Lilen reviews the exceptional new album by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, as featured on New York webzine Puluche.com (http://puluche.com/reviews/steven-wilson-the-raven-that-refused-to-sing-97-5/)
A master of many projects, Steven Wilson is not one to let his creativity pause for rest. After finishing the touring cycle for Porcupine Tree’s The Incident, releasing a second solo album, Grace for Drowning, Blackfield’s third album Welcome to my DNA and Storm Corrosion’s first self-titled album, Wilson continued to exercise his wildly creative mindset by following his solo vocation and producing The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories). While many of his projects (including Porcupine Tree) were intended as a solo endeavor, not since releasing albums under his own name has Wilson been able to truly and freely demonstrate his own muse and visionary intent.
Based on original story pieces in the tradition of poet Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven… is musically enthralling and exquisitely executed. At its most unique, it showcases fusions of modern rock, progressive and jazz, creating an evocative hybrid reminiscent of bands such as King Crimson, Genesis, and Yes. Whether through instrumental musical interludes, intimate piano pieces or orchestral soundscapes, Wilson produces truly captivating pieces that hit the mark each and every time.
Lyrically, the album draws on original stories that are not necessarily conceptual, but are more like short stories that touch on themes about life-changing experiences, religion and personal ambition. Just as he demonstrated, with his first album, Insurgentes, Wilson proves equally capable of writing creative lyrics that complement his musical compositions: “The holy drinker and his curse / In constant serfage to unquenchable thirst / And from his stupor, a night gives birth / A devil rises from right out of the earth.”
Visually, the album is represented by an image of a moon with a fearful expression not dissimilar to the famous Der Schrei der Natur (The Scream of Nature) painting by expressionist artist Edvard Munch. While artists don’t always focus on the visual accompaniment to their albums anymore, The Raven… album art is an essential complimentary image reflective of an album that itself has inklings of expressionist and macabre culture.
Overall – whether musically or through his captivating vocal delivery – listeners vicariously experience the essence and meaning of each song as intended by its creator. Produced by Alan Parsons (The Dark Side of the Moon, Abbey Road …), The Raven… blends odd and often contradictory rhythms, time signatures and musical pieces in ways that are vividly entertaining and always evoke an interest in learning about their inherent meanings. Not surprisingly, there are many prog-rock influences that stem from both past and present artists, including Wilson’s own Porcupine Tree. On “The Watchmaker,” Wilson throws in an unexpected excerpt from Rush’s “YYZ” while “The Holy Drinker” includes intricate flute pieces reminiscent of those featured on Porcupine Tree’s On the Sunday of Life and The Sky Moves Sideways. Yet, with its many influences The Raven… excels in its exhibition of original songs, each with its own musical identity designed around specific instruments and auditory themes. Unlike other Wilson albums, The Raven… differs in that the electric guitar is more a decorative instrument that functions as an add-on to flute, piano and bass-driven compositions. For those familiar with Wilson’s work, it is a unique step away from the traditional modern rock style that he does so well and a welcomed step into new territory.
Accompanied by some fantastic musicians, including keyboardist Adam Holzman, drummer Marco Minnemann, lead guitarist Guthrie Govan and flute/clarinet/saxophone extraordinaire Theo Travis, Wilson has developed an exceptional album that resurrects classical jazz-like sounds and fuses them with eclectic modern, prog-rock flavours. A perfect combination of musicians has allowed Wilson to reignite the classical sounds that influenced rock in the early years, bringing to the 21st century an innovative (and somewhat retrospective) collection of tracks. The Raven… is a complex album that truly demonstrates how Wilson’s creativity is as unique as it is entertaining. But what makes The Raven… an outstanding album is undoubtedly the clever musical compositions that seem to embrace and blur the boundaries between genres on each track. While the album features a clever compendium of musical influences, Wilson encourages the talent of his accompanying musicians to shine through, elevating the album and ensuring that it’s composition hits the mark every time.
While Wilson’s first two albums are (in their own way) equally entertaining creations, The Raven‘s six songs transcend all of his previous solo work thanks to Wilson’s ambitious and clever experimentations. As one of Wilson’s most diverse and complete albums, The Raven… showcases Wilson’s musical entrepreneurism within the modern rock era. In its profound creativity, it is difficult to see any other album released this year surpass the innovative and captivating nature of The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories).
(c) Lilen Pautasso 2013