Sound — 9
Steven Wilson is probably best known as the creative force behind Porcupine Tree, but he has also been involved with the bands Karma, No-Man, Incredible Expanding Mindf--k, Bass Communion, Blackfield, Storm Corrosion, and his solo work. "Hand. Cannot. Erase" is the fourth studio album released by Steven Wilson as a solo effort, and it contains all the musicians he worked with on his previous release (including Guthrie Govan), in addition to some female vocalists who act as the main character of the concept. There are 11 tracks on the album, and it clocks in at 66 minutes. According to Steven Wilson, this is a concept album about a woman who died in her apartment and no one realized she was missing for 3 years, loosely based on the true story of Joyce Carol Vincent, that Steven Wilson learned about from the film "Dreams of a Life."
The album opens up with the track "First Regret," which opens with the sounds of children playing and remains instrumental, primarily keyboards and mellotron. "3 Years Older" has a little bit of a Who vibe, similar to some moments from "Tommy," but maybe just because I think of this concept album in a similar way to the Who's album. Steven provides vocals on "3 Years Older," which is over 10 minutes and has long and varied instrumental passages, as well. Next is the title track, "Hand. Cannot. Erase.," which explores the emotional well-being of the main character. The guitar on the track was provided by Dave Gregory, best known for his work with his band, XTC. "Perfect Life" has spoken word lyrics provided by Katherine Jenkins talking about a girl she knew as a sister in her adolescence. "Routine" has vocals contributed by Ninet Tayeb and Leo Blair. The track is a little over 9 minutes and has some interesting guitar work, as well, which is contributed by Guthrie Govan.
"Home Invasion" starts out with a very suspenseful instrumental opening which would fit a horror movie scene with the "monster" creeping up on a victim, but with some heavier instrumentation coming in. It quickly goes into the realm of '70s prog, in sound, with a mellotron and a killer bass line. "Regret #9" has some really intense things going on with keyboard and mellotron contributed by Steven Wilson, and some interesting guitar going on with Guthrie, as well. "Transience" is really carried by finger-picked guitar and Steven's vocals. "Ancestral" is the longest track on the album, at over 13 minutes, with Steven providing mellotron, vocals and hammered dulcimer on this track. There is also flute and saxophone provided by Theo Travis on this track. "Happy Returns" opens with the sounds of a storm, and repeats the musical theme from "First Regret." The rest of the track is pretty much carried by acoustic guitar (which builds up with other instrumentation) and Steven's vocals. The album closes out with the instrumental track, "Ascend Here On...," which also uses the sounds of children playing (much like "First Regret").
Lyrics — 9
Steven Wilson provides lead vocals for most of the album, but there are also several guest vocalists. The list includes Katherine Jenkins with some spoken word parts, Ninet Tayeb who actually voices the main character, and Leo Blair on the track "Routine." The vocals are varied enough to keep the album interesting, though the musical performance on the album is definitely the bigger draw. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from "3 Years Older": "You cross the schoolyard with your head held down/ And walk the streets under the breaking cloud/ With a hundred futures cascading out/ It's complicated/ You think of love as just a memory/ A fog that smothers you, its hard to breathe/ But when you're on your own that's when you're free/ You're three years older/ And you'll always be now/ I can feel you more than you really know/ I will love you more than I'll ever show/ There was a time when someone seemed to care/ A tourist in your bed you left him there/ You found a simple life with no-one to share/ It's not complicated." I really enjoy a good concept album, and this one does it right, allowing enough of the concept to come through in the lyrics for your imagination to fill in the details during the instrumental parts of the album.
Overall Impression — 9
I love the sound of '70s progressive rock, and while Steven Wilson doesn't sound like he stepped out of the '70s, you can tell he's inspired by the genre and the time period. This is definitely a solid album, and extremely accessible for a progressive concept album. I enjoyed Guthrie's contributions on guitar quite a bit, though it was Steven's mellotron that keeps me listening. My favorite tracks from the album would probably be "3 Years Older," "Routine," and "Home Invasion." This is definitely the best progressive release I've heard so far in 2015.