Welcome to the future. A future where you are handcuffed to your technology, always staring at the screen, buying happiness by spending every penny you have to make yourself feel alive. Alive enough for that perfect Facebook status. Wilson’s excellent new album takes this new utopia, one which is only a breath away from 2021, especially this lockdown version that Wilson could not have predicted, but has made his album more prescient.
If you’ve followed Wilson’s career, he has always been reaching for the stars sonically but however ‘out there’ (his King Of Prog status has been used both as praise and scorn through the years) his work has been, there has always been an element of straight ahead pop, if you can see beyond the ten minute run time and out there sounds, one minute Oldfield, one minute Yes. There’s definitely more Trevor Horn than normal this time around, this is the closest to a verse-chorus-verse normality that Wilson has ever touched, but of course, it remains fiercely imaginative and you can lose yourself in the tale being told, even if it is now computers and modems rather than more fantastical tales.
“Personal Shopper sits somewhere between being a love-letter to shopping – an activity I love – and the uneasy feelings I have about the more insidious side of modern consumerism.” – here is the album in a nutshell, it is embracing things we all love but also questioning (not judging, that is a very important difference) why we do it. This is made even better when you realise that that interesting guest voice on Personal Shopper is Elton John, known for his flamboyant spend-a-million lifestyle. I remember reading an interview when I was a kid that Elton used to go to his local Tower Records (pre-internet, obvs) and pick up 7 copies of albums he wanted, so that he could give them to all his best friends. I always found this brilliant and it seems to fit in to the narrative of the album, how buying things can bring happiness to many not just the buyer, again the record is not so much anti-consuming as pro-living, how human interaction is also important among all the CDS and video games. “Consumer of life, hold my hand”. This is definitely a favourite song on the record.
Eminent Sleaze is another Kendall favourite, essentially Steven Wilson taking on the Patrick Bateman role, whilst also a tongue in cheek comment on his real world ‘anonymous famous person’ persona. “The closer I get to the dirt, the sharper the suit that I am wearing.” Brilliant.
12 Things I Forgot is probably my fave track, one of those pre-released but one that makes much more sense as part of the album’s story. It sounds very Mansun, which will come as no surprise to those of us who know the past relationship between Mansun frontman Paul Draper and Wilson, with remixes and even a tour together. Wilson has the same mix of cold computerisms and warm keyboard love of the best of Mansun and fans of Chester’s best should definitely be on board with this.
The vinyl sounds fantastic and comes with an excellent booklet which enhances the story with Add To Basket ads for cork ‘as featured in some of the world’s top Instagram posts’ and even a can of Air (limited edition), that says more in one photo than Bono managed in a lifetime. There’s also a number of VERY Manics elements from the black and white coldness to the great slogans ‘TO DIE ONE MUST IGNORE FACTS’, ‘TRUST NOONE SEE WHAT HAPPENS’. Then again, MSP looked at Bret Easton Ellis, Asimov and Stranger In a Strange Land just as much as Wilson does here, so it is all cut from the same futuristic cloth.
In a year when we are unable to go out and touch and feel and experience, the Internet has become more of a friend and buying that album (this one, ironically, not ironically) or book or towel from Amazon is the highlight of the day – flowing into this new isolated lifestyle, The Future Bites works as both a warning and a comfort, albeit it wrapped up in Cronenberg darkness. Yet, musically this may be Wilson’s most pop outing and therefore you can instantly fall for the music before you make the essential journey down the rabbit hole into the record’s story.
Mine is on black vinyl, but this brilliant record also comes in white and red and in deluxe sets, including a Limited Edition Of One which sold for 10,000 pounds. It included one off gifts such as Wilson’s Grammy medallion, which I did not even know was a thing, The flip side, because the album is all about that, is that Wilson gave all the profits of the exclusive box to the Music Venue Trust. A perfectly Human touch for a perfectly robotic concept.