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


Steven Wilson


Crossover Prog

4.28 | 1993 ratings

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4 stars Because of Steven Wilson's (relative) popularity as a modern progressive artist, it's almost inevitable that The Raven that Refused to Sing will become the biggest prog album of 2013. The reception so far has been resoundingly positive, as I would expect, and while I can't agree with all the praise that has been heaped on this release so far, this is still definitely a solid modern prog album. It might not do anything radically different, but it's still well worth the investment (if you don't have it already, of course).

First of all, the musicianship here is really, really good. This isn't a collection of highly skilled session musicians, as on Wilson's previous two solo efforts, but a genuine band (with incredible chemistry). Marco Minnermann proves himself to be an absolute beast on the drums: precise, versatile, and very, very skilled. His work combines with Nick Beggs's incredible bass playing to form a powerhouse rhythm section (just listen to the first few minutes of Luminol). Guthrie Govan and Adam Holzman each contribute some amazing solos on guitar and keys (respectively), and though Theo Travis's work on flute and sax doesn't always jump out quite as much as the others, I'm always glad to hear it.

Of course, musicianship is of no consequence if the compositions aren't of high quality. And for the most part, they are. Even if the tracks aren't perfectly constructed, they are all (at a minimum) very memorable. The sections of ambient noise that plagued his previous two albums are gone. The strongest one, by far, is the closing title track. Ironically, despite all the good things I've said about the musicianship, this song features the sparsest instrumentation on the album. But this actually works to its advantage. The simple accompaniment serves to accentuate the wonderful lyrics (about an old man remembering his sister who died when he was very young) and Steven's perfect, emotional delivery. Indeed, this song does a better job of conveying sheer sadness than nearly any other I have heard. That's a very strong statement, I admit, but I'm sticking by it.

The other songs can't hope to match the greatness of the closer, but they're still pretty strong. The only issue I have is that, while they certainly all have enough ideas to keep the listener engaged from point A to point B, Wilson's songs simply don't always fit together all that well. Take 'Luminol,' for example. After the opening, jazzy, bass led section, we have a quiet vocal part, then a mellotron solo, then a piano solo, and finally a fast, guitar led section to close things out. The playing is great, of course, but I'm still at a loss as to how the different sections relate to each other, or how anything but the main vocal bit relates to the song's central theme (of a man who continues playing songs on the street after death takes him). It does keep me engaged for twelve minutes (and I enjoy it, I really do!), but the composition just doesn't make any logical sense. Thankfully, the construction of the other long tracks' 'The Holy Drinker' and 'The Watchmaker'' while still nowhere near perfect, exhibits much less of this problem, and the shorter tracks are almost totally immune. Other than the closing 'Raven,' 'Drive Home,' with its irresistible vocal melody in the first half, and breathtaking guitar break in the second, is the best constructed thing on the album, even if it doesn't try to do anything particularly ambitious. As a matter of fact, this was the song that drew me in before any of the others, and it's not hard to see why. Give it a listen, and just see if you can get that chorus out of your head. Bet you can't.

Despite its flaws, with The Raven that Refused to Sing, Steven Wilson has created an album which is a clear improvement over the two which precede it. His lyrics and singing, in particular, have matured to the point where he can give a convincing, emotional performance of any lyric deserving such a performance (like in the closing song). The fact that he has a genuine band around him instead of a collection of high profile session musicians helps immeasurably as well. This doesn't really feel like a solo album as much as a band album. In the end, The Raven might not be perfect, but there's enough high quality material on here for me to recommend it.

1970sgenesisfan | 4/5 |


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