Everyone has a price, and for Steven Wilson it rings in at £10,000. That’s what someone shelled out for a super-limited-edition box set – there’s only one available – of The Future Bites, featuring artworks, handwritten lyrics, music unavailable anywhere else, test pressings, Wilson’s Grammy nomination certificate and medal for 2011’s Grace For Drowning, Polaroids and, not massively usefully, AAA passes for tours that have already finished.
While 10 grand is clearly an insane amount of money to spend on a record, no matter how many bells and whistles it comes with, it should be noted that all proceeds go to the Music Venue Trust – so it’s out there for the greater good. More pertinently, it’s an artistic statement that acts as an extension of the album itself.
Wilson, like all good proggers, bloody loves a concept. His don’t tend to be very cheery, and this time round, as the whopping price tag on the one-only box set suggests, he turns his pessimistic eye to our consumer culture, our self-made shopping prison, and how our every move is monitored by algorithms brought into existence purely to make us buy more stuff.
Basically, it’s an Amazon-induced panic dream. There’s plenty to like here, from the old-school futurism of Self to 12 Things I Forgot, which come across like the Manic Street Preachers at their poppiest put through a Peter Gabriel filter.
The centrepiece, though, the bones on which the whole thing is built, is Personal Shopper, which after an atmospheric slow build explodes into a PayPal-disco rallying cry: ‘Buy for comfort, buy for kicks, buy and buy until it makes you sick… buy the shit you never knew you lacked.’
Then, just as you get a handle on it all, in one of the most inspired guest appearances in recent years, and displaying an admirable level of self-awareness, Mastercard’s favourite knight of the realm Elton John turns up and starts ominously listing everything you could be popping into your cart in order to achieve that empty high: ‘Deluxe edition box sets… volcanic ash soap… anti-ageing cream… noisecancelling headphones… self-esteem…’.
Of course, that hit of dopamine is always fleeting and the crash inevitably follows, leaving Count Of Unease to bring things to a low-key end, fading away on mournful, haunting melody.
Powerful and thought-provoking, if depressing, The Future Bites ultimately asks you to take a good hard look at what the hell you’re doing with your life. Imagine no possessions – it’s not that easy if you try, is it?