The Future Bites
(Arts & Crafts)
4 out of 5 stars
James Brown used to be called “The hardest working man in show business.” It’s a good thing Steven Wilson wasn’t active then because Brown might have come in second.
Even a cursory glance at Wilson’s résumé is enough to make anyone wonder where he finds the time. The UK based frontman and founding member for a handful of projects, the most notable being The Porcupine Tree, Wilson has a distinguished second career remixing classic progressive rock albums from King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Yes and many others into enhanced stereo and surround sound. Wilson is a producer too and has also guested vocals for other prog acts such as Dream Theater. His solo career officially got underway in 2008 with this his sixth effort since then. It’s exhausting just scrolling through the man’s credits. While he might not be a household name (unless you have progressive rock lovers under your roof), Wilson is popular enough to have sold out three nights at London’s Royal Albert Hall on his last tour.
This follow-up to 2017’s well received To the Bone finds him moving in a more pop/rock direction. Regardless, you won’t find any hit singles here as the prog-artsy side is very much in evidence across the disc’s nine tracks. As its title implies, The Future Bites is a song cycle of sorts revolving around the dangers of technology and especially the excessive consumerism that he warns is corroding society. While this might seem a bit unwieldy to chew on, Wilson delivers beautifully and immaculately crafted pieces forcing you to think while remaining accessible. These songs are both entertaining and challenging, not far from a combination of Godley and Creme, Genesis, Pink Floyd and… name your favorite 80s space rock band here.
He carefully navigates lyrics about being “self-absorbed and self-obsessed” with soulful, edgy music that never feels as alienating as its subject matter. The slow, oozing funk of “Eminent Sleaze” runs Peter Gabriel’s bottom end through ELO’s pop sensibilities and Floyd’s tuneful hooks. It’s a head spinning trip about a shady character who proudly states “A flash of my teeth and you hand your car keys over/A flick of my wrist and…and I seduce your sister,” all in under four minutes. The chilling “Man of the People” seems to have foreseen the recent attack on Congress with “Lash out, well don’t you feel good now?/Shut up, well I think that you should now/Oh, follow me follow me”
The disc’s centerpiece is “Personal Shopper,” a devastating nine minute treatise on consumerism where he sings “Buy the shit you never knew you lacked.” He then brings in Elton John, no stranger to excess purchasing, to read a list of items like “organic LED televisions, diamond cufflinks” and even “deluxe edition box sets” (something Mr. John is guilty of providing) over a throbbing, percussive beat that grows more intense as the song progresses.
Despite its dark, cautionary subject matter, The Future Bites is Steven Wilson’s most powerful and commercially appealing set to date. Beautifully produced—it’s one of the first studio albums of new material mixed in Dolby Atmos surround—this is the bristling sound of Wilson taking a bite into the future of prog-rock.