The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories (Best of 2013 — Part 9)

Coming in the #9 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is the masterpiece from:

Steven Wilson

Also known as “Mr. Prog” — but that title for Mr. Wilson is currently up for debate here at Progarchy.com.

My two cents: A title like “Mr. Prog” should only be bestowed based on an objective standard of measurement: e.g., the sheer quantity of artistic output in a year; i.e., count up all the releases, the remixes, the live gigs, the collaborations, etc. Then, whoever has the biggest total, is “Mr. Prog” — whether you like his stuff the best or not.

Well, I haven’t done the math, so somebody else can tell me who the winner of the title is. (Maybe we will have to make a shortlist: Steven, Neal, Mike, et al.)

By the way, the winner of the math for each year should be called “Mr. Prog” for that year. So it should be an annual award, and not a one-time decision.

And then, if a long-term pattern does emerge (e.g., we have the same “Mr. Prog” year-after-year), that individual can be designated (after years of distinguished service to prog) as “The Godfather of Prog.”

Now that we have that out of the way, let me talk about “The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories.

I don’t get it when people talk about this album as “cold,” or whatever. Go put on a sweater!

I don’t know what you’re talking about! Because this is the first album by Steven Wilson that has really elicited a deep emotional response from me.

All his previous work has received intellectual engagement from me, and I have noted and admired it all. But this magnificent Wilson disc is the first one that causes my heart to leap at the musical excitement that it generates.

Right from the beginning, “Luminol” elicits a response of joy. As in: Omigosh! Is that Chris Squire running around my living room playing bass? It sure sounds like it! Woo-hoo. We’re having a prog party! Hey, here he comes again…

And the album does not let up from there. It’s just layer after layer of beauty and complexity. For me, this album stands out from all of Wilson’s other work as going above and beyond, as a truly distinguished musical masterpiece.

After all, it ends with the title track, “The Raven That Refused to Sing,” which is simply the most gorgeous and moving song on the album. It possesses a rare quality of unusual beauty that transcends mere musical virtuosity (which is the usual stock-in-trade of prog), and rightly marks this album with the distinction of being an inspired, otherworldly product. How fitting that this gift of the Muses is memorialized in the album title!

Let me end on a controversial note. Brad has slagged this album as “The Tangent lite,” a remark which I shall myself reinterpret as a compliment: i.e., where The Tangent’s “Le Sacre du Travail” may err with the defect of pretentious satirical excess, Steven Wilson’s “The Raven That Refused to Sing” achieves the right aesthetic balance of the golden mean (a sober restraint that some may mistake for “coldness”).

Perhaps the comparison is also apt in other ways. Wilson’s “sad sack” vocals in the past have prevented me from placing his releases in the annual Top Ten upper echelons. I have a similar obstacle with The Tangent presently; the vocals are too histrionic, à la Roger Waters, for my taste. But now, with “The Raven That Refused to Sing,” I find that Wilson’s vocals have been honed to work to perfection, especially on the haunting final track of this distinguished work.

In conclusion, then, because The Tangent is Big Big Train’s evil twin, I must place The Tangent on my Best of 2013 list… but only in the mirror universe.

In this universe, the award goes to Steven Wilson’s “The Raven That Refused to Sing.”

Postscript:

Hey, I may be wrong about all this. I will have to keep listening to all these fine 2013 albums for years to come! Perhaps minds will change. In any event, the conversation at Progarchy will continue. After all, de gustibus est disputandum:

Perhaps the most persistent error in aesthetics is that contained in the Latin tag that de gustibus non est disputandum— that there is no disputing tastes. On the contrary, tastes are the things that are most vigorously disputed, precisely because this is the one area of human life where dispute is the whole point of it. As Kant argued, in matters of aesthetic judgement we are “suitors for agreement” with our fellows; we are inviting others to endorse our preferences and also exposing those preferences to criticism. And when we debate the point we do not merely rest our judgement in a bare “I like it” or “It looks fine to me”; we search our moral horizons for the considerations that can be brought to judgement’s aid. Just consider the debates over modernism in architecture. When Le Corbusier proposed his solution to the problem of Paris, which was to demolish the city and replace it with a park of scattered glass towers and raised walkways, with the proletariat neatly stacked in their boxes and encouraged to take restorative walks from time to time on the trampled grass below, he was expressing a judgement of taste. But he was not just saying, “I like it that way.” He was telling us that that is how it ought to be: he was conveying a vision of human life and its fulfilment, and proposing the forms that gave the best and most lucid expression to that vision. And it is because the city council of Paris was rightly repelled by that vision, on grounds as much moral and spiritual as purely formal, that Le Corbusier’s aesthetic was rejected and Paris saved.

Likewise, when I dispute with my leftist friends about the Dutch and Danish windmills— windmills whose blank and spectral faces are now beginning to stare across my native English woods and fields—we don’t just exchange likes and dislikes, as though discussing the rival merits of Cuban and Dominican cigars. We discuss the visual transformation of the countryside, the disruption, as I see it, of a long established experience of home, and what this means in the life of the farmer, and the presence, as my leftist friends see it, of the real symbols of modern life, which now stand on the horizon of the farmer’s world, summoning him to the realities which he has avoided for far too long. By disputing tastes in this way we are not just striving for agreement. We are working our way towards a consensual solution to long term problems of settlement: we are discovering the terms on which we might live side by side in a shared environment, and how that environment should look in order that we can put down roots in it. Conceived in this way aesthetic judgement is the primary form of environmental reasoning: it is the way in which human beings incorporate into their present decisions the long-term environmental impact of what they do.

Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s