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Steven Wilson - 4 ˝ CD (album) cover

4 ˝

Steven Wilson

Crossover Prog


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LearsFool
COLLABORATOR
Post/Math Rock Team
3 stars Heading into this album, I didn't know what to expect. People who read lots of PA reviews of Steven Wilson's various projects will know that I am a longtime fan of the man who was massively disappointed by "Hand. Cannot. Erase.", finding it dull and generic, and with the "Transience" combined starter compilation/limited edition vinylhead-superfan-only release, featuring a weakened cover of "Lazarus", I've been very cautious of his non-Bass Communion work, wondering if he's not just running out of ideas on the solo front but perhaps fishing for sterling. On the other hand, this is an outtakes collection of his, which fellow fans know are veritable treasure chests, with Porcupine Tree's "Recordings", culled from the "Stupid Dream" and "Lightbulb Sun" sessions, a must have, and Continuum's "Recyclings" duology extra treats for big fans of BC and Vidna Obmana's drone collaborations. Being apparently drawn mostly from the HCE sessions gave me particular pause, but I decided to try the release anyways. And why not?

Now, there has been disappointment with part of the album. "My Book of Regrets" was particularly bad, just being an extended version of "Regret #9", already one of HCE's worst tracks. With a title like that, I had been expecting some kind of new track or medley of the Regret tracks, not this disguised bonus track. "Happiness III" is itself a cut that would've fit snugly onto that album, with not much to say about it, though I personally prefer it to all but the first two tracks of HCE.

But then there's the happy surprises. Apparently only one track is sourced from the sessions for "The Raven That Refused To Sing", but "Year of The Plague", "Sunday Rain Sets In", and "Vermillioncore" all sound like they could fit perfectly onto that beautiful piece of popcorn prog, and as a big fan of said album this has me over the moon. The first of these is probably the track actually from the "Raven" sessions, a delicate instrumental with guitar and mellotron. "Sunday Rain" is definitely from the HCE sessions, and it wonderfully marries the styles of "The Raven" and HCE, which I'd say shows what was missing from the latter. And "Vermillioncore" takes "The Raven"'s sounds and marries them with PT style rock-unto-metal progressions, making for a thrilling cut. Finally, the PT cover this time around, "Don't Hate Me", while not quite as good to my ears as the original, compares well, again marrying "Raven" and HCE styles, with Ninet Tayeb beautifully singing the chorus.

On its own, this is another great treasure trove for superfans of Swilson. On top of that, I note that I now know what went wrong with HCE, as well as the fact that album five looks better now, since this is a nice release and Wilson has hinted that this release is in a way related to the upcoming one. Also, I'm totally making a mixtape out of "The Raven" and the three Raven-esque tracks from this compilation.

Report this review (#1516129)
Posted Wednesday, January 20, 2016 | Review Permalink
DamoXt7942
FORUM & SITE ADMIN GROUP
Avant, Crossover & Neo Teams
3 stars Steven has come back, with six easy-to-soak songs upon the newest album "4 1/2". Actually, I'm not so familiar with his creation until now enough to discuss his music style or album itself, but his previous album "The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)" has amazed me a lot ... anyway, I could listen to and enjoy "4 1/2" with fresh feeling, whether "The Raven ..." is fantastic or not. Able to mention this album should sound like his straight attitude for pop / rock, not so innovative nor novel though. Indeed the first shot "My Book Of Regrets" has a couple of variations scattered along with his soundscape, but his music basis sounds consistent from the beginning to the end ... Various phrases squeezed can be heard as a mass of rock. This mass cannot be divided into pieces (pop and anti-pop) ... can you?

"Vermillioncore" is another heavy and cool starshine around him. Tight but distorted vibes kick us away. Her vermillion would be attractive, mysterious, and poisonous ... that could kill us swiftly only if we touch this, I imagine. Such an obvious risk and benefit he might launch via this track. Aye for him, rainy Sunday might be a colourful day, I guess through "Sunday Rain Sets In". To run and hide our heads should not always be needed under the Sunday rainy sky, but be careful to get drastic shower or dreadful thunder / lightning sometimes attacking us ... he says upon this colourful stuff. Quite simple but enjoyable. And yes, "Year Of The Plague", almost a solo track by Steven, is one of my favourite songs. We must get immersed in river-flowing-out-like rhythm prints and dreamy, heartwarming melody lines ... he might show something veiled in his inner meditative world for grabbing our serious, sincere reaction in front of the song out.

And as a result ... I suppose all of his sincerity for music would be expressed over the last song "Don't Hate Me", that sounds of kaleidoscopic appearances. Sometimes quiet, sometimes violent (Theo's freakout saxophone is pretty effective), sometimes depressive, and sometimes enthusiastic ... and every vision repeats over and over on a regular basis. This atmospheric tide formed by Steven Project cannot be avoided at all. Every rock fan can enjoy this fantastic rock dish, I'm sure!

Report this review (#1517521)
Posted Friday, January 22, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars Steven Wilson's new EP, "4 1/2", is finally here. Referred to as a 'mini album', this record had to live up to almost impossible expectations set by Wilson's fan base after "Hand. Cannot. Erase", his latest masterpiece. The question is, did it live up? Not exactly, but it it's definitely great in its own right. It's no HCE, and it doesn't try to be.

The album starts out with a piece titled "My Book of Regrets", a classic rock song. Complete with riffs reminiscent of Yes's Roundabout, it's my personal favorite of the album. It's an energetic album starter, playing a similar role to "Three Years Older" from HCE. This track is sure to be recognized as one of Wilson's best.

The next song is titled "Year of The Plague". It originated from recording sessions for "The Raven That Refused to Sing", bringing back the haunting beauty of that record. Wilson originally intended to use this for a movie score, and it certainly sounds like one when you keep that in mind.

The next song, 'Happiness III", is a glorified pop song, and a pretty good one at that. It's probably Steven Wilson at his happiest (no pun intended) and his most... commercial. It's not the kind of pop song you'd expect out of Wilson, who's written many melancholic pop songs with Blackfield and Porcupine Tree; it's more of a radio friendly kind of pop.

What follows is the exact opposite of that. "Sunday Rain Sets In" is a very jazzy song that reprises one of the riffs heard in "My Book Of Regrets". It's a great track on its own, reminiscent of his earlier solo stuff. I think it's the only track that wouldn't have fit in with HCE, maybe along with "Year of The Plague".

The next song, "Vermillioncore", is the heaviest track on the album. It's a piece that would've fit in perfectly with any of the more recent "Porcupine Tree" albums. Minneman's drumming is especially impressive in this track. This would highly appeal to you if you're a fan of Steven's heavier work.

Finally, 4 1/2 closes with Porcupine Tree song "Don't Hate Me". Somehow, a song written for the 1999 album "Stupid Dream" fits perfectly 17 years later. Its lyrics somehow fit perfectly with the HCE narrative. I personally prefer this version to the Porcupine Tree version, largely due to Ninet's stunning voice.

Overall, 4 1/2 may have not been as good as previous Wilson releases, but it wasn't meant to be. As long as you're fine with that, you're treated to an album that's excellent in its own right. It's definitely worth a listen (or 6 in my case), and it's an excellent way to start a year that is likely to offer some incredible prog releases. Do enjoy it!

Report this review (#1518499)
Posted Saturday, January 23, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars Four and one-half - A surprise, in-between interim bridge-between album from workaholic master composer maestro mixer masterer overachiever extraordinaire Steven Wilson!

Jumping in, I'm caught by both stylistic and technical change from recent material - the 36--minute effort finds (forgive the phrase) Wilson at his solo work's most "accessible" and what I find to be the closest to the famed Porcupine Tree sound. Out are most of the avante gardish-ish jazz jam-isms we found on his seminal Raven that Refused to Sing album and to a lesser degree found on Hand Cannot Erase (though that album certainly was more "mainstream" and less jazzy). That should come as no surprise since a majority of the material here was cut from Hand Cannot Erase.

Not being a big fan of jazz in general, this, in this humble listener's opinion, is a good thing...

Highlights-

The album opener "My Books of Regrets" is a lovely nine-minute suite that, after 10 or so listens is really growing on me.

"Happiness III" is a wonderful gem, hummable and would have fit in nicely into of the lighter material we found in 2000s-era Porcupine Tree album.

"Year of the Plague" (dark, the listener can easily tell it's the only track here from Raven) and "Sunday Rain Sets in" (from WIlson's latest) are both lovely instrumental tracks- not the best he's done but great nonetheless.

Yet another vocal-free jam, "Vermillioncore" reminds me a lot of "Bornlivedie" (especially around the 2-minute mark) from one of my all-time favorites Signify.

A perfect Wilson/Ninet Tayeb duet re-imagining of 1999 Stupid Dream's "Don't Hate Me" closes the album (of course it does) finding Wilson and his solo-career comrades perfectly replicating and expanding upon the dreary 17 year-old classic. Theo Travis effortlessly replays his saxophone solo that I've always loved in this song too.

3 3/4 stars rounded to 4.

Report this review (#1520456)
Posted Tuesday, January 26, 2016 | Review Permalink
Aussie-Byrd-Brother
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars Modern progressive music icon and workaholic Steven Wilson could have rested on the popularity of his very well-received `Hand. Cannot. Erase' and `The Raven that Refused to Sing' albums and successful tours of recent years, (or better yet, got to work on a long awaited new Bass Communion album, hint hint!), but noooooo! He jumps right back a few months later with a superb budget-priced 37 minute compilation entitled `4 1/2', a reference to it being a stop-gap release before his next proper studio album. Sounding like a perfectly coherent true album as opposed to simply a selection of outtakes and newly completed original fragments that it is, it's comprised of three vocal driven tracks and just as many purely instrumental pieces that should please the faithful Wilson devotees that lap up his every release, but it also holds a few genuinely exciting and unexpected welcome surprises buried within as well.

The highlight of the disc is the opening almost ten-minute stunner `My Book of Regrets', an unpredictable mix of indie-rock, observational lyrics with a deceiving poppy chorus and plenty of proudly prog-rock instrumental flourishes over a range of tempos and numerous soloing spots. But the best surprise of all, Steven delivers a guitar solo in the middle that almost calls to mind all those beautiful Delirium Records-era Porcupine Tree releases like `Staircase Infinities', a spacey and chiming ethereal performance that compliments perfectly the finale of `Dark Matter' off Porcupine Tree's classic `Signify' album. Overall it's a terrific piece that covers plenty of ground both current and historical that Steven Wilson and his previous band Porcupine Tree moved through, and most prog rock fans should absolutely adore this one.

Thankfully the rest of the disc also offers very superior material. An outtake from the `Raven' recording sessions, the mysterious shimmering electric piano of instrumental `Year of the Plague' quickly gives way to reflective acoustic guitar, piano and a mix of sampled violin, choir and orchestral elements to give the piece a warmth and great heart. Written in 2003, recorded in 2014 with the musicians from the `Hand. Cannot. Erase' sessions, `Happiness III' reveals itself as one of those rare up-tempo and spirited intelligent (not to mention quite upbeat and joyous!) pop-rockers from the artist, powered by jangling distorted electric guitar strums, humming Hammond organ and a pleasing chorus.

Also from the same `Hand...' sessions, instrumental `Sunday Rain Sets In' (unsurprisingly) moves between gloomy and ghostly eerie instrumentation (some nice darkly jazzy piano runs here and there), but thankfully Steven's acoustic guitar brings little traces of warmth. Sadly, an obnoxious and thrashing heavy burst in the final quarter of the piece for only a few seconds is completely lazy and ruins the beautiful subtle mood the piece was drifting through.`Vermillioncore' just may be the best instrumental piece of all on the disc, a delirious and addictive mix of glistening electric piano, Elephant9-like organ violations and twitching electronics, relentless upfront bass with some heavier guttural spasms, gutsy guitar heaving and even Hawkwind-like up-tempo heavier races.

The album closes on a remake of the wonderful Porcupine Tree track `Don't Hate Me' from their terrific 1998 crossover album of prog rock and indie-pop `Stupid Dream', and while it hardly reinvents the piece completely, it's a worthwhile reinterpretation with plenty to offer. Certainly at the start it badly misses Colin Edwin's thoughtful and distinctive bass murmurs throughout the early verses, sounding quite naked and empty in comparison. A lot of listeners greatly enjoyed female singer Ninet Tayeb's contributions to the `Hand...' album, and she offers a very pleading alternative approach to the chorus compared to Steven's fragile and wounded original. But thankfully the middle instrumental passage lifts the track considerably, a frantic dash of spiralling electric piano, thrashing drum rumbles and bouncing fluid bass raised loud and proud all worthy of any Seventies jazz-fusion album, and Theo Travis delivers another gorgeous Gong-flavoured sax solo, a standout on both versions of the piece.

`4 1/2' is very much comparable to Porcupine Tree's b-sides and unreleased material release `Recordings', which was far more than some mere throwaway compilation (It could be argued that it's much more challenging and complex than the two proper studio albums `Stupid Dream' and `Lightbulb Sun' that came from the same sessions), and it proves that even apparently `lesser' Steven Wilson compositions may just be as worthwhile or even far superior to the strongest outwork of endless other progressive artists. Full of his usual intelligent ideas, plenty of his expected modern and vintage musical influence variety and impressive playing from his musical collaborators, `4 1/2' keeps Steven Wilson's reputation soaring nicely, and fans of both Porcupine Tree and his solo works will be very happy with the results here.

Four stars.

Report this review (#1527159)
Posted Tuesday, February 9, 2016 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JR/F/Canterbury Teams
3 stars This release by Steven Wilson in 2016 is not exactly an album. It's a compilation of tracks recorded in the past few years, a few leftover songs from his last two studio albums, some outlying songs not yet released, and one live version of a Porcupine Tree piece, from Wilson's 2015 tour.

The star of this album, to me, other than Wilson's always perfect production, is bassist Nick Beggs. His playing seems to lift even the most mundane spots to higher levels.

The songs, from worst (relatively) to best:

"Year Of the Plague" - recorded during the "Raven That Refused To Sing" sessions and "Sunday Rain Sets In" - from the "Hand. Cannot. Erase." sessions are both somewhat short, low key instrumentals, that sound to me like they were meant to just carry along a theme on the aforementioned albums. They are nice, but on their own here, not memorable out of context.

"Happiness III", also from the "Hand. Cannot. Erase." sessions, is a nice psychedelic piece, based on a minor/major 2-chord progression that too many lesser bands overused in the 1970s.

"My Book of Regrets" is a more typical Wilson piece, starting with an alt-rock sound, and building to pure modern prog. Much of this was recorded live, and then overdubbed in the studio, but just as in many of Frank Zappa's similarly produced works, the issues usually apparent in live recordings do not come through.

"Don't Hate Me", known from the 1998 Porcupine Tree version, played live by Wilson's recent touring band, starts out nice, but when Beggs' bass takes off, it lifts the piece to new heights.

The crown jewel of this disk is "Vermillioncore", which starts out with a smooth jam, reminiscent of King Crimson's "A Sailors Tale", and builds to a crescendo which sounds more like the 2000's version of the same band. Beautiful piece.

Then album is short for these days, coming in at 36 minutes. And as a leftovers collection they don't always flow together.

So. the songs range from somewhat good to great. I'd rate the album 3.5 stars, but I'll round it down to differentiate it from the absolutely 4 star albums "The Raven That Refused To Sing" and "Hand. Cannot. Erase."

Report this review (#1530828)
Posted Saturday, February 20, 2016 | Review Permalink
2 stars I have been a fan of Porcupine Tree since I don't remember when. When Wilson decided to leave the band aside and follow a solo career I was kind of disappointed, but I continue following his solo works. I have all his solo albums in my collection, with 'Insurgentes' being the only exception.

Starting this, I have to say that honesty, I can't find any reason why someone would like to buy this new album of his. (Wilson's music collectors are excluded). First of all, this is not a "proper" album. It includes songs that were recorded in the previous years, (mostly during the "Raven" and "Hand" sessions) and for some reason were not included there. Furthermore, there is nothing new here. Nothing! The songs are similar in style to the songs on his 2 previous albums, but not so good ones. (Maybe that's the reason they were not included in the first place).

4.1/2 works like a "bridge" let's say, between Hand.Cannot.Erase, and his next album. There are only 6 songs included in the album, and the total length is almost 36 minutes. I listened to the album a couple of times so far, and the first word that comes to my mind is 'boring'. If I had to pick a couple of favorites, I would choose 'Sunday rain sets in' and 'don't hate me' which I think is the best song here, and it belongs in the Porcupine Tree era. I'm sure that many people will disagree with opinion, but from my point of view this is his least interesting album ever!

If you are not familiar with Steven Wilson, then don't start with this album. Try any of his previous works - and even better - with Porcupine Tree's albums. If you are a fan of him, then you are going to buy it anyway, like I did. As for my rating, i'm sorry but i can't give more than 2.0 out of 5.0 stars...

Report this review (#1534461)
Posted Wednesday, March 2, 2016 | Review Permalink
3 stars Having read in a review, how high anyone's expectations should be before listening to any EP from Wilson, I right away told myself that I could not agree more. Why? Well, Nil recurring, for one, is not just the best EP I have ever heard but is also an amazing prog rock journey through everything I enjoy this genre for, even though these are only "leftovers". And let me not even get started on the second cd of The Incident (which is, not admittedly, but also an EP I am sure). So, since Hand cannot erase is so far the peak of Steven Wilson's solo career (anyone cares to disagree please PM me:), it is no surprise that before listening to 4 ½ I had my expectations high as the sky. Unfortunately, it did not deliver.

The opening track, which is probably supposed to sell the album for us, has a decent length that should be enough to surprise the listener, yet it's exactly what it fails to do. It is not a bad song though: it has some catchy moments, a nice flow through melodic parts but also pieces that let these musicians really show their chops, but overall it just does not stand out. And I certainly see how it did not find its place on the LP itself too, for a kick-off of this EP it is not bad though. Year of the plague is ok again, and although it is not more than a fill between the first and the third song, it gets the job done with its catchy melodies thanks to some beautiful violins. Happiness III then is a decent leftover from the pop part of the LP, which means it is catchy as hell, I must admit, even if this is probably not the kind of thing we love Wilson the most for. My problem is that after these songs not much is left on the album, which is worth mentioning, at least in light of how high Wilson's grasp reaches with whatever he does recently. Sunday rain sets in reminds me of the second song of the album but its ideas are much less powerful. Vermillioncore is a bad-ass song, and whilst it comes across great when played live, listening to it on the cd it I have a feeling that Wilson just wanted to reach back to his more progressive side for a second, whilst in fact being rather tired of this genre, which shows in the end result. The main riff relies on the bass player's talent (rightly so) and is a strong one, but it is being repeated throughought the song too much, with not much happening in between. And then as I get to the closing track, I am hoping for something amazing to balance out the minor mistakes of the rest of the album, but instead I get an average and pointless re-working of a Porcupine tree song, which on top of it never even was my favourite. The choice to pick Don't hate me is therefore not obvious, although I have to say that Nina Tayeb's guest vocals certainly jazz it up, but what Steven Wilson is trying to do in between to extend the previous version of the song just lacks its point for me. And unfortunately the live version (when played without Nina and without the trumpets) is even weaker, slowing the whole show down so much that each time I see it live I nearly fall asleep. And looking at how I am not amazed by the other songs also, this closing leaves me disappointed.

But then again, 4 ½ is a decent work, it's just when I look how it comes from one of the most talented progrock musicians of our days, being able to sell even an EP like hot cakes, I am let down. He cannot amaze us with each and every work of his though, so it is an okay listen for the time being, something to hold on to as he is charging his batteries to hopefully blow us away with his fifth album again, out late next year if all goes well.

Report this review (#1540471)
Posted Wednesday, March 16, 2016 | Review Permalink
3 stars 3.2 Stars. A decent B-sides album

4 1/2 is listed in most places as Wilson's fifth solo album, although really that is not the case. This album is basically an EP compilation of various songs that did not get used on major albums + an alternative version of a old Porcupine Tree favorite "Don't Hate Me". While SW insists that these songs were not included on any album only due to them not fitting with the their themes, I can also spot a clear drop in inspiration and originality in these songs. As with most decent B-sides you will find a few good songs and the rest ranging from average to poor.

The album opens with the 9 min song "My Book of Regrets" (recorded during the Hand. Cannot. Erase sessions) which is meant to grab your attention immediately and start this album off on a good note. During this song you will find all the trademark features present on most modern PT/SW album's; Catchy Alt-rock/pop, lengthy instrumentals and mood changes and some pleasant harmonies all nicely wrapped up together. Or in other words it's straight from the modern Prog-Rock handbook and played to Wilson's strengths. Still it's a good song and opener to the album though.

"Year of the Plague" is the only song to come from The Raven sessions and it clearly shows. It's worth saying that The Raven ranks among my top 3 all time favourite albums so I was very curious to listen to this B-side. The song is a delicate and very beautiful instrumental which stands up to repeated listenings. Had it been included on The Raven it would certainly not been a highlight, but it would have not lowered the quality of the album, which is extremely high praise from me. Definitely my favourite from this album and the only one with lasting appeal.

"Happiness 3" is actually a very old song which was written during the Deadwing era but recorded during the H.C.E sessions. It's a standard upbeat pop/rock song which Wilson is very talented at writing. The song is definitely catchy, but does not have the depth that the pop songs on H.C.E/In Absentia have. Still not bad though.

"Sunday Rain Sets In" was also written during the H.C.E era but sounds like it came from the Grace for Drowning sessions. It's a slow and atmospheric piece that would have fit onto GFD, but it far less inspired. There is also a burst of energy towards the end of the song which is awfully done and ruins the atmosphere that had been created. A poor track all-round really.

"Vermillioncore" is yet again a H.C.E era track, but this one could have fitted into the metal phase of PT, especially the nil-recurring EP. The instrumental begins is groovy bass work which bursts into intense metal and sonic distortion later on. It's a pretty cool track and it's been awhile since he has written a song like this, but it does not do anything that has not been already done by that era of PT.

Lastly we have the alternative version of "Don't Hate Me" with Wilson on the verses and Ninet on the chorus, which when you think about it makes no sense at all to the lyrics of the song. It should be reversed so that it's the male that sings "don't hate me, I'm not special like you" as he justifies his stalking. Instrumentally the first half of the song is identical to the original, its only the instrumental in the middle that has been changed. Here there is more of a jazzy emphasis and the degree of psychedelia has been significantly increased as well (no flutes though sadly). Overall it's a OK alternative version that could have been much better with some proper thought into the arrangements.

To sum up 4 1/2 is a B-side album, nothing more, nothing less. If you treat it as a full album then you are only setting yourself up for major disappointment. As B-side albums go it's a fairly standard affair of some good and bad songs but mostly average. 3 stars is the perfect rating here. Not a bad album, but certainly not a Recordings 2.0!

Report this review (#1558559)
Posted Tuesday, May 3, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars 4 and a half is a ''mini album'' by prog icon, Steven Wilson. The album consists of tracks that for whatever reason have not made made it onto past albums, with one song originating from the Deadwing sessions all those years ago.

The album starts with the opening track, My Book Of Regrets. The song would have fitted perfectly the Hand Cannot Erase al album, with the lyrics fitting in to the concept of the album. The song itself is an incredible work. It shifts seamlessly between se sections, each section as memorable as the last. Dave Kilminsters guitar features prominently in the track, although Wilson does ge get his moment with a long guitar solo over lush chords in the middle section of the song. In the last chorus Craig Blundell pulls ou out all the stops using his double bass drum, before the song finishes all too soon.

Year of the plague is a pretty instrumental piece that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the raven that refused to sing. Happiness III follows, a catchy pop song that is one of the other highlights on the album. The song, again, wouldn't have sounded out of place on any of Stevens recent solo works.

Two instrumentals follow, Sunday Rain Sets In and Vermillioncore. Vermillioncore has a harder edge to it, and was spectacular wh when played live on the Hand Cannot Erase tour.

The final song on the album is a re worked version of porcupine tree underrated classic, don't hate me, featuring the magnificent Ninet on vocals. The song builds upon the melancholy of the original and has a great instrumental section in the mi middle of the song, making it different from the original. The trusty saxophone solo remains however.

Overall this album is great. Most artists would hope to put this out as a main album, never mind leftovers! It loses a star as it is not a perfect alum, but still a thoroughly enjoyable listen, especially just for My Book Of regrets.

Report this review (#1566769)
Posted Wednesday, May 18, 2016 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars In my time writing reviews here on Prog Archives I've shared my thoughts on Steven Wilson's various projects that have taken mostly the form of gushing, enthusiastic praise, though there have certainly been a few works that have sunk into the 2-star territory for me; usually it's one or the other extreme. With 4.5, Mr. Wilson has inspired me to a new level of feeling, one that fits completely into the 3-star description of "good but not essential." This album is fine; it's not great, not bad, just fine. I'm not sure if this would be taken as criticism by Steven, if he were to read this, but for me, 4.5 is one of least challenging records he's yet released. However, it's far from a bad album, and doesn't diminish his overall trend of producing excellent music.

Basically, this short album is a collection of approachable songs played in his band's contemporary style (meaning, sounding a lot like moments from Hand.Cannot.Erase). It's highly instrumental, busy, and likeable. "My Book of Regrets" is a varied and dynamic song that features the whole band jamming nicely to a dramatic sequence of tempo and tonal changes. It works well, and is probably the best track of the record.

Three of the four other songs are instrumental, and are nice experiences though disconnected and sound more like ideas that completed works. One can't objectively criticize the musicianship of Wilson and his collaborators; they're simply stellar, and exceptional at playing to the high's and lows of dynamics that Wilson has used throughout his career to create emotion in his music. This is especially heard in the heavy and complex "Vermillioncore." This guys are freaking great, but the end result feels incomplete.

The revisited "Don't Hate Me" is a nice treat, being a forgotten gem from Porcupine Tree's earlier catalog; unfortunately, it showcases how much sharper and interesting Wilson's writing was during that period of his career - at least when juxtaposed to the other songs on 4.5. The lyrics especially show Wilson skimming the surface of his skills as writer and storyteller. It sort of sums up my feeling of this record as a whole, as undeniable talent that, in the end, makes something that's just OK.

For fans of Wilson's work, I recommend this album as a fun diversion that you can play at parties without making people wonder what the hell kind of music you're into. If you're a casual fan of Steven Wilson, you'll probably enjoy this record, but it may not convince you to explore his discography more. If you're a Steven Wilson hater, keep on hatin', because 4.5 is mostly more of the same.

Songwriting: 2 - Instrumental Performances: 4 - Lyrics/Vocals: 2 - Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

Report this review (#1612612)
Posted Monday, September 19, 2016 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Well we're five studio albums into Steven Wilson's solo career and I'd rate this one as the third best after my favourite "Insurgents" and "Grace For Drowning". "Insurgents" and RIVERSIDE's "Love, Fear And The Time Machine" were influenced greatly by the darker music of the 80's which clearly is my thing. The last three albums by Wilson have their more commercial side but that sad melancholy is always present thankfully as it is here. All but one of these tracks were adapted from either live songs or songs from an album session that were not used at the time. The one that wasn't either of these is "Vermillioncore" a lights out instrumental.

"My Book Of Regrets" has a cool little guitar intro as Steven comes in with vocals and soon everyone is playing. This is catchy with meaningful lyrics. The chorus is more powerful than the versus. Check out the instrumental break from 2 1/2 minutes to 5 1/2 minutes. That section starts with strummed guitar before Beggs comes in with some huge bass lines and the drums help out as well. Some nice guitar work before it settles right down and the vocals return. What a beautiful contrast with these warm vocals and that drifting sound with the earlier instrumental bombast. This is so uplifting even after Steven stops singing. It starts to pick up again before 8 1/2 minutes with vocals.

"Year Of The Plague" is a short instrumental that recalls PORCUPINE TREE with the keys that echo in this dark and ambient soundscape. Intricate acoustic guitar replaces the keys. It's simply gorgeous after 2 minutes and the piano returns late. This is all Steven Wilson by the way except for the piano by Holzman. "Happiness III" opens with the sound of traffic as strummed guitar and reserved vocals take over. Some outbursts before a minute and the vocals become stronger. Man it's so uplifting 1 1/2 minutes in then it picks up with organ and more. Love the soaring guitar from Guthrie 3 minutes in and the prominent bass. Some vocal melodies from Wilson as well.

"Sunday Rain Sets In" opens with keys that echo as flute joins in. This is very mellow until the drums, bass and piano come in around a minute. Laid back guitar before 2 minutes then we get more depth of sound. Beautiful stuff. Some sweeping mellotron then some outbursts 3 minutes in but they are brief as it calms right down with flute, keys and sparse guitar sounds. "Vermillioncore" is where they hit us with some complex, bombastic music with a strong jazz flavour. Yeah this is impressive. Beggs plays Chapman Stick too. This is a nice change from the rest of the album, these guys have chops.

"Don't Hate Me" is a PORCUPINE TREE cover(gasp). When I saw the song title before I listened to it I was hoping it wasn't the song from "Stupid Dream" even though I like it I just have never been over the moon about it. Well it is that song and they nail it! They've Steven Wilsoned it I suppose. It's still very sad but we get a complex instrumental section plus Ninet Tayeb guests singing on the chorus each time to great results. So much atmosphere to begin with then the drums start to beat and Steven comes in vocally. Again Tayeb comes in on the chorus and she's so good, what a unique voice. Check out the jazz instrumental break starting before 3 1/2 minutes. Love the fender rhodes here and the drumming. When the electric piano stops it turns very psychedelic, so much atmosphere here. The vocals are back before 8 minutes, Ninet to be exact. Love the guitar after 8 1/2 minutes to end it.

Yeah I'm a massive Wilson fan, his voice and his sad, melancholic music will always be my comfort place.

Report this review (#1652888)
Posted Sunday, December 4, 2016 | Review Permalink
3 stars Steven Wilson's 4 1/2 is a mini-LP (Wilson's words) of music recorded between HAND CANNOT ERASE and THE RAVEN THAT REFUSED TO SING. This is Steven Wilson, so the music is reliably intelligent and well played. As the official Allmusic (great website) review suggests, "Year of the Plague" is a nonessential track. In my opinion, the album lags in the middle. It falls too easily into repetitive, almost ambient territory, as Wilson sometimes does.

As criticisms go, however, there are far worse ones. My favorite track originates from the time when Porcupine Tree were still a going concern. I absolutely love this version of "Don't Hate Me", with Theo Travis and Ninet Tayeb's contributions. It's worth at least 1 star by itself. "Happiness III" is also very catchy. I'll give this a good 3 stars, but you just have to hear the two tracks mentioned.

Report this review (#1902742)
Posted Sunday, March 11, 2018 | Review Permalink

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