I reserve the word “masterpiece” only for very special releases, and this is deserving of the title. Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson offers a very special third solo CD that both salutes the classic rock he grew up hearing and is very fresh and very much his. The influences of early King Crimson, Yes, Jethro Tull, ELP and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis are heard, but Wilson has a touch, a sound, a feel that is all is own. He’s truly a musician at the top of his game.
Engineered by Alan Parsons (yes, that Alan Parsons), The Raven … (most of which was recorded live in the studio) has the clarity and definition of each instrumental voice that Parsons brought to his work on Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side of the Moon and Alan Parsons Project albums.
With Porcupine Tree on hiatus, Wilson recorded this album with his stellar live band, made up of top-notch musicians Guthrie Govan (lead guitar), Marco Minnemann (drums), Nick Beggs (bass), Adam Holzman (keyboards) and Theo Travis (sax/flute). And this is a real band, not just a group of session guys. There’s an empathy and give-and-take to their playing that can only come from playing on the road together. And as on Wilson’s previous solo record, the magnificent Grace for Drowning, the arrangements here give the players plenty of space to stretch out and improvise. Songs like The Holy Drinker” or “The Watchmaker” give the band plenty of room to strut their stuff, and they have some substantial stuff to strut.
As on his recent solo shows, Wilson here serves as more of a lead singer and bandleader than an instrumentalist. He does play some choice guitar and keyboard parts—even bass on one song—but his main performance here is with his voice, and it’s probably his best vocal work to date.
The Raven That Refused to Sing will not make you happier. It’s a concept album made up of songs about ghosts and death, a recurring theme in all of Wilson’s work. Each song is a well-plotted spooky tale. At times it feels like a musical version of a book of Neil Gaiman short stories.
And if you have the scratch, check out the deluxe edition of The Raven … (available only on Wilson’s Web site, stevenwilsonhq.com), which comes with a beautiful book that includes text stories and illustrations to go with each song. This edition has a Blu-ray surround version of the album, which is spectacular. The set also includes a CD of Wilson’s original demos for these songs, as well as a video of the making of the album.
An instant classic, The Raven That Refused to Sing is haunting, stirring, rocking, somber, meticulously played and produced, expertly arranged. Check out the video for the album’s title track at snipurl.com/swraven and hear how Wilson conjures magic with four piano chords and a one-note melody.Buy Steven Wilson’s The Raven That Refused to Sing CD at Amazon