Album Review: “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” by Steven Wilson

Album: “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”

Artist: Steven Wilson

Release Date: Mar. 3

Rating: 3.5/5

Concept albums have always blurred the musical line between genius and pretentiousness. For those who don’t know, concept albums are a set of songs that all connect in some way, usually through a single story or narrative. Steven Wilson’s new album “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” was compared to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” — sometimes considered the best concept album of all time — by “Visions,” a German magazine. This made some people curious. Frankly, “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” is enjoyable, but it’s not going to rewrite music history like Pink Floyd’s album did.

Wilson’s genre here is progressive metal, which would be like if normal metal chilled the fuck out and went to college to get a degree in literature or jazz studies. True to the form of that niche of music, there are just as many scorching guitar solos as there are jazz-inspired chord changes and Igor Stravinsky-esque time-signature choices, and Wilson is an expert at putting those elements together, as he does most flawlessly on “Ancestral” and “3 Years Older.” Rather than setting the volume knob at 11 and the guitar distortion at full blast, Wilson appreciates subtlety and gives equal time on the album to every dynamic and feeling. This constantly creates arriving points, peaks and releases moving from wild “Regret #9” to calm, gloomy “Transience” to the creepy sonic pinnacle of the album, “Ancestral.”

Sonically, the album doesn’t quite stack up with the cataclysmic highs and lows of “The Wall” (if we’re sticking with that comparison), but “Hand. Cannot. Erase” might have come close in overall quality if the lyrics could carry the album’s theme in a graceful way. But they don’t, at least not consistently. Sections of thoughtful, gloomy lyrics are occasionally interrupted by cheesy, tired lines like, “I feel I’m falling once again/ But now there’s no one left to catch me.” Good concept albums are like good literature: It’s fun to pick through the words to find hidden symbolism and meanings, so when the lyrics on a few songs fall short, the whole album does.

In an album this complex, there are plenty of redeeming values to mention like the telling narrative in “Perfect Life” or the wispy female vocals in “Routine,” but when you’ve been told that it will stack up to a masterpiece, the faults really stand out. So here’s a favor for you: “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” album is decent. Listen to it with that expectation and you’ll probably enjoy it. You might even find it to be great.

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