Steven Wilson Home Invasion: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall Eagle Records
In a career now early in its fourth decade, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Steven Wilson has bucked almost every trend in the new millennium music industry. After spending over twenty years as the driving force behind Porcupine Tree, he made the seemingly risky move of going solo with 2009's Insurgentes
(Kscope). In some ways it was an odd move, given that Porcupine Tree ostensibly began as a solo project, with Wilson collaborating, in only its very earliest years (and not for long) with Malcolm Stocks, and Porcupine Tree only becoming a full-fledged group when album sales demanded he put a band together to take his music on the road.
And history was
against him. Many artists who left popular groups found, despite any cachet built with their former band (and Porcupine Tree had built a sizeable audience), that only a surprisingly paltry percentage of their former fans were willing to go along with them into their solo endeavors. By the time Wilson hit the road in 2011 for the first time under his own name, in support of his second solo albumthe even more ambitious Grace for Drowning
(Kscope)the number of Porcupine Tree fans who'd gone along him was already much greater than any stats could have predicted.
Over the course of the next four years and two studio albums2013's The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
and 2015's concept album, Hand. Cannot. Erase.
(both on Kscope)Wilson continued to grow his audience, attracting not just those who'd been following his career for years, but entirely new demographics as well.
Based on the direction of his music, which brought together influences from a multitude of musical styles that was, in itself, a rare thing, Wilson found an unexpected nexus of fans. Hardcore progressive rock fans loved his often-times complex compositions, filled with breathtaking solo space rendered all the more impressive by his occasionally shifting lineup of virtuosic supporting musicians. But Wilson was also drawing in an increasing number of fans attracted to his unequivocally lyrical (albeit dark) disposition, not to mention those captivated by the metal elements brought to bear (to varying degrees) on his solo records, and which he first explored in greater depth across Porcupine Tree's new millennium releases. Wilson even released a compilation, Transience
(Kscope, 2015), intended as an introduction to his music via his more readily approachable music, including a new version of the pop-friendly "Lazarus," first heard on Porcupine Tree's Deadwing
Most surprising, perhaps, is how much Wilson's career has evolved since 2009, with his overall reach continuing to grow in virtually every way. Successive tours have moved to larger halls, his 2011 show
in Montréal, Canada filling a venue less than a third the size of the hall he filled to near-capacity
in November this year.
And if his audience has been growing, he has also been bucking another trend that's largely become a disturbing new norm. Even artists who regularly play to hundreds of thousands of fans over the course of a year now struggle to sell tens of thousands of albums (often just thousands), despite having achieved sales in the hundreds of thousandsmillions, evenin decades past. But just as Wilson's audience has grown in size, so, too, have his sales. All too often, an album achieves its biggest numbers in the first couple of weeks after release, only to find sales falling off a cliff after that. Not only do Wilson's new releases continue to sell long after they should be slowing down, but his back catalog continues to do well also, continuing to move surprising numbers.
Forty years ago, tours were almost always in support of a new album, as the greater percentage of an artist's income was driven by album sales, with tours often actually losing money, even if they attracted large crowds. Today, most artists who even continue to release new music do it in order to draw audiences to their live shows, where they make the vast majority of their income, between ticket sales and merchandise (a growing part of most touring musicians' earnings). Wilson, on the other hand, has admitted that his career seems to be following the old school model, with album sales representing the majority of his income (along with tour merchandise) and his tours actually often-times losing moneynot because he isn't attracting sizeable (and still growing) audiences, but because he pours so much money into making his live shows such a full-scale experience, with increasingly potent visuals matching the performances by the singer/songwriter and his band, and "4D" surround sound, impeccably rendered by longtime sound engineer, Ian Bond.