An interim release between Wilson’s previous album Hand. Cannot. Erase. and the next studio album. Which makes 4½ sound like some throwaway, some stopgap. Trust me, it is definitely not.
Instead, it contains six examples of what a talented musical genius can do with the elements of prog and pop-rock. The tunes are the more commercial sides of The Alan Parsons Project and Camel but the instrumentation weighs in heavily with the ferocity and virtuosity of King Crimson.
In fact, one could spend endless hours listening to most of this album – six tracks covering a economical 37 minutes.
4 of the songs originated during the sessions for Hand. Cannot. Erase., and one from the recording sessions for the previous album The Raven that Refused to Sing. The final track is a version of “Don’t Hate Me”, a song originally recorded by Porcupine Tree in 1998, and is based on a live recording made on the recent tour of Europe with additional recording later done in the studio. The vocals on this new version are sung as a duet between Steven and Ninet Tayeb.
The opening “My Book of Regrets” is a prog-pop-rocker of the finest order with mind-blowing instrumental passages whereas the intense and fragile “Year of the Plague” keeps the mood on an even keel throughout. There is a 60s folk-rock perspective from “Happiness III” that is highly refreshing, with prog guitar solos as icing on the cake.
“Vermillioncore” is a moody and sinister sounding piece that breaks out into a furiously heavy mode halfway through. The aforementioned “Don’t Hate Me” has a melancholy psych-rock ambience that twists and turns through varied arrangements that includes a Floyd-channeling sax solo.
While absolutely essential for prog rock lovers, any music fans out there interested in more bang for your buck, in terms of instrumental prowess, melodic sophistication and conceptual underpinning could do worse than checking Steven Wilson’s 4½ out!