OK I’m late. I could have bought this almost a year ago and if I’m honest, should have. A good friend of mine, Steve, is probably thinking to himself “Idiot, I told him to get it”.
So who is Steven Wilson? I first came across him when I heard “In Absentia” playing in a shop in Totnes. After being mocked and patronised by the shop owner for having to ask who it was, I bought a copy. It remains a frankly astonishing album. It’s lived in our demo room for years, although we have to buy a new copy every six months or so because someone steals it. The quality of playing, the recording, the songs, the technical dexterity is huge. The tones as well. Distortion that hits like a brick, drums so well recorded and so dynamic. It’s an album that plays homage to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and pretty much any other hard 70s band you can think of. I played it to a friend of mine who’s very into all things metal and in return he played me, and lent me, “Blackwater Park” by Opeth. It took a week or so to finally work out that Steven Wilson produced and played on “Blackwater Park” and whatever you think your tastes in music are, these are two albums that anyone who is into really good music should have. “Blackwater Park” is currently available on double vinyl and yes, I have a copy. Steven Wilson is also one of the very few people able to produce really good 5.1 mixes of classic albums. Most recently “Nonsuch” by XTC, but also the wonderful “In the Land of the Grey and Pink” by classic Canterbury band Caravan. Then on top of all this there are various solo albums, including the subject of this review.
There’s something very special about “The Raven…” First of all, the band. It’s a collection of quite brilliant musicians; Guthrie Govan plays guitar and he is widely regarded as one of the best guitarists around at the moment. His technical ability is right up there but unlike a lot of highly technical guitar players, there’s always music at the root of everything he plays. Then there’s Nick Beggs. Anyone remember Kajagoogoo? The other musicians on the album I’m not so familiar with but they are all really quite outstanding. And special credit has to go to Theo Travis for his flute, saxophone and clarinet playing. Really though, it’s unfair to single anyone out.
So apart from the musicians, the other really special thing is that “The Raven….” is recorded in classic style. They are all playing in the same place at the same time and that gives it a vitality and life and drive that’s reminiscent of some of the best late 60s music.
So what is the music on “The Raven….” ? It’s classified as progressive but if it is progressive, it’s a progressive album for people who don’t like progressive (the same is true of “In Absentia”). I really don’t think it is. I think it’s remarkable music that transcends any particular genre. There is always something very, very special about truly outstanding musicians playing together and every track on this borders on the spectacular. It also sounds absolutely stunning on a hi-fi system – and on a big hi-fi system and played loud, quite amazing.
The subject matter of the songs is somewhat dark. Wilson’s songs have a tendency to be, but the music, the level of musicianship, the recording and the production actually makes “The Raven….” a hugely uplifting album to listen to. I’d recommend this to anybody with a hi-fi and a musical pulse and you really should check out “In Absentia” and “Blackwater Park” as well. Nigel Finn
Have you heard something this good recently? – don’t keep it to yourself…