A Third Ear for “Personal Shopper”

STEVEN WILSON, “Personal Shopper,” from the forthcoming album The Future Bites (2020)

Few things weigh more than the burden of expectation. When Steven Wilson released To the Bone in 2017, I said then that I felt bad for the modern progressive rock icon. Musically, it was clear Wilson was eager to move forward, out of the tight confines of prog and into whatever it was moving him at the time, which had a definite pop sheen. The album that came forth was quite brilliant.

Wilson has returned with a new album, The Future Bites, which is due in June (assuming the world’s COVID-19 problem doesn’t gum up the works). In the interim, a single from that album, “Personal Shopper,” has been put out into the world. Fans hoping for a return to the sound of early Wilson albums like Insurgentes or The Raven That Refused to Sing are in for a bitter disappointment. Wilson has instead continued to push forward from the world of To the Bone, which is to say his pop side remains omnipresent. And frankly, we should’ve seen it coming.

Calling “Personal Shopper” a single is almost laughable, given it’s near 10-minute length. But Wilson uses this time wisely, establishing what seems to be the album’s dominating theme, which describes a near dystopian world brought forth by rampant materialism. “You may not need it,” the album’s promo video taunts, “but it makes you feel special.”

Talk about bleak.

The song itself seems pedestrian on the surface, with its driving 4/4 time, synths that remind one of Trent Reznor, Wilson’s falsetto vocal, and a chorus that could find a home in a disco tune from the 70’s. But before you completely freak out, listen to the lyrics and what’s going on underneath. Therein lies the song’s genius.

Listeners should also consider the song in context with the rest of the album. A peek at The Future Bites’ track listing shows “Personal Shopper” right in the middle, meaning there’s a buildup leading to this song, and a follow-up coming behind it. Something tells me everything will tie together nicely, as usual, when all is said and done. And the interactive stage show surrounding the album should be incredible.

My advice to Wilson fans? Stop wailing and gnashing, and wait for the rest of the album. I’m quite certain your fears will be quelled.

#cirdecsongs

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My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers.

Would you like to have your album reviewed? Contact me at cirdecsongs@gmail.com

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