Steven Wilson continues his prolific run of progressive conceptual masterpieces with Hand. Cannot. Erase. Whilst its predecessor, The Raven Refused to Sing (And Other Stories), was a faithful recreation of the 70s prog rock sound with King Crimson-esque jazz fusion tendencies, this latest record sees Wilson return to a more modern sound and an accumulation of all his musical career dabblings.
The themes to the record are charismatically and unsurprisingly downbeat. The universal searches for love and self-meaning combine with feelings of alienation and loss to a devastating effect iconic of many previous Wilson and Porcupine Tree records. This album has a very specific narrative and takes inspiration from the life of Joyce Carol Vincent. Vincent, a once young and popular woman, died alone in her London bedsit in December 2003 and her body was not discovered, nor her death realised, for over two years. With no family members or friends questioning her disappearance, her body was eventually found by bailiffs who stormed her apartment following successive failed rent payments. How anybody’s death can go unnoticed in such a way for so long in the modern world is as shocking as it is gravely concerning.
With the central character being female, Wilson invites Israeli pop-rock singer Ninet Tayeb to contribute vocals to the record. This works extremely well and their vocals complement each other beautifully. Katherine Jenkins also makes an appearance on ‘Perfect Life’, delivering spoken word over a swirl of progressive soundscapes. Fans who adored the short but sweet harmonies of Clodagh Simonds on Wilsons’s debut solo effort, Insurgentes, are in for a treat here.
The album is a delightful concoction of various musical styles and carries a commercial pop edge in songs such as the title track and ‘Happy Returns’. The latter bearing a confident bluesy swagger that sees off the dark events of the narrative with elements of relief and acceptance. Wilson works with the same band line up that appeared on his last two records and they are all playing at the top of their game here. Guitarist Guthrie Govan particularly shines in his solo spots with his breakaway melodic runs in ‘Ancestral’ contributing to the most epic number on the album.
Whilst Hand. Cannot. Erase. is somewhat more accessible than previous releases it still rides firmly in the progressive rock vein. There are extended instrumental jams, heavy conceptual narratives and a plethora of sonic landscapes that give this record an abundance of replay value. Wilson’s brilliance at combining light and dark textures is ever prevalent here, too. There are delicate string sections, feather-light choir boy solos and serious funk rhythms along with heavy distorted guitar riffs and the crushing wails of dissonant organ chord progressions.
It seemed that The Raven Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) had raised a significant bar of excellence that even Wilson himself would struggle to match again but he has surpassed it here. This is an essential purchase for 2015.
Steven Wilson does it again! Another change in musical direction that continues Wilson's artistic progression. A more 'modern' and in some cases accessible album that still contains the prog tendencies that he has championed on previous releases.