The mark of a great artist is one who constantly evolves, never content to repeat former glories and, in doing so, takes their audience along for the ride as the throng swells. David Bowie was sublime at this, Madonna too. Steven Wilson is also proving to be an exceptional talent looking to push boundaries by changing direction and keeping his audience on their toes.
Wilson’s recorded catalogue is now approaching three decades with no-man, Porcupine Tree and as a solo artist. He is also the go-to producer for a host of bands and for re-mixes of classic prog and rock albums. He has embraced pop, dance, rock and prog and he draws on all these elements, with a twist, for his new album The Future Bites which finally gets a release, after being delayed since last June last year due to the pandemic.
Worth the wait? “Not ‘arf!” as Fluff Freeman used to say. The Future Bites has a little of everything that Wilson has done before with a truly contemporary feel and more than a nod to one of Wilson’s early influences, Pink Floyd. Many fans will already be familiar with some of the material as Wilson has issued four singles/videos, with Personal Shopper available as far back as March 2020.
“Personal Shopper sits somewhere between being a love-letter to shopping (which I love to do!),” says Wilson, “and the uneasiness I feel about the more insidious side of modern consumerism.” At just shy of ten minutes, the track skips along with an infectious electronic dance beat as Wilson takes a poke at the algorithms and subliminal messages that entice us to part with our hard-earned cash: “Buy for comfort, buy for kicks / Buy and buy until it makes you sick / Buy for England, buy it all / Buy online and in the shopping mall”
Now dance meets prog as the track takes a musical turn to include a shopping list (remember Tubular Bells’ ‘Guide to the rock orchestra’?) of things we probably don’t need but make us feel good, read over a Floydian soundscape and without emotion, by the King of Consumers, none other than Sir Elton John! A stroke of pure genius!
To give The Future Bites its distinctly modern, punchy edge, Wilson has brought in David Kosten to share the production role and to mix the album. Known for his work with Bats For Lashes and Everything Everything and fresh from producing the latest Keane album, Kosten has his finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary intelligent pop in its broadest sense.
At 42 minutes, the album is also considerably shorter in length than Wilson’s previous five solo outings, more in keeping with many of the classic albums that undoubtedly influenced the younger Steven Wilson.
The album begins with a brief understated prog-style intro Unself before launching into an upbeat disco examination, Self, of what drives us to shop: “Self absorbed and self obsessed / If not me, then someone else.” King Ghost continues the process as the narrator, deep in dream-like thought, tries to analyse why he is what he is, what makes him tick and what makes him a consumer…
12 Things I Forgot puts Wilson in classic pop territory, great melody and a real ear-worm, an ironically upbeat delivery as the pleasure he derives from shopping masks the failings in other areas of his existence. The mood changes dramatically as Eminent Sleaze examines the faceless sharks behind the algorithms. The track is built on percussive handclaps with strings and the occasional Gilmour-esque stabbing guitar note. The atmospheric strummed guitar accompaniment to Man Of The People continues the Floydian influence.
Follower picks up the pace, once again, with a commentary the phenomenon of following celebrity on social media and their influence on those that read their posts. The finale, the downbeat Count of Unease, reaches a conclusion on the mind of the consumer in this must-have society: “If I could die right now / For anything it would be this”
Steven Wilson has always been a great observer and The Future Bites is right on point, a sharp, witty and sometimes uncomfortable comment on the modern state of consumerism, words as profound as anything Dylan wrote in the sixties. The Future Bites may be one of the albums of the year.