SW Records [Release date: 29.01.21]
There’s a body of music fans who, if their favourite artist dares to stray from their favoured genre, castigate said artist with the tired (and tiresome) clichés “sold out”, “going mainstream”, “chasing the Yankee dollar”, etc.
Reading a lot of other reviews you would be forgiven for thinking that Steven Wilson had sold his soul at the crossroads to Britney Spears.
No, this isn’t Porcupine Tree. No, this isn’t No Man. No, this isn’t Blackfield. And no, this isn’t the Steven Wilson so revered for solo albums such as “Grace For Drowning”, “The Raven That Refused To Sing”, “Transience” and ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase”.
But he hasn’t left his progressive rock roots behind completely, as some would have you believe – in fact, he has opened up a new listening experience to everyone who has enjoyed his previous work.
By dint of his uncanny ability both as a musician and his way with a lyric, he makes you like music you never thought you would listen to in a month of Sundays.
‘The Future Bites’ is revealed, track by track, to be Wilson’s take on the way society and the world in general is heading – and it’s not a good place.
Originally scheduled for release early in 2020, at the height of Trumpism, the album was held back due to the pandemic but has lost none of its relevance.
Opener ‘Unself’ gently eases you in before ‘Self’ roars in like a party banger – but listen to the lyrics. It’s pop, Jim, but not as we know it and certainly not SW channelling his inner Prince.
‘King Ghost’ starts almost dub-like but segues into a delicious, other-worldly spacial chorus. Amazing, compulsive listening and one of many highlights.
As if to illustrate a previous point ’12 Things I Forgot’ is classic Wilson/Blackfield – almost a love song and pop-like but certainly not for the TikTok generation.
‘Eminent Sleaze’ feels like a mash-up of David Essex’ ‘Rock On’ and 10CC’s ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ whereas ‘Man Of The People’ has a dreamlike, spacey vibe again with killer lyrics “well I can take rejection / what does it take to get your attention / ‘cause you’re a man of the people”.
‘Personal Shopper’ is a vitriolic counterblast to naked consumerism. It has a real Gary Numan feel to it with a great juxtaposition of a pop tune cut with caustic lyrics “Buy in green / buy in blue / buy in patterns ‘cause I tell you to”. Plus a list of stuff you don’t need read out by Elton John, no less, in the style of Viv Stanshall introducing the instruments on the Bonzo’s ‘The Intro And The Outro’. Killer track.
In the same vein, ‘Follower’ takes acerbic aim at social media ‘influencers’ or (influenza, as I prefer) and the album wraps up with ‘Count Of Unease’ which starts like a cassette player I used to own whose ‘wow and flutter’ was around 10% but becomes another spacey voyage. Should keep the proggers happy. Headphones? Defo.
‘The Future Bites’ is an excellent album – among Steven Wilson’s best, but it IS different and will cause some to doubt his path forward. However, you can’t progress by churning out the same album ad nauseum and the best thing to do is just listen to it and make your own mind up.
As George Michael said all those years ago “Listen Without Prejudice”.
One piece of apparent hypocrisy that needs calling out though is in the lyric of ‘Personal Shopper’. There, in the list of pointless purchases of stuff you don’t need, appears ‘Deluxe Box Sets’.
A bit rich considering a one-off Special Edition box set of this very album was snapped up for £10,000 (!) in America. Or was Steven just taking the piss…?
Review by Alan Jones
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