Review Summary: A modern concept brought to life by an impressive, effective mix of accessibility and complexity.
At this point, Steven Wilson is a musician that embodies what it means to create progressive music. Despite being consistently influenced by 1970's progressive rock, at the end of the day his endeavors result in music that is uniquely original. His last and most successful outputs in Porcupine Tree mixed elements of alternative and heavy metal with progressive rock, and his solo albums provided even more experimentation and diverse instrumentation. Wilson stated that The Raven That Refused To Sing
, this album’s predecessor, was a tribute to his influences. While it was a huge success, a follow-up had the potential to explore an equally rewarding new direction to follow. So where did he go from there? Hand. Cannot. Erase.
is the answer, impressively showcasing surprising moments of subtlety while returning to the genre-bending side of Wilson’s outputs. The progressiveness is still there of course, but Wilson’s latest effort blends in modern influences and poppier melodies with his trademark complexity into one of the most enjoyable and easily digestible listens of his widespread musical career.
Concept albums can embody a certain underlying maturity and purpose, and Hand. Cannot. Erase
is no exception. Steven Wilson explained that the primary influence was the idea of a woman who lived in a city, well liked and popular, could fade into obscurity and be completely forgotten for three years. The idea is inspired by a true case, but made into its own ghostly narrative here. The nostalgic “Routine” is a representation of the feeling Wilson was going for: a scenic journey through gorgeous melodies and dynamics, while of course indulging in extended instrumental gold. A surprising extended outro in the form of emotive guitar arpeggios segues into a heavier prog jam, the album's centerpiece, “Home Invasion” and “Regret #9.” Following it is “Transience,” and later “Happy Returns,” which both echo the vibes of “Routine” for some of Wilson’s most beautiful emotionally resonant compositions yet. These poignant moments are made possible by Wilson's ability to shift his focus to new musical styles and production choices, consistently showing that he is willing to step outside of his comfort zone and embrace other possibilities during each album cycle. The presence of female vocals and voiceovers add weight to Wilson’s musical vision, especially in “Perfect Life.” Wilson’s influences still shine through the cracks of the modern textures of synthesizers and ambience, as they never really left.
Hand. Cannot. Erase
is such a success due majorly to the presence of new influences, like electronic and pop, mixing with the more progressive rock styles. At times, repetitious melodies convey the character fading away from the world’s collective consciousness. As each song embodies its own singular journey, they develop an eerie, weightless quality, until a sudden explosion of synths and guitars pulls you back from the brink of the abyss before segueing into a full on prog jam. The album epic “Ancestral” defies genre barriers in a magical fourteen minute odyssey of dizzying guitar work, layered vocals, and even some heavy metal riffs. Despite all of the musical diversity and dynamics in Hand. Cannot. Erase.
, they always happen fluidly and feel necessary to how the album develops.
Frequent changes in tone that could come across as surprising and inaccessible in Wilson's first two solo efforts were still rewarding to experience, but the execution of The Raven that Refused to Sing
, and now this, have made an effort to be more streamlined. Wilson is able to make this musical shift while still being just as musically rich and ambitious as he has always been. Wilson is clearly aiming for a sleeker, more modern sound to appeal to more people. This is not at all done to compromise the musical integrity of course, and his skills, as well as those of virtuoso guitarist Guthrie Govan and drummer Marc Minneman, show that it can work out, as this and The Raven...
have each earned Gold status with the same main musicians playing on both records. It's doubtful that Wilson will go much more accessible than he does on Hand. Cannot. Erase
, but his music in this decade has shown that he can probably explore any genre or style and succeed at it. Hand. Cannot. Erase
is another rewarding evolution of these efforts, not only being the best solo album by Steven Wilson, but one of the finest musical outputs he has ever been involved in. Elements from his past projects are explored, as well as an abundance of new ideas that also suggest a bright future.