Music Writing about Images

Steven Wilson’s Expressions To The Bone

Steven Wilson performing at McEwan Hall, Calgary on June 23, 2015.
© J. Ashley Nixon

Social prog

“It’s not what you’ll possess. It’s how you will express the essence of you.”

So goes the opening lines to the final track, Song of Unborn on Steven Wilson’s new album To the Bone. Like other songs on the recording released by Caroline International on August 18, it is filled with social observations around current, notable themes. Forced migration is there (Refuge). So is extreme religious fervour spun out of control into violent mayhem in the stonking, stand-out song, Detonation. There’s a dig at social media (“I’m tired of Facebook”, on Pariah) and some frustration vented at presidents and politicians (“You represent the people but you don’t believe in free will”) on The Same Asylum as Before.

Urban living

Steven Wilson’s take on Prog Rock is refreshing, creative and challenging both to himself and his audience. His exploration of urban blight and impersonal city living has evolved from the rural pastoralism of Progressive Rock in the 1970s (think Jethro Tull, who Wilson has remixed and my first fave prog band as a teenager) and brought the genre up to date. Yes, there are thunderous guitar solos racing up through the sky of octaves. There are three part harmonies (Nowhere Now) and falsetto (The Same Asylum as Before). And there’s plenty of Wilson’s signature brand in melancholic minors that pluck your heartstrings (for example, in Refuge). After all, he doesn’t do happy (see my Steven Wilson gig review from 2015).

All of the above makes for excellent auditory exploration. There is some fun stuff here as well. Like the riffing piano/guitar opening of the very danceable Permanating that pays homage to a certain Swedish band called Abba and maybe reaches back to him listening to Mrs Wilson’s favourite tunes when he was a kid at home. The opening song, To the Bone has blue hints of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with its harmonica solo. There’s more of that instrument in hauntingly beautiful fashion at the end of Refuge which also features some slick slide guitar plus at least three other great six string sounds, played with style by Wilson himself. Except for Song of I, he plays all of the guitar pieces. For his touring in 2018 hopefully we will see and hear Dave Kilminster play in the band. The lyrics of To the Bone, about different versions of truth, are penned by Andy Partridge, chief songwriter for XTC (Steven Wilson’s career as a record producer includes a remix of the monumental Drums and Wires, originally released by XTC in 1979). There’s also a nice nod in the direction of the band (Tears for Fears) that sometimes sounded more like The Beatles than the Fab Four themselves, on Asylum.

Soundtrack for 007?

Song of I is just waiting in the wings for a film to come along and be crafted around it. Maybe the timing is right to put it into the next James Bond movie? Daniel Craig, as he prepares for his last appearance as 007 is surely ready to “give it all up”.

Living on the shoulders of giants

Steven Wilson cares deeply about his music. How it sounds; how it feels; what it means. He has no problem standing, or living, on the shoulders of giants since, in music like most of life, everything is connected. Moments that take you to the sounds of Abba, Tears for Fears, Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello (hints of Painted from Memory (1998) at the closing of Refuge) and Tom Petty (listen to the Mike Campbell-like guitar on To the Bone) all fit perfectly well in his new recording. Prog rock never had to stand still and To The Bone progresses strongly in a positive direction after Hand. Cannot. Erase (2015) and before that The Raven That Used to Sing (And Other Stories) (2013).

I haven’t felt so excited about a new release in a long time. Time to listen to this one again, and then again. Steven Wilson, please consider Canada (and specifically Calgary) in your touring plans for 2018!

5 comments on “Steven Wilson’s Expressions To The Bone

  1. Sally Christie

    Spot on intelligent description of Steve Wilson’s new album “To the Bone”. I too love the crescendo’s, segues and lyrics but sad that the politics and social observations are close to the bone! On a lighter”note” can I suggest the author get’s in touch with Craig Daniel’s team asap!
    Sally Christie.UK.


  2. Pingback: Steven Wilson covers his own songs to the bone in Calgary @StevenWilsonHQ | NixonsCan

  3. FlamingoMambo

    I found your excellent blog post while seeking signs that music critics or anyone else shared my feeling that not only would a slightly condensed version of “Song of I” make a great Bond theme, but that Steven wrote it with precisely that in mind — a suspicion underscored by the sexy, gigantic, dancing-woman touring hologram. (That imagery is many things, but subtle, it ain’t!)

    As much as I hope this will happen, my track record in anticipating Bond themes going to neu-prog artists is lousy. in 2012, I felt certain that Muse’s “Supremacy” would be tapped, but they ended up going with Adelle for the “Skyfall” theme.


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