Short version: I really don’t like this album. It’s a poorly written, poorly arranged, disjointed collection of substandard songs. It’s not prog but that’s not why I don’t like it. For a very long explanation, read on.
Long version: Reviewing this album is a no-win situation for me. I really debated whether I should bother doing it. I’ve been a fan of Steven Wilson since the late 90s and he has never let me down, regardless of what style of music he wrote and performed. That is until now. The big debate out there is between the people who insist this album is great because basically SW can do no wrong. He can and has. The other side are the folks who hate pop music and love prog, so they view this album as a sell out. It’s not that either.
SW has always written pop songs on every album. “Lazarus,” “HCE,” “Stranger by the Minute,” etc. But the problem for me is that those were well crafted pop songs. On “To the Bone,” the pop songs are inane and vapid. “Permanating” is basically a re-write of the New Radicals song “You Get What You Give.” It’s empty, mindless pop. If you like that sort of shit, have at it. It’s not my thing.
“Song of I” is a boring 80s snoozefest that I’d never listen to regardless of who wrote it. “People Who Eat Darkness” has no hook and wanders aimlessly for six minutes. Even the “epic” song “Detonation” is boring! The song goes nowhere and features a piss poor guitar solo that is more noise than feel. And that’s a theme on the album, it’s quite loud at times but never heavy. It’s just noisy.
I like about 4 tracks on “To the Bone.” I am surprised that “Pariah” is the lone track that I think is brilliant but much of that is due to Ninet Tayeb, who KILLS it. Without her on it, I am not so sure the song would be that great. “Nowhere Now” is actually a good pop song which probably should have been a minute longer.
“Refuge” is the lone truly prog song on the album but it pales in comparison to anything SW has done before. It’s VERY average. It would be nice to hear Adam Holzman but I guess SW does the synth solo and Paul Stacey does the guitar solo (not great). Why is there a harmonica on it (and the title track)? Not into that. The closing track “Song of Unborn” is the other track I like but it has two LONG rests that kill the momentum of what is otherwise a really good song. The brief “Blank Tapes” also features Ninet Tayeb but it’s really just a low key number that doesn’t play to her strong vocal capabilities.
“The Same Asylum As Before” and the title track are two songs that needed more time to be developed. The former being a mix of “Stranger By the Minute” and “Sleep Together” and I mean a LITERAL mix of the two which is rather sad really. The title track has spoken word at the start which as always I am not a fan of. Also when did SW think he had a good falsetto? Dude, no. It’s not there.
I have no doubt the fanboys and fangirls will be pissed off at this review but I am not going to blindly like anything just because I am into an artist. EVERY band or artist has made an album that wasn’t up to par for me. No one is perfect. This is not a progressive rock album but it wasn’t intended to be. For as much as SW seems to like taking this direction, he sounds rather uncomfortable doing it.
It makes for an uncomfortable and disjointed album. It’s fine to have variety but “To the Bone” has NO flow to it at all. This album sounds like a collection of b-sides from various stages of his career. I know it isn’t because even his b-sides have been better than this. Like any artist, doing different things are what keep them going so that’s his prerogative to do an album like this one.
The concern that I have is the reviews out there already that are inaccurate, in my opinion. Some have called this album progressive rock which it isn’t. Others have painted some genius move. It isn’t that either. No one wants to accept the shitstorm that comes with daring to not like an SW album and I guess I am going to need to do that. SW has passionate fans who will fall on each side of the fence of this release. This includes me since this review is too fucking long. “To the Bone” is a calculated move, plan and simple. The album is along the lines of when Bowie did “Let’s Dance.” I think even Bowie knew it had nothing to do with brilliance but more about selling product and broadening an audience when he needed it.
So SW is trying to emulate Prince and Bowie, but not with good music. Rather it’s about having a new “phase.” The problem is he assumed the music would automatically be interesting. That was a bad assumption. He can write powerful music. This is not that. Will this album grow on me? No. Why is that? There’s nothing on it that isn’t obvious. There are no layers to it. The longer tracks are just as direct as the shorter ones. It’s basic and if you like it, you will continue to like it. If not, maybe the next album. One thing is clear, this will not silence the people who want Porcupine Tree back. “To the Bone” is as far away from that band as he can get. Or is it? I guess we’ll see.
I am sure people will say that I am not being “open minded” or even that I am not giving the album a fair chance. I listen to a lot of varied music and I have no doubt that many people would think some of it is complete shit. But that’s why we need reviews from many people. We don’t all agree so as many point of views as possible should be covered. If you actually made it to the end of this review, thank you for toughing it out! This review actually went through many changes and additions because I am that passionate about Steven Wilson’s music.
Rating: 4/10 (one point for each track I like)
1. To The Bone
2. Nowhere Now
4. The Same Asylum As Before
7. Blank Tapes
8. People Who Eat Darkness
9. Song Of I
11. Song Of Unborn