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Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning CD (album) cover


Steven Wilson


Crossover Prog

4.19 | 1718 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars If I could rate an album five stars just for production, this, Steven Wilson's second solo effort, would be one of the few that would come to my mind, leaving aside the obvious Dark Sides. Wilson has long since earned quite a reputation as ace producer. What's changed is he also remastered some King Crimson albums recently and fell in love with the more organic, improvised approach on those albums. Adopting that approach on a modern recording works wonders, to say the least. Somebody shared figures of dynamic range for several albums on the forum recently and, not surprisingly, Grace for Drowning boasts of a high dynamic range.

Just the sound of listening to Grace for Drowning is a wonderful feeling. The multitude of instrumental layers can be heard in crystal clarity and at the same time, my ears are able to feel the sounds rather than just hear them. There is excellence in the way this album has been put together and yet, there is also warmth. In short, it kicks ass. You might take that as a rousing endorsement, if you will, because I am not exactly a diehard Steven Wilson fan.

Having given it plenty of time before I decided to formulate my opinion on this album by means of this review, though, I am not sure the compositions make a resounding case for masterpiece class. There is not a single track that I felt irritated by, but there are some which I wouldn't particularly miss. Forgettable, unremarkable, in other words.

Before I elaborate on that, I want to talk about my favourite track from this album - No Part Of Me. This track strikes at the very heart of what makes Grace for Drowning an exciting proposition. Wilson's 60s and 70s influences creep into this album quite prominently while, on the other hand, he never completely lets go of his contemporary identity. On No Part of Me, this juxtaposition seemingly haunts the entire track. What starts out with Wilson in a pensive mood explodes into a heavy workout a la the Dance on a volcano coda. In under six minutes, Wilson covers seemingly the full spectrum, and very effectively.

Which brings me to the contradiction in Wilson's approach. Wilson appears to consider himself not so good at writing pop songs and has professed that his few attempts at writing something more accessible were with an eye on marketplace imperatives. But to me, his attempts at writing something short or catchy seem to be more effective than his epics.

There's one epic on this double album - Raider II. It initially holds my attention strongly but I cannot help losing track after some time. This composition seems to lack a certain overarching structure, within the framework of which the various themes could convey a more coherent impression. It also lacks substantial changes and tends to drift back to where it started from every once in a while. Perhaps appropriately, the epic fades away in an anti-climactic finish with an improv that I thought would build up to one more theme to conclude matters but it didn't.

Of the four long tracks, the more Porcupine Tree-esque Deform to Form a Star and Like Dust I Have Cleared from My eye initially struggled to make an impression on me but they eventually grew on me. Sectarian and Remainder the Black Dog sound very impressive at first, but Wilson doesn't seem to have fully realized these compositions. Once again, he falters a bit when he attempts to develop the opening themes and the tracks seem to meander, even if at pace, from one motif to another. And yet again, he balances this by avoiding any particularly daring twists that might prove more difficult to resolve.

In saying this, I may have hit upon the crux of this album. It is very solid and the execution is impeccable. The problem is, barring No Part of Me, it doesn't challenge me as much as it promises to. Maybe Wilson is more effectively able to challenge ideas in a pop-like format than in epics. Maybe he is not quite as great a composer as he is a top notch producer.

That's not for me to say, at any rate, but because the compositions fall a touch short of generating the same enthusiasm that I have for the production, I will stop at 4 stars. Nevertheless, a must have in contemporary prog.

rogerthat | 4/5 |


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