I stumbled into Porcupine Tree quite late in my search for awesome artists. Call it a noob’s myopia (blindness, rather) that the fact that there was the word “Tree” in the band name was a turn off for me. I know that’s quite stupid. Well, ‘Arriving Somewhere But Not Here’ from Deadwing was the first Porcupine Tree song I ever heard and Deadwing was the first Porcupine Tree album I immersed myself into. Frankly, that album and that song is still my favourite, not to mention the fact that ‘Glass Arm Shattering’ still reigns as the most hauntingly depressing song for me, also one of the most beautiful songs to drown into (see what I did there? Porcupine Tree fans would know). But this article’s not about Porcupine Tree. No Sir, that’s not what the title reads at all.
This article is the review of Porcupine Tree’s lead vocalist and most certainly the most critically acclaimed and well known name in the field of progressive rock/metal Steven Wilson’s latest solo release, undoubtedly one of the most anticipated albums of 2015 ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ The album is written from a female perspective and is the story of a character inspired by the life and death of Joyce Carol Vincent, a British lady whose corpse was discovered three years after her death.
According to Steven Wilson “The basic story, or concept of the record – it’s about a woman growing up, who goes to live in the city, very isolated, and she disappears one day and no one notices. There’s more to it than that. Now, what’s really interesting about this story is that your initial reaction when you hear a story like that is, ‘Ah, little old bag lady that no one notices, no one cares about.’ [Vincent] wasn’t [like that]. She was young, she was popular, she was attractive, she had many friends, she had family, but for whatever reason, nobody missed her for three years.”
Here’s Mr. Wilson talking about the album:
And here’s a teaser for Hand. Cannot. Erase. :
So without any more delay, let’s just get into it. Here’s a track by track review of ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase’ (as I listen to it):
1) First Regret: The first track starts with sounds of water and little kids talking/playing in the background as a crescendo is detected leading into this intensely melancholic piano tune, the drums and a music box soon follow. Hints of electronica, yeah. I don’t know but this sounds like a track straight out of a David Fincher movie, and that’s saying something.
2) 3 Years Older: This track’s quite awesome actually and follows the staple ‘long prog rock song’ emotion given that it’s 10 minutes long. But these aren’t just 10 minutes of good music, ‘3 Years Older’ is 10 minutes of good music, 10 minutes of pure guitar bliss. It’s an upbeat and peppy song with a loud acoustic guitar that transcends into ‘that right amount of distortion’, blues riffs; a little jazz-ish, reminds me of ‘Breathe’ by Pink Floyd but yet it is so much different. But then around the 7 minute mark the song returns to remind you that Steven Wilson is in Porcupine Tree as there’s some real amazing electronica and prog rock magic that’s happening here. The piano, the mellotron and a touch, more than a touch really of electronica make this a beautiful track indeed.
3) Hand. Cannot. Erase.: The title track starts off with a mellow guitar and mellotron. The drums and the blues guitar solo make this 4 minute track a pretty simple prog rock track (Hmmm, might as well jam out to this). The music box adds to the environment. It’s good but ends too soon…I wanted more :(
4) Perfect Life: The intro somehow reminds me of ‘Arriving Somewhere But Not Here’ but then, ‘Perfect Life’ could’ve been on Mezzanine by Massive Attack. Electronic drums give the perfect electro feel. Katherine Jenkins provides a monologue about a girl who used to know this girl who later disappeared (metaphorically) into thin air. There are moments the story reminds me of Deadwing as it shares a similar haunting story but then this is different. Slowly, it turns into this beautiful, powerful and heavy anthem, something that might be used to end an awesome movie. Ahhh, strings in this song are plain beautiful.
5) Routine: ‘Routine’ starts with an awesome piano and Wilson talking about pain and well, morose routines of a housewife/mother (I guess, considering she’s doing all the chores that your mum does for you and you overlook and take her for granted). Soon, sounds of the sea and seagulls flood the ears and then Ninet Tayeb with her amazingly powerful and restricted voice gives you the chills. Then, as you’re humming along to the song a creepy and paranoid guitar portion turns the track around (like that creepy section from ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ by Blue Öyster Cult). And then comes an exciting blues solo as Ninet describes ‘the routine’ i.e. “Keep cleaning, keep ironing, Cooking their meals on the stainless steel hob, Keep washing, keep scrubbing, Long until the dark comes to bruise the sky, Deep in the debt to night”. Oh and there’s a vocal solo by Leo Blair too. The track is pure bliss, and if it doesn’t overwhelm you then my friend you are not human.
6) Home Invasion: Well, this one…starts off with a tune that might be used during a chase sequence from a horror movie or a home invasion scene (well, that’s kinda obvious, right?). But then, a heavy guitar riff of triplets soon joins along with bass drums and then comes the synth pop sound of the mellotron. That truly turns ‘Home Invasion’ into an awesome track and we haven’t even reached the 3 minute mark yet. Then, a bass line follows that is straight from the ‘70s and that gives it a staple prog metal song feel, and the lyrics are straight up gangster man…this is efficient execution on so many levels.
7) Regret #9: This track. This instrumental track is a sorta part 2 of ‘Home Invasion’ and has one of the best and intense synth I’ve heard in a long time (actually never). The synth is extremely beautiful and gels with the guitar to give an amazing uplifting feel. ‘Regret #9’ is easily a track that could substitute ‘Gonna Fly Now’ from Rocky, it’s that awesome! This is old school awesome rock regardless of the subgenre.
1) Why do all songs with childrens’ voices remind me of ‘Youth of the Nation’ by P.O.D.?
2) And why is this album reminding me of Pink Floyd so much? Maybe because it’s prog….or maybe because ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ is that good…most probably.
8) Transience: Okay, honestly, I love this song. The acoustic track is accompanied by a grungy heavy bass. ‘Transience’ begins where the last song ends and is pretty cool and the lyrics are kawaii ^.^ (Yeah, I’m serious -_-)
9) Ancestral: ‘Ancestral’ has a pretty awesome beat that goes on like a frenzied metronome and do I hear the hammered dulcimer? Yes I do. A flute? Yup, that’s there too. A saxophone? Oh yeah, that too! A pretty heavy melancholic track till 3:32 when it becomes a really heavy melancholic track, and then comes a haunting guitar solo and then a haunting monologue by Ninet Tayeb accompanied by the bass guitar and drums, while a mellow paranoid guitar riff keep on playing. This goes on till the song transcends into another plane of awesome. Around 7:50, the creepiness looms in and then out of nowhere it turns into this awesomely heavy song. It definitely has a groove you can dance to. Then somewhere in the middle of all this you get lost in the guitar solo and the drums that are so mesmerizing that I actually forgot the song was about to end, which is pretty awesome considering it’s a 13 minute long track…
10) Happy Returns: ‘Happy Returns’ has the similar piano from ‘First Regret’ and the sound of a storm that turns into the beat of the song, pretty awesome right? Then you hear a sweet acoustic guitar and Steven Wilson’s clear as day and soothing as a lullaby voice. ‘Happy Returns’ is an awesome track with its instrumental arrangements, no doubt there but also, because it’s so simple in every aspect yet so different that most of us won’t even notice or know or think of something similar.
11) Ascendant Here On…: Sounds of rain and kids playing, a piano and a choir singing you to slow and sweet slumber…what else do you need? What other perfect way to end a perfect album?
Lyrically, ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase.’ is gorgeous. Like that girl in the red dress who sits right next to you, rests her head on your shoulders and you realize that her simplicity and the way she rests silently amidst the most troubled times are the most beautiful things about her, and you love her for that. She keeps reminding you of a purpose, a subtle yet obvious underlying theme that always keeps you on your toes and reminds you of that purpose. Hand. Cannot. Erase. has been dubbed as The Wall (by Pink Floyd) for the Facebook generation. But I guess the way it talks of isolation, loss, nostalgia, detachment, depression and sadness and eventual acceptance of pain and misery, I can only think of one more album that makes me wander through such a wide spectrum of emotions and that is The Dark Side of the Moon. But Hand. Cannot. Erase. is different; it’s a Steven Wilson production and is nothing short of what you would expect from a genius such as his. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is an album I’d highly recommend.
Listen to the full album here:
All Pictures used in this article were found on Google images