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Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning CD (album) cover

GRACE FOR DROWNING

Steven Wilson

 

Crossover Prog

4.19 | 1091 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Steven Wilson: Grace for Drowning [2011]

Rating: 6/10

Anybody who has been paying even the slightest bit of attention to recent happenings in the world of progressive music knows that Steven Wilson's second solo album Grace for Drowning has been accruing copious amounts of awestruck praise. Certain technological problems during late 2011 prevented me from acquiring any new music during that period. As a result, I watched the overwhelmingly positive reviews pile up, with my excitement increasing along with them. When I was finally able to procure the album, I began listening with quiet concentration and bated breath; after all, hype is difficult to ignore. I realized around halfway through that I was... underwhelmed. I felt the same way when the album concluded, and the feeling unfortunately remains after multiple listening sessions.

I can assure you that my disappointment with this album is sincere. I am not trying to go against the grain, nor am I being especially critical of the album in an attempt to disprove and/or contradict the hype. I wanted to love Grace for Drowning; I wanted the praise to be true. Unfortunately, the album failed to live up my expectations. I understand why so many people are lauding it; Wilson put his heart and soul into this recording, and it comes through in the music. However, there are some glaring flaws here that cannot be ignored.

Grace for Drowning is an inconsistent piece of work. Wilson has always been an eclectic artist; he takes influence from various different styles and genres and amalgamates them into his own unique sound. This 80-minute double album is stylistically split: on one hand, we have darkly experimental Crimsonian jazz-rock; on the other, dull electronic alt-rock with unexciting musicianship and manufactured atmosphere. A few instrumental interludes tie these two styles together, but the album still sounds disjointed. The result is a long collection of music that doesn't seem to know exactly what it wants to do.

The short title track opens the album on a mellow note with pleasant soft piano and crooning. "Sectarian" is a heavy-hitting instrumental with fantastic Mellotron and dexterous drumming. This is a fantastic piece of Crimsonian progressive-rock. "Deform to Form a Star" may be one of my favorite Wilson tracks ever. His vocals are in prime form here, and his guitar soloing pines for 1970s David Gilmour. "No Part of Me" is where things begin to go south. This is a lame pseudo-electronic piece of proggified trip-hop that is only slightly saved by the intense instrumental conclusion. "Postcard" is the poppiest track here. Wilson has made plenty of melancholy alt-rock like this before, and I have never particularly cared for it. The depressive lyrics are insipid; Wilson sings them with sincerity, but they come across as whiny. Perhaps I shouldn't so harshly criticize something so personal, but I am simply being honest about my impressions. "Raider Prelude" is a useless instrumental that sounds like the soundtrack to a cheap fantasy videogame. Fortunately, this lull is abated with the excellent "Remainder the Black Dog." The King Crimson influence returns on this piece of dark jazz-rock. Some fantastic sax and flute work shows up here, as well.

The second disc opens with "Belle Du Jour", a short acoustic guitar intro. This track works well, unlike the other atmospheric pieces on the album. "Index" is another electronic track. It has a cool dark atmosphere, but it utterly fails on every other level. "Track One" feels like an underdeveloped mishmash of ideas. The excellent guitar solo isn't even enough to make this song capture my attention. The epic "Raider II" is the centerpiece of the album. Fortunately, it is also the highlight. It reminds me of King Crimson's "Lizard": a 23-minute odyssey of dark, heavy jazz-rock with multiple atmospheric passages. This track is a definite winner, constituting one of my favorite Wilson pieces. The album concludes with "Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye." This is an effective closer; Wilson's voice and guitar playing both sound great. However, an unnecessary ambient section is tacked on at the end, diluting the song's power.

I have given Grace for Drowning plenty of opportunities to grow on me, but it still fails to live up to the hype. It breaks my heart to give this such a lukewarm rating, because there is some awesome material to be found here. Unfortunately, I need to sift through the flotsam to find it. I mean no disrespect to Steven Wilson, and I'm glad that this album has been so well-received. However, I feel that it would have benefited from being cut in half. If this album speaks to you, if it moves you, it connects with you, than I'm happy. Don't let anything I say offend or upset you. For me, however, Grace for Drowning is very good album, but nothing more.

Anthony H. | 3/5 |

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