Review Summary: A 36-minute dance music epic is just ONE of many beguiling attractions that Wilson and Bowness' last contribution to the 2010s has to offer.
This has been a rather curious decade for music, hasn't it? A lot can happen for music in a decade; big band comebacks like Tool and Rammstein, artists like Buckethead or Neil Young releasing 60 albums, and then musical polymaths like Steven Wilson releasing a similar amount of albums but under his different guises-his solo name, his drone project, or even an old project he hasn't even touched for a decade, you name it. The last point has undoubtedly been true for Mr. Wilson, as he's exiting the decade with an impressive number of releases under his belt, and a series of European arena shows to perform at the start of the next one. So it only makes sense that his last contribution to the 2010s is an album supposedly 25 years in the making. I confess that No-Man is a project that I'm not all that familiar with, other than the fact that while Steven was well known in the Americas for Porcupine Tree, he was better known in Europe for No-Man, along with Tim Bowness, known for starting the not-for-profit Burning Shed online store. So my decision to check out the latest No-Man album Love You to Bits
was purely out of curiosity, and I'm happy to report that said curiosity did not do to me what it often tends to do to a certain feline species.
Love You to Bits
is a very interesting project from the word "go". Porcupine Tree fans, upon looking at its tracklisting, will notice that it's similarly structured to Voyage 34
, a 30-minute single split up into two parts, and the band's final album The Incident
, a 55-minute song split into fourteen tracks. The result is something of a combination of the two; two songs split across ten tracks, with the musical structuring of the latter and the song formation of the former. What's very interesting is how it can absolutely be seen as both. The digital release lends itself well to the idea of listening to it front-to-back in one sitting, and the latter lends itself well to the idea of listening to it as two songs. But what's even more intriguing about this is how accessible
the whole affair ends up being. For a 36-minute composition, while it takes it most obvious influences from 90s house music and Giorgio Moroder-esque disco, there's a little bit of something for everyone here.
It's very rare that one single note can catch your attention, but beginning on an ominous, distorted "E" note, dance-influenced drums and lush, dreamy synths over 2 minutes, "Love You To Bits", the 17-minute disco epic that makes up one half of the album eases you in, creates a sense of intrigue and mystery, but also a very lush atmosphere, and Tim Bowness' unbearably sexy voice asking you, "What are you thinking? How are you coping? I'd like to know what's on your mind" only straps you in for what a wild ride you're about to go on. Catchy as shit
drumbeats, gorgeous backing vocals from Steven Wilson, melancholy passages and even, of all things, one crazy metal-influenced guitar solo only just add to this being quite the rollercoaster of a track. The whole affair ends with a soft brass section lulling you to quite a relaxed state, and arguably, if this had been the whole album- just that single 17 minute song- I wouldn't have complained. Its 17 minute length feels like only 8, and you'd get just as much satisfaction throwing it on in the background, or sitting and listening to it. And hell, you could even dance
"Love You to Pieces" is where the album starts to take an interesting turn. Listened to as a whole, it's a 36 minute song about the euphoric beginning and melancholy ending of a relationship that didn't work out, and the 19-minute B side of the album focuses on the relationship's crumbling. It's almost immediately clear from the strange, minor-key intro, and the fact that said song is more lyrics-driven. While the first five minutes act as a slower-key reprise of "Bits", 6 minutes in is where the song takes a left turn: a mid-tempo, moody, synth-driven, almost 80s-influenced descent into the bitter end of a relationship that, all things considered, is still catchy as fuck
. The duo's cries of "We did everything right... we did everything wrong" permeate the atmosphere, with a keyboard solo not too far a cry from something off of Hand. Cannot. Erase.
spicing things up a ton, Men Without Hats-esque synth riffs, and an ambient section that leads into a prog-influenced outro where Bowness laments on the good and the bad drive home the message perfectly: that you can do literally everything right in a relationship, and it still can go sour. And thus the album comes to a close, but if you want more, the "Love You to Bits" single has an added 13-minute ambient piece known as "Love You To Shreds". While not quite as interesting as the album it accompanies, it's still a nice little soundscape that compliments the meaning entirely.
No doubt, the 2010s have been Wilson's richest musical decade so far, but Love You to Bits
is hands down the best note for someone of his stature to end it on. With enough variety to keep you hooked at every turn, catchiness galore, Bowness' gorgeous vocals, dreamy ambient passages and production that Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder would easily smile at, Love You to Bits
is the ultimate musical treat to round off the 2010s, and one that will make one killer
New Years Eve party soundtrack to boot too.