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The marque of a great artist is one who constantly evolves, never content to repeat former glories and, in doing so, takes their audience along for the ride as the throng swells. David Bowie was sublime at this, Madonna too. Steven Wilson is also proving to be an exceptional talent looking to push boundaries by changing direction and keeping his audience on their toes.

Wilson’s recorded catalogue is now approaching three decades with no-man, Porcupine Tree and as a solo artist. He has embraced pop, dance, rock and prog and he draws on all these elements, with a twist, for his new album The Future Bites which is finally due for release on 29 January.

I say finally, as The Future Bites was scheduled for release on 12 June last year until the global pandemic got in the way. “As with many of my albums,” said Wilson in a press statement, “The Future Bites is not just about the music, it’s a high concept project which involves design, artwork, video and a tour production, all on a grander scale than anything I’ve attempted before. However, due to the pandemic, there are unprecedented challenges, ranging from manufacturing issues (particularly in relation to the elaborate deluxe edition) and the uncertainty facing record stores as the coronavirus forces them to close their doors, to being unable to shoot most of the video material I planned. It’s therefore with a very heavy heart that I reluctantly need to postpone the release of The Future Bites until such time everything can happen as intended.

Worth the wait? “Not ‘arf!” as Fluff Freeman used to say. The Future Bites has a little of everything that Wilson has done before with a truly contemporary feel and also more than a nod to one of Wilson’s early influences, Pink Floyd. At the risk of alienating his loyal, die-hard fans, this album could even elevate Steven Wilson from cult hero to household name.

Within the music industry, Steven Wilson is already a major player and is the industry’s go-to producer for a host of bands and for re-mixes of classic prog and rock albums.

Steven Wilson, photo Andrew Hobbs

Many fans will already be familiar with some of the material as Wilson has issued four singles/videos from The Future Bites with Personal Shopper available as far back as March 2020, ahead of the originally planned album release date.

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Personal Shopper sits somewhere between being a love-letter to shopping (which I love to do!),” says Wilson, “and the uneasiness I feel about the more insidious side of modern consumerism. Lucrecia Taormina’s blackly comic video captures that dilemma perfectly.”

At just shy of 10 minutes, the track skips along with an infectious electronic dance beat as Wilson takes a poke at the algorithms and subliminal messages that entice us to part with our hard-earned cash:

Buy for comfort, buy for kicks
Buy and buy until it makes you sick
Buy for England, buy it all
Buy online and in the shopping mall
Sell it on then buy it back
Buy the shit you never knew you lacked
Buy the update to compete
Buy the things that make your life complete

Now dance meets prog as the track takes a musical turn to include a shopping list (remember Tubular Bells’ ‘Guide to the rock orchestra’?) of things we probably don’t need but make us feel good, read over a Floydian soundscape and without emotion, by the King of Consumers, none other than Sir Elton John! A stroke of pure genius!

To give The Future Bites it’s distinctly modern, punchy edge, Wilson has brought in David Kosten to share the production role and to mix the album. Known for his work with Bats For Lashes and Everything Everything and fresh from producing the latest Keane album, Kosten has his finger firmly on the pulse of contemporary intelligent pop in it’s broadest sense. And, at 42 minutes, the album is also considerably shorter in length than Wilson’s previous five solo outings, more in keeping with many of the classic albums that undoubtedly influenced the younger Steven Wilson.

The album begins with a brief understated prog-style intro Unself before launching into an upbeat disco examination, Self, of what drives us to shop: ‘Self absorbed and self obsessed, If not me, then someone else.’ King Ghost continues the process as the narrator, deep in dream-like thought, tries to analyse why he is what he is, what makes him tick and what makes him a consumer…

12 Things I Forgot puts Wilson in classic pop territory, great melody and a real ear-worm, an ironically upbeat delivery as the pleasure he derives from shopping masks the failings in other areas of his existence.

The mood changes dramatically as Eminent Sleaze examines the faceless sharks behind the algorithms. The track is built on percussive handclaps with strings and the occasional Gilmour-esque stabbing guitar note. The atmospheric strummed guitar accompaniment to Man Of The People continues the Floydian influence.

Follower picks up the pace, once again, with a commentary the phenomenon of following celebrity on social media and their influence on those that read their posts. The finale, the downbeat Count of Unease, reaches a conclusion on the mind of the consumer in this must-have society:

If I could die right now
For anything it would be this

Steven Wilson has always been a great observer and The Future Bites is right on point, a sharp, witty and sometimes uncomfortable comment on the modern state of consumerism, words as profound as anything Dylan wrote in the sixties. May I suggest that The Future Bites will not be one of the Albums Of The Year, it will become one of the landmark albums of the 21st Century.

The Future Bites is released on 29 January 2021 through Caroline International with the following track listing:

1 Unself
2 Self
3 King Ghost
4 12 Things I Forgot
5 Eminent Sleaze
6 Man Of The People
7 Personal Shopper
8 Follower
9 Count of Unease

The global pandemic also scuppered Wilson’s tour plans which tied in closely with the album’s release. To our great advantage, his original two-date UK schedule has now been expanded to eight and includes dates in Sheffield and Manchester before he heads off on an extensive trek across Europe (Covid permitting).

Steven Wilson’s 2021 The Future Bites tour dates are:

Wednesday 8th September Cardiff, St Davids Hall

Thursday 9th September Sheffield, City Hall

Saturday 11th September Manchester, 02 Apollo

Sunday 12th September Glasgow, Concert Hall

Monday 13th September Birmingham, Symphony Hall

Wednesday 15th September Portsmouth, Guildhall

Thursday 16th September London, Hammersmith, Eventim Apollo

Friday 17th September Nottingham, Royal Concert Hall

For more information and tickets please visit http://stevenwilsonhq.com/sw/

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