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Customer Review

15 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much Magpie. Not enough Raven., 7 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories) [CD+DVD] (Audio CD)
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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Showing 1-10 of 21 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Mar 2013 12:37:29 GMT
You missed the Yes 'Tempus Fugit' (Drama album) steal on Luminol (the vocal part)

Posted on 8 Mar 2013 17:58:13 GMT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on 8 Mar 2013 20:21:55 GMT
MAC says:
I can't say I agree with you too much, but nevertheless an interesting post.

I will now go away and learn more about prog so that I can find the "borrowed" tunes on this album!

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Mar 2013 23:47:51 GMT
Good to see reasoned discussion is alive and well

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Mar 2013 23:49:30 GMT
Right so you haven't actually listened to them but you don't agree...

Posted on 9 Mar 2013 07:42:19 GMT
MAC says:
Sir ED, that is a slightly arrogant reply. I actually think the review is interesting, however, I also love the album irrespective of the other pieces of music that have been stolen / borrowed / or sound a little bit like they are from other songs (delete depending on opinion).

Surely in thousands of songs we can hear similarities to other songs? but just because a bass sounds is like that made by Chris Squire from ca. 1973 doesn't actually mean it is a direct copy of a peice from a particular of a song.

Also, I have also alluded to the fact that I do not know much of the music mentioned above, I do hope you forgive for my lack of prog. knowledge? Although for the record I cannot hear the Genesis "copy" and although I agree that there is a sound of Yes in Luminol I don't hear any direct copy, just a generic 70's prog bass sound (as heard in early Yes records). Lot's of music will sound fairly generic, but maybe it is a touch analytical to spend too much time trying to find fault with something rather than just enjoying it.

But it opens an interesting discussion.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Mar 2013 12:00:25 GMT
I never said I didn't like it. I suggest these similarities are slightly too similar to be an accident. You'll be telling me "Time Flies" isn't nicked from Pink Floyd's Dogs next or that Voyage 34 isn't lifting the riff from "Run Like Hell". To quote Oscar Wilde "Talent borrows genius steals"

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Mar 2013 22:58:23 GMT
Last edited by the author on 11 Mar 2013 12:20:27 GMT
Manir says:
That's OK Mac, as the second response shows its not a popular view :-), if you do go out and listen to more of the influences behind this album that'd be great, and well worth your time and listening pleasure. Cheers M

Posted on 10 Mar 2013 19:08:00 GMT
MAC says:
Yes Manir, I will try and listen to some of those tracks mentioned. Well even if people don't agree with your views, at least you have put it over in an knowledgeable fashion.

Posted on 12 Mar 2013 01:17:28 GMT
Mike P says:
You seem to be making some puzzling leaps here, to say the least. Being somewhat obsessively familiar with The Musical Box and Siberian Khatru, and at least a decent memory of Story of I, I can only surmise that you are pointing out that the tracks contain the same musical instruments. Wilson has recently worked with Steve Hackett and referenced a newly found appreciation for the chiming 12 string sound on early Genesis; likewise the bass at times on the reviewed album does bear a resemblance to Chris Squire's unmistakable sound. However, I've been completely unable to come up with anything I would call a direct cut and paste. If we need to sigh and moan every time we recognize some aspect of the music we listen to, there's going to be a long, long wait for the next original work to show up.
Finally, I have to take issue with "there's much more character in Wilson's tone and phrasing" - quite simply, no there isn't, not even close, and I believe Steven Wilson would be the first to agree. Guthrie Govan's playing on this album, for me at least, is an utter revelation - an asounding mastery of an instrument that is channeled into some of the most thrilling music I've heard in a couple of decades.
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