Review Summary: Onward.
In a perfect world, there should come a time where he or she must decide whether or not to continue making music or just to leave well enough alone. After a while, a musician could easily run out of things to say in their art. This seemingly happened to Steven Wilson with Porcupine Tree because of how polarizing The Incident
was. It was certainly an enjoyable record that contained its fair share of gems, but it really made the listener wonder whether or not the front man's ideas had started to run dry. Recently, Wilson himself put to rest the rumors of a new Porcupine Tree record with little to no plans of returning to the band and this is probably a good thing. Now, Steven is moving onward and somewhat upward with his well-received solo work. While his previous solo album proved to be a bit of a tribute to 70s progressive music, Hand Cannot Erase
combined the 70s sound with the likes of a more pop driven atmosphere with occasional electronic elements thrown in. Even though this concept is nothing new, the man pulls this off extremely well and it makes for quite the upbeat listening experience.
Right off the bat, the record gives off the vibe of having a refreshing genre combination consisting of pop and progressive rock. The pleasant piano melody in “First Regret” serves as a solid introduction that runs into “3 Years Older,” which features a plethora of styles that includes the poppy melodies, progressive instrumentation and even a little glimpse of Wilson’s past works. In addition to this, the fantastic guitar playing often associated with Wilson's work thankfully remains ever so intact. While the aspect of 70s music is still a bit apparent, Wilson without a doubt brings his music into the present this time due to the added electronic elements, as well as some other modern styles. The title track, while admittedly nothing more than a standard pop rock track, adds on synth drums in the beginning and turns into what is certainly the catchiest song of the album due to a chorus that gets into the listener’s head. The track's overwhelmingly poppy nature will undoubtedly turn some off, but its undeniably uplifting guitar work proves to be hard to resist. In addition to the synths in the title track, album highlight “Perfect Life” introduces a more atmospheric mood, with spoken word female vocals and mesmerizing drumming in the beginning. It places more of an emphasis on the pop aspect of the record and the listener will find that the two styles of progressive rock and pop blend quite nicely throughout the whole record.
Meanwhile, more album highlights like “Regret #9” and “Ancestral” really drives home this combination even more. “Regret #9” features Steven’s immense talent at the helm of the guitar to great effect. While this track certainly displays a more progressive light as a whole, “Ancestral” easily combines the two, with the beginning adding in intriguing synths and Wilson’s solid vocal melodies. However, it soon builds into a frenzy of vocal harmonies, incredible musicianship and one fantastic guitar riff after another. It’s yet another testament to how great of a musician Wilson proves to be, as well as his undeniable song writing ability.
Perhaps the biggest aspect of Hand Cannot Erase
that really impresses happens to be how it shows off all of the musical sides of Steven Wilson. Whether it be his heavier side, more psychedelic side, poppier side or atmospheric side, it truly is a culmination of all of Wilson’s work, Porcupine Tree and all. Even though it may not necessarily be his best work exactly, this album certainly proves how the man can easily hold his own as a solo artist. To top it all off, his vocal and lyrical work has also improved, which has always been a common criticism of his work as a whole. What it really comes down to is that Hand Cannot Erase
is an exceptional progressive rock/pop record and while it may occasionally exhibit the sound of his previous band, it definitely soars high in regards having his own voice. Wilson has expressed that he strives to move onward and probably never look back to his past. Judging from how impressive his new work is, he has already started to accomplish this.