Steven Wilson at crossroads

In September 2011, for his record Grace For Drowning, Steven Wilson confessed to us in a very long interview that “it took [him] twenty years of experimenting and exploring with [his] bands and [his] solo projects before [he] actually felt like [he] was ready to try and bring all of the aspects of [his] musical personality together, and to make it seem cohesive and complete, and not to sound like a schizophrenic mess of ideas.” Indisputable artist working on a lot of different projects, it’s on his solo project that he worked the most the last couple of years. The goal was to refocus his deeply intimate creativity thanks to this record.

According to him, “You shouldn’t have rules in music, it’s kind of the enemy of creativity”, but obviously, it’s still good to have a guiding line, as wide as it should be. This line has to respect and to give shape to the coherency of a state that in turn, is sacralized by and through the music. This is what Steven Wilson defines as “musical personality”. Steven Wilson’s new record, The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), yearns for sincerity just like all his works. But is it the allegory of a concise, renewed, and now stable philosophy, or just one more record reflecting an artistic need fueled by the absence of rules?

Steven Wilson says that for him, “an artist is someone that basically creates something to please themselves”. This quest for pleasure needs liberty, which explains this need to ban every rules in music and in any kind of art. So The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) is a free album. Its complexity almost evokes free jazz or fusion jazz: rich on a musical level, free in its structure, but still benefiting from a big set-up and a lot of precision (“Luminol”, “The Holy Drinker”). A record that increases the distance with metal. A musical genre that according to Steven Wilson, became a music “too generic nowadays”. In this record, you can especially hear some echoes from the Pink Floyd (even if Wilson denied in the past any influence from them), Deep Purple, King Crimson, Rush (this snapping, Geddy Lee-like bass and this rhythmic pattern at the end of “Watchmaker” that sounds like the Canadians’ famous instrumental “YYZ”), but also from Opeth (especially on “The Holy Drinker”’s intro) that bring, along with an open mind, a true intensity to the record.

Even if he’s freer, Steven Wilson isn’t more extrovert than usual. You can find everything that makes his music in this 54 minutes-long record which sounds more concise and more digest than Grace For Drowning (2011) and richer and more varied than Insurgentes (2008). The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) is thus a synthetic album. It’s probably the result of an introspective process which, after two tries already, is becoming more precise, more subtle, and tends to represent nowadays the artist with all the diversity we know him for thanks to all the bands he’s been working with. On this new record, the very jazzy and dynamic “Luminol” and “The Holy Drinker” – with a saxophone, a flute and a Rhodes piano that make it sometimes sound like Head Hunters era Herbie Hancock – set the transition with the previous album. “Drive Home” and his pop dimension reminds us of what we can hear in Blackfield. “The Pin Drop”, a quite rock track, is on the contrary closer to Porcupine Tree’s sound. At last, we can even hear some Storm Corrosion in “The Watchmaker”, or feel No-Man touches here and there. The record ends on the eponymous track with a crescendo structure and a moving atmosphere that sounds like the one of the ending track of Blackfield’s second record, “End Of The World”. The range of tastes and colors is wide but coherent. A coherency made possible by the great team of musician playing the tracks, the team that cut its teeth with Wilson on his last tour (excepting lead guitar player Guthrie Govan) and is then now able to understand, to render and even to enhance the conductor’s vision, making the whole look like a real band. A necessary coherency because for Wilson, an album is a work that needs to be listened to in its entirety. And it’s indeed in its entirety – with an end that contrasts with the beginning, and closes the loop making its the album’s title – that the record (the artist?) reveals itself the best.

The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) is the result of a career, synthesizing all (or almost all) the musical knowledge and the philosophy of an individual, a record that draws from the past to open a new way towards the future, especially Porcupine Tree’s. A record that could represent the junction between two eras, because Steven Wilson can’t be separated from his projects. His motivations, his states of mind, his experiences, his artistic style and so on are necessarily, even selfishly there. “Being an artist is a very selfish thing, it has to be; it should be a very selfish thing. You have to make music in a pure way. If other people like it, that’s great; if other people don’t like it, then that’s unfortunate, but at least you can say that you created your art from the heart and soul” told us Steven. The future will tell what kind of impact these solo escapes – that seemed to feel like a liberation to him – will have on Porcupine Tree that is supposed to start recording a new album this autumn. But it’s a safe bet to say that in a way or another, it’s gonna be huge.

With a record like The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), Steven Wilson defines both the notion of artist, the one that looks at themselves and looks for themselves with both curiosity and certainty. An album both free and coherent, rich and synthetic, thoughtful and full of emotion.

The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), out February 25th 2013 via Kscope.

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