Steven Wilson: Hand. Cannot, Erase (Kscope)
The king of progressive music returns, notice I said progressive music, this is because since starting his solo career, Wilson has not been content with any one type of musical genre. So once again it is with great anticipation that I placed Hand.Cannot.Erase in my stereo and I was greeted by the atmospheric opening of First Regret before things turn into Yes on 3 Years Older which is one of the longer songs on the album and the only true prog rock song continuing in the vein of his last album The Raven That Refused To Sing which was heavily influenced by King Crimson, this track however has more in common with the more pastoral progressive rock of Yes, Caravan, Camel et al. As with most of his works this is another concept album with the over arching theme focussing the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, which was where a woman living in a large city died in her apartment and no one missed her for three years, despite her having family and friends, so this album is a discourse on the life of a woman who grows up isolated in the city, but of one who is not old but young and vibrant yet she is not noticed. With an intriguing story like that the album has strong concept to base itself on and prog fans will definitely love 3 Years Older which shows off Wilson's undoubted musical prowess as he handles most of the instrumentation while being backed by his fantastic band in the shape of organist, keyboardist and pianist Adam Holzman, guitarist Guthrie Govan (replaced now by Dave Kilminster) and drummer Marco Minnemann (again replaced by Craig Blundell). From the prog to the thrusting pop feel of the ttile track which is the first to feature female vocals from Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb as well as 12-string from Dave Gregory and sterling bass work from nick Beggs adding to that 60's dreamy pop sound, so far so upbeat but things take a more dramtic turn on Perfect Life which features a spoken word performance from Welsh soprano Katherine Jenkins who adds a pathos to the first part of the track before Wilson then continues the dream-like state with his plaintive, emotive vocals.
As per usual Wilson oversees everything in terms of production but he does allow Dave Stewart (yes him off the Eurythmics) to help him arrange the choirs and strings that flesh out tracks like Routine which is a haunting piano piece, that fuses electronic buzz with choral arrangements and Ninet's beautiful vocals working with Wilson's perfectly as the track builds it adds layers and layers to make it the perfect mid-album track as it moves into the instrumental second part that lets Govan show off his creative guitar playing and yet, so is the genius of Wilson, a track so intensely musical manages to convey it's theme of mundane brilliantly. Many have compared this album to The Wall by Pink Floyd and with the theatrical nature of Routine that couldn't be clearer, the same themes are present also, loss, loneliness and separation from the outside world all feature heavily and much like Floyd's opus things take a turn for the worse in the second part. Home Invasion is the first 'heavy' track dripping with synths and organs it is also the albums most jazz influenced with Beggs doing his fleet fingered best and Govan adding some guitar magic to the track that is most like Wilson's previous life in Porcupine Tree before seamlessly seguing into the heavy krautrock of Regret #9 which features two glorious solos from Adam Holzman on the Moog and Govan on the guitar as Wilson adds bass, guitar, keys, mellotron and banjo (just a fraction of his talent I assure you). Despite all of the technical playing, it has always been Wilson's songwriting that has set him apart and Hand. Cannot.Erase is no different in fact it may just be his most accessible yet, Transience is the only true Wilson solo piece and is evocative of everything he represents harrowing musical landscapes with a keen ear for the radio-friendly as witnessed by this tracks jangling, multi-layered acoustics.
In true prog style, just as you get comfortable, the goalposts get moved again and as the trip-hop drum machine and piano duo drives the opening of Ancestral one can't help but feel a little anxious as a single violin plays in the background and the music swells before levelling off and then exploding around 3 minutes into the 13+ minute track which once again features a majestic guitar solo before Tayeb's vocals takes us in a new direction as the track gets more ominous in it's latter, instrumental part. This album takes your breath away in it's scope and delivery, it is a masterclass in musicianship, songwriting and production that all wraps up in Happy Returns which is Wilson at his most comfortable, condensed and indeed stirring; combining intelligent lyricism with uplifting and transcendent musical backing that closes the album out perfectly as it slips away (words used deliberately) into Ascendant Here On... A truly magical album and one that once again cements Steven Wilson's place as one of the greatest songwriters the UK has ever produced. 10/10