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Album review: Steven Wilson – 4 1/2

Steven Wilson’s previous album “Hand. Cannot. Erase” was one of my favourite releases of 2015, one that I thought was pretty much perfect. So what a pleasure it was to learn about “4 ½”, an interim release that presents 4 tracks from the “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” sessions, another from the “The Raven That Refused to Sing” sessions and a new reading of the Porcupine Tree song “Don’t Hate Me”.

From the opening notes of the first track “My Book of Regrets”, we’re back in that cold, nostalgic atmosphere of alienation that permeates the earlier record.  The second track, “Year of the Plague” is an atmospheric instrumental that is probably the least interesting piece here, although it would have been better used as an interlude in a longer album. “Happiness III” is a lively uptempo piece that’s probably as happy as Wilson will ever get. “Sunday Rain Sets In” and “Vermillioncore” are both fully fleshed out instrumental tracks that let the band’s musicianship shine.

The musicianship is again stellar, with Wilson backed by frequent collaborators Adam Holzman, Nick Beggs, Guthrie Govan, Dave Kilminster, Craig Blundell, Marco Minnemann, Chad Wackerman, and Theo Travis. Singer Ninet Tayeb also guests in a duet with Wilson on the Porcupine Tree remake that closes the album. Her soulful, plaintive voice brings extra depth to the song, and I might actually prefer this version (based on a live recording from Wilson’s recent European tour) to the original.

This album is an unexpected postscript to “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”, one that will make the wait for solo album #5 a little easier. It’s a bit like finishing you favourite cake, and then realizing there’s an extra slice waiting for you.

“4 ½” is available on CD, 180 gram vinyl, Blu-ray (with 5.1 mixes) and digital.

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