I will admit, I find it hard to believe that Steven Wilson’s HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. is now fourteen months old. It arrived on my doorstep—courtesy of amazon.com—on the day it was released, and I played it immediately, of course. At the time, however, I had become truly skeptical of anything Wilson was doing at that moment. My dislike and distrust had not come on me suddenly, but, rather over a relatively long period of time. As I mentioned in a previous post, I didn’t come across his work until a random turning on of album rock radio in Fort Wayne played an incredible song—“Trains” if I remember correctly—just as Porcupine Tree had released IN ABSENTIA. I not only purchased that album that day at a Fort Wayne Bestbuy, but I also searched out an independent CD/record store, and purchased much of PT’s back catalogue. To say that a decade of obsession (in the healthy, fan sense; not in the psychotic sense) with Wilson and all of his art set in. I was certainly a completest. If it had Wilson’s name on it, I owned it.
My dislike (or least, something approaching dislike) of Wilson began around the time that THE RAVEN THAT REFUSED TO SING came out. Not only did I think that Wilson had simply ripped off The Tangent, unjustly claiming Andy Tillison’s uniqueness and genius as his own, but I also started seeing Wilson claim in interviews that he cared nothing for his audience or his critics. He doth protest too much, I thought. Though he said nothing different than what Neil Peart had said a million times, I found Wilson’s statements offensive whereas I found Peart’s merely eccentrically charming.
Granted, my own judgment was less than objective.
I wrote a long and strenuously researched article claiming Wilson to be an angry, bitter artist who despises his fans. One major outlet accepted the article, only to pull it moments before it was to appear. So, in spite of better judgement, I published it on progarchy. Honestly, I’m pretty thick skinned (I’ve spent my entire professional life as an outsider regarding my understanding of my discipline and in being open about my faith) when it comes to my views of art, culture, life, politics, religion, etc., but I’ve never received such pushback and anger from anything I’d written. After a while, I simply pulled the article. It seemed to reflect poorly on progarchy as a website, and I wasn’t willing to let what we’d built be harmed by some rantings—no matter how well reasoned or researched they might have been. I’m sure that article is still somewhere available in the gaseous ether of the internet, but not with my consent. Every once in a while, I still get people saying or writing to me, “I know you hate Steven Wilson, but . . .”
All of this is a way of stating that I expected very little of HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. And, when I first listened to it, my immediate thought (definitely NOT just or justified, but still clouded by reasons of ego) was that now Wilson was merely ripping off Rush. Much of what I heard sounded like FAREWELL TO KINGS and HEMISPHERES, just employing better recording technology and a few Wilsonian trademarks.
And, yet, I couldn’t stop listening to HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. I listened to it. Liked it. I listened to it again. Liked it more. Listened to it yet again. Liked it yet more. Other great albums were arriving for review at progarchy, and still others I was buying simply because I love rock and prog. Yet, even with every new submission or purchase throughout 2015, I kept listening to HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. As second semester began in earnest in middle January of this year, I had to cut back my listening. Too many classes to teach and papers to grade to spend too much time listening to too much music. Yet, despite the somewhat harrowing loss of time to enjoy prog, HAND.CANNOT. ERASE. remained steadily in my listening rotation.
And, then, it happened. My great friend (and hero), Tom Woods, published his own thoughts on the album on his ever popular podcast and website. http://us5.campaign-archive1.com/?u=77713d21ff56f1c126607d2c5&id=f752b21798&e=d1c32a07df
Whatever love I had for the album (and, it was obviously there all along—the number of times I’d played it are well noted on iTunes stats) simply exploded after reading Tom’s thoughts on the album. Yes, I realized, I, too, loved this album. Though my time has been limited (I gave my first final of the semester just this morning), I have devoted a considerable amount of time not just listening to the album, but actually analyzing every aspect of it.
For what it’s worth, here’s my conclusion. HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. can never be considered yet merely another Wilson release, the fourth of the good Lord knows how many to come. No, it is a glorious achievement of art, whatever the genre. Everything is perfect about it: the theme and story; the lyrics; the playing; the recording; the packaging; the conviction; and the flow of the album.
Taken as a whole, HAND.CANNOT.ERASE. is one of the greatest and most humane works of art in our post-modern era.
I’ll have more to write about it soon, as I splurged and ordered the 4-disk Deluxe Boxset edition, complete with hardback book and further explorations of the tragic protagonist of the story. It hasn’t arrived yet, but it was sent from a bookstore in Connecticut just days ago and should arrive at progarchy HQ in Michigan any day.
For now, let me just state: EGO.SHOULD.NOT.OVERWHELM. My apologies to Mr. Wilson for the article I so hastily and angrily published a few years back. The outfit that accepted it but then ultimately refused to publish was correct. Whatever scholarly veneer I had given the piece, it was my own ego that really came out, not a careful analysis of Steven Wilson. I was mad that so much attention was being given to Wilson rather than to Andy Tillison or Greg Spawton. How foolish of me. Art is not a game of either/or. It’s a both/and. There’s room for Andy, Greg, and Steve in our endeavors and loves.
So, Mr. Wilson, thank you for the true beauty you’ve given to the world.
Water has no memory–“Perfect Life”