Names are powerful things, we’ve discussed this in the past. It bears repeating though in the light of the album we are now looking at: Steven Wilson‘s name is one of those which shine brightest in the skies of contemporary music. From a solo project through one of the most successful progressive acts of the past two decades, finally back to a solo project, Wilson is one of the most varied creators working today. His last album, The Raven Who Refused To Sing, was an amazingly well-made record but also touched on one of the gripes that many people have with Wilson: his slow drift into aural nostalgia that some feel is holding him back from creating new and exciting music.
What say we then about Hand. Cannot. Erase., his latest outing? We say that it seems as if Wilson has tempered his bent for the past with his more contemporary influences, producing an album that is both touching and innovative, whimsical and refreshing. The album focuses more on story-telling rather than on checking off a list of influences to pay tribute to. The result is a creation that’s more emotionally compelling than technically exciting, unlike The Raven which was filled with bombastic passages, all odd time signatures a-flaring.
The core of this album lies in the unmistakable sense of longing and homesickness it aims to invoke, a key characteristic of Wilson’s Porcupine Tree days. Tracks like ‘Three Years Older’ or ‘Happy Returns’ are all about the inescapable passage of time as seen through the eyes of loved ones and family, the impossible yet all too tempting desire to freeze the happy days in place. No one does those better than Wilson and the familiar tactics are employed here as well: his sweet voice over acoustic guitars intoning beautiful choruses filled with expertly written lyrics.
The more technical parts of this album, like the coupling of ‘Home Invasion’ and ‘Regret #9’ or ‘Routine’, hark back to influences similar to The Raven but slightly different: where that album went for more classic, 60’s tinged progressive rock, these tracks draw more from the 70-80’s era of bands like Yes or Rush. So, on one hand, one feels the unmistakable hands of Yes all over the first half of the album, with high speed guitar strumming setting the pace for the break-neck bass. As the album progresses however, the sound gets a bit darker, introducing haunting synths that remind us more of Rush.
All that being said, the question which remains is: “Is this an interesting album?”. I’ll be honest with you dear readers, breaking our cardinal objective pronouns rule for a moment. I honestly can’t not like a Steven Wilson album for a simple reason: he makes me remember my childhood and then I start crying and smiling. All the time. However, we’re back to objective analysis now and it must be said that you’ll find no game changers on this album. It’s produced perfectly, obviously, and there are no filler tracks but there are also no reality defying moments of transcendence.
And that’s OK. This album is for those who’ve missed a little moderation in their 70’s influenced Wilson, who still hold the hope that Porcupine Tree might return one day. Until then, o frabjous day!, we have this: Wilson’s golden voice. Moving tracks that cut deep. Solos and bridges that call back to great bands of old. This album isn’t a game changer but it will make you think of home and we all need to think of home more.
Steven Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. gets…