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Steven Wilson - The Future Bites (Album Review)

Monday, 01 February 2021 Written by Matt Mills

When Steven Wilson’s last solo album, 2017’s ‘To the Bone’, posed the very real threat of topping the UK charts, there was an explosion of press buzz that led to a rather unsavoury moniker. “The most successful British musician most people have never heard of,” became a common phrase in the papers. It was bizarre, because the LP the ex-Porcupine Tree star was promoting would soon break the top five in eight countries.

Perhaps it’s that experience of odd media salesmanship that inspired ‘The Future Bites’—an anti-consumerist piece that largely contrasts with the peppy art-rock of its predecessor. Where ‘To the Bone’ shone with a sense of vibrancy shaped by a childhood entrenched in Abba and David Bowie, its successor is a more downbeat lament that also has one foot in the 1980s.

Pensive synth-pop is the primary flavour of ‘The Future Bites’, marrying musical preoccupations and an overarching lyrical theme with the kind of synergy only prog acts seem to master.

The quiet beats and computerised notes perfectly serve Wilson’s portrayal of the faceless capitalist machine, repeating yet inexplicably alluring. 

“Buy now, buy now, have a better life,” the singer monotonously hums over pulsating sci-fi instrumentation during the single Personal Shopper, slowly enough to be enveloping. Much like a designer store to a shopping addict, the on-the-nose manipulative messaging makes it no less insidiously charming.

Self is a more concise number with the same DNA. It dances between robotic satire and crescendoing choruses, elevated by shimmering female co-lead vocals. Plus, Eminent Sleaze adds funk and blues to the mix, its thundering claps seemingly parodying hyper-marketable contemporary pop.

However, not every entry on ‘The Future Bites’ goes as all-in on these ideas. 12 Things I Forgot is acoustic folk-pop more in line with ‘To the Bone’. As gorgeous as it is, it feels at odds with the gritty nihilism of the remainder of the album. Also brilliant yet out of place is Follower. Its muddy garage rock vocals and punchy percussion make it a potential standalone triumph, but as a bridge between Personal Shopper and atmospheric finale Count of Unease it’s a strange sidestep.

This mixture makes ‘The Future Bites’ a collection that wants to have its cake and eat it too. It’s a nihilist rock statement that also once or twice delves into a nice, merry anthem. Individually every song is endlessly enticing, but prepare for a couple of raised eyebrows in the jumps in between.

Steven Wilson Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed September 08 2021 - CARDIFF St David's Hall
Thu September 09 2021 - SHEFFIELD Sheffield City Hall Oval Hall
Sat September 11 2021 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Sun September 12 2021 - GLASGOW Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Mon September 13 2021 - BIRMINGHAM Symphony Hall
Wed September 15 2021 - PORTSMOUTH Portsmouth Guildhall
Thu September 16 2021 - LONDON Eventim Apollo
Fri September 17 2021 - NOTTINGHAM Royal Concert Hall Notts

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