Saturday, February 6, 2021

Prog/Electronic Review: Steven Wilson - The Future Bites

Score: 73/100 
Release Date: January 29, 2021
Genre: Electronic, Prog-Rock
Similar Artists: Pineapple Thief, Moby

With his 6th studio album, former Porcupine Tree frontman and Prog Rock wonderboy turns sharply into the digital netherworld, challenging his most ardent followers' expectations. 

After Wilson's brilliant Hand Cannot Erase and To the Bone, it was anyone's guess as to which direction he'd turn. Yet, the deep and profound songs of alienation and marginalization backed by more digital underpinnings such as "Routine," "Perfect Life," and "Permanating" should have tipped us off.  The dangerous impact technology has in slowly stripping away our bodies' souls and transforming people into automatons continues to be the thread that runs through Wilson's most recent endeavors.   

Let's be clear, this is unlike anything you've ever heard from Wilson, and there are certain risks in steering down this path. It didn't bode well for Dennis DeYoung, and Styx with 1983's Kilroy was Here. "Mr. Roboto" remains the unfortunate example of how not to make this turn, and there are moments on this album that made me wonder if I was listening to a prog-rock mastermind or a failed Barry Gibb project from the late '80s.

Still, there's an argument to be made for suspending your disbelief, dispelling your preconceived notions, and giving this album a good honest listen.  In doing so, I was pleasantly surprised by several tracks. "12 Things I Forgot" is quintessential Wilson with confessional, soul-searing lyrics riding upon layers of acoustic guitar rhythm and piano. It would not be out of place on any Wilson or Porcupine Tree album. "Eminent Sleaze" is an innovative mix of genres and a song helped along by a strong chorus of backing female vocals, while " Follower" delivers poignant, timely lyrics upon smart and diverse sonic textures.

In full disclosure, Wilson's recent dissing of Eddie Van Halen's playing style after his death and his sudden shift in genres may have clouded my opinion. Once I accepted the man as the shape-shifting virtuoso he is, I was able to appreciate The Future Bites for the smart and complex achievement that it is.  

- Tom Endyke | Guitar & Pen

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