One of the things I appreciate about progressive rock is how brutally honest many of the musicians can be in their art. Steven Wilson and Devin Townsend immediately come to mind in this regard. Townsend has always shown his emotions in his lyrics and music, whether it be in face-melting heaviness of Strapping Young Lad or in his varied solo work. Wilson’s lyrics and the musical soundscapes he creates also reflect deep wells of emotion and even a somewhat philosophical approach to those emotions.
“Pariah” off 2017’s To The Bone is in a long tradition of similar contemplative melancholic and emotional songs by Wilson. Porcupine Tree’s “Lazarus,” Wilson’s “Drive Home” and “Routine,” as well as the more recent “12 Things I Forgot,” come to mind. I think “Pariah” may rise above the aforementioned tracks because of the exquisite duet with Ninet Tayeb.
The term “pariah” has a negative connotation in modern English, but I believe the term is usually used incorrectly to refer to a person who dramatizes their situation and makes a show of being an outcast when they aren’t actually outcast from their community or society. The definition is simply someone who is an outcast. The word comes from India, where it is used to refer to members of the lower order of the caste system.
I’m not quite sure which version of the word (the vernacular use or the correct use) Wilson is using here. Wilson’s character in the song is clearly someone dealing with depression, but we aren’t sure why. I don’t think “pariah” is being used in a derogatory fashion in the song, though.
For some reason I never realized this until yesterday, but Ninet’s inclusion on the song acts as a foil to Wilson’s melancholy. Wilson sings,
I’m tired of weakness, tired of my feet of clay
I’m tired of days to come, I’m tired of yesterday
And all the worn out things that I ever said
Now it’s much too late, the words stay in my head
So the day will begin again
Take comfort from me, it’s up to you now
You’re still here, and you’ll dig in again
That’s comfort to you, it’s up to you now
So Pariah, you’ll begin again
Take comfort from me
And I will take comfort from you
Ninet is playing a role often personified by females across thousands of years of philosophy. In the Biblical book of Proverbs, wisdom is personified as a female, and in Boethius’ “Consolation of Philosophy,” philosophy is personified as a woman. Maybe it’s a stretch to compare Wilson to Solomon or Boethius, two of the wisest men who ever lived, but what I’m getting at is “Pariah” is set up in a similar way. Specifically in Boethius we see the author having a conversation with philosophy. In this track we see Wilson (or Wilson’s character) in a depressed state. He’s worn out, tired of his failings, and tired of everyone else, and it’s a woman who sits down to talk with him.
Ninet’s angelic yet slightly gritty voice reminds him that tomorrow is a new day. She reminds him that he’s still alive, still breathing, and that’s something from which to draw comfort. She even offers to give him comfort, and perplexingly she says she will also take comfort from him. Perhaps she finds relief in aiding someone else in their darkness. As I mentioned above, I don’t think pariah is meant to be derogatory here. The lyrics are too gentle and Ninet’s delivery too sincere for that.