Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing Review
Released on 25 February 2013 by Kscope Music Records, The Raven That Refused To Sing is Steven Wilson’s 3rd solo album. The album features giants of the prog-rock world including Guthrie Govan, Marco Minnemann, Theo Travis, and Nick Beggs. It was also engineered by Alan Parsons. It’s not surprising that it won the “Album of the Year” award at the 2013 Progressive Music Awards. A deluxe, 4-disc edition of the album was released as well, which included a 128-page book of lyrics and ghost stories, with illustrations by Hajo Mueller.
The album is more jazz/fusion influenced than Wilson’s other works. Flute solos, saxophone parts, jazzy keyboard, and piano sections are all over the album and play a big role in the album’s instrumental synergy. In addition to this, the album seems like Wilson has made a tribute to 70s prog, especially King Crimson with this album. Marco Minnemann and Guthrie Govan’s additions have definitely made a huge impact on Wilson’s sound, as it is less electronic and more technically robust than what was expected of Wilson.
Another important part of the album is the stories behind it. Each song is another story about supernatural occurrences and the contrast between life and death. The album cover is also an illustration of this, as it is a reference to the theme of ghosts and souls that can be seen in all of the songs.
1. Luminol (12:10):
The first song of the album is a 12-minute instrumental and lyrical masterpiece that can both stand on its own, and serve as an introduction to the album. The song is inspired by a busker who plays on the streets every day in any circumstance but is always ignored by the passers-by.
Wilson states in an interview that such a man has already become a ghost in his life, so even death would not make a difference for him. The themes of death and ghosts are recurrent throughout the album. The song itself starts with a remark about mortality: “Here we all are born into a struggle, to come so far and end up returning to dust.” And thus, Wilson sets the tone for the album: a dark and somber ambiance that, both musically and lyrically, ties the songs together.
Instrumentally, too, Luminol is the perfect introduction to the album. The song starts with a bass riff and quickly delves into a symphonic madness with the flute, piano and many great guitar solos, also a guitar riff that is quoted multiple times in different songs of the album. Luminol contains traces of all the songs on the album, and in this sense, is the album’s “trailer track”.
2. Drive Home (7:37):
Drive Home, to this album, is the calm before the storm. Compared to the fast-paced intro Luminol, this song is a slower, more laid-back one. However, it does not fall behind on quality. The song is about a man losing his wife in a car accident. While he is driving his car with his wife on his side, his wife suddenly disappears. It turns out that his wife’s loss had traumatized him and caused him to erase his wife’s death from his memory. The woman’s ghost comes back to help him cope with his trauma. Steven Wilson tells in an interview that the story “was suggested to [him] by the guy [Hajo Mueller] who was illustrating, doing the artwork and the book.”
The song’s and maybe the album’s musical highlight is Guthrie Govan’s solo. Unlike many guitar solos, Guthrie Govan incorporates the song’s melancholy with his incredible technique to create a piece that can most probably stand on its own. Combined with the song, his solo adds to the song’s meaning like another verse of lyrics.
3. The Holy Drinker (10:14)
This 10-minute beast, which is the third track on the album, is a perfect example of a prog-rock song. It has its ups and downs, with slow and melancholic intervals between heavy metal riffs and jazzy compositions, which contributes to the rather unsettling feel of the song that leaves the listener uncertain about what will come next.
Musically speaking, Theo Travis’s saxophone and Guthrie Govan’s guitar blends perfectly while we, as the listener, dive into a feverish madness of prog rock at its finest. The legendary Alan Parsons, as well as producing the album, plays the wah-wah guitar on the track. And Steven Wilson once again proves that his musical ability reaches far beyond composing as he plays the bass guitar and does a damn good job at it.
The themes of death and supernatural events, which are recurrent throughout the album, play a big role in the lyrics and the atmosphere of the song. According to Steven Wilson, the song is about a man “who’s very pious, preachy and self-righteous,” like the “TV evangelist-types.” He judges others and thinks that their lives are somehow wrong and incomplete just because they do not have the faith of God in their hearts. However, despite his public appearance, this man is an excessive alcoholic, thus comes the irony of the title: The “Holy” Drinker. In a state of stupor, he challenges the Devil himself in a drinking competition and loses, so his soul gets dragged in Hell. The Holy Drinker is more than a song, it is a dark and twisted story, both musically and lyrically.
4. The Pin Drop (5:03):
The fourth track on the album, also the shortest one, is The Pin Drop. Compared with the other more “proggy” tracks in the album, this song follows a melodically simpler path that places the narrative at the front of our attention.
The song is sung by the dead wife, who was murdered and then thrown in the river by the husband. She is now floating away and down the river, “beyond death, beyond the grave” as Steven Wilson puts it, in a constant motion that even she herself can’t control. All she can do is to sing this song and mourn for her past life which is full of regret and lament. By her past life, it is clear that she is talking about every relationship she had with her husband. The relationship that existed as a result of seeking comfort and convenience, without a trace of “love or empathy.” However, things take a dark turn ( to be honest, which song in the album does not? ) when the tension of the relationship builds so much to the point that the tiniest thing, like the sound of a pin dropping to the floor, can trigger a total tragedy.
The themes of death and hopelessness are prioritized with Wilson’s vocals and his gloomy lyrics ( e.g. “I am tired of struggling / And the rain is beating down on me” or “I don’t deserve this bitter end” ). Some might consider The Pin Drop as not “prog enough” or not a good fit for the album. But thematically, it fits perfectly with the rest of the tracks and, like every other detail in the album that was meticulously crafted, the choice of keeping the song musically simple and focusing on the story can be exactly what Steven Wilson was aiming for.
5. The Watchmaker(11:42):
The fifth track of the album is another long-run prog song, however calmer and it builds-up slower than the other long prog masterpiece-The Holy Drinker. The song starts with a Genesis-inspired calm peaceful acoustic guitar intro accompanying by Steven Wilson's melodic vocals. With the vocals, the story of the old Watchmaker starts. In Steven Wilson’s own words: “Another adventure. This is the story of the watchmaker, the guy who is meticulous about his craft, but he never has any kind of emotional outburst, nor does he express violence or any extreme emotions whatsoever.” The story is about this old Watchmaker that has married his wife Eliza 50 years ago, just because it was convenient and comfortable. They in a way got married just not to they didn’t want to be in a situation where they weren’t dating somebody, and they’ve ended up together for 50 years, even though there was never a strong feeling of love between them, as Steven Wilson once said in his interview. It’s clear in the lyrics the idea of having this bond of 50 marriage without loving each other: “Eliza dear, you know, there’s something I should say; I never really loved you, but I’ll miss you anyway.”
After the first part of the lyrics end, the flute comes in with the synthesizer-informing that something’s going to change for the story. Music gets fast as the song proceeds and more instruments, such as Guthrie Govan’s electric guitar and saxophone. After the music stops, the song again changes in a darker direction. As the lyrics kick in, we see the disappointments of the Watchmaker of the 50-year relationship: “Well, you were just meant to be temporary, While I waited for gold, We filled up the years and I found that I liked, Having someone to hold” After Alan Parson’s wah guitar kicks into the song, the music directly leads to a catastrophic atmosphere. Again in Wilson’s own words: “The watchmaker ends up killing his wife and burying her under the floorboards of his workshop. But, of course, she comes back, because she’s been with him for 50 years; she’s not going to leave him now. So again, it’s the idea of death not making any difference in a situation. You can kill me, chop me up, bury me, but I’m still not leaving.”
The song The Watchmaker recalls the themes that are mentioned in other songs such as death, hopelessness, and ghosts. The music and lyrics were throughout coherent in the song one of the best things that Steven Wilson is capable of.
6. The Raven That Refused to Sing (7:57)
The closer and the title track is the least prog song of the album, but certainly one of the most soulful ones with its music and story.
The song settles down the mood after the chaotic atmosphere of the ending of The Watchmaker, having a disturbing and calm chord progression. In Steven Wilson’s own words the story about an old man “ at the end of his life who is waiting to die. He thinks back to a time in his childhood when he was incredibly close to his older sister. She was everything to him, and he was everything to her. Unfortunately, she died when they were both very young. This is not autobiographical; it’s fiction in that respect. But the guy is now at the end of his life, and he’s never been able to form any other kind of relationship. He’s spent his entire life alone, unable to relate to any other human being.” One day, however, “A raven begins to visit this man’s garden, and the raven begins to represent a symbol or a manifestation of his sister. The thing is, his sister would sing to him whenever he was afraid or insecure, and it was a calming influence on him. In his ignorance, he decides that if he can get the raven to sing to him, it will be the final proof that this is, in fact, his sister who has come back to take him with her to the next life.”
It is ironic and meaningful that he wants the raven to sing and wants his sister Lily back since ravens can’t sing and his sister can’t get back.
As the song proceeds, the song resolves musically and lyrically, since it can be interpreted as his sister came back to her brother to take him with her in the form of the raven. In that way, the music and the old man find peace as Guthrie Govan’s guitar kicks into the song for the finale.
The song discovers the idea of mortality and being afraid to love people and the whole themes of the album: death, ghosts, and hopelessness. Wilson described “The Raven That Refused to Song” as the best song he has ever written. “I think the Raven is the best song I ever wrote and I say that to the audience. It’s a song that I will struggle to better the rest of my career. Well you know what, the great thing about it is, I wrote it 20 years into my career, and to be writing your best music 20 years into your career, I’ll settle for that.”