What to Expect from STEVEN WILSON’s “To the Bone” Album

What to Expect from STEVEN WILSON's "To the Bone" Album

One of the most anticipated albums to be released in 2017 is definitely Steven Wilson’s fifth solo record To the Bone, which was just announced. As it’s always been the situation with SW releases, the upcoming album is also available in different formats, including a special deluxe hard back 120-page book edition. This package includes an exclusive full length CD of demos and unused songs, and a one-sided 7 inch vinyl single of a bonus instrumental song from the album sessions. It can be pre-ordered here.

In his Facebook post announcing the release of the album, Wilson wrote: “My fifth record is in many ways inspired by the hugely ambitious progressive pop records that I loved in my youth (think Peter Gabriel’s ‘So,’ Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love,’ Talk Talk’s ‘Colour of Spring‘ and Tears for Fears’ ‘Seeds of Love).

Steven Wilson - To the Bone

This led me to think about what we will be able to experience sonically with To the Bone. Although the first single off the album, “Pariah,” featuring singer Ninet Tayeb is available for streaming and it gives a tiny bit of what to expect, the song actually feels as a tune that could easily be one of the numbers on Wilson’s previous full-length, Hand. Cannot. Erase. 

Anyway, thinking further about the record Steven mentions in his post, all of them were, and still are, highly successful and more importantly, quality records that stood the test of time. It’s interesting that Gabriel and Bush worked together, and I cannot help but think that this Wilson-Tayeb collaboration is something that goes in that direction.

Let’s have a look at the releases Steven mentioned in his announcement.

So, released in 1986, is the fifth solo album by Peter Gabriel, who left Genesis in 1975. Though Genesis faired well at first, churning out two good Prog records, the band would soon divulge into the realms of synth pop. Gabriel on the other hand, would embark on a solo career which would both manage the trappings of pop far better than his original band, and still maintain the cult following his early music had garnered far after his blockbuster hits had receded from the airwaves. And it was So that catapulted the singer from prog hero and college radio favorite into a bona fide success. Interestingly, To the Bone marks the fifth full-length by Wilson.

Make no mistakes about Gabriel’s So, because it makes no attempt at hiding the fact that it is a genuine pop record. But it’s refreshing, thought provoking, and well done pop which doesn’t loose its appeal once its fallen from the publics eye, because Gabriel‘s musical approach is unlike anybody else’s. There’s no denying that he carries a certain amount progressive-ness in his music. Not progressive in the sense of fifteen minute songs with Moog synthesizers, but progressive in the sense that the music really did progress.

When So was released, Gabriel was on the verge of international fame. I am not implying here that To the Bone is Steven Wilson’s release that will bring him “fame” (I have to say that I hate the word!), but the recent events that preceded the album announcement such Wilson’s signing with Caroline International, home of many big names including Gabriel, it’s clear that Wilson and his team are going big this time. I don’t expect “Sledgehammer” big, but big.

Kate Bush was an oddity when she burst onto the popular music scene in the late ‘70s, famously discovered by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd in 1978 backed by a bunch of prog rock veterans she released debut album The Kick Inside. Along with two famous music videos, the lead single “Wuthering Heights” was a weird blend of progressive rock, classical and literary influences that demonstrated a raw, unusual talent beyond her years. This precocious maturity characterised The Kick Inside, at the tender age of 19 the public didn’t quite know what to make of her. There were accusations of naive, fresh clay for record label EMI, and the completion of her second album Lionheart in a matter of months did nothing to help this matter. Wholly unsatisfied with the output and rush to capitalise on her earlier success, Bush was feeling her artistic sensibilities being pinched and the result was something of a mediocre retread.

The album Wilson mentions here, 1985’s Hounds of Love, was announced with the lead single “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”  in August 1985, and it caught many of her former critics by surprise. Here was a track that fully embraced the sound of modern New Wave, and saw Kate Bush making a majestic return to pop music producing a number of hit singles which just didn’t seem to stop. The album itself was released not long after, and Hounds of Love has firmly cemented itself as not only her most critically regarded work but is often cited as one of the greatest pop albums of all time. A commercial success, it ultimately knocked Madonna‘s Like A Virgin from the top of the UK charts, but despite this largely popular appeal it didn’t come at the expense at what Bush would have considered her artistic integrity.

Wilson’s previous album Hand. Cannot. Erase. was with one foot in pop, a genre and term that today mostly has a negative connotation. Steven Wilson’s vision, and the artists mentioned in this post, of pop is different. This is music that was once considered as a genre worth exploring, and that had huge artistic potential.

Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring was released in 1986, and is actually their best-selling album, containing their most popular singles while performing leaps and bounds over their previous releases in terms of both originality and quality. By doing away with the synth-heavy new wave, the band had developed and taking influences from jazz and art-pop. Talk Talk created an eclectic melting pot that paved the way for it’s successors without alienating fans, making it a defining album for the band and a landmark transition album for music as a whole.

In an interview we did with Wilson in 2015, he said:

I think the thing for me is that I don’t like to repeat myself and I like every record to have a reason to exist. If I was just going to make another record the same as ‘The Raven that Refused to Sing’—which was a very popular record, it did very well for me—but I couldn’t see the point of just making more music like that. So it’s important to me with every record to feel like there is a sense of reinvention, something new, something to make it interesting for me and something to justify doing it at all.

With the recent announcement and his comments about a sense of reinvention, Steven Wilson kind of hinted what kind of record his next release would be. Looking back at his previous albums starting from 2008’s debut Insurgentes down to 2015’s Hand Cannot. Erase., Wilson did “all” kind of music, and each record although being diverse on its own was bound with a thread that hold them together.

Tears for Fears’ 1989 album The Seeds of Love brought a more mature sound with less demand of synth-sounds and more of vocals and guitar, also it brought so much more emotion and dark, daring songs like “Swords And Knives.” This album is very different to their previous effort Songs from the Big Chair (1985). The band on this album still keep the concept of moving from hurting to healing to beginning anew to growing apart. Instead of producing bass-powered hooks, they now rely on piano-guitar based sounds to put this concept across and add so much more emotion to the songs.

Listening to Wilson’s new single and paying attention to lyrics of “Pariah,” it feels that the new song can, in some way, relate to the previous paragraph. The lyrical segment of the new album according to Wilson is:

[Lyrically], the album’s eleven tracks veer from the paranoid chaos of the current era in which truth can apparently be a flexible notion, observations of the everyday lives of refugees, terrorists and religious fundamentalists, and a welcome shot of some of the most joyous wide-eyed escapism I’ve created in my career so far. Something for all the family!

One thing that has been proved many times is that Wilson’s music is not something that can be predicted or expected. And it shouldn’t. At the time of writing this article, we have some three months until To the Bone is launched on August 18th. We can make speculations, and we will possibly be served with another (or few) single by then, what will give us a closer idea of where Steven Wilson is heading with the record, but also with his career.

Rant over.

Cover photo by Lasse Hoile

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