trends with The Future Bites and refusing to give a f**k. But then he always has. It’s nothing new. From his early (and later) work with Porcupine Tree, through assorted collaborations (Storm Corrosion, Blackfield etc) and into he solo career, he’s covered a fair bit of ground.
His solo career has wound a diverse path where the songwriter of Grace For Drowning gave way to the very right-on Progness of The Raven That Refused To Sing clashed with his (IMHO) vastly superior and much more balanced Hand. Cannot. Erase. Heck, I’d even rate To The Bone above The Raven.
Most recently with No Man’s Love You To Bits. complete with the huge mirrorball cover, might have been a clue to a ‘lighter’ direction and general electronic-y, dance-y sprites that inhabit the new songs. He’s responded to the ‘homages to the past’ feel of his previous few records to come up with something very contemporary. However, he’s assured us “There’s still lots of miserable stuff on it too. Don’t worry folks!“
After having the planned assault of multimedia promotional campaigns including some high profile large arena shows delayed for the obvious reasons, I’ve managed to avoid a lot of the 2020 Steven Wilson hoo-haa over the direction of the new singles, but have just lapsed and had a Wilson fest packed with gorging on the new songs and The Future Bites sessions which have seen Steven reworking songs in his studio. I’m back in, and deep.
And so to the latest observation by Steven Wilson. Electronic sensibilities with an organic musical pallet. The theme of modern consumerism on the new material shows the finger on the same pulse that gave us his Fear Of A Blank Planet in the isolation and insulation of perhaps Porcupine Tree’s finest hour.
Subversively mocking the internet age and the impact on the human condition; mocking consumerism – the sold-out sign on the TFB toilet roll, multi-vitamins and cans of air on the website store and then the ultimate edition high concept artefact of one that went for five figures to raise funds for a worthy cause – the Music Venue Trust – some may have thought this too was an act of irony.
Let’s jump on the bandwagon to wield the sceptre of judgement. He’s had a haircut…he’s wearing a suit (and shoes!)…he’s starting to give a glimpse into his family life…even the family dog makes an appearance. He’s a new and very modern man. His music is the same. The Future Bites is of its time.
We should be over the shock of Personal Shopper now where he’s channeled Donna Summer and the Pet Shop Boys with aggression and we’re familiar enough with the strains of Eminent Sleaze from The Album Years via the dirty funk that we lost with Prince. Talking of whom, is Man Of The People’s stark bubbling opening a close relative of Sign O’ The Times along with some mid 70’s Gilmour guitar stokes, before going all lush and shimmery, sparkling with some crystal guitar notes? A dreamy ambience carries King Ghost where Thom Yorke and Radiohead influences are rife – that period when their songs started to become soundscapes.
Count Of Unease carries some familiarity to Song Of Unborn so while there are connections to his past endeavours, the likes of Man Of The People and Follower bravely go…. The former sees him musing about taking rejection and asking what it takes to get attention. Not the only lyric packed with irony and not the only vocal that shifts into falsetto gear. The latter explosive and in the Gary Numan ‘banger’ tradition and dare I say ‘punky’? It sure raises a smile when he sings “do I really want a body like yours?” as he questions our desire to have things and yet despite the evolving image I can’t see Steven working himself into a muscle-bound Springsteen.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the coin, amidst the controversial electronic inspired sounds, the Wilson pop tart emerges fully sugar-coated: Twelve Things I Forgot is an instantly memorable respite. Crossing Abba with The Smiths, coated with “ooh”s and “ahh”s, if you aren’t hooked after one listen, then I’d argue you’ve a heart of stone. Steven might not be bothered, but his fanbase will love dissecting the lyric.
“There was a time when I had some ambition, Now I just seem to have inhibitions.” Faced with a future, which may be set to bite in more ways than one, I’m not sure SW has any fears.
Steven Wilson is a true visionary. My favourite thing about Steven Wilson is that he does what he wants. He doesn’t worry about what people say; and many people have lots of things to say. If an artist divides opinion more than Mr Wilson in 2021 I’d like to know who it is.
The Future Bites was originally slated for a 2020 release but was put on hold due to the pandemic and the conceptual ideas that Steven Wilson wanted to realise.
There have been several tracks released already, including the brilliant 12 Things I Forgot, Eminent Sleaze, and the epic disco infused Personal Shopper.
12 Things I Forgot is as close as you can get to the most straight up Steven Wilson sounding song here. Acoustic guitars, well layered vocals and lovely harmonics. This would not have been out of place on any of his previous solo albums.
The real highlights of The Future Bites are the moments where Steven Wilson pushes his own boundaries. Self and King Ghost are both heavy with electronics and evoke the spirit of Song Of I from To The Bone. Eminent Sleaze is a sinister monster that builds using some prog rock tropes but the overall aura is that of something far funkier and altogether catchier. Some of the guitar work is reminiscent of Robert Fripp’s work on David Bowie’s Fashion.
Wilson’s use of studio trickery is impeccably placed throughout. His manipulation of vocals on Man Of The People is masterful and the earthy electronic bass that adorns some of the tracks gives out an urban vibe. Personal Shopper harks back the to beat stylings of Voyager 34 and again pushes the boundaries for Wilson as he veers into more disco/funk territory. Giorgio Moroder and Tom Moulton loom large over the composition as the track really stretches out. The repetitive nature of the song, and soundbites are designed to brainwash in the same way that adverts do.
This is prog. It’s progressive. No noodling keyboard solos or flute driven departures. This is a tight album with absolutely no fat around the edges. It’s production values are of the highest order. This makes for an unbelievably rich listening experience.