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Round Table Review
CD - Drive Home (edit) (4:10), The Birthday Party (3:48), The Raven That Refused To Sing (Orchestral Version) (7:31), The Holy Drinker (Live In Frankfurt) (10:27), Insurgentes (Live In Frankfurt) (4:32), The Watchmaker (Live In Frankfurt) (11:54), The Raven That Refused To Sing (Live In Frankfurt) (8:17)
DVD - Drive Home (Video) (8:20), The Raven That Refused To Sing (Video) (7:49), The Holy Drinker (Live In Frankfurt) (10:25), Insurgentes (Live In Frankfurt) (4:30), The Watchmaker (Live In Frankfurt) (11:52), The Raven That Refused To Sing (Live In Frankfurt) (8:12), The Birthday Party (3:46), The Raven That Refused To Sing (Orchestral Version) (7:29)
Mark Hughes' Review
Judging from his ubiquitous presence across various categories in the DPRP annual poll it would seem that very few of our readers are unaware of Mr Steven Wilson or his widely acclaimed latest solo album The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories). Setting aside the irony that the man with his fingers in so many prog pies spent so long denying that his music should be considered progressive rock, one has to admire the abilities and increasing musical depths that Wilson's compositions are achieving these days. This is perfectly exemplified on the limited edition Drive Home release that is, albeit rather belatedly, the subject of this review. Sumptuously packaged in thick cardboard gatefold sleeve with separate card wallets for the CD and DVD, the release is a mixture of unreleased and live material. Although many, myself included, would have liked to have seen (and heard) a complete concert release from the last tour, what is on offer is enticing enough.
The Music CD features four live tracks, all recorded in Frankfurt, an edit of the title track, an unreleased song and an orchestral version of the parent album's title number. The Drive Home edit is quite simply done, truncating the song at the four-minute mark by fading out at the guitar solo. Previously unreleased The Birthday Party is a nippy, and nifty, number set at a frantic pace that, to my ears, has nods in the general direction of the classic musical interplays favored by Gentle Giant in their prime. Despite any past protestations by the composer, the song is a excellent slice of prog, mostly instrumental with vocals only briefly appearing at the three-minute mark; the number is of a different character from the material on The Raven... album which is probably why it was left off the original release, but is well worth adding to anyone's Wilson collection.
Initially, the orchestral version of The Raven That Refused To Sing is not that dissimilar to what we are familiar with, but when the orchestra really kicks in we are taken into a whole new area of magnificence. The nature and tempo of the composition is ideally suited to an epic score and the string arrangement, by Dave Stewart, is achingly beautiful. In contrast to The Birthday Party I cannot understand why this orchestral version was not included on the album as I much prefer it to the non-orchestrated version.
On to the live material. It is obvious that being immersed in the remastering of the King Crimson back catalogue has infused the spirit of that band into Wilson's psyche as The Holy Drinker owes a lot to Mr. Fripp's magnificent men. Plenty of kudos to Theo Travis who channels Mel Collins in his performance throughout. The band - Wilson, Travis, Beggs, Govan, Holzman and Minnemann - are exceptionally tight and the combination of Beggs' Chapman stick and Wilson's bass on this track is a delight. And the jazzy interlude with Holzman's electric piano and Travis' wind is a neat diversion. Insurgentes, which has a somewhat similar musical structure to The Raven..., comes over well with the ensemble playing of the group bringing the arrangement to the fore. Wilson's live singing is very good, he masterfully knows how best to use his voice within the context of the song and although his vocal delivery doesn't vary all that much between songs they do suit the material perfectly. Beggs provides limited backing vocals, probably none more prominent than on The Watchmaker, the live arrangement of which delivers an acoustic section which harks back to the epic era of classic Genesis. Govan is furious when he lets loose, even if the electric piano section has echoes (pun intended) of Pete Bardens in the heyday of Camel, and the ending of this song, which I have always admired, is a real treat! The live rendition of The Raven... is also expertly delivered with the band showing admirable restraint in a perfect delivery of a relatively slow and quiet number. Thankfully the German audience is completely respectful to the band and listen in quiet admiration and don't mire the recording with any annoying whooping or cheering, until the end of the song that is!
The DVD component has video footage of the four live tracks on the CD, expertly filmed from multiple angles and giving each of the performers a place in the spotlight. With such care and attention gone into filming and recording this concert it is surprising that release of the whole show was not considered. Maybe there was a wish to avoid overexposure (although that probably isn't the case given the aforementioned fingers in multiple pies), however, fans are likely to be somewhat frustrated by only a tantalizing glimpse of the live show. Two excellent animated videos for Drive Home and The Raven That Refused To Sing directed by Jess Cope with, in the latter case, Simon Cartwright, are nice additions to the DVD, although it has to be said that neither are laugh-a-minute extravaganzas, in fact both are really quite depressing! Drive Home gives a better insight into the sadness of the lyrics with a fuller explanation for the melancholic nature of the song, even if the additional visual images tend to escalate the melancholy to greater heights. A clever mixture of 2D and 3D animation, it is a fine piece of work and at least the video ends on a slightly more positive note. The video for The Raven... is stylistically very similar, both are largely monotonal, and once again provides a more in-depth analysis of the very sad lyrical tale. Although fine works of art the tales of loneliness, despair and death portrayed in the videos don't make easy viewing. The DVD is completed with 5.1 surround sound versions of The Birthday Party and the orchestral version of The Raven..., again nice things to have for those who are interested in that sort of thing.
All-in-all a nice little package although with The Raven... making five appearances across the two discs to accompany the two previously released versions (the album and demo versions) it may be considered a bit of overkill, even though it is a great song. On the whole this release falls into the 'nice to have' category rather than being truly essential, but I am sure fans and completists will be perfectly satisfied with its contents, the quality of which can't be denied.
Roger Trenwith's Review
With The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), Steven Wilson and his band created an imperfection-free retro-prog masterpiece that for me had the attraction of pyrite. At first I was dazzled by the glitter but after a long period without playing the album, finally getting hold of a copy of this EP has made me realise that, and I fully understand that I will be in a very small minority, TRTRTS was maybe - just maybe - too perfect and occasionally too reverential.
Perhaps the Fool's Gold comparison above is a bit harsh, but I like my prog with the occasional jagged edge to knock me out of any complacency, and Steven's last album was produced to the nth degree so as to render even the dissonant passages easy on the ear.
Anyway, this is not supposed to be a review of The Raven... album, been there, done that; no, this is a review of the Drive Home EP, which is of interest to anyone like me who saw The Raven... tour as it contains four tracks recorded in Frankfurt, both on the CD and in glorious 5.1 on the accompanying DVD. Some folk are not over enamored with 5.1, but even the dissenters must admit that a 5.1 mix on a live video is when the format really comes into its own.
There were some damn good songs on Raven..., despite my bitching above and Drive Home is one of them, it being a classic Steven Wilson epic of loss and despair leavened by a dusting of hope. The album title track is another example of how, when Steven keeps it simple, no-one in modern prog can quite match his panache with a low key melody married to a forlorn lyric. I have heard complaints from Porcupine Tree fans that Wilson has left behind his knack for a tune on Raven...; well, let it be said that Drive Home, in particular, is as good a tune, and as poignant as anything he wrote for that band. The video lends it extra tear-jerking effect, in spades.
The other side of the coin is The Watchmaker, which now sounds to me like a retro-prog Boys' Own guide to classic prog influences. The major part of the song IS classic Genesis, there's no getting away from it, then we get Nick Beggs doing a more than passable Chris Squire-like melodic bass solo in a section that bows down to Yes arpeggios, linked to the ending section of Crimsoid menace by a prolonged doff of the titfer to Steven's last group. A tad bombastic, the whole thing together still works, just about; buried in all this supplication at the feet of 1973 via 2005 is a decent song, it's just a shame that it has to fight sometimes to be heard and this is maybe what the PT fans were moaning about.
Where I would prefer Wilson to go in his new prog adventure is to further explore the improvisational and jazz-based hard prog aspects displayed on Grace For Drowning, an angle that was only fleetingly continued on Raven.... Luckily for me, the song on Raven... that pointed most in that direction, The Holy Drinker, is included here. New song The Birthday Party continues the harder edge at a pace, driven along by some fine psychedelic John Du Cann-like guitar and vintage Hammond. I'm still not entirely convinced by the retro feel of this short burst of energy, we'll have to see where it leads.
Having followed Steven Wilson's musical exploits now for over 20 years, my personal jury is still out where his new direction is concerned, as TRTRTS was something of a curate's egg for me, in places a triumph of artifice over art.
It was the first album from him where I got the feeling that pleasing the prog audience came before artistic intent, but then he has bills to pay like any other middle-aged guy. I await his next move with a mix of curiosity and fear that it may be part two of a long goodbye for us two, and for that reason, I'm not going to mark this, I'll leave that in the more than capable hands of the others in this RTR. However, I will say that this whole package is a treat for fans, both those who saw or missed the tour.
Basil Francis' Review
The release of Steven Wilson's Drive Home EP is, in essence, a chance for us reviewers to yet again gush about how utterly fantastic its parent album The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories) is. Or is it? Loaded with live versions of songs from said album, it seems high time to reassess the album that won the title of 'Best Album of 2013' by a landslide in our very own poll.
I certainly agree with my co-reviewer Roger Trenwith that the album is a bit too perfect and polished round the edges. While the music itself is expertly written and thoroughly well executed, it doesn't seem to offer anything that pushes the boundaries or experiments further. In this sense, it was a very safe album for Wilson to produce and he safely won over the hearts and minds of prog fans everywhere.
As if to answer to this criticism though, roll on The Birthday Party, track two on this EP and the only non-album track to be found here. An aggressive piece, almost like a Doberman gnashing its teeth, this mainly instrumental track is satisfyingly rough around the edges, full of staccato notes and sharp dynamic changes. At just under four minutes it all seems over too quickly but its inclusion makes this EP worth the price of admission.
The titular track appears twice on this release: once on the CD in bastardised 'radio edit' form and once on the DVD in full with an accompanying animated music video directed by Jess Cope. Apparently we're in the age when progressive rock can be marketed via music videos, who knew? Not unlike the Raven... video, which is also included on this disc, the video portrays a dark tale of loss and hope. I was intrigued by the distinction between 2D and 3D animation to portray the past and present respectively.
Also on the DVD is a segment of a concert recorded in Frankfurt, including three tracks from Raven... and the title track from Wilson's debut solo album, Insurgentes. My favourite piece of the set remains The Holy Drinker, Wilson's fantastic blend of prog and jazz, peppered with remarkable solos from all members of the band. The Watchmaker is also played, although from behind a thin curtain separating the audience from the band. I can't quite tell if the DVD has captured this effect properly, as it just seems to blur the vision, rather than add anything to the song. Perhaps you needed to be there.
Given that Steven Wilson is one of the leading pioneers of blending prog and pop, often doing so successfully, it's unsurprising that singles, music videos and EPs will come from his music. To us prog fans however, words like 'radio edit' will leave us scratching our heads in mystery. In essence, this EP is simply an interesting but nonessential companion to The Raven That Refused to Sing..., although The Birthday Party does make this release quite a tasty prospect. Perhaps this is a sign that the risk-taking Steven Wilson will come back again soon!
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Steven Wilson CD & DVD Reviews:-
|"This record certainly does not bring me the same ecstatic enjoyment as his other projects."|
(Ed Sander, 7/10)
|"...this is a film that any music lover and especially fans of Steven Wilson's work should definitely see at least once."|
(Ed Sander, 7/10)
|Grace For Drowning|
|"what we have here is a work of some merit which will hopefully bear repeated listens over the coming months and years, as on the first few listens it is turning out to be something of a grower, rather than the instant hit that was Insugentes."|
(Roger Trenwith, 8/10)
|The Raven That Refused To|
Sing (And Other Stories)
|"This is a landmark album because it finally says to me and perhaps others of a similar view that Wilson has stopped polishing his plimsolls, and now appreciates the powers he has at his disposal that can cross so many musical boundaries."|
(Alison Henderson, 9/10)
|Previous Steven Wilson Live Reviews:-|
|2013:-||London, U.K.||Night Of The Prog, Germany|
|Previous Steven Wilson Interviews:-|
|Speaking to Joakim Jahlmar (2001)|
|Speaking to Ed Sander (2009)|
|Speaking to Dave Baird (2012)|