Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused to Sing [And Other Stories] (2013)

Ambitious, connective and simply unforgettable, The Raven is not just Steven Wilson’s best solo album to date, it rivals his career-making work on Porcupine Tree’s 2002 triumph In Absentia, while keeping much of the experimental verve that made 2007′s Fear of a Blank Planet so intriguing.

All of it is held together, now perhaps more than ever, by Wilson’s passion for prog’s storied past. The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories), even has it stuns and delights, unfolds like a road map through his influences.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Steven Wilson dropped by to talk about classic 1970s sounds, prog's rebirth and his amazing album 'The Raven.']

Across a six-song suite, Wilson references, by turns, the sweeping narratives of Yes’ signature projects (“The Watchmaker”), the spacey nihilism of Pink Floyd in all of its pre-Wall splendor (“Drive Home”), the boisterous musculature of classic Billy Cobham and Weather Report (“Luminol”), the nervy musical intellect of King Crimson (“The Holy Drinker”), and the literary aspirations of the Alan Parsons Project (on his title track).

Yet, The Raven — due February 25, 2013 from Kscope — never sounds second-hand or pasted together.

That’s thanks in part to spirited performances from a tour-tightened group that includes Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman Stick), Guthrie Govan (guitar), Adam Holzman (keyboards), Marco Minneman (drums), and Theo Travis (flute and saxophone), but also to the way Wilson has connected with his musical heroes in a very real way.

He’s begun working as a key figure in reissues for some of Crimson’s best-known albums, and that’s only helped Wilson more completely absorb that group’s amazing ability to meld the avant garde with smart pop music. He’s also brought in as a producer Alan Parsons himself, a mixing-board legend who worked on both the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon before starting his own respected group.

Together, they have created a production so translucent that it’s like being in the same room with the band. The Raven is warm, roomy, deeply immersive — and that’s before Wilson really gets going on his period-piece MKII Mellotron, before he’s ever quietly conferred another of his impossibly fragile lyrical turns.

Once he does, the album moves from mournful laments to cacophonous rumbles, from desperate longing to white-knuckle tension and from great mystery to startling clarity with an ease that belies not just their very contradictions but also the difficulty of such aspirations. For Wilson, this has always been a creative mission, but he’s perhaps never found a more perfect balance.

By the time The Raven concludes, Wilson’s influences have become part and parcel of his vision. Where other bands simply ape our musical heroes, Wilson has internalized their best work, and then done something truly amazing with it: He’s made something brand new.

Better still, in dedicating himself so fully not just to his craft but also to understanding his antecedents, Wilson has made us part of his own journey of discovery and rediscovery. With The Raven, we find things both very old and at the same time fresh and exciting.

Ultimately, The Raven might be praised most for establishing a continuity across the generations. The tradition, after all, is what makes new things possible. And in Wilson’s case, these new things are some of his very best things.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.

One Comment

  1. albert Toby says:

    What an excellent review! I am a big SW fan myself, heard this record over a dozen times now, and think it’s his best, most fluent and balanced album to date. It has the potential to become an all time classic (think Dark Side of the Moon), it sounds mesmerizingly beautiful and inspired, executed by breathtaking musicians. For the first time I understand why he put Porcupine Tree on a temporary (?) hold – this album is his magnum opus.

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