Debate raged around the RMR offices. It was all about an outrageous non-metal album floating out there in the not-so-rocky universe and covered in brightly colored stars. And you heard the hype, right? Don’t we just all love conspiracy theories? Mysteries yet unsolved and deliciously unsolvable?
The rumor had it that Steven Wilson and his newest full-length To The Bone would be pop. So pop that all metalheads and prog nerds would have to hang their heads in shame upon starting with the record. All of this would – of course – come complete with bright colors and funky videos, Dark Horse style.
Okay, RockmusicRaider was guilty too. Shooting off a few bad wisecracks about the terrible album to come out and how it was going to be so Amaranthe at worst and Taylor Swift at best. And of course, there was always the expectation that nobody could best Hand. Cannot. Erase. The outcome is – somewhat expectedly – not quite a pop album.
Or is it?
Well, first of all, the scents and tastes of the ’80s pop and rock scene coalesce on this record. And this is indeed what Steven Wilson so ably threatened. A selection of tunes, stuff we all loved or at least lived with during those times. Of course, only for those who were already alive at that time. Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac, Peter Gabriel, or Kate Bush to name just a few. And forgetting other more ludicrous specimens all kind of mixed into an amalgam of poppy delights.
Yet, whilst pop is the painting in all its gaudy, shiny colors, Alternative and Progressive Rock is the frame. And a very sturdy frame at that. So, all of those ramblings about a descent into the 20th circle of pop hell just evaporate. This record will for sure not torment anybody with the scarier facets of the ’80s pop culture. Garish hairstyles and wide jeans included. Believe me, for I was there. This feels like Back To The Future. Complete with the mad professor and a snazzy DeLorean that can fly.
But let’s come back down from re-litigating old, very dead movies. If not we’ll end up discussing Mad Max all of a sudden. Different blog, folks. So, back to Steven Wilson and his very own nightmares.
But Steven Wilson still pulls at them terrible pop levers down To The Bone!
And not all of them are good ones. Some of that stuff really makes you wonder in what friggin’ box of horrors in the attic he found them. Like in the Song of I that messed up my Sunday roast with some mixture of KC & The Sunshines and – get ahold of something – Depeche Mode. Unhappily, this is the track ft. Sophie Hunger, whom I respect a lot.
Or, there is this thing called Detonation. Creative freedom, grave subject et al understood, but what the fuck! Almost 10 minutes of monotonous torture for yours truly. Creativity gone to the deep South. In some sense, this track is the flotsam bobbing in the wake of this mighty ship. Yet you gotta give it to him: It is technically outstanding, very good flotsam. Endless jazz loop from goofy radio included, dammit.
There, I said it.
With the Bad Karma thing finally out of the way, the rest is astonishingly good. It starts with To The Bone (the title track). Contrary to the latest of Dirty Sound Magnet that is similar to this, but still in search of itself, Steven Wilson delivers an accomplished piece of Alternative Rock. Or Creative Rock in DSM speak. And holy cow, the flow in this track is astonishing. The move from monologue to a creative jazzy kind of soft rock is mind-blowing. With a nod to the Rolling Stones and ‘Sympathy To The Devil’ through the percussion, no less.
And this is one of the strengths of this album and speaks to the outstanding songwriting qualities of this band. To The Bone never copies any tune or band outright. The band dishes out subtle references. It is a flavors and scents thing, like a perfume maker on the prowl. You’ll hear many similarities. To the aforementioned bands, but also bands like Pink Floyd, ELP (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), and many others.
Now, let me point out the second track Nowhere Now that got a straight 10/10 on the tracklist. This is a gulp of fresh air in the Alt-Rock arena. Even if the lyrics speak a totally different story. Pariah with Ninet Tayeb, in a guest contributor role, is a disturbing piece of work. Yet, it is also one of the better tracks on this album.
From then on, the oomph kind of lets up. Where Hand. Cannot. Erase. jacked up emotion and sad drama, you’ll see a subtle, but steady decline in To The Bone.
Yet, let me point out People Who Eat Darkness. First, the track embarks onto punky road, just to deliciously disintegrate into the alternative universe of the prog kind. This one is probably the rockiest of all the tracks on this album. But also one of the most disturbing ones alongside the aforementioned Pariah.
So, how cvlt will To The Bone be in the future?
It will depend on the eyes of the beholder. For some of the fan crowd, this jambalaya of sounds and flavors already got cvlt status. In line with some of the crimes committed by Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush in the distant past. For others, it will totally suck – not metal and far out there in the silly galaxy.
In truth, however, you need to give Steven Wilson credit. Credit for having created a pretty varied, perfectly engineered piece of Alternative and Progressive Rock. Revisiting old places, with thorough and thoughtful musical interventions. And this by creating colorful soundscapes without succumbing to the urge to lather all those tracks with a ton of cheese. With greasy hairstyles to boot. So no, To The Bone is no pop album, yet it sports a pop lining for sure.
To The Bone is definitely not your usual hamburger with fries only. This is a gourmet menu, best consumed in small portions and over several courses. So, yes, there is a fair chance that this album will – in time – obtain the same cvlt status as The Raven that Refused to Sing. But it will not be able to blow Hand. Cannot. Erase. to smithereens. No sir, it won’t.
Ed’s note: The record successfully made it onto the Intermittent Digest – Tome VI edition. Congrats.