Review Summary: Steven Wilson creates his most colorful and triumphant record yet.
Steven Wilson, for all the music made and producing done, has achieved the status of “the most successful British artist you’ve never heard of.” This cheeky label stems from how Wilson’s complex, melancholic brand of progressive rock earns him praise from critics and loyal fans, but not a household name. Still, his recent music has been his most popular to date. With this gradual growth in popularity, To the Bone
comes to glorious fruition as a surprisingly optimistic and accessible record. This transformation feels appropriate, especially with the modern musical influences on predecessors Hand. Cannot. Erase.
and mini-album 4 ½
. To the Bone
is a bold new direction for Wilson: a lush, diverse rock odyssey overflowing with creativity.
While sharing similarities with recent solo releases, this plunge into “intelligent pop” hearkens to 1980s music by Talk Talk, Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears, and Kate Bush, according to Wilson. Successfully capturing the spirit of these kinds of artists, To the Bone
harnesses those progressive qualities and brings them into the twenty-first century. To the Bone
feels and sounds massive, made by an artist fearlessly entering unknown musical regions, straying from pure progressive rock towards a fine balance of psychedelic, forward thinking, yet streamlined rock music and electronica. “To The Bone” perfectly sets the stage for what the album has in store. The verses and choruses follow an upbeat, driving rock tempo as Wilson sings of the volatile nature of truth in our complex modern times. Plenty of guitar soloing and effects come up throughout, as well as a beautiful outro section.
Contributions by guest musicians, and new band members David Kollar and drummer Jeremy Stacey fit with the more melodic rock sensibilities Wilson chose to pursue. “Refuge” perfectly displays how essential each musician on the album was to how it turned out. After a highly effective build-up, the song climaxes with a soulful solo section across multiple instruments, a harmonica one courtesy of Mark Feltham of Talk Talk.
The pop rock songs on To The Bone
are just as rewarding as the longer epics, including the peaceful, melancholic “Blank Tapes” featuring Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb, and the heavenly “Nowhere Now.” The most talked about and controversial single has been the ABBA influenced pop song “Permanating,” though fans need not worry about the rest of the album sounding anything like it. To The Bone
is a wide spectrum of sounds and moods, with “Permanating” only being a small piece of a large, multi-colored stained glass window.
There are many dimensions to Wilson’s latest solo offering, as he experiments with multiple genres and dynamics. “Song of I” features an electronic heartbeat rhythm akin to Massive Attack, then a pleasantly surprising string quartet crescendo in the song’s middle. From this, to the mournful duet between Wilson and Tayeb in “Pariah,” to the psychedelic jamming of album highlight “Detonation,” To The Bone
defies easy categorization with every song. Despite reminders of art pop records from the 1980s, this is Wilson’s most modern sounding and evolved solo album yet. He allows more hopeful emotions to thrive in his music than he ever did before, while appropriately addressing current world events from multiple points of view. Commenting on serious topics like immigration, political corruption, the perils of the Internet, and terrorism, his message is ultimately one of hope. “Song of Unborn” is an ambient, powerful ballad that ends To The Bone
with a note of encouragement: “…Before you can speak, you will learn that it's all the same. And the dreams that you will have are public domain…. …The arc of your life can still be profound…. …Don’t be afraid to be alive.” Steven Wilson addresses future generations, encouraging them despite the turmoil of our world. He is attempting to reach a wider audience with To The Bone
, dealing with universally human themes throughout. In multiple ways it feels like an album that anyone can enjoy.
What’s most rewarding about To The Bone
is how song-based it is, while holding up to Wilson’s more complex musical past. Tracks like “The Same Asylum as Before,” “Song of Unborn,” “People Who Eat Darkness,” and “To the Bone” achieve this with stunning results. He displays that it’s just as impressive to make an effective pop song, as it is to create a progressive rock epic. Steven Wilson proves that an artist can venture into uncharted musical waters, even 30 years into their career, for ambitious and vibrant results like these.