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on 7 March 2013
This is a very difficult album to critique. On one level, it is an immaculately engineered, sonically beautiful piece of work. On another, it is a pastiche (rather than a homage - I'll explain why I think that below) of progressive rock, with a combination of musical near-quotes, and pretty much straight lifts, from various artists of that particular genre.

Personally, I'm torn between appreciating certain aspects of this album, and just being profoundly irritated by certain other aspects. So, to concentrate on the good bits:

The Holy Drinker, and The Raven That Refused To Sing are really good pieces of work, especially the latter. There's an air of tangible melancholy about the vocal (in fact I'd go so far as to say its Wilson's best ever vocal performance)and the orchestration is lush without being overpowering.

The playing, with one or two exceptions, is exemplary. Especially Marco Minneman's drumming, and Theo Travis's reeds. It's refreshing to hear jazzy keyboards in the context of progressive-type music, and for the most part its tastefully done.

Sonically, it's outstanding - both the stereo and the 5.1 mix are sublime.

Which brings me to the bad bits.

Lyrically, I was surprised to see how slight this was. The album had been given an inordinate amount of pre-publicity surrounding its theme of Victorian-eqsue era Ghost stories, so it was really disappointing to find that the songs contained quite sparse lyrics. I appreciate that the super-duper 40 quid limited edition version has the stories, but feel that if you're going to down the road where only a select few, with deeper than average pockets, are the only ones who get to hear the songs "in context", then two things are likely to happen, and both of them involve shrinking your paying market (either people who don't buy the 40 quid set will try and download the bonus material, or they'll take their music buying business elsewhere) Regardless of whether you like the album or not, Rush's "Clockwork Angels" had a similar narrative with adjoining book approach, but the major difference is that the Rush album had sufficient lyrical and narrative content to appreciate the overall story that was being told. And there were no restrictions in buying the book :-)

And, finally, on to the derivative issue. I've been a fan of progressive music (amongst many other genres), for more years than I care to remember. And I've always felt that there's a huge difference between between "influenced and inspired by", and "I like that piece of music - I'll just lift it and plop it here and see if anyone notices". When the "New Wave of Progressive Music" (catchy title) turned up in the early 1980s I thought that a lot of it was guff, but some of the work being done was in the right spirit, even if the musical vocabulary was a little close to that of the original bands (early IQ spring to mind). However, Marillion's Grendel was still, and will forever be for me, a bad Supper's Ready clone, and because of that I can't take it seriously as a piece of work. However, in the context of their career, it's forgiveable, because they were young men in their late teens/early 20's wanting to emulate their influences growing up. Not-so-young men in their late 40's doing the same thing suggests catering to a constituency, or being a little too self-indulgent.

This album has two moments in particular that just really got on my nerves. Unfortunately, one of them is the first track, Luminol, which starts by straightforwardly lifting a key bass/drum part from Yes' Into The Lens, from the Drama album. Might not sound like much, but for me it's really jarring. Not as jarring as the rather large quote from Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond which somehow finds itself in the middle of one of the instrumental sections of The Watchmaker. I suppose my point here is that Wilson (and almost certainly some of his musicians, and Alan Parsons) will have known where these lifts came from - the Drama one isn't that obscure, and you're not telling me no-one involved in this hasn't heard Shine On. It would have been fairly simple to have just changed the arrangements to avoid the "duplication", and then - whilst it would still have been "heavily influenced by", it wouldn't have been "I like that piece of music - I'll just lift it and plop it here and see if anyone notices". Other non-verbatim quotes include (and here's a parlour game for you - see if you can spot them all)

Patrick Moraz - The Story of I (clue - it's a minimoog solo)
Islands - King Crimson
White Hammer - VDGG
Siberian Khatru - Yes
The Musical Box - Genesis
as well as liberal smatterings of Gentle Giant, and the odd bit of Camel.

Which is why I'd describe the album overall as pastiche, rather than homage - the referential stuff is too close for me to be ultimately satisfying.

And finally, for all Guthrie Govan is an alarmingly competent guitarist, I miss the slightly wonky charm of Wilsons lead playing - there's much more character in Wilson's tone and phrasing than Govan's technically proficient but a little too fusiony-for-my-tastes leads.

Overall, then, I'd find it difficult to recommend this too heartily - for me Insurgentes and Grace For Drowning are better written (if not necessarily better played). I'm glad I bought it, as the good just about outweighs the bad, but for me it's not a five star purchase.
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on 2 March 2013
I'm sorry is that title a wee bit cynical of me? I mean apparently a couple of days after the official release and hordes of fantastic reviews, Wilson was bemoaning the fact that someone - presumably someone he trusted - had leaked a copy of the new album onto that blasted Internet thing and subsequently the Hardest Working Man in Rock is probably going to starve to death... Well, do you know something, I wish I had found one of these elusive illegal copies (I looked in all the usual places and never saw hide nor hair of it), it might have saved me wasting £13 on something that in a few weeks might have bought me some food.

Several years ago, myself and two prog colleagues ventured to Wolverhampton to see Porcupine Tree. We got there in plenty of time and found the bar at the Civic Centre sold proper real ale, so we were made up. When we finally entered the arena, up where the band were due to appear was this 30 feet high sign saying something along the lines of "Do not use phones or mobile devices, do not record this show or take pictures of it, if you do we will kill you!" and it was being serious - Wilson is almost anally retentive about this kind of thing and yet despite coming across as an intelligent young(ish) man, he failed to notice that everyone in that arena was there to see him, had paid money to see him and to be fair if they record, badly, their favourite song and post it on You Tube, what real harm is it going to do? Or, I remember an interview with SW once where he said how angry he gets when fans bring up tapes of shows they've recorded on their phones or whatever and ask him to autograph it. Why? The same nerd is going to buy every album you release, because true, honest to God fans, BUY, so if they get something they can't buy, it isn't going to break your bank or take revenue away from you. Maybe to such a small and insignificant amount you could class those people as not true fans, but Steve, you're not Radiohead or Beyonce, mate, the amount of money you're going to lose from this kind of thing is negligible. Man up and stop being such a curmudgeonly geek.

But what about the album. Well, it wears its influences on its sleeves for all to see. Luminol is Yes, The Holy Drinker has elements of ELP in it and so far I've also heard some Crimson, some early Genesis and while he's channelling all of his heroes he's clearly forgotten how to write a tune. Insurgents was choc-a-bloc full of good rock songs; Grace For Drowning kind of suggested we were entering into the realm of the Law of Diminishing Returns and this album seems to prove that by offering up 6 songs which I would have struggled to include in either of the first two solo efforts. This album is up its own arse; seriously far; so far it could have a conversation with Wilson's epiglottis without a hint of irony.

I have listened to this album 6 times now; under the belief that its a grower, but while I have grown to appreciate a couple of tracks, the only real thing growing on me is the feeling that I've been conned and that Wilson's overall output in the 21st century has been generally disappointing. I'm looking back at Deadwing and thinking that when that came out I didn't like it because it wasn't a Porcupine Tree album as I knew it. That's a bloody classic compared to Wilson's solo efforts. The Raven That Refused to Sing and Other Stories is pretentious, it's an homage to many of the people that Wilson holds in high regard, it suffers from half of it not being at all good and if this is the future of SW then he can travel it without my scheckles. I'm really struggling to find positives about this album; I can't see it being on heavy rotation like many other SW projects, but if I want to be honest, I've felt that way about most of his stuff for a few years - The Incident had some great songs on it, but could have been a very tight single CD; Blank Planet might have been the breakthru album, but it's a mess, the first two solo albums had one really good album in there and that god-awful Storm Corrosion bollocks, which someone had the audacity to compare to Talk Talk, should have been the straw that broke the Raven's back. As Wilson becomes more commercially viable his music is becoming less interesting.

Perhaps I came into this wanting to dislike it; I mean, all of this disillusionment towards SW which has poured out in this review probably suggests that I was going to be in a bad place when I listened to it; but the thing is I wanted this to be the dog's bollocks and it end up being just bollocks. It also could do with some tunes. Wilson has written some great tunes in the past... Oh, yeah, the past. Wilson is 45 now and we all know what happens to ageing rockers...
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on 1 March 2013
Wilson has created a musical odyssey that contains most fashion genres seen and heard by mankind since Beatlemania. I'm rightly glad we haven't been visited by distant aliens or undersea creatures otherwise their galaxy-hip-hop or sea-weedy-drip-drop would have been included too.

Track one, Luminol, points the way forward with 12 minutes of everythingandthekitchensink-ness. It begins with the Steve Hackett band circa 1999, I have the bootleg, before heading into King Crimson at around the 2 minute mark.
Bass heavy Chris Squire of Yes thumps his way centre-stage as the main theme reappears at 03:44. Suddenly we head vaguely into acoustic mode, maybe Twilight Alehouse era Genesis, there's a Peter Gabriel flute solo which, strangely, are the same notes but done in a different order. King Crimson's mellotron gets wheeled out before we get a Lyle Mays type piano solo which is definitely a positive step. Adam Holzman must have been listening to those old Pat Metheny Cds.
Those booming Crimson chords reappear and Luminol languishes past the 10 minute mark. What would Luminol sound like if Wilson had been influenced by Baccara, Racey or Darts? Worse... Dana and Wet Wet Wet!

Is musical genius all about distilling and bottling up your influences and then writing and producing a carbon copy or is it the presence of mind to create something original and unique? Steven Wilson is not unique in producing 'The Raven that refused to sing'. Wilson is certainly clever and manipulative. To hear a soaring jazz tinged piano solo dominate progressive rock is a forward step but this is not enough. Everything is here but nothing new is played.

Your choices are:
1. Dig out the original 1970s albums and play them for a weekend.
2. Play Steven Wilson and pretend the 1970s didn't happen.

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VINE VOICEon 27 February 2013
Being of an age to have experienced 1970's 'Prog Rock' then it has to be said that Steven Wilson makes a damn good fist of reinventing the sound in the 21st century. Listen carefully and you can hear ELP, Genesis, Yes and King Crimson in there. The doomy keyboards and synths, the jazzy drums and sax...the wailing guitar solos...the reverb...the Tolkeinesque lyrics.
It's like discovering an unreleased 1972 album from a band who passed you by at the time....groovy !
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on 6 April 2013
OK, that may be a bit harsh, but there's a great degree of fairness there too. He has quite a flat and whiny voice, luckily it isn't used too much.

Now I'm not a great fan - make that not of all - of Porcupine Tree, but I do like his production work and intrigued by the track - Luminol - on a Prog Magazine Freebie CD I decided to invest in this, his latest oeuvre. So, what to make of it?

Well, it's full on PROG! Hoorah!
But, that's not very progressive is it? Boo!

It has real Mellotron! Hoorah!
But I'm sure some of it isn't. Boo!

Renowned Bassist/Chapman Stick player Nick Beggs is on it. Hoorah!
But he was in Kajagoogoo. Boo!

So I do like Luminol in all its trad Prog Trope messiness and I like Holy Drinker too. Hoorah!
But the title track is too much of an Anathema rip-off to me. Boo!

So, do you Buy? It's up to you really. make up your own mind.
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on 28 February 2013
Ok, now to quantify this review lets start by saying that I'm not the biggest Porcupine Tree fan. I thought The Incident was excellent, Stupid Dream, Lightbulb Sun was pretty good, and the rest pretty average, a few good tracks here and there but nothing too remarkable.

I would not have bought this if it had not received a glowing review in Classic Rock and thought I'd give it a punt and run a download. For £5.43 what could go wrong?

As soon as it was downloaded (took a while, broadband not too speedy here) I settled down with a mug of tea googled the lyrics and off we went.

Sailing from the speakers came a sublime mix of very retro prog mixed with jazzy interludes, atmospheric keyboards - each song intertwined with a narrative story of regret, death, etc - all the usual 'happy' prog staples. Wilson has assembled a very talented band capable of playing out his visions, an unashamed romp through extended pieces that billow out slowly and dramatically with all their prog roots showing. This is the kind of music that Punk tried, and failed to kill off in the 70's, but with a pristine clarity of recording that is frankly breath-taking. If it sounds good on an Ipod, what does the blue ray version sound like?!

Highlight for me has to the last song, the title track that tells of a man who loses his sister early on in her life, and struggling to come to terms with it convinces himself that a raven he has captured will prove that there is life after death if he can get the bird to sing. As the title suggests, the raven refuses and he is left to ponder whether there is anything beyond this life. Weird? Yes, Morbid? Indeed. Beautiful, heart wrenching and downright genius? You bet your bottom dollar...

Music for the heart, the head, the soul, the past, the future. Marvellous stuff Steve, thank you so much
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VINE VOICEon 22 February 2013
Prog rocks premier tunesmith hits the right note again, and album full of light and shade clocking in at a shade under 60 minutes the six tracks that make up this album contain more ideas that a dozen `Take That' albums.

The album is paced well, opening with `Luminol' (already known to fans from the Get All You Deserve Live album also available on Amazon), and for my mind the weakest of the tracks setting the tone from the album. Sweeping passages, chunky bass, flute, mellotron, and fire cracker drumming the works packed into the 12 minutes of song. The albums other 5 tracks pack a punch are dynamic while the closer the eponymous track the Raven closes the album gently and wanting more. I particularly like `The Watchmaker' and `the Holy drinker'.

For those buying the DVD or Blu ray version you also will not be disappointed Progs premier 5.1 fettler has again hit the mark, Steven definitely gets 5.1 and knows how to produce a good mix. The extras especially on the blu ray make that the go to package unless you can get hold of the limited and completely sold deluxe all disc book/box.

Buy with the confidence that Steven Wilson has pulled off another superb album, Porcupine Tree may be on hiatus, this more than makes up.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 December 2013
This is an absolutely incredible piece of work. Seriously, it's approaching genius level composition, arrangement and musicianship and has brought a much maligned genre (unfairly, in my opinion), prog rock, kicking and screaming into the 21st century. You can clearly hear the influences on this record, namely Pink Floyd, Yes, Rush, Camel, King Crimson, Jethro Tull and, naturally, Alan Parsons who is the engineer on "The Raven That Refused To Sing". With this album, prolific Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson has surpassed any previous work he has been involved with, either solo or with his band, and has made a beautifully complex, artistic record that would be hailed as a classic in any pretty much any year since the late sixties. This isn't hyperbole; I own too many albums to be this impressed without good reason and don't bandy the word "genius" around without there being justification for such a high accolade, but Wilson and this tremendous project deserve all the superlatives thrown at them.

Unfortunately, this isn't an album I could write about easily without going massively in depth and I don't have the spare time or inclination to write an essay about the choice of instrumentation, the specific influences on certain tracks, the time signature changes, the stellar performances all of the musicians give, the rich textures and dynamics or the deliberately dark, heavy and slightly opaque lyrics, but, if I had the time, it's the kind of album I could enthuse about and analyse extensively. I will simply say that, from the moment it begins to the final notes, this is intelligent, emotive, creative, mind-blowing music at its absolute finest. I would recommend this without question to anybody who loves progressive rock, but would urge any lover of rock, jazz or classical to listen to this at least once, because this record has a depth and integrity that defies pigeon-holing it into any one specific genre. Just listen, that's all I ask.
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on 1 January 2014
Since it appears that you read these Amazon reviews, I thought I would ask you to put your music on Spotify via this album review.
I'm a PT fan with 6 albums on CD and also an audiophile. Love going to gigs, went to 16 gigs in 2013.
I bought a Sony RX100 compact camera as it operates really well in non-flash mode and I really enjoy being able to take pics at the gigs so having a security person stopping me taking pics would be a big disappointment.
I don't put any pics or anything else on any website, not personally interested in Facebook, Twitter etc.
I buy on average 3 CD's a month BUT I got REALLY fed up with a 30-40% failure rate in the pre-Spotify days when I couldn't check out the album on Spotify. Post Spotify, I have purchased more albums and Spotify is great at suggesting music I might like so I listen to many of their suggestions which in turn has led to more CD album purchases.
You still with me, Mister Wilson?
I don't "approve" of websites that allow people to download music for nought, I feel artists are entitled to payment for their efforts, creativity and talent particularly as many of the less and much less established exist on very little income.
So Mister Wilson, why is your music not on Spotify? I won't buy albums I cannot listen to first so sadly I am unable to buy your solo albums. Sorry but that's the way it is.
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on 28 February 2013
The Raven That Refused to Sing (etc.) is an extremely accomplished piece of work from a man that doesn't seem to stop writing, producing and collaborating. It stirs up Prog artists such as early Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Tangerine Dream, UK ... and many more. That's fine by me.

However it's hard to establish exactly where he is coming from on this album. The sound is unquestionably Steven Wilson and that I fear is the problem with this and other releases he has become associated with recently. He is turning into the Phil Spector of Prog, similar to what Todd Rundgren did in the 70s/80s with the likes of Utopia (yes I know they were his band), Meatloaf, The Cars, The Tubes, etc.

I don't know the difference between Steven's solo work and Porcupine Tree anymore ... it's all a bit too predictable and I fear this predictability may spread.

So please Mr Wilson, keep away from Mikael Akerfeldt ... what have you done to him?!
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