Clichés exist for a reason; usually, they represent a grain of truth that gets buried underneath public scrutiny. The more that people observe or muse on that single grain, the more it gets reused and worn. In the process, a certain derision becomes attached to it but that does nothing to take away from the actual grain present there. Clichés, when used right, still have the potential for truth and incisive perspective. Steven Wilson has, for all intents and purposes, worked long enough in the business to become his own cliché, a musician whose style is so important that it is an arch-type when one approaches music in a large number of sub-genres. As Wilson continues to progress down his career, what is left to him? It seems as if every peak has been conquered. What keeps him going? If To The Bone, his upcoming release, is any indication, it is probably a mix of love of music, dedication to the craft and the constant need to tweak his own style.
To The Bone is not a curveball so much as it is a modified throw, a familiar face with subtle changes, perhaps a few pieces of jewelry or a hair style you haven’t seen for a while. And that’s the thing; even the comparably “new” sounds on the album, when compared to the previous releases, are familiar rhymes with Wilson’s past efforts. To The Bone blends the melancholy rock touches of Lightbulb Sun and the radio friendly power of In Absentia or Deadwing. The result is a potent mix of progressive rock and pop. “Nowhere Now”, following the expansive opening, self titled track , is exactly that slightly melancholy tinged rock that Wilson does best. The production is, of course, spot on, with the analogue approached that might have marred some of his other releases given way to expertly balanced choirs, iridescent guitars (which feature some slide effects not often heard outside of very early Porcupine Tree) and an air of optimistic moroseness.
That opening track also features one of the most powerful arrows in Wilson’s quiver this time around, the voice of one Ninet Tayeb. We won’t go into the intricacies of her career in Israel and elsewhere but it’s safe to say that Tayeb has reached a certain maturity in her delivery and timbre that is an absolute joy to hear. On Hand.Cannot.Erase her performance was pleasing and well done but here, her performance often steals the spotlight (like on the opening track or the more down tempo “Pariah” shortly after it). Wilson uses her to her full extent, drawing both bleeding emotional tones and pulsating power from her voice. He’s always had the touch for vocal collaborations but he has truly outdone himself and much of that is obviously owed to Tayeb herself.
The weak points of the album exist but are almost not worth mentioning. It might do to delay on the presence of two drummers however, a presence which entails a stylistic difference that can sometimes grate on the ear while listening. On tracks like “Permanating”, which feature the unmistakable influence of *Frost drummer Craig Blundell, the pop influences shine bright. The drums act in kind and, when taken in the context of the entire album, the differences in “stickyness” and punch can be slightly off putting. This sort of split personality also infects Wilson himself. For example, “Song of I” is a great track, pure art-pop diatribe. However, following such a powerful rock track like “People Who Eat Darkness”, it appears somewhat out of place, unsettling the listener in subtle ways.
But, again, delaying on these weak points is quite absurd. The tracks themselves are some of the best work Wilson has produced in a while and, coming from someone who loved almost every single album he has released today, that means a lot. To The Bone isn’t exactly a retrospective but it does contain bits and pieces from all sorts of different periods, faces and ideas that Wilson has presented us with in the past. Coat all of this in the touch of one of the most accomplished and well equipped producers in the field and the surprising and captivating performance from Ninet Tayeb and you have yourself another solid addition to an already illustrious discography.
To The Bone releases on August 18th via Caroline International. You can pre-order it pretty much everywhere, Google it will you?