Steven Wilson, 4.5 (Kscope, 2016). Blu-ray.
Tracks: My Book of Regrets; Year of the Plague; Happiness III; Sunday Rain Sets In; Vermillioncore; Don’t Hate Me; and Lazarus.
EP: A+; Kscope packaging: C
4.5 brings a huge smile to my face. Yes, a smile of happiness, even though “Steven Wilson” and “happiness” rarely go together in the same paragraph, on the same page, or in the same article. Whatever the man’s genius—and it is astounding—few could look at the 48-year old English art-rocker and think happy thoughts. Wilson is as grim as they come. If he didn’t look so much like a late 80’s neo-hippie, he’d be the perfect Cromwellian Puritan of English history.
My happiness with 4.5 is the happiness of satisfaction, not of joy.
It’s also the happiness of nostalgia. 4.5 reminds me of an ‘80s release, the EP issued while we waited for the next LP. This could be JAPANESE WHISPERS or INTO THE BATTLE WITH THE ART OF NOISE.
Not that 4.5 sounds any thing even resembling The Cure or The Art of Noise. But, 4.5 is pure Steven Wilson. All to the good.
Still, look at those 4.5 track titles. Doom and gloom. Gloom and doom. Well, except for the one entitled “Happiness III.” It’s a rather upbeat song, but, from what I can tell of the lyrics, it’s about the false happiness that supposedly comes from consuming stuff in the mall.
The opening track, “My Book of Regrets,” possesses drama in music as well as in lyrics. Heavily guitar based, Wilson’s first track progressively drones on about malls and t-shirts, frequent topics for this artist. This song is the most Porcupine Tree-sounding song on 4.5, and it could’ve easily have originated in the FEAR OF A BLANK PLANET era.
“Year of the Plague,” the second track, comes from THE RAVEN THAT REFUSED TO SING, and it certainly sounds like it. Indeed, no one would need the liner notes to guess this song’s origins immediately. That album was, for what it’s worth, my least favorite by Wilson as a solo artist or with PT. Still, I love this song. It should’ve been on RAVEN, as it’s pensive and purely Wilson. RAVEN, as it is, sounds like a cheap plagiarism of The Tangent’s second album, THE WORLD THAT WE DRIVE THROUGH. Had it focused more on the sound delivered here on “Year of the Plague,” RAVEN would have been a prog classic.
Track four, “Sunday Rain Sets In,” is, for all intents and purposes, a b-side from HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. I’d be curious to know why Wilson didn’t include it on that album. It’s a rather stunning track, meditative overall but with a very emotional guitar line and a theatric conclusion. It is, however, devoid of all lyrics. Still, it would’ve fit nicely as a way of tying several songs together on HAND.
Track five, “Vermillioncore” is simple prog chaos. Another instrumental, this song could easily have come from late Porcupine Tree or from Wilson’s second solo album, GRACE FOR DROWNING. It is as heavy as “Sunday Rain Sets In” is meditative. Lots of KING CRIMSON in this track.
The final two tracks, “Don’t Hate Me” and “Lazarus” are quite good, but they offer nothing surprising, though the guest vocals on “Don’t Hate Me” make this a better track than the original PT version. Each song is a nice Steven Wilson 2.0 rework of Steven Wilson 1.0.
Frankly, I love this EP. At a little over 40 minutes, it might as well be a full album, though Wilson has chosen to release it as an EP. Either way, 4.5 is excellent and a must-own for any lover of prog or good music.
My only complaint is the poor packaging, which seems to be more and more the norm with Kscope releases. I’ve been purchasing blu-rays when ever possible as the music quality is just so much better than CD or DVD. The booklet that comes with 4.5, though, is next to worthless. Wilson explains the origins of each song, briefly, and he lists who plays on each track. But, there’s nothing in the way of lyrics, and the photography, while good, is nothing revealing or spectacular. If I didn’t care, I’d just say “meh.”
I do care.
Unless Kscope is trying to move its faithful listeners to all download (which I fervently pray they are not), the label desperately needs to up its game and its quality control. I order a physical copy of every album I want for very specific reasons. One of the most important is I want good, tangible art work and I want to read the lyrics.
Come on, Kscope. You are so much better than you’ve been revealing yourself to be lately. If you do nothing else over Lent, at least learn to treat those loyal to you better.
Kscope’s weaknesses aside, Wilson’s 4.5 is strong. Not at the creative level of his HAND.CANNOT.ERASE., it’s certainly much better than RAVEN.