Review Summary: Another fantastic output by Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson - pre-released in a high quality collectible format with some annoyances to it...
So here it is. Steven Wilson's first official full length solo album: Insurgentes. After I first read about it coming I think not a day passed without me checking swhq.co.uk and later insurgentes.org, waiting for the pre-sale to start. And when it did, although I wasn't really expecting the price to be that high, not for a moment did I hesitate to place my order.
And now that I finally received it, I am happy I did - even though I am not entirely satisfied with what I got. Why? Well let me do a two component review of Insurgentes, one about the album itself, one about the limited edition package. I’ll start with the latter.
The hardcover book looks and feels gorgeous. You can tell immediately when you hold it in your hands that it clearly was not overpriced – I have an idea about what the development and production of something like this costs, and then limiting it to only 3000 copies doesn’t help either. So everyone who was talking about a rip-off should feel stupid once he or she sees it.
The photos. Mixed feelings about that. There are a couple of really nice shots of places SW has been to. Even more I like the ones on which you can see him performing or recording, especially the pictures showing him playing the grand piano in a church are great.
But then there’s the typical Lasse Hoile stuff. I didn’t count how many pictures of half broken dolls covered in dirt and insects are in the book – there are a lot. And some of them definitely look too human. I appreciate that fact that this is supposed to look dark, but there are more subtle, stylish and, how do I put this… grown up ways to do it.
Speaking of grown up: there are countless pictures of iPods that have been shot, burnt or destroyed in some other way. On some pictures you see the original Apple retail box next to the destructed mp3 player, and I don’t know about you, but it leaves me thinking that SW gives the money I spend on his work to the people who produce what he seems to hate the most - as if they cared what he does with it after they get the cash. How silly is that.
Which brings me straight to the 18 minute trailer for the Insurgentes film included as a bonus feature on the DVDA. You see Steven Wilson “prepare” the iPods for the photo sessions. The only thing you hear him talk about is how music downloads and mp3 have taken the magic from music for the younger generations… I am not going to write about that in length, there are lots of forum discussions going on about that matter. My opinion in short: SW should ask himself how he and his various projects could get so known and successful without any mainstream media attention, he should ask himself why nowadays there are plenty of 17 year olds at his gigs and spending a fortune on his special super limited releases, and he should be very cautious about repeating the same things over and over again – one day to many people he could be just the anti-mp3 guy and not much more than that, like it happened to Lars Ulrich for example.
I love Steven’s music, and therefore I will never watch this trailer again and also I won’t watch the film once released in full length, I’ll even try to avoid reading interviews, because all that BS talk will make me lose my respect for the man eventually. He told us all that on Fear Of A Blank Planet. We are not stupid, we got it! Enough!
After that bit of negativity that I had to let out in the last couple of sentences, let me start by saying that the music on Insurgentes is all that I hoped for and more!
I will not do an in-depth song by song review of the album. Insurgentes is a collection of pieces combining all musical genres Steven Wilson covers with Porcupine Tree, No-Man, Bass Communion, Blackfield, I.E.M. plus some new influences, that’s why I don’t want to spoil what is a musical journey full of surprises when you first listen to it.
The first thing that struck me is the sound production. It’s the best thing SW has done so far in my opinion. This is the kind of CD that AKG develop their high-end headphones for. Even the heavily distorted parts come across crystal clear – I know that is a paradox.
The second thing I find amazing is that, although combining pop, rock, prog, electronica, shoegazer, jazz, krautrock, soundtrack-like soundscapes and even grunge, the album defenitely has a flow to it. All songs connect flawlessly. If you appreciate all those styles and genres that is.
The album is very very diverse, and if that fits your listening habits, you will love it. If not, you probably have difficulties listening to the whole thing. The fact that in every review of Insurgentes people mention different stand-out tracks proves this.
For me the uber-song is Significant Other. Wow. When I heard that Clodagh Simonds (Mellow Candle, Fovea Hex) will sing on this, I was hoping for her contribution to be more than just a few lines, but the way all instruments and the whole build up of the song work like spotlights illuminating that short “chorus” featuring her voice is just breathtaking.
I don’t know if SW did this consciously, but there seems to be a reference of "Viens Mallika Sous le Dome" by Howard Blake in it, which adds to the experience and lets harmonies linger in my ears that were not even part of the song.
Some people seem to be bothered by the The Sky Moves Sideways riff in Veneno Para Las Hadas. But it’s not like he’s using the same idea over again. At most it’s a citation. Actually it shows that the same basic idea can lead to totally different results, a fact that every musician knows and many enjoy exploring.
No Twilight Within The Courts Of The Sun is a jazzy prog tune, sounding more like a jam session than a produced album track. It features the most old-school guitar work by Steven Wilson since his contributions to Playing In A Room With People, the JBK live album, the unisono riffing is so uplifting, it’s sheer joy. I love it.
The album still grows on me with every listen, except for one little part: the “total f…ing noise” as SW calls it in the booklet, at the end of “Get All That You Deserve”, that’s the track known from the 2nd trailer. At first I was fascinated by how noisy all that noise is, but somehow there’s not more to discover than that… and for an effect to just make you listen up, it’s a little lengthy and sometimes makes me look for the skip button on the remote.
A minor flaw really, and certainly not one that makes Insurgentes any less enjoyable – it’s still a 9.2 out of 10.
So yeah, all in all this is another Steven Wilson release that makes you wonder where all this creativity and inspiration comes from, and that leaves you almost certain that soon he must run out of it… until his next output that is, when again he will manage to live up to all our seemingly much too high expectations.