4 ½, the new album from Steven Wilson, is released by KScope on January 22nd 2016. 4 ½ is like a super-sized, expanded EP, and acts as an interim release between 2015’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. and the next (as yet unrecorded) studio album.
4 ½ is available in multiple formats – as a single CD, digital download, vinyl and blu-ray (the blu-ray includes bonus tracks, instrumentals and the 2015 version of Lazarus).
Album opener My Book of Regrets will be familiar to fans who attended recent live dates, and first started to come together during the early Hand.Cannot.Erase. period.
The song has a myriad of twists and turns, with a nod to the past in the Time Flies referencing evolving guitar riff running throughout the track. A great bass-line drives the mid-section, and all of the musicians get a chance to really shine on My Book of Regrets, which is built from a mixture of live and studio performances.
I love that recording technology has progressed to the stage that live recordings can capture unique individual performances that can then be easily dropped into studio sessions.
I think its safe to say that 4 ½ will appeal to Porcupine Tree fans as well as those who love the material released under his own name. The album feels like Wilson is cleansing his musical palette before the next album, which is likely to be very different from his last few releases (he has recently hinted at a more electronic sound for the next release).
Year of the Plague is the album’s first instrumental track, and early on became my favourite song on 4 ½. Free from the need to follow a conventional structure with lyrics and verse-chorus, the song is simple but direct and incredibly moving. At times it reminds me a little of the mood of some later period no-man songs. It’s no secret that my favourite Wilson project is his work as no-man with Tim Bowness.
Year of the Plague is from The Raven That Refused To Sing sessions, but its clear why it was not included on that album, which had a very 70s feel and it fits perfectly in the album sequencing for 4 ½. The beautiful violin melody drifts through the song, sitting on top of one of SW’s most addictive arpeggio guitar lines. The strings are not performed by real players, but are sampled, in this case from an EastWest sample library (the violins in the only EW sample library I own – Goliath – don’t sound as realistic as this).
Year of the Plague also works well as a companion piece to Nuclear Head of an Angel from 2004’s self-released Unreleased Electronic Music Vol.1.
Happiness III dates back as far as the writing for the Deadwing album, but would not have sounded out-of-place on Hand.Cannot.Erase. Boasting an unashamedly pop chorus (reminding me a little of later period The Who / solo Pete Townsend), this song will no doubt be a highlight of the upcoming tour.
Sunday Rain Sets In harks back to the sound of Insurgentes at the beginning, but then expands into a fine instrumental with great piano and percussive guitar lines. It evokes the sights and sounds of a wet, night-time city landscape.
Vermillioncore is the album’s final instrumental. A disturbing jazzy intro leads to a discordant Chapman Stick solo from Nick Beggs, and a heavy bass and guitar end section. I’m not sure what the significance of the song title is, but Vermillioncore is nothing like Vermillion Sands from Buggle’s Adventures in Modern Recording album.
Its worth pointing out that one of the highlights of 4 ½ is that we finally witness the return of SW guitar solos, which have taken the back-seat on his recent albums.
4 ½ is bookended by two long songs. The album closes with a new version of Don’t Hate Me, a take on the song originally recorded by Porcupine Tree on Stupid Dream. The 2015 solo version is slower than the version recorded by Porcupine Tree, with the drums less to the fore in the mix, and with a wider range of layered keyboards and guitars.
The original keyboards were solely analogue, whereas this version is augmented with organ on top of the electronics.
Wilson’s vocals have obviously matured since 1999, and they work really well alongside co-vocalist for this track, Ninet Tayeb (who you might have been lucky to see bringing the audience to their feet during a stunning Routine at the Albert Hall shows in November 2015). I love the subtle use of reverb on the verse vocals on this version of Don’t Hate Me.
Theo Travis returns to deliver another stunning sax solo that works so well alongside the haunting, smokey keyboard runs from Adam Holzman, who is becoming one of my favourite keyboard players.
Die-hard PT fans may prefer the studio take they have lived with for years, but for me, this is the definitive version. Don’t hate me.
Steven Wilson – 4 ½
My Book of Regrets (9.23)
Year of the Plague (4.15)
Happiness III (4.31)
Sunday Rain Sets In (3.50)
Don’t Hate Me (9.34)
Blu-ray exclusive bonus tracks
Lazarus (2015 recording) (3:57)
My Book Of Regrets (edit) (3:34)
Don’t Hate Me (SW vocal version) (9:34)
My Book Of Regrets (instrumental) (9:35)
Happiness III (instrumental) (4:31)
Don’t Hate Me (instrumental) (9:34)
Buy 4 ½ on Amazon
Buy 4 ½ from Burning Shed