Steven Wilson – The Future Bites
Progressive Pop | Electronica
Every piece of art exists in two forms, as an idea and as a finished product. On rare occasions we get truly great projects where a brilliant idea is brought to life through flawless execution. Sometimes a simple, tried and tested approach can be elevated thanks to a particularly passionate performance, and sometimes great ideas can get bogged down in the details and fail to be fully realised. The Future Bites falls firmly in the latter category for me, as I find myself far more enamoured with the idea of this album than the album itself. I like the idea of Steven Wilson continuing the trend towards a more accessible sound, and of him delving deeper into themes about identity and consumerism. And in theory I’d like to think there’s some alternate reality where all the pieces have fallen into place exactly as needed to bring the vision to life. In practice however this is a project that never really gets off the ground.
The album admittedly starts on a promising footing. Opening interlude ‘Unself’ is reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ and briefly offers the album’s most interesting and textured soundscape, while its counterpart ‘Self’ is where Wilson pushes his sound forward the most with its dark yet danceable electropop feel. ’12 Things I Forgot’ also stands out as one of album’s best moments with its dreamy atmosphere and gorgeous melodies. Sadly as good as these moments are, they aren’t enough to keep me engaged with this record.
I freely admit that I feel the greatest connection to Steven’s work with Porcupine Tree, but I still respect and admire his solo output for the way he has constantly changed and adapted his sound. Some of his solo releases have naturally struck more of a chord with me than others, but each one felt like progress, each one felt like a natural growth of his style expanding out into new horizons in some way or other. Change does not always equal progress however, and for the first time Wilson feels like he has made a major step backwards with his solo work.
There are very few new ideas on The Future Bites. He’s done all of this before, and what’s more he’s done it an order of magnitude better. In terms of crafting a more accessible sound, it’s already a step down from his last record To The Bone; the writing there had far better hooks, and that record as a whole felt a lot more cohesive and purposeful. The melodies here don’t compare favourably at all when held next to some of his other more radio friendly releases like ‘Lazarus’ or ‘Pariah’. The electronic elements feel stunted and clinical compared to say ‘Song Of I’, or even his past work with No-Man and Bass Communion. The themes the album dips into were better explored way back on Fear of a Blank Planet, and even the most dated aspects of the 2007 release somehow seem more pertinent and relatable than his lyricism here. Those who have found Wilson’s lyricism a sticking point in the past definitely won’t be won over here. Even the worst excesses of Arcade Fire’s Everything Now handled the topic of consumerism with more tact and subtlety than the cringeworthy heavy-handedness of ‘Personal Shopper’.
Even the production, what you could arguably call Wilson’s greatest strength, comes across as pretty flat and unengaging. The only positive step forward is the addition of the Chic-esque disco backing vocals, but even these can be a bit hit and miss. This is certainly not the bold leap forward that it was touted as. Instead of evolving his sound it’s as though he’s hit a factory reset, starting again from scratch and squandering decades of artistic growth. Needless to say it’s Steven Wilson’s weakest body of work, and not an album I see myself ever returning to.