Much to the chagrin of hardcore elements of his fanbase, the one-time “king of progressive rock” is exploring dance, electronica and contemporary pop these days. Wilson has rebuffed their cries that it’s “not prog” by emphasising an artist’s prerogative to develop and challenge audience expectations. The 51-year old’s sixth solo album is the one-time guitar virtuoso’s least guitar-oriented collection yet. A general theme of “how the human brain has evolved in the internet era” has led him to reflect on consumerism, algorithms, web-era shopping and a general discourse on how technology and marketing have transformed modern life.
Wilson always was a sharp songwriter and has adeptly channelled what could be unwieldy concepts into bite-size, polished pop. Subjects from nostalgia to social media self-regard come giftwrapped in sizzling melodies as he funnels the influence of his beloved Trevor Horn into postmodern electronic pop-funk, adding sub-bass, thoughtfulness, wit and humour.
The Future Bites dashes from 12 Things I Forgot’s epic pop to the more melancholy Man of the People and Count of Unease. None other than Elton John pops up for electro-thumper Personal Shopper’s wonderfully deadpan narrated list of absurdly inessential purchases (“diamond cufflinks”, “smart watch”, “volcanic ash soap”). There’s even a jokey dig at Wilson’s own “super-deluxe box sets”. It’s a long way from the psychedelic odysseys and ambient drones of his Porcupine Tree days: not prog, but always progress.