Album Review: 4 ½ – Steven Wilson
A seemingly endless repertoire of psychedelic and progressive rock featuring dreamy soundscapes that decorate almost every human emotion is what Steven Wilson is known for, along with being one of the pioneers of the Hi-Res Era. It’s no surprise that the leftovers from his major works like Hand.Cannot.Erase. and The Raven That Refused to Sing, that couldn’t make it to the final cut, could still put up a delicious record.
4 ½ is an interim release between the widely acclaimed Hand.Cannot.Erase. and Wilson’s next studio album. It comprises six songs and has a total running time of 37 minutes with each song having a story behind it. The two tracks that bookend this album are in fact, epic pieces. “My Book of Regrets”, which was recorded during the Hand.Cannot.Erase sessions, was not included because the album was getting too long, and it wasn’t finished by the time the album was. The song starts off to a funky guitar riff, as if it were an intro to a film, and then takes a grander presence in the chorus. Some stellar solos from Adam Holzman (on analog synth) and Dave Kilminster (lead guitar) follow, making the song flow into a dreamy section before coming back to the same riff that led the song. Ten minutes just drift by as the song is made to dynamically move between ideas.
“Don’t Hate Me” runs for a similar length of time and is based on a recent live performance, but it actually originated from Porcupine Tree’s Stupid Dream (1999). The song features a duet between Wilson and Israeli pop-rock musician Ninet Tayeb. The latter has previously worked on Hand.Cannot.Erase. and this new collaboration has her adding own charm to the chorus. The song features a sax solo by Theo Travis and for most of the part stays true to the original one on the PT record. “Year of the Plague” is the one song here that was recorded for The Raven That Refused to Sing, and is adorned with an acoustic guitar, an acoustic piano and a pulsing analog synthesizer.
“Sunday Rain Sets in” is an instrumental piece drummed by Chad Wackerman which was written and recorded as a part of the sessions for Hand.Cannot.Erase. This later evolved into “First Regret” on the previous record. Being mostly acoustic and gently flowing, it is closed by a brief metal explosion right at the end. “Vermillioncore” is a mystical instrumental piece having a neat groove at its core along with steam piping synths. It features Craig Blundell on drums and Nick Beggs on bass guitar, who also can be heard operating on a Chapman Stick. “Happiness III” was written back in 2003 for the aborted Deadwing movie project. A straight forward pop tune that might be radio ready, it features Marco Minnemann’s explosive drumming and brief guitar solos by Wilson himself which provide more reasons to like this song apart from it having a catchy tune.
4 ½ might not be a heavily produced musical masterpiece or a brilliant capture of a live band’s chemistry, which Steven Wilson’s last two albums proved to be, but it definitely will give the fans something to cherish in the meantime. Producing a skillful blend with his eccentric material, Wilson’s creative ambitions simply never seem to take a day off.