Thursday, August 6, 2015

Review of Steven Wilson's Hand. Cannot. Erase.

The success of Steven Wilson's solo career has eased the pain of life without Porcupine Tree. Albums like Grace for Drowning and The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) are some of the strongest and most ambitious that contemporary prog has to offer but something has been missing despite or perhaps because of their complexity. Now with the release of his fourth full-length solo effort, Steven Wilson has reached a compromise of sorts that combines the best elements of the various projects that have defined his long running career.

While Hand. Cannot. Erase. isn't exactly a back to the roots album, it is certainly Wilson's most accessible as a solo artist since he debuted Insurgentes in 2008. The tone isn't as murky as the last couple efforts, the jazz influences have largely been pulled back in favor of more flamboyant keyboard and guitar flourishes, and the longest and most elaborate songs are full of memorable melodies. There are also a few unique elements as industrial influences pop up for the first time in a while and vocals by Israeli pop singer Ninet Tayeb appear on tracks such as "Perfect Life" and "Routine" to give the album's concept more credibility.
Speaking of which, the inspiration taken from the life and death of Joyce Carol Vincent does make this album's concept slightly creepy but you won't find too many Raven style ghost stories here. Instead, the theme is more nostalgic and its theme of family and growing up give it more in common with In Absentia or Fear Of A Blank Planet than anything else.

It also helps that the songwriting and vocal lines on this album are catchy as hell. The title track provides the most straightforward example of this with its peppy progression but even the longer songs have distinct lines amidst the tangents with "3 Years Older" in particular offering a gentle refrain after moving away from its "2112" style overture. Wilson's talent for hooks and vocal layering never truly went away but seeing it highlighted on here like this makes one realize how much it's been missed the days of The Incident.

Much like the recent incarnation of Swans, the epic scope of Steven Wilson's solo material combined with the fast rates of its release sometimes lead me to question its quality along with the man's sanity. Fortunately, I love to be proven wrong as Hand. Cannot. Erase. is not only his best solo album but just might be one of the best he's recorded with any group. The structures are as tricky as ever but the changes in tone make it a comforting listen for old fans and new listeners like. Highly recommended to prog fans everywhere.

"3 Years Older"
"Hand Cannot Erase"
"Home Invasion"


Joel Bottom said...

Wonderful review Chris. I couldn't agree more with pretty much every sentiment you have shared about Wilson, his career, and the weight that the album holds in his legacy. If you aren't already, you should consider trying to write music reviews for some sort of media. This isn't the first one I've read and you really seem to have a knack for it.

Chris Latta said...

Thanks, Joel. I've posted on a lot of sites since high school and have gotten offers from a couple sites here and there but I don't think I work actively enough to really get on something like that for long.