Steven Wilson - To the Bone

by James Gerard Rating:8 Release Date:2017-08-18

Steven Wilson has done a commendable job of championing the progressive-rock cause throughout the course of his some two-decades of work.  The former Porcupine Tree frontman (who went on hiatus while arguably at their commercial peak) has spent the past ten years both pushing the stubborn genre steadily forward via a handful of brilliant forward-thinking projects (Blackfield, Storm Corrosion, etc) while also paying homage to its past, remixing seminal albums by some of the prog's most important bands (Yes, Jethro Tull, King Crimson).  Along the way there have also been a handful of appropriately grandiose solo-albums, the latest of which, To The Bone, easily ranks amongst Wilson’s best work.  

Where Wilson’s previous albums drew heavily on the tried-and-true longform cinematic format of prog’s mid-to-late 70’s heyday, To The Bone finds the multi-instrumentalist infusing his work with a healthy dose of 80’s inspired pop sensibility.  The chiming guitar that kicks of the album's opening track instantly recalls hints of Division-Bell era Pink Floyd, while the song's nearly seven minutes worth of sonic twists and turns serves as good approximation for everything that is to follow.

To The Bone is an effectively jarring exercise in extremes, where upbeat tracks like the pulsing “Permeating” and the menacing “People Who Eat Darkness” almost sound like holdovers prom his former band’s glory days, songs like like the subdued “Pariah” and the slow-building “Refuge” could easily find a home on any of Peter Gabriel’s first four solo albums.

While the record hits more than it misses, To The Bone is not without it’s quirky production choices (the use of straight-outta-the-80’s female backup vocals is especially grating) or ill-advised lyrical passages (I’m tired of Facebook?!?), but after all, solo records are precisely where an artist should be taking these kinds of chances.  High-minded, socially-infused ruminations notwithstanding, the album’s final fifteen minutes is where To The Bone shines brightest, with the nearly ten-minute workout that is “Detonation” serving as the perfect emotional counterpoint to the album-closing “Song of Unborn”, a brilliantly executed ballad that finds Wilson evoking more shades of the Gilmore-led Floyd to great effect.  

To The Bone is, above all else, a pleasure to listen to, complimented by a lush mix of electronic and traditional instrumentation that rarely feels belabored.  While Wilson’s eclectic approach this time out is sure to divide some longtime fans, the record’s brazen adherence to redefining expectations is to be commended, and regardless of what school of prog you attend, To The Bone will have something for you.

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  • Rob Taylor

    Great review James. It may be old school, but this album is excellent. I'm no disciple of Wilson but this is one of his best, alongside The Raven That Refused to Sing, which was similarly great. This is more eclectic as you've noted, but all the fresher for it. Beautifully recorded as well.