The idea of prog maestro Steven Wilson going pop is a most intriguing prospect. Projects like Porcupine Tree and Blackfield certainly had their pop sides and 2015’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. felt like a retrospective of sorts for Wilson’s overall career, thus opening up possibilities for a new direction. The results on To the Bone are noticeably different than past solo outings, but Wilson’s distinct personality and aesthetics are firmly in check.
It’s hard to remember the last time that the songwriting was so straightforward on a Steven Wilson project. There are still a couple lengthy tracks and some opportunities for spacy navel gazing, but the structures are much more compact than the last couple efforts. Putting emphasis on the vocal lines could potentially sand off the edges of certain tracks, but careful melody construction and solid dynamics keep things from feeling watered down.
While there aren’t as many spots for flashy solos, To the Bone retains the varied instrumentation of past efforts to service the numerous moods present. Shades of the Porcupine Tree guitar tone pop up on “The Same Asylum as Before” and “People Eating Darkness,” “Song of I” utilizes dark electronic influence, and “Permanating” is a satisfying dabble in 80s pop thanks to its enthusiastic keyboard work and catchy as hell choruses.
But no matter how Wilson approaches the songwriting or instrumentation for a given album, the vocals are nigh omnipresent. If you didn’t like his voice or lyrics on past efforts (I can roll with it personally), this album won’t change your mind as he still contributes his signature nasal layers and know-it-all witticisms. On the bright side, he did manage to keep vocalist Ninet Tayeb on board, and her husky delivery gives a pleasantness to songs like “Pariah” that more than makes up for the ‘tired of Facebook’ observations.
For an album that sets out to be more accessible than what came before, I find it ironic that it may have taken me longer to get into To The Bone than Steven Wilson’s other solo efforts. The direction isn’t as out of left field as one would initially expect and there are plenty of great songs on here, even if the album may be rather front loaded overall. To the Bone couldn’t ever hope to top Hand. Cannot. Erase. but there’s a lot of prog fans to enjoy here.
“To the Bone”
“The Same Asylum as Before”
To the Bone is now available via Steven Wilson’s webshop.