Welcome to the sixth episode of A Scene In Retrospect, ladies and gentlemen! This time, allow us to take you to the land of rainy days and prog rock galore: England. The album our PR manager Inter, our senior writer Rodney and our staff writer David will be talking about today is none other than (depressing drumroll please!) Steven Wilson‘s The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories). Enjoy!
Steven Wilson had long been known for his sadcore progressive rock aesthetic by the time The Raven That Refused to Sing came out. His tenure in prog rock act Porcupine Tree had solidified his legacy, but Wilson saw it fit to focus on a solo career starting in 2008. Five years later, in 2013, this album came out, and nothing was the same.
The great thing about this album for me is it’s a very personal, emotional experience. His songs often explore loss, guilt, death, trauma, futility and ennui; this album is no different. “Drive Home” is a story about a man coping with the loss of his partner whose death was caused by a crash during a leisurely drive of which he was the driver. “The Watchmaker” is about an old man who, after 50 years of marriage to someone out of convenience, kills his wife and buries her under his workshop. Her vengeful ghost haunts him like a lingering curse, seeking to take him into the afterlife with her. These dark, heavy themes are presented in a way that isn’t always explicitly depressing. To the contrary, Wilson’s arrangements often contain upbeat and varied sequences. This isn’t funeral doom after all; this is artistic British prog rock at its finest. Starting with the bouncing bass line in the opener “Luminol” all the way up to the final timid piano notes of the title track at the end of the album, it’s a treat. There isn’t a single song that overstays its welcome despite three of the six songs clocking in at over ten minutes. The way the mood of the music mixes with the lyrics is truly anachronistic at times, but not so much to become a hodgepodge or overly disjointed.
I’ve always been a fan of happier tones mixed with dark lyrical themes, and this album is a shining example of how best to accomplish that. Beautiful arrangements filled with whimsical flute, classical prog synths and a swelling string section fill this album to the brim with character and color. Don’t even get me started on Wilson’s evocative vocal performance. This album sounds like a crisp autumn day with amber leaves floating down from the rustling trees. This album sounds like reading a nice book while nighttime rain taps against the windows. It can do no wrong in my eyes. A critic could inform me of objectively bad elements in this album and I would pay no mind because when it comes down to it, this album makes me feel something. Music that makes me feel something is priceless to me. My words can’t do an album like this justice, but I can only hope that others are as touched by it as I am. Simply put: The Raven That Refused to Sing is one of the best albums ever made, period.
I still remember watching the video for “The Raven That Refused To Sing“ for the very first time. The videographics, in combination with Wilson’s music and lyrics, hit me straight into the heart. This song about love and loss might be one of my favorites on this record, and lead me to dig deeper into it. Starting with “Luminol“, we have got a true prog explosion at the very beginning; just think of the solo bass part, when the drums come in again. Minnemann’s drumming, Beggs’ bass wizardry and Wilson’s magnificient voice truly speak for themselves. The overall feeling on this record is so proggy, sad but also refreshing by bringing in a lot of retro vibes.
“Drive Home“ also has its times to shine, as does “The Pin Drop“. Literally only “The Holy Drinker“ didn’t really do it for myself, for no apparent reason. But I found another favorite in the sad story of “The Watchmaker“, which gives me goosebumps every single time.
Needless to say that Steven Wilson did a brilliant job on Hand.Cannot.Erase, evolving his sound and pushing his own borders. Still, The Raven That Refused To Sing is a true masterpiece. A collection of sad songs and stories that paint themselves in front of the inner eye whilst listening to the six songs that, each for its own, tell their stories. Also, isn’t the artwork predestined to be a modern Court Of The Crimson King? The music might definitely have the same importance to prog in future…
And fun fact: the record was released on my 19th birthday, so it’s a proper cool ‘present’, I guess!
Every artist has his magnum opus, a record which defines the artists identity while creating a new one from note to note. Steven Wilson created this with The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), a prog rock masterpiece full of nostalgic references, dinstinctive ‘Wilson’ moments and a bow to the legends of prog. Conveniently, legends in the person of Alan Parsons and Jakko Jakszyk participated on this album, which should be considered as a nobilitation.
Wilson’s essence was never executed better, supported by the likes of lead guitarist (and overall genius) Guthrie Govan, drummer Marco Minnemann, flutist Theo Travis, pianist Adam Holzmann and bassist Nick Beggs. Together with this posse of talent, creativity and personality, Mr. Wilson entered East West Studios in LA and Angel Studios in London to create an album which is considered one of the best prog rock records of the last 30 years.
The ghost stories behind each track give the album a certain depth, which goes hand in hand with the ostantious but organic composistions, heavily based on the gifted hands of Steven Wilson and Alan Parsons as producers. The guitar solos, the space, the extent, the lyrics, the virtuosity and the grandiose arrangements left the listener nearly overwhelmed, while captured in this journey, trying to get a glimpse of the raven’s song at the end.
And that’s it for today, folks! Come back in a fortnight for more A Scene In Retrospect, when we’ll review another classic record for you. Until then, why not tell us what you think of this album? Or are there any particular records you’d like to see in this feature? Leave it all in the comments!
Also, while you’re at it, why not check out the other parts of this series so far? You can find them all here. See you next time, and as always…
…thanks for reading!