One of the most defining moments of Steven Wilson‘s solo project was without a doubt The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories). It proved to be one of those cornerstones of an artist’s career. Porcupine Tree was mute since 20091), and thus, Wilson‘s only direct outlet was this here project. As was his desire at that time.
RMR stalked into Wilson territory in 2015 with the insanely crafty Hand. Cannot. Erase. This one really haunted the day crew over here. A storyline to die for and a pristine execution all over. Since then, To the Bone kinda got the ‘meh’ treatment over here. And it was indeed a go-between of sorts. However, Wilsons true skill bubbled to the forefront once The Future Bites hit the shelves. Quite outrageously, the record blatantly veered into pop territory. BUT, it garnered a review nonetheless. Terrible, ain’t it? Yet, it’s not the man’s golden looks or his girlish figure that got to us. The proficiency on display is truly stunning. No one does it better than Steven – a top-notch pop artist. Take that from a hardened metalhead.
So, we kinda asked ourselves as to what on Earth led to all that progressive geekery that only pure unbridled talent can bring to the table? The Raven will tell us, right? If it finally decides to sing, that is.
Once Luminol woozily waltzed onto the stage on an abundance of bass, we were hooked. Suddenly, the RMR crew found itself in somewhat of a crazy mix of Pink Floyd electronica and a wildly elitist version of Jethro Tull. And indeed so, Steven Wilson must be a big fan of the Tull people. If my count is correct, he did a whopping 14 remixes of Tull records to date2) which borders on an obsession.
The reference to Pink Floyd is also not all too farfetched on other fronts. The Raven that Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) has got the fingerprints of Alan Parsons all over it.3) He indeed engineered a number of albums from Pink Floyd to The Beatles. And perhaps, once the excellent Drive Home dreamily wafts off into the haze, his influence may be most visible. This track would sit well on any modern Floyd or early Genesis records. But – more importantly – the track’s raw Steven Wilson with a rare glimpse of future delights that will be prominent on Hand. Cannot. Erase.
The record follows a theme of six stories of the supernatural. An exquisite narrative that truly adds much-needed texture to a difficult style. But fear naught, the often psych-induced mix of Progressive and Alternative Rock truly is an artwork in itself. It needs a true master to whip that medley of snazzy riffs with some sort of cross-over jazz, and strangely wispy melodies into some decent shape.
Not that The Raven would not contain some harsher material. The Holy Drinker uses loads of rough-hewn passages that stand in stark contrast to other, lighter material on the disk. And that’s none too surprising. After all, this is the tale of a runaway priest challenging the devil to a drinking contest.
Yet again, Wilson always knew how to chisel out darkness and somehow marry it to lighter material later on with a few snazzy hooks. And the term ‘light’ doesn’t mean that somber moods may not be expressed, this ain’t a pop record yet.4) For that thought, The Watchmaker with its airs of tasty old prog rock comes to mind. That one sounds like it needs to be consumed with a dram of whiskey by the fire. Or again, spend some time with the truly delicate title track and its intricate structure. Although that in hindsight, one could accuse the latter track of needlessly meandering about the soundscape, and there’s some truth in that.
Ultimately though, I can fully understand why some fans thought The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) could be a tad too complex to listen to. And there’s some truth in that, too. But then, accessibility probably wasn’t on Wilson‘s mind. Yet, if you invest in a tad more whiskey, really sit down, and let the piece flow into you, the polished extravaganza of the piece will show itself.
The Raven is a delicately woven quilt of different moods and soundscapes that will walk you through a slice of the paranormal. And every part of that theme comes with distinct features that – strangely – form a whole a the end. There’s trve mastery in here, a trait that you’ll see improve further down the road Steven Wilson chose for himself. In other words, this record truly proved to be the aforementioned cornerstone that led to all those future prog and – yes – pop delights that were to come later.