In 1976, producer/engineer Alan Parsons and songwriter Eric Woolfson entered the studio to record a concept album based on the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe. The resultant Tales of Mystery & Imagination gave birth to the Alan Parson Project. Thirty-seven years later, one of modern progressive rock’s shining lights, Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, coaxed Parsons into co-producing his own Poe-inspired The Raven Who Refused to Sing (& Other Stories) (2013); and Parson’s legacy as Abbey Road Studios’ star engineer during prog’s 70s heyday is all over this album.
Unlike Parsons and Woolfson, Wilson doesn’t adapt Poe’s work directly, preferring to compose his songs around a half-dozen 19th century horror stories of his own invention. Unsurprisingly, then, The Raven Who Refused to Sing is a rather dark record. The protagonist of the title track identifies a raven that (who’d have guessed it?) refuses to sing with the spirit of his long-departed elder sister; “Luminol” stars a street musician whose own death doesn’t keep him from returning to his customary street corner day after day; “The Pin Drop” is told from the perspective of a wife who’s just been drowned by her husband. (Head over to Wilson’s interview with Music Radar for a track-by-track elucidation.) The tales, if not quite of Poe-etic caliber, are well-wrought, lending the record a thematic unity without becoming overly conceptual or pretentious.
So while Wilson evokes many moods—some tranquil, some stormy, some downright spooky—feelings of joy and contentment do not figure prominently. The Raven is reminiscent in this regard, and in its adept synthesis of classic prog influences from Genesis to ELP to King Crimson to Premiata Forneria Marconi, of early 90s prog legends Anglagard. Wilson’s compositions are less knotty and forbidding than the Swedish combo’s, but the elements are all there: knife-edged organ, lightning Moog solos, taut instrumental interplay, ethereal flute and sax, thunderous build-ups and shimmering releases.
As you would expect, Parsons’ production is just about perfect. It has all the clarity and precision of a modern record with all the analog warmth and character of one of Parsons’ classic projects, leaving equal space for intimate acoustics and barnstorming heaviness. Even when there’s a lot going on—and there are some pretty fierce jazz-fusion jams on parts of “The Holy Drinker” and “Luminol”—nothing gets lost in the mix.
Sterling productions matters little, however, in the absence of solid material, and Wilson most certainly delivers. I can’t say I’ve ever been a big fan of Porcupine Tree, but perhaps it’s time to disavow the raven’s cry of “nevermore” and dig into Wilson’s back catalog for a reassessment. In the meantime, The Raven That Refused to Sing is some of the best symphonic progressive rock of the past decade.
- The Raven That Refused to Sing (and other stories) – A Musical Storybook You Can’t Put Down (chroniclesofacasualnerd.wordpress.com)
- Mammal’s Top 25 In-Betweener Albums: #5 – #1 (ametalstateofmind.com)
- A banker? Nah… (dnaindia.com)
- Steven Wilson: A Minority Report (progarchy.com)
- Top 10 albums of the year (jonb52.wordpress.com)
- The best 50 albums of 2013, according to andrewdsweeney: 11 to 20 (andrewdsweeney.wordpress.com)
- RockAtlantic’s Top 10 Albums of 2013 Part 2 (rockatlantic.wordpress.com)
- Steven Wilson (victorsagfors.wordpress.com)
- The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories (Best of 2013 – Part 9) (progarchy.com)
- The Best of 2013 (IMHO) (progarchy.com)