In the world of modern progressive rock, Steven Wilson has quite an impressive resume. Aside from fronting his original band, Porcupine Tree, he has also taken part in other projects that dabble in genres like psychedelic rock and ambient music.
On the side, he has also released several critically acclaimed surround sound album remixes for bands like Yes, King Crimson and Jethro Tull, among many others.
At the center of Wilson’s career is his solo work, beginning with 2009’s Insurgentes. For four albums and an EP, Wilson’s sound picked up where Porcupine Tree left off when the band went into an indefinite hiatus in 2010.
For his fifth and newest effort, To the Bone, Wilson decided to do something that fans never would have expected him to do—make an album of pop music.
Compared to most other genres, progressive rock is something of an acquired taste for a lot of listeners, and certainly not the type of genre that would receive heavy radio rotation on top 40 stations, especially today.
Always looking to expand his overall sound with his albums, Wilson crafted an album that both treads new ground and pays tribute to the pop records of his childhood.
Indeed, it is very easy to see influences of artists like Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Depeche Mode. He also includes nods to acts like Todd Rundgren and Radiohead on the album.
Whether it is Porcupine Tree or many of his side projects, Wilson’s music is well-known for being very melancholic and morose, giving truth to the idea that sad music is the most beautiful kind of music.
From the eponymous opening song, Wilson makes it clear that this new album was going to be a polar opposite from what he had done in the past.
After a spoken word introduction, the song moves into a riff that bears strong resemblance to Pink Floyd’s “Time,” before going into a simple yet funky beat.
Just to remind listeners that they had indeed bought a Wilson album, the typical soundscape that defines his work kicks in during the guitar solo, gradually leading to an explosive conclusion.
The second song, “Nowhere Now,” sounds like the average alternative rock song, but Wilson’s lyrics about the human condition provide a sense of lyrical dissonance that is often found in pop music.
The track that shows off the new pop direction more than any other on the album is the song “Permeating.” With its contagious piano riff, pulsating drums and lyrics themed to living life to the fullest regardless of how quick it may seem to go, this song could best be used to describe Wilson’s overall musical goals for this album.
Halfway through the album, the song “Blank Tapes” serves as a calm and haunting interlude, sounding less pop and more progressive.
The next to last song, “Detonation,” is the closest that To the Bone gets to being a regular Wilson album. Its dark lyrics about religious extremism and faith, and hopping between electronic, funk and progressive rock makes it the type of song that fans have come to expect from Wilson.
Another standout track from the album was “Pariah.” Taking cues from the classic Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush song “Don’t Give Up,” Wilson wrote this song as a duet. He brought in Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb, who sang in previous albums for Wilson.
Musically, this song sounds like what an Adele album would be if she enlisted the services of Wilson. Tayeb’s vocals in the chorus are strong and operatic, but also augment the song without becoming too distracting to the listener. She also appears on two other songs on the album: “Blank Tapes” and “People Who Eat Darkness.”
Fans who purchased a deluxe edition of the album also received a second disc of material.
The songs are all demos, but several of them were left on the cutting room floor when the album went into production. While they are something that long-time fans would enjoy more than others, the demos as a whole gives listeners a window into Wilson’s mindset when deciding to create his first pop album.
Musically speaking, it may be a little off-putting to those who have followed Wilson’s work since the days of Porcupine Tree.
After subsequent listens, To the Bone starts to grow on listeners and really shows itself to be one of Wilson’s most dramatic and diverse albums.
Hopefully, he expands on his potent mixture of pop and progressive rock in future albums.