Saturday, March 16, 2013

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)

Steven Wilson
The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)
Kscope/Snapper Music

Despite plans to get back together and start work on a new album in 2012, Porcupine Tree was once again put on the backburner by the group’s founder/front man Steven Wilson in favour of pursuing his solo career following the success of his first two solo efforts. So it comes as no surprise to find that in short two years since the release of his critically acclaimed ‘Grace For Drowning’, Wilson brings us his eagerly anticipated third follow-up effort ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)’.
Those who are familiar with Wilson’s previous solo efforts will no doubt have a fair idea of what to expect from ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)’. But if you were to assume that Wilson’s latest album is a carbon copy of the jazz-fusion/progressive rock/avant-garde direction Wilson took with his former efforts, then you would be wrong. Because while some of that style is still evident on ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)’, there’s also a renewed focus from Wilson on writing songs as the core, and fitting the instrumentation around that solid framework. In other words, while there’s a parallel between this body of work and his previous efforts, this album is also something different altogether.
The opening track ‘Luminol’, which originally debuted on Wilson’s live D.V.D. ‘Get All You Deserve’ in 2012, is somewhat of a transitional track that combines the genre defying jazz-fusion/progressive rock/metal sound of old with the melodic and emotive song structure that Wilson has made a name for himself with. The track initially starts out with a groove based drum and bass rhythm that is hammered out in an almost funky manner, before incorporating some flute and keyboards to give the track a bit of a ‘70’s progressive rock feel. It isn’t until around the five minute mark that the track takes on a more late night jazz tone, with the piano and gentle percussion and Wilson’s heavily layered harmony vocals standing out. The final three minutes sees a build up of heavy sounding keyboards, and fuses those heavier tones together with a reprisal of the funky jazz groove that opened up the song to a climatic and satisfying close.
After such an ambitious and epic start to the album, the follow-up track ‘Drive Home’ took me somewhat by surprise. With its gentle acoustic guitar backbone, subtle drums accompaniment and lush keyboards; ‘Drive Home’ reminds me a lot of Wilson’s other project Blackfield. Wilson’s beautiful harmonies are a huge part of what makes this song stand out, but credit also has to be given to guitarist Guthrie Govan, who really takes the song to a whole new level with his amazing improvised solo towards the tail end of the song.
‘The Holy Drinker’ sees Wilson revisit the dark and heavy organ/mellotron tones intertwined with moments of freestyle flute and sax passages – which gives the song a feel and vibe that could have easily been lifted from his former solo efforts with ease. Co-producer Alan Parsons (Who’s previously worked with The Beatles and Pink Floyd, and is the mastermind behind The Alan Parsons Project) adds a touch of diversity on the track with a guest guitar solo, but otherwise this track is an intense ‘70’s inspired progressive rock workout that Wilson has built his solo work around.
At just a touch over five minutes, ‘The Pin Drop’ is the album’s shortest cut, and one of the album’s more Porcupine Tree sounding efforts. In a lot of ways, the song could have slotted onto Porcupine Tree’s 2009 album ‘The Incident’, particularly with its abundant use of vocal melodies and more rock structured framework. But in saying that, I can’t help but feel that if there’s one track that tends to get overlooked more than any other on this album, it’s this track. In a nutshell, it’s O.K., but without a doubt the album’s weakest offering.
Things get back on track with ‘The Watchmaker’, which is opened with some delicate acoustic work that underpins Wilson’s emotional vocals, before drifting away with a lengthy progressive instrumental middle section that ebbs and flows between quieter atmospheric passages and improvised progressive rock passages. Sure, the piano work in the latter half of the track is a bit reminiscent of Peter Gabriel era Genesis at times, but the multi-layered backing vocals from Wilson and the instrumentation from the rest of the band that drifts in and out throughout do manage to transform the song into something a little more unique and original sounding for the most part.
Finishing up the album is the title track ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing’, which is again one of my definite favourites on the album alongside ‘Drive Home’. This track is full of emotion, and when you couple that with Wilson’s impeccable knack for stirring melodies and lyrical narration, Dave Stewart’s perfect orchestration and Govan’s understated guitar work, you can’t help but feel that this track really is a work of perfection, and the perfect way to close the album.
With ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)’, Wilson has managed to tone down the experimentation of his previous solo releases, and incorporate more of the melodic aspects of his various other projects. What this combined effort means is that ‘The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)’ is by far Wilson’s most accomplished and all-round complete sounding solo releases to date.

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© Justin Donnelly

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