Steven Wilson – The Future Bites (2021) – Review

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I am feeling like a ghost these days. It is as if I’d absolutely need to go haunting something, find closure of an unknown cause. And it will not let me move on until I had my fill. Now, don’t worry, good ol’ RMR did not suddenly turn into a zombie looking for brains.

But I need to get one thing off my chest.1) And this is Steven Wilson‘s newest pop addiction piece The Future Bites.

To tell you the truth, I kinda wondered how long this resistance to supply a review would last in the holy office suite of the mighty RMR tower. Thorny was the path, from a resounding ‘no way, it’s vile pop’, over a lukewarm ‘maybe’, to a more resounding, ‘yeah, let’s do it’. It took the crew a long time to come to mama, yet we finally made it.

The RMR deck crew already had a shortish go at some of the background noize this record generated in abundance. And that was mainly about how this artist’s departure from the holy path of prog would somehow wreak havoc with the genre. But there’s no sign of that.

Also, you’ll find this other faction of fans that seems to think Wilson somehow owes them something. And that by moving closer to his alma mater (which is pop), he somehow became a traitor to the pristine church of prog. But that is of course complete nonsense. Any artist worth his or her salt will freely move to where their creative juices lead them. And rightly so.

So, here we are with The Future Bites, a decidedly controversial piece right from the start. But will our own statement that the record is just yet another pop record hold its water?

Let’s dive in.

Well, don’t tell anybody, but I actually like the record. It’s one of those geeky guilty pleasures. Things you shouldn’t tell yer fellow metalheads for fear to be labeled a wuss. But what can I say? The music multiverse is vast and vastly more complex than only one stylish direction.2)

TFB is a sparkly affair, full of glitzy things that you kind of want to grab and hold on to. Just to have them disappear into another often bizarre soundbite. And – admittedly – this perfectly fits into the storyline of abject consumerism. So, well done for this one, I guess.

The record – however – is the work of a master arranger with outstanding musical skills. And – indeed – it appears that Wilson really found his vocation. Or more, he reached back into his very own past, where the high-pitched falsetto already morphed into something of a trademark. After all, his work in Porcupine Tree isn’t all that different than the pop offering today.

Now, Steven Wilson went out of his way to polish this TFB thing beyond New York shoeshine. An impeccable production, followed up by a marketing blitz that often left me scratching my head. From garish, yet superbly executed clips, over the use of deep fake technology, to a never-ending barrage of messages, it felt like an avalanche at times.

A multitude of soundbites that will hit all yer neurons. And a felt every second of yet another nerdy androgynous Wilson photo3) that you couldn’t really escape from. This – finally – turned into a slightly nauseating media overload that – finally – may not be to the album’s advantage.

Yet, let’s face it. Good marketing on a large budget, fueled by a gazillion ideas will mobilize the mainstream. And this is what Steven Wilson and his label Caroline International achieved. At the time of writing this review, The Future Bites scores highly in Europe and it – indeed – just entered the US Billboard 200.

So, the record indeed must have hit the nerve of the huge masses of pop adepts. And Wilson seems to be heading towards a pretty stellar performance. Which he – yet again – pretty shrilly touted over all media channels at his disposal.

That feat doesn’t really come as a surprise, though. The diet of today’s chart stormtroopers is sometimes very near to the sound of some 40 years ago. With often outright copies used by artists to no great effect. And Mr. Wilson here is – of course – very aware of that.

So indeed, the gist of the TFB DNA seems to be anchored in the vast realm of the ’80s synth-pop galaxy. The record, sophisticated as it may present itself, always reminds me of those long-gone times. Stuff that kinda oscillates somewhere in between Bronski Beat, Talk Talk, and Roxy Music. That said, none of the tracks really sound unfamiliar. The whole amalgam seems full of those melodies that we – somehow – already heard somewhere. Only, they’re made with plausible deniability in mind and it is impossible to really figure out where this originated.

And whilst the song structures for the flagships of The Future Bites are pretty elaborate (Eminent Sleaze, Universal Shopper), others are simpler of nature. True, 12 Things I Forgot does have a sweet pull and it followed me around for a while. Yet, others just aren’t all that good to swoon over.

Yet, on the other hand, it is not that simple. Already with Self you find yourself in the thrall of a meaty beat that neatly underlines Wilson‘s anguished voice. The lack of guitars also struck me. If anything, they’re used as accessories, not the driving force. The short interludes and brutishly shrill and scarce solos really drive that point home very well.

Yet, this also shows that this record is made by a master mixer and – indeed – remixer. Somebody who excels in shaping materials from the ’80s into digestible contemporary soundbites. And he’s doing that by adding all sorts of elements and flavors into his tune. Like some mighty recipe that makes almost flawless pop cookies.

Ultimately, The Future Bites pretty much is the sign of the time. In a world where Pop Music is ever more … popular, Wilson truly gives in to his creative urges. And – in turn – spawns a record that is as controversial as it is good.

And somebody already said it. Steven Wilson made a pop album for adults. A pretty outstanding production of what a keen musical mind and a ton of technology can produce. So, TFB isn’t profoundly different from what other pop artists created. But the quality, boundless ideas, and awesome musical prowess truly shine.

Yet, deep down, it remains yet another pop record. Albeit a very good one, I give them that.

Record Rating: 7/10 | LabelCaroline International | Web: Official Band Site
Release Date: 29 January 2021


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