Steven Wilson – To The Bone (Album review)

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The internet has had a lot to say about Steven Wilson’s new album over the last month… which is interesting given it was only released a few days ago. Widespread leaking of the album, combined with Wilson’s own media build up, mean that it’s hard to come to it with an open mind… “not as good as his other stuff”, “more pop than prog”, comparisons to Hounds of Love, Sowing The Seeds of Love and So… etc. This reviewer always does his best to see through all of that and review on its own merits.

All of that said I am a big Steven Wilson fan and come to the album with a fairly comprehensive knowledge of what has gone before (not that I liked all of it!). PT’s “Signify” was my stepping on board point in the mid 1990s, so I have many years to draw on, and I have followed virtually all of his side tracks such as Blackfield (big fan pre, post and with Wilson), No Man, Bass Communion, and the remixes of albums by artists I love. So if SW takes a different approach on his new solo album, that not a big surprise or a big deal.

“To The Bone” album cover

And that’s the thing… for any followers of Wilson worried that he’s “gone pop”, fear not. Stephen Humphries, in the sleeve notes in the Deluxe version puts it like this: “these new songs … are a break from the musical vocabulary of the previous (solo) albums… but it’s like looking at a jewel from a different angle”. Immersing myself in the 5.1 mix is as amazing a listening experience – yes this sounds new but the colours are familiar and fresh.

The “making of the album” movie shows us that Paul Stacey is a major collaborator this time around with brother Jeremy also taking the drum stool. But don’t fear because many familiar players from Wilson’s solo band are on here too. As with his entire catalogue there are so many different types of songs, styles and ideas so it’s too simplistic to think of it as a pop album. I have been a big fan of the Blackfield band since it appeared, and this is perhaps the closest Steven has got in his solo material to operating in the same space as that.

So it’s a listener-friendly album for sure… but you have to listen. A casual ear could dismiss “Permanating” with its programmed beats and falsetto vocals as disposable dance music… but put the 5.1 mix on and listen again – it’s as upbeat a song as Wilson has made for sure but it remains true to Wilson’s style with echoes of the ELO sound and even disco!. “Blank Tapes” kicks off with guitar picked over a Mellotron backing (the most prog instrument of all, along with singer Ninet Tayeb whose vocals and BVs are a key part of the album – and her style and sound are brilliantly complementary and contrasting to SW’s. From there we go straight from wistful beauty, and are launched into the straight-ahead rock of “People Who Eat Darkness” powered along by a driving rhythm guitar and rhythm section! Ninet’s other vocal highlight is on “Pariah”, a call and response section which brings Gabriel/ Bush’s “Don’t Give Up” to mind. Singer Sophie Hunger is the duet partner on “Song of I” bringing more contrast on a track with a percussion backing underpinned by orchestral strings and all sorts of organic sounds and nuances – its soundscape is a real highlight of the surround mix.

The deluxe and Blu Ray versions boast a great “making of” movie that is very fly-on-the-wall. A real highlight of that is the playing and jamming caught at the end section of “Detonation” – a great illustration of the creativity and improvisation that lurks within every track on this album.

All of that makes “To The Bone” a superb addition to Wilson’s body of work. If you are on the fence as to whether or not to get a copy, do not fear.

Released By: Caroline International
Release Date: August 8th, 2017
Genre: Progressive Rock

Band members:

  • Steven Wilson / vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards
  • Ninet Tayeb / vocals, backing vocals
  • David Kollar / guitars
  • Nick Beggs / bass
  • Robin Mullarkey / bass
  • Adam Holzman / piano, clavinet, organ, Solina strings
  • Craig Blundell / drums
  • Jeremy Stacey / drums

“To The Bone” track-listing:

  1. To the Bone
  2. Nowhere Now
  3. Pariah
  4. The Same Asylum as Before
  5. Refuge
  6. Permanating
  7. Blank Tapes
  8. People Who Eat Darkness
  9. Song of I
  10. Detonation
  11. Song of Unborn

Deluxe edition bonus disc (CD)

  1. Ask Me Nicely (intro)
  2. A Door Marked Summer
  3. Pariah (demo)
  4. People Who Eat Darkness (demo)
  5. Refuge (demo)
  6. The Same Asylum as Before (demo)
  7. Ask Me Nicely
  8. Northern Cyclonic
  9. Detonation (demo)
  10. Song of Unborn (demo)

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