And I thought The Raven that Refused to Sing was good! This new opus is even better without a doubt.
The new Steven Wilson album is probably the most anticipated album this year and not just from prog rock circles. His name and reputation is such that he now even garners a 5 star review for his latest solo creation from the likes of The Guardian newspaper and deservedly so. Whereas Raven was resolutely entrenched in 70's prog rock, this new offering sees some 80's art rock entering the equation. That's no surprise as his mixing duties prior to Raven were very King Crimson centric. Recently he has been remixing XTC, Tears for Fears and Simple Minds. It's obvious that engrossing himself in those works has rubbed off in a big way.
To be honest, based on the limited listenings I have given to this new album, the initial impressions is that this is the best thing he has done. He has seamlessly mixed the pop sensibilities he brought to no-man and Blackfield and the complex prog workouts featured in recent releases. Guthrie Govan's guitar playing is even more inspired on this release, but it's Adam Holzman who really excels. His overdriven Rhodes electric piano playing is fantastic, but his moog solo on Regret #9 is absolutely inspired.
Wilson has extended his sonic palette by including boy choristers and female vocalists for the first time. So, he really has taken his ambitions to another level and it works perfectly. This album works so well as a whole, perfectly mixing pop based songs with lengthier prog epics and even a bit of electronica added into the mix for good measure. There will be comparisons to other concept works and for me it is Patrick Moraz's solo album he made during his tenure with Yes, The Story of i. The feel is similar, where Moraz mixed pop orientated songs and fusion/prog instrumentals to produce a conceptual whole and even the end pieces are similar. On Moraz's album we have Symphony in Space which is a cacophony of mellotrons and synths evoking a sense of ascendency as does Wilson's end piece, Ascendant Here On.
The concept! Well, it has been well documented in numerous interviews and pieces about how Wilson was intrigued by a documentary about a young woman who died, alone and not found for 3 years. But to me Wilson has taken that premise to a different place as documented in the extraordinary book of the special edition. The large format hardback book is typical of what Wilson has produced for all his solo albums, but here he has taken that much further by including extra material like paper clippings, fake birth certificate, letters, booklets. This is a fantastic labour of love in order to give a completely engrossing and immersive experience. The storytelling is done like a diary or blog and only hints at what is really going on. I mean, who are the visitors? Are they products of her imagination, mental apparitions or something more? What happens at the end, where has she gone? Is this an alien abduction tale, or what? It's all left to interpretation.
My expectations were high after the emphatic success of The Raven that Refused to Sing. That he has produced a work that is even better without repeating the ground covered on previous albums is extraordinary. Can he keep up this high level of productivity? Only time will tell.