Music Reviews
The Future Bites

Steven Wilson The Future Bites

(Steven Wilson Productions) Rating - 3/10

Even with Steven Wilson’s best music, there’s always been a sense of ridiculousness. In the opening minute of his 2017 album, To the Bone, the progressive rock god embraced spoken word flourishes, mysterious bongos, and harmonica licks straight from a John Ford film. While it was over the top, Wilson could bend those eccentricities into solid grooves and great songs. Four years later, it seems that he’s fallen into an understandable quandary that many art rock artists have found themselves in before—social commentary. On The Future Bites, he finds himself doubling down on the nonsense and scrapping subtext altogether.

Six years after writing one of the best songs ever with Hand Cannot Erase, Wilson opens his album with one of the worst lines he’s ever written: “Self-help and self-aware, self-made millionaire. Turn it up and tone it down, entertain like a fucking clown.” It’s these rudimentary lyrics that set the tone for The Future Bites, a Muse-esque disaster from a competent musician who usually knew how to avoid his worst qualities. This is Wilson’s sixth solo LP but it’s the first one that returns to his pet topics of technology and futurism this aggressively, even to the point that it would make a college student watching Blade Runner blush.

While Wilson clearly didn’t stop and ask himself if we needed a doomish album full of unsubtle social commentary, the instrumentation and production here somehow make things worse. Wilson has always loved his dramatic touches—from gospel backing vocals to buzzing synthesizers—but The Future Bites is the worst sounding album he’s ever put out. The messy groove of Self is an easy place to lodge criticisms, with its overecho-y vocals and guitars set through the world’s ugliest distortion; but the idiotic Eminent Sleeze has an even more egregious arrangement, with Seinfeld-esque slap bass and icky drum work. Occasionally we get to a song that’s less outwardly abhorrent (see Man of the People or 12 Things I Forgot), but Wilson sounds bored on those complacent pop-rock arrangements.

The best thing you can say about The Future Bites is that it’s relatively merciful, as it only lasts for 40 minutes. Before you can relegate this album to the trash bin, there’s one deeply troubling challenge at the center: the nine-minute track titled Personal Shopper. We open with Wilson’s degrading falsetto for a minute before the song kicks into gear, but the central message about the evils of consumerism is so exhausting that you can’t even imagine this continuing onward. By the time you get to the chorus, where Wilson sings with an invasive choir of backing vocalists, the song sounds like the electro-pop of the recent Saturday Night Live sketch titled U.S.O Performance. Where SNL is trying to be funny, Steven Wilson is flailing endlessly.