Modern prog pioneer and Porcupine Tree founder, Steven Wilson discusses the themes behind his fifth solo record, To The Bone – a work that serves to bridge the gap between the accessibility of pop and the creativity of the underground.
Musing on our modern era of commercially viable pop music, Wilson feels there has been a recession of what he calls “ambitious progressive pop records”. Musical works that on the surface slot perfectly into the stream of easy listening, chart-lingering mainstream pop, but who’s substance below the sheen shows a depth greater than its digestible exterior.
Wilson has confessed that To The Bone is a nod to mid-80s records like Peter Gabriel’s So, Talk Talk’s Colour of Spring, and Tears for Fears’ Seeds of Love, among many others. Not as a matter of musical influence – he isn’t trying to revive the musical aspects of these records, more so their format – an album layered with lyrical undertones: reflections of society and our modern reality.
“I had no interest in imitating these records at all,” Wilson says. “There’s something about that era – particularly the mid ‘80s – there was a certain kind of record that was very popular. It’s an album that works on more than one level, in the sense that the album itself is very accessible and the songs are very melodic and easy to enjoy. A lot of those albums had very big hits on them, were very big selling records, and crossed over to a mainstream audience. However, they also work on a deeper level.”
“I feel like those records are not so common in the 21st century. We have [at the moment] very mainstream pop music, which to me seems very banal and very conservative. Then we have the exciting underground music with lots of creativity, but what we don’t have is albums somewhere in the middle, which tries to be accessible without sacrificing any of that kind of ambition or any of that quirkiness and edge. That’s what all those records have in common for me.”
To The Bone’s subject matter is nothing new – the problems of modern society, spurred on by recent events: terrorism, the rise of alt-right politics and wielding its post-truth ban hammer. It seemingly is a calling out of the wrongdoer’s, those on the receiving end of an artists pointing finger. But like the albums and artists that have inspired Wilson’s latest offering, it doesn’t fall victim to the aimless accusations of modern mainstream rock or punk music, nor the skin deep tragedies laid out in bubblegum pop music. There is in fact, a genuine and grounded conversation weaved through To The Bone and there is a common thread based in the reality of today.
“The main lyrical strand that goes right through the record is this idea of truth and what is truth as a flexible context in this age of fake news, social media and Trump. It’s basically asking the question, ‘Is truth ever really achievable?’ Truth for most human beings is actually perception,” he says.
“We all have our own idea of truth, but how can you have a different truth to someone else, because truth is and should be an absolute singular reality shouldn't it? But in reality it never is. Truth is always something that is filtered through the agenda of each of us: our race, gender, politics, and religious beliefs. In that sense, we all create our own truth. Everything on the album relates to this idea of truth as a kind of singular perception, whether it might be in the smallest sense like a relationship where two people have a completely different ‘truth’ about the relationship, or to much bigger topics like religious fundamentalism, terrorism and the refugee crisis or politicians, all of whom have their own truth.
“You only have to look at the world of religion. I mean there is thousands of different religions all over the world and each one of those religions believe that they have the absolute singular truth. How can that be? A lot of the songs deal with that to a greater or lesser degree.
Steven Wilson’s To The Bone is out on Friday August 18 via Caroline Australia.