Friday, June 7, 2013

The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) by Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson's The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) showcases an artist at the peak of his craft. From composition to lyrics to performance to recording, Wilson has created an album that's everything progressive or alternative rock should be - and none of what it shouldn't. You should buy it right now and not read any further.

Wilson, front man of prog rock band Porcupine Tree, has assembled a top-notch group of musicians for Raven, his third solo album consisting of six songs that each tell a story with a supernatural twist (see this Wikipedia page for the details).
  1. Raven kicks off with the up-tempo, 12 minute Luminol. Part rocker and part swelling orchestration, it captures the title's implication of searching for signs of life, even past life. "To come so far but end up returning to dust."
  2. The album's second track (and perhaps my favorite which is odd for a ballad), Drive Home, hauntingly tells of a man's inability to deal with the loss of his wife in a car crash. The guitar solo is fantastically expressive. "While the darkness always ends / You're still alone / So drive home."
  3. The Holy Drinker - which seems to be about the self-rightous and substance abuse - takes a darker turn that's highlighted by great sax, flute, and keyboard work. "The coffin was made from a tree / Please hammer a nail in for me.
  4. The Pin Drop takes the cake for lament and lost opportunities. There's a constant struggle between the lyrical and musical phrasing that drives the point home. "I have not lived and loved enough / Things are left unsaid, undone."
  5. That theme of lost time, lost love and maybe misdirected priority is carried forward in The Watchmaker in which the title character belatedly realizes he misses his departed wife. This track sounds to me a lot like Hackett-era Genesis. "Each hour becomes another empty space to fill."
  6. The album ends with the title track and tells the story of a bitter old man desperate for the love of his younger sister who died when they were children. He tries to recapture her by making a raven sing for him. It's best if you watch the YouTube video for this track. "Just because I'm weak / you can steal my dreams."
Musicians on Raven include Nick Beggs (bass, stick), Guthrie Govan (guitar), Adam Holzman (keys), Marco Minnemann (drums), Theo Travis (woodwinds), and Jakko Jakszyk (backing vox). Alan Parsons was the associate producer and recording engineer. These names alone should give you an idea of the high quality of this production. Of course, what a lot of us prog fans like to do is find sonic references to our favorite bands (King Crimson, Genesis, Yes, Tull, etc.). You can find them if you want but whether or not it's intentional is unclear.

In organizing my thoughts (and I use that term loosely when describing how I write about music) to write about Raven it became clear that what resonates for me are the stories Wilson is telling, almost more than the music. That's not to detract from the music because it's absolutely vital to the telling of these tales. And perhaps it's the almost magically beautiful coupling of lyrics and music that really makes Raven shine. (Despite the fact that on their surface the songs are depressing as hell.)
Only time will tell if Raven will become a classic. (I'm not a believer in "instant classic" as that's an oxymoron.) But without doubt The Raven That Refused to Sing will be on my "best of" list for 2013. It is truly great music.

For more information check out Steven Wilson's website and YouTube channel.

I received no compensation of any kind for this review.

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