Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Steven Wilson (& friends)
Ha ha. Ha fucking ha. Ha ha ha ha ha. Fuck you progladytes. FUCK YOU! Ha!
Steven Wilson, wherefore art thou?
I so wanted to call this review Arse. Cannot. Inhale.
I so expected this album to be unmitigated bottom junk.
I deliberately and publicly have stated that I will illegally download this album and that's exactly what I did. I did this because it was obviously going to be a pile of shit.
Therefore, the fact I'm so fucking gobsmacked that Wilson or SW (as us PT fans like to say) has returned to his pedestal in my musical hierarchy that I'm considering having a wank a day for a month. It was almost like he did this album deliberately, just to please me and, hopefully, the progladytes and prognista will be so appalled they'll eat themselves in an orgy of dull porn (and stale crackers).
Poncey title. Awful cover. Very iffy pre-release snippets. I was (and I'm not terribly proud of this) almost rubbing my hands together in glee at the prospect of meltdown in the SW fanboy circles as SW delivered an album so bland, insignificant and un-prog-like, it could have been by one of the Gallagher brothers.
Over the years, Porcupine Tree have been the closest thing to 'proper prog' music I've strayed towards. I don't think of Kscope - the predominant record label in my life - as being a prog label, they just have most of today's 'new prog' bands signed to them. To say North Atlantic Oscillation are a prog band is to say Will Young is a hip hop superstar. While I'm sure Mr Young can do a fair impression of hip hop, he's not going to take on NWA just yet. The point I'm attempting to make here is that while Hand. Cannot. Erase. has prog elements in it - mainly Yes this time - they're not at the forefront of this utterly stunning piece of work. It's like he starts with a prog song to lull you into a false sense of security.
Oh and yes, you did read that correctly - I said, 'utterly stunning piece of work'.
SW is influence driven. There's nothing wrong with that as there's nothing new under the sun. I can hear the influences in this album, but they're obscured more. He's not strode into the studio with a Robert Fripp head on (possibly a Steve Howe one though) and produced an ode to Crimson; more like he's sat in the sun and allowed all the influences to go runny, then thrown himself into a freezer so they'd just all congealed; like taking all of the elements of something and throwing them into a blender and seeing what comes out. H.C.E is unique in it has good tunes played hard and great tunes played soft - it is a musical mish-mash of an album, more indie than anything else, but with head nods to hard rock and most telling for me many of his own side projects. I heard elements of Blackfield, No-Man, Bass Communion and, of course, Porcupine Tree were in here as well. In fact, many of those hidden influences were obviously Steve's own.
I like to think Insurgentes is the best solo album, but that might be because it's just a Porcupine Tree album. Grace For Drowning also has far more immediate songs on it, but that was the bridge between Insurgentes and The Raven That Refused to Sing, which I, amazingly, have grown to like. H.C.E is, in my truly humble opinion, the first truly solo Steven Wilson album. Not solo in musicians, but solo in I believe these are his songs - his catalogue of ideas he couldn't shoehorn into some other project and that could be why the influences are harder to spot.
What of the album? Home Invasion: Regret #9 (two songs seguing into one) is possibly the best thing SW has written in the 21st Century. It's a thunderous prog/classic rock song in several parts (presumably for those progtastic progladytes) with Hammond's organ throbbing in the background like some phallic sentinel and a gutsy guitar Keef would have proud of. Opening track First Regret: 3 Years Older is another that benefits from repeat listenings and the closer Happy Returns: Ascendant Here On is like Talk Talk blended with Opeth with that SW signature through it like a bright red Blackpool in a stick of rock.
The title track is pure indie and Perfect Life, which I believed I would grow tired of as quickly as a Go Compare advert has actually grown on me and is very much one of those gentle highlights he is so good at helping deliver on No-Man albums. I have had an about face with this track from the initial hearing, but that might be because it fits into this album like a lost jigsaw piece.
Then there's Reunion which my mate thinks sounds like an homage to Kate Bush, but I think is just Wilson working with a slightly different pallet - using something new to put across an old point. It was a track that I struggled with at first, but now... Isn't that the best thing about good albums; the ones that make it difficult for you to appreciate them; they end up being the better ones.
Oh and about that illegal download - I ordered the album almost immediately; which I think is the kind of illegal download that SW probably has no problem with. This comes out on March 3.
If the album is about that London woman who lay dead in her flat for three years without being discovered then I don't really think it conveyed that. I like to think the title is a reference to SW's past: it's all there and can't be wiped out, so let's go some place new.
8 out of 10