Review Summary: A wildly inventive, diverse record that merges singer/songwriter sentiments with dark industrial and trip/hop, No-Man's mid-nineties album is an underrated gem.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
No-Man have genre hopped over their twenty year career, playing songs that fused dance pop, trip/hop, jazz, and melancholy songwriting. No-Man, the duo of Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness, have put out some widly diverse music, and their 1997 album "Wild Opera" is perhaps their most innovative record.
Coming off the heels of their 1994 LP "Flowermouth," a record heavy on dance pop, No-Man reacted against the flowery, romantic lyrics of their previous album and embraced an album of dark, cynical urban observation. Songs like "Infant Phenomenon" and "Housewives Hooked on Heroin" chronicle the dark side of city life; the former of the two songs further features heavy, distorted guitars and intense drum sampling to further the despair of the surroundings the song details. The industrial and trip/hop vein is the most prominent motif on the record; sampled beats are the driving forces behind most of the album's tracks, including "Time Travel in Texas" and "Housewives Hooked on Heroin."
Both members of No-Man perform top-notch on this record. Tim Bowness' voice is one of the most unique voices in music today; the yearning quality that is so prominent in his voice is the perfect vessel for dark, foreboding lines like "you're never coming home" in "Sinister Jazz." Equally as unique as his voice, Bowness' lyrics, while much darker than anything else No-Man has ever recorded, are excellent on this record. One such example is the opening lines of "My Revenge on Seattle," conveying a unique sense of skepticism:
maybe there's more to life
than just writing songs.
maybe there's more to life
than just righting wrongs
"Time Travel in Texas" is one of Bowness' most unique creations; a hostage story told from the perspective of the hostage about a mysterious case of time traveling. "Wild Opera" reveals a different side of Bowness' lyricism; while dark and bleak, the lyrics nonetheless retain Bowness' signature voice.
While Bowness is one half of the No-Man equation, Steven Wilson is the other half; his instrumentation provides the sonic background to Bowness' lyrical musings. While "Flowermouth," the album before "Wild Opera," was heavy on dance beats and romantic sounding progressive pop, the sounds on this album are the sharp left turn from those previous sonic ventures. This is made evident straight from the opening: the album begins with a sample that sounds straight from a sixties spy noir, which then abruptly turns into a heavy, processed drum beat, which is then accompanied by a thick, distorted bass riff. "Pretty Genius" and "My Rival Trevor" both feature some classic Wilson wah guitar. "Taste My Dream," one of the album's most unique tracks, starts out with sparse, distant piano chords, but is then joined by a sampled drum beat. "Wild Opera" is no doubt one of Wilson's most standalone musical ventures.
While originally released in 1996, "Wild Opera" became out of print soon after; the album became another Steven Wilson Ebay commodity. Fortunately, K-Scope released a reissue of the album in 2010; the album came package with not only a remaster of the original album but also with a bonus disc featuring the excellent "Dry Cleaning Ray" EP, released a year after "Wild Opera." Along with "Dry Cleaning Ray" came four extra bonus tracks, including an excellent alternate version of "My Rival Trevor" and a good live version of "Time Travel in Texas."
Overall, this album is an oft-overlooked album in both Steven Wilson and No-Man's catalogue (partly because of being OOP), but that is no reason to skip this; this is classic No-Man and definitely one of the most unique albums that the band has ever recorded.