Guest Post: Michał Pawłowski on Labels and Steven Wilson

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Love it or hate it, it’s Steven Wilson!

The following came in as a comment on a post regarding the media and fan reaction to the new Steven Wilson album, TO THE BONE.  It’s so good, though, that I don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle of comments.  So, without permission!!!, I’m posting it as its own post. Michał Pawłowski is founder and lead of the astounding art rock band, newspaperflyhunting.  He’s also a really brilliant and good person.

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A very very good point Brad! Strangely enough (or not) the comments that jump on me on social media are more along the lines of ‘Wilson betrayed prog, if you like the album, there must be something wrong with you! Bring back PT!’

“What the?????” First of all ‘prog Wilson’ for me is: 1) “The Sky Moves Sideways” and “Signify”, 2) More importantly: prog is all his output taken together. ‘Prog Wilson’ is not “Grace for Drowning” and “Raven” as I don’t really count retro as progressive and those people on social media I quoted above somehow see this direction (a fraction of SW’s overall output) as THE Wilson. I do not – it was a phase in his career (probably caused by his remixing King Crimson et al. at that time) that seems to have passed (or abated) as all phases in his career do. This is the very thing that makes him TRULY progessive, now culminated in a self-proclaimed ‘pop’ album released after the retro of “Raven” and the wonderfully eclectic “H.C.E.”.

The position you descibe, ‘you must like his new album or you betray prog!” is equally daft. I don’t listen to genres. I use genre names so that I can communicate ideas (like this post), they have no qualitative value for me. I don’t like “Raven” not because it’s retro (prog) but because when I listen to it I’m bored. It doesn’t resonate. The label doesn’t change anything either way. I heven’t heard “To the Bone” in full yet (I’m waiting for the CD), but I like the tracks I heard a lot and Pariah is one of the best things SW has ever done.

Pop or not, prog or not I like what I hear and this is what ultimately matters. One should not like a poor record any more or less because it is a poor record in a genre they happen to like. And no album should be forced down my throat because it’s prog or Wilson or classic or whatever. People should grow good sets of ears and an anti-social media shield 😉

4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Michał Pawłowski on Labels and Steven Wilson

  1. carleolson

    Great stuff, Michal. The point about labels and genres is something I (as a non-musician) have pondered a lot. Labels and descriptives are absolutely necessary, but they can become crutches, or worse, weapons. I see the same thing in politics and theology: the use of terms such as “left” and “right” are thrown about as means to shutting up people instead of communicating truth. In the music realm, I am sometimes amused by how some jazz artists will do everything in their power to claim, “I’m not a jazz musician!” or even, “Jazz doesn’t exist.” Well, just because it’s vague and even fluid doesn’t mean it cannot be a helpful marker. The term “prog” is the same thing. So it’s a constant struggle. But at the end of the day, great music is great music, and the critics and fans should work to explain why it is great without relying too much on empty warhorses.

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    1. Michał

      You are absolutely right, ‘labels as crutches’ extends far beyond the realm of music. What I find troubling is how they tend to replace valid arguments in a discussion. Add to this the fact that ‘lef’, ‘right’, ‘prog’, etc. mean different things to different people and discussion becomes impossible.

      I also agree with your point about jazz and resisting labels. I understand how artists may be reluctant tags attached to them, but again, to describe you have to provide points of reference. That those may be different in the minds of, say, musicians and people who write about them and their music is perfectly natural and – unless the labels are deregatory or offending – resisiting them is pointless and futile.

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