This month sees the release of Steven Wilson’s latest solo album ‘Hand. Cannot. Erase’, and the keyboard warriors of the prog world have sharpened their virtual knives in readiness. You see Steven Wilson has offended the progerati by committing the cardinal sin of ‘having some commercial success’. Of course he’s nowhere near Phil Collins levels of imagined heresy, but releasing a record which is now being reviewed rather favourably in the mainstream press with expectations of sales over the 100,000 mark are factors not consistent with the underground sensibilities of today’s prog world. The most embittered prog dinosaurs have temporarily stopped curating their 1968-1973 prog museums to take to the internet to deride the infidel who dares to bring the genre into the spotlight once again.
Let’s put this into context, it’s taken 28 years and more than 30 albums for Steven Wilson to get the sort of mainstream recognition that the average pop starlet gets on the day they released their first single after spending less than 5 mins in a recording studio, but the progerati are a tough crowd. They cry ‘He’s sold out’, ‘He’s making pop music’, ‘There’s nothing original in this new album’. They whine endlessly that he copied Pink Floyd or that he uses computers to make music, or that the magazines constantly promote him to the point of overexposure. The fact is everyone who is making or is a fan of ‘weird’, independent progressive rock music should be jolly grateful that he’s finally managed to find a way out of a very dark cave and allowed some oxygen to fan the last dying embers of the classic band nostalgia mongers. The mentality of an underground genre has been disturbed, prog has finally become cool again. Of course Wilson is not the only contributor or innovator, but at some stage in any expedition it’s good to have someone at the front who knows what they are doing.
The British in particular have a real problem with success. They love to build the little guy up but when he looks like he might be in with a chance of making a go of it, they slap him back down for fear of losing their ownership and control of him. “Yeah, Wilson was great on those early Porcupine Tree albums, it was real then, man.” Phil Collins paid a heavy price for straying so far out of the genre that even the fact that he was one of the greatest rock drummers in one of the greatest prog bands ever, couldn’t save him from the perpetual sneers of the prog crowd. Peter Gabriel somehow escaped the abuse, maybe because he did weird ‘New world music things’, but now there is a new emerging target.
Throwing the incendiaries are the same people that derided the X factor, poured scorn on The Brits and worst of all, the same people sitting in dim studios for thousands of hours, making ‘weird progressive music’ for no other reason than it pleases themselves, just like Steven Wilson did all those years ago. Success for a one man writer/ producer that doesn’t need an army of ghost writers to make a record, or a million dollar marketing budget, or a celebrity partner who got millions of hits on Youtube for the size of their backside. Heaven forbid that someone makes a record that is successful just because the sheer craft of the music and production is staggering and impeccable.
They just can’t bear it that their own music didn’t make it, that they have to work long hours in a shit job and that they never get any press coverage. They bleat that they are entitled to be heard, to have success. Well here’s the rub, you, like me and thousands upon thousands of people making music in the world today are entitled to precisely nothing. We have no right to be heard, no right to earn a living from our art and certainly no right to success. For the mere mortals, these things have to be earned, slogged at, and when some little successes arrive, appreciate them.
The truth is, that making a record now has never been easier. Making a record that people will listen to got harder, much harder. When someone makes a record that people are falling over themselves to listen to, in a genre of music that’s similar to yours, be bloody inspired, I know I am…