Album Review: 4½ by Steven Wilson
4½ is the new interim album by multi-instrumentalist, producer and prog wizard, Steven Wilson, formerly of such famed acts as the psycho-depressive Porcupine Tree and pop-rock Blackfield. Any fan of Steven has hastily noted at this point that it hasn’t even been a year since he released his 4th full length LP Hand. Cannot. Erase. and now, suddenly, he’s back with another pluck of the heart strings, with another LP planned for late 2017. Fans will also note that Steven is well-known for relentlessly pumping out material no matter who the hell asks for it. In the past with Porcupine Tree we had release after release after release with EP’s such as Futile in 2003 which was made up of cuts that presumably didn’t make 2002’s In Absentia. We also had the mini album Nil Recurring in 2007 which consisted of tracks that didn’t make the previous LP Fear of a Blank Planet. I have a soft spot for Nil Recurring and tend to think that actually, some of the tracks on it would have fit better on FoaBP in the long run. Nevertheless this did not happen, but I still think the method in which Steven finds a way to pump out the cuts that didn’t make it to full length albums is commendable.
My Book of Regrets kicks the album off with a jazzy riff that sounds in the same vein as early synth-period Rush. It’s simple but the tone coming from Dave Kilminster’s guitar is refreshing as it is crisp and slightly retro-sounding. You can certainly tell that this song is a sister track to songs like 3 Years Older from H.C.E with its crooning melodies interspersed with jolly chords. At one point the strumming pattern seems to match perfectly with the strumming pattern of Time Flies from the Porcupine Tree album The Incident. Many would interpret this as too derivative but I tend to think that it adds more substance to the song, especially if you know the subject matter of The Incident. A guitar solo here, a synth solo there and the song comes full circle to its chorus and fades to a close. An interesting choice for Steven in this song was to utilize a live backing track which I think adds to the song considerably as the drums and bass guitar sound beautiful and sharp to the senses.
Year of the Plague is an instrumental variation of the verses in My Book of Regrets and it contains a surprisingly pleasant arpeggiated chord sequence with a lovely programmed violin topper that carries on throughout. Sunday Rain Sets In also sounds like a variation of the chords used in MBoR but this time with a more dramatic edge. It opens with almost Bond-esque flair and closes with a sudden clash of drums and guitars as if it was the backing track to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Vermillioncore is a very interesting track for Steven, harking back to the days of albums such as Deadwing. It’s another instrumental track but I think the exclusion of vocals only intensifies the absolute instrumentgasm in this song – it is pretty phenomenal. We’re led on by this frenzy of electronics, the synth and the keyboard to name a few. They continue to tease until we’re pounded with a very headbang-worthy riff. It eclipses MBoR in terms of structure as that song tends to become a little formulaic after a while, and it just hits us with exactly what we want.
Don’t Hate Me is a re-recording of the Porcupine Tree song which was included on the Stupid Dream album back in 1999, but this version makes use of Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb in the chorus and to great effect. The song is also a tad formulaic but it makes up for it with Ninet’s charm and the great sax solo towards the middle.
4½ suffers in that it doesn’t fit into a neat package, it can’t comfortably be considered an EP because it is too long at 37 minutes, and it is possibly too short to be a mini-album. The flair of Steven’s work is in his use of multifaceted songs that flow into one another like a novel or a film, 4½ does not achieve that entirely but what can we expect really when the album is made up of the scrapings of songs that didn’t make it into previous albums. Still the concept of Hand. Cannot. Erase. could be interpreted to leak into 4½ like a sort of spin-off – all the talk of regrets and feelings of numbness in the heart of the city, and even Don’t Hate Me’s lyrics have that similar vibe of being surrounded by other sociable humans but still being cripplingly lonely. Nevertheless I think Steven is still at the peak of his game and hopefully he can climb higher with his next release.
4½ was released on 22nd January via Kscope