Review by Brynn Alexander
Having recently heard a preview and seen the video for the title track from Steven Wilson’s The Raven that Used to Sing, when I got my hands on the album I was prepared to write a review favorably comparing it to Radiohead circa 2000, the Kid A / Amnesiac era. I was more than slightly surprised, therefore, when I cued up the album’s first track, “Luminol,” and was suddenly blown away by a mad flurry of classic prog homages, ranging from the vocal harmonies of Yes, to the bass solos of Geddy Lee, to Ian Anderson’s killer flute lines. “Luminol” as the album’s opener was so far removed from the style of “The Raven that Refused to Sing,” which happens to be the last track on the album, that I was doubtful Wilson would be able to tie the two together in a convincing way across a span of only six songs.
I’m pleased to report that my doubts were unwarranted. Each song on The Raven that Refused to Sing is a careful and methodical step from Point A to Point B, and the journey through the songs is sort of a prog-rock version of the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” game. There are nods to King Crimson (both pre- and post-Adrian Belew) and Dream Theater along the way, and of course anything that Wilson does is going to have at least some of the flavors of Porcupine Tree in it, though any overtones of the derivative are kept to a minimum. Indeed, this is by far the most innovative and original thing Steven Wilson has done yet, and although Porcupine Tree fans will certainly like it, there’s a lot here for old-school prog fans, as well.
At first I thought that the fifth track, “The Watchmaker,” was going to be a weak link in the chain, but at nearly twelve minutes, the song is a grower. It starts out as nothing special, but the simple beginning is all a setup for what comes later on, another masterpiece of clever songwriting and strong musicianship. It does get a bit lengthy with the solos, but there’s nothing boring about it, and on repeated listens it actually holds up really well in the context of the other songs.
It’s difficult to pick a favorite song from this collection. Certainly it was a smart idea to release the title track as the single, as it has the most crossover appeal, and the accompanying video is as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. Having said that, each song is a unique piece to the puzzle, and when you add in the spectacular artwork of Hajo Mueller, it all ties together nicely. Even though it’s pretty early in the year, this has got to be one of the top releases of 2013, and a must own for anyone with even a remote interest in the future of progressive music.
9 out of 10
- Drive Home
- The Holy Drinker
- The Pin Drop
- The Watchmaker
- The Raven that Refused to Sing