22nd January, 2016 – Kscope
01. My Book of Regrets
02. Year of the Plague
03. Happiness 3
04. Sunday Rain Sets In
06. Don’t Hate Me
Steven Wilson is a very busy man. On top of being involved in a myriad of remixing projects for various classic prog albums, including the King Crimson, Yes, and Gentle Giant discographies, and working with the band Blackfield, he’s also working rather intensely on his solo project, music under his own name.
Steven Wilson is a genius. He’s a force in progressive music and is perhaps the biggest name in prog right now. His last solo album drew a fair amount of praise from many, including us here. This new release is meant to be a bridge between Hand. Cannot. Erase. and his next full length album, consisting of four track cut from Hand Cannot Erase, one from The Raven That Refused To Sing, and the final song a Porcupine Tree piece re-worked by his solo band.
So 4 ½ is essentially Steven Wilson B-sides, and it certainly feels that way. While he is a massively talented musician, songs from the cutting room floor are still just that; offcuts. Hand Cannot Erase had moments where it felt as though Steven was channeling Rush’s Alex Lifeson, but overall it did have his own stamp on it. Meanwhile, 4 ½ has moments even more blatant than anything from the album they were cut from, as well as some serious Porcupine Tree worship. Is it possible that he is subconsciously missing Porcupine Tree? Only he would know for sure.
Speaking of Porcupine Tree, the re-working of “Don’t Hate Me”, a song originally from 1999′s Stupid Dream. It’s a fantastic rendition of an older Porcupine Tree song that makes use of the space and the musical talent around the band leader. The song has been made into a duet with Ninet Tayeb, who also did vocals onHand. Cannot. Erase. proper, and the pairing is really quite good, as are the keyboard solo from Adam Holzman and the saxophone solo delivered by Theo Travis – it’s all utterly fantastic.
While he sounds good on the last track, Steven’s voice sounds bit off in most other parts. While enjoyable overall, “Happiness III” features some less-than-great singing from the man. The chorus is about the nicest part of it. The EP is actually fairly heavy on the instrumental tracks, however, so this does not afflict all the songs, and “Vermillioncore” in particular is actually a fairly cool, upbeat, vaguely psychedelic jam that delivers some massive heavy riffing.
In fact, it really is the second half of this EP that show cases most of what Steven’s songwriting can actually sound like. “Sunday Rain Sets In” has a huge shift in the middle of it from a calm, relaxing, yet slightly sinister atmosphere to slamming a stormy and dissonant progression into the speakers, before letting it fade back into the smooth and jazzy again.
It would be easy to fanboy hard over any Steven Wilson release. It would also be equally easy to go the opposite route and rip a release to pieces just to try and seem cool. Here, neither of those will happen. 4 ½ is an okay release, but is not at all an essential item to buy for anyone except the most hardcore of Steven Wilson collectors. The musicianship is top notch as always, but the songwriting is mostly a bit lacklustre. The last two tracks are the best on it, and the rest is easy to pass on.