Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
I am a big Porcupine Tree fan, but in truth the last few albums have failed to inspire me as much as “In Absentia” and all that preceded it. Perhaps that is why I never took the time to investigate Steven Wison’s first two solo recordings. For some reason “The Raven that Refused to Sing” caught my attention. To be sure it had much to do with the names Guthrie Govan, Marco Minneman and Nick Beggs listed in the credits. Leave out Wilson and that’s still an album I’d like to hear. Whether it was these heavyweight associates, his recent collaboration with Mikael Åkerfeldt, or just being in a good place, something certainly lit the fire of inspiration inside Steven Wilson for this album.
Perhaps not hearing the previous solo albums is what made this one such an unexpected pleasure. No expectation leaves an open mind. Of course there is always the Porcupine Tree comparison. From that alone the Steven Wilson stamp is recognizable, but the music is very different. It’s dense and at the same time extremely accessible. The melodies and grooves are incredibly infectious. Opening with “Luminol” was a wise choice because it is a jam that refuses to be ignored. The band gets to flex its mighty muscles right out of the gate. Nick begs stands out proving what a monster he actually is on the bass. The tune just smokes until, as if to remind the audience that we are in prog land, it moves into a mellow middle. Then the mellotron takes over and guides through instrumentals building to the fire of the close.
Drive home is a captivating, more Porcupine Tree-esque piece. The thoughtful tone and sing-able refrain make for a smooth ride.
In the beginning “The Holy Drinker sounds as if it might be a bit on the unsettling side. That doesn’t go away but as it unfolds into a free form jazz workout curiosity takes over. When the verse kicks in chaos becomes focus. The mood remains ominous over the a slightly metallic groove. Cool stuff.
“The Pin Drop” begins as if it was a lost section from Steve Hackett’s “Please Don’t Touch. Wilson does have many influences. Dreamy harmonies and sax accentuate to give the piece a grand yet easy feel.
Even more Hackett-like is The Watchmaker. Acoustic and flute were definitely trademarks of his early material. The vocals however are much better here. Further in Steven jams on guitar and then grand piano takes over. Did I mention the vocals? The harmonies are just superb.
The title track is a big emotional lament. At this point you might think that more power was needed to close. Guess what, you don’t always need thunder to drive a point home.
There has been quite a bit of high praise for “The Raven That Refused To Sing,” including statements such as ‘an instant classic.’ I don’t know if I would go that far. Only time will bear out the truth in such grand opinions. What can be said is that it is a superb album. Prog fans will delight in the complexity, others will focus on the excellence of the high caliber musicians and the casual listener will be taken in by easy to like hooks. Mass appeal may not be a hallmark of prog rock’s elite, but Wilson and his well-chosen band have pulled it off. “Lminol” is the one that will grab you. The rest will keep you coming back for repeated listening as the charms are revealed over time.
It is a shame that such quality music as this goes largely unnoticed by the general public. Okay, it’s not for everyone and there isn’t machinery to get it front of the masses. One thing for sure is that millions of music fans out there are aching for substance. That is why classic rock is one of the last viable broadcast radio formats. Here is an opportunity to hear something you may feel like you have been missing. There is no 100% guarantee that you will like it, but the probability is high. Take a chance, step outside of the box and we might just create enough of an audience to bring high quality music back. The majority of musicians performing on this level have to have day jobs. Wouldn’t it be great if they had enough support to focus all their energy on what they love? Let this album be the gateway to the revolution!
Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, keyboards
Guthrie Govan – lead guitar
Nick Beggs – bass guitar
Marco Minnemann – drums
Adam Holzman – keyboards
Theo Travis – saxophone, flute