Steven Wilson – 4 ½
Whilst 4 ½ won’t win any awards for most original album title, it does perfectly sum up Steven Wilson’s latest effort in his long and illustrious career. As he explained at the Hammersmith Apollo, the aptly named 4½ is more of an “amuse bouche” between albums four and five. Comprised of unreleased material from both Hand. Cannot. Erase and The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories), 4½ is what we have come to expect from Wilson: shrieking guitars, monstrous breakdowns, and all of the other necessary ingredients required by the prog rock genre.
The album opens with My Big Book of Regrets, a Wilson classic through and through, consisting of ten minutes of the soaring guitar riffs and ethereal vocals that have become a staple of his solo works. Whilst lacking adventure, the song is outstanding, ebbing and flowing from crescendo to decrescendo. But Wilson’s characteristic light touch is here too: towards the end, we are treated to a wonderfully sensitive solo, the kind David Gilmour himself would be proud of. After the dramatic opening, we are treated to almost entirely acoustic second track, Year of the Plague. Starting softly, layers of strings and piano are slowly added, building body and depth. It’s a pleasant enough song but, in the context of the album, just a little bit dull.
The rest of the record plays out in a similar pattern, as the jazzy Happiness III is followed again by the lighter instrumental Sunday Rain Sets In. The latter sadly lacks structure, and whilst Wilson’s stellar guitar work is a joy to listen to, it does feel mildly self-indulgent. Then, as if out of nowhere, Wilson delivers Vermillioncore, a thrashy, head-banging, hard-rock instrumental. There’s no messing about here, as the distortion is cranked up and the Wilson is free to let fly. Don’t Hate Me, the final song on the record, is one listeners know from Wilson’s Porcupine Tree days. Masterfully re-recorded as a duet with Israeli singer Ninet Tayeb, this is the crown jewel of the album. It is a wonderful closer, reminding the listener just how good the singer can be when he puts his mind to it.
Though unlikely to be groundbreaking, 4 ½ is nonetheless an enjoyable and very listenable “mini-album”. Wilson has been playing the Prog rock game longer than most, and he knows full well that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
4 ½ is released on 22nd of January 2016, for further information or to order the album visit here.
Listen to Don’t Hate Me from 4 ½ here: