Steven Wilson is a multi-instrumentalist, producer, and four-time Grammy nominee. He is also the founder of prog-rock stalwarts Porcupine Tree founder; is co-founder of Blackfield, No Man, and Storm Corrosion; and, he is a highly-acclaimed solo artist.
4 ½, Wilson’s fifth solo offering, is only 37 minutes. But it is 37 minutes of typical Steven Wilson brilliance. Opening the album is “My Book of Regrets.” Recorded in June 2015, it would have sounded at home on Hand. Cannot. Erase. The song opens with a simple guitar riff, slowly building a sonic wall with Nick Beggs’s bass guitar and Craig Blundell’s drumming. And then, in typical Steven Wilson style, there is a small, musically-introspective interlude, and then it’s back to the races again, with Nick Beggs weaving a complicated bass line into Dave Kilminster’s blazing guitar solo. Between all of this is Adam Holzman’s keyboard work and Steven Wilson’s guitar, both of which serve as textural threads that hold it all together. The lyrics tell the story of a woman watching life and the world happen all around her. All the while, she is unable to break out of her own seemingly self-imposed isolation, choosing rather to place her observations of the world in her book of regrets.
“Year of the Plague,” written and recorded during The Raven That Refused to Sing sessions, is a sparse, delicate, and beautiful instrumental, one of those Steven Wilson songs that elicits a lot of emotion – in this case, sadness – from the listener. I know of no other musician who is as adept as Steven Wilson of affecting the listener’s emotions. He paints darkness and sadness with musical notes.
The third song, “Happiness III,” was written and recorded during the Hand. Cannot. Erase. sessions. It is a straightforward rock song featuring some great guitar playing by Guthrie Govan’s, Nick Beggs on bass, and Marco Minnemann on drums. Lyrically, the song seems to be about a loner who is inept and cruel when dealing with other people.
“Sunday Rain Sets In,” another song from the Hand. Cannot. Erase. sessions is another of those texturally complex, multi-layered instrumentals by Steven Wilson that has me reaching for a razor or a bottle of pills. So beautiful, yet so sad. There is a moment of frantic and chaotic abandon at about the 3:45 mark that sounds as if King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” got loose in the studio. And then. as soon as the moment begins, it is done.
“Vermillioncore,” another instrumental, is a blend of jazz fusion, progressive metal, a subtle ode to King Crimson. It is a very complex and busy song held together by a thread of odd keyboard samplings.
“Don’t Hate Me” is an old Porcupine Tree song from 1999’s Stupid Dream album, reimagined. The use of Ninet Tayeb on the vocal refrains, along with the interplay between Nick Beggs (bass). Adam Holzman (keyboards), and Theo Travis (saxophone) during the song’s midsections, highlight what is an interesting and ambitious remake of a really good Porcupine Tree song.
Bottom line: Steven Wilson has a knock for surrounding himself with other great musicians. This record is no exception. The playing throughout is exquisite. Labeled an interim album between his fourth studio album Hand. Cannot. Erase. and his yet-to-be recorded fifth effort, 4½ is a satisfying, albeit short record. There is enough depth and complexity to keep his fans satisfied until the release of his next album. The album is also accessible enough to win him some new fans.