Wilson, Steven - Grace For Drowning

Agnieszka Lenczewska,

ImageI really hate pompous anouncements and the public relations babble. I know people who, having heard only the announcement of the release of Grace For Drowning (and not having heard even a sound of it), described the second solo album of Steven Wilson as “the album of the year”, “the greatest masterpiece” or “the most impportant event of the decade”. The artist himself called it “the most important project he has ever worked on”. Well, I admit I treated that statement as boasting of a boxing champion before the match of the century.

I’m not a fanatic fan of Steven Wilson’s works. Morover, I think that there’s been too much of him these last few years. Even when I opened the fridge, I almost expected him to pop out. I openly expressed my opinion in private conversations as well as in public forums about the quantity of Steven’s projects not imlying their quality. The last album of Porcupine Tree (The Incident) didn’t convince me at all. Overcorrect, perfect-sounding but completely bleached-out of emotions due to Steven’s production. Also the third album of the pop-rock Blackfield was somewhat dull and boring. These weren’t bad albums but somehow not what I had expected. Maybe Wilson was simply accumulating energy and ideas for his next (after Insurgentes) solo album. Maybe that was the reason of his negligence in the band’s work. Who knows? Apparently this “creativity crisis”, which in case of many musicians could hardly be called a crisis, affected positively the artist as well as the album reviewed here.

Well, I’ll write it openly: this time Wilson created a work of a truly extraordinary quality. Although he invited many great musicians to cooperate (let’s say it’s easier to name those who haven’t participated in the recording of this album), in my opinion, their input is rather a nice supplement to Steven Wilson’s musical imagination. From the very beginning it has been HIS vision, HIS idea, HIS creation: HIS BEST ALBUM.

While listening to Grace For Drowning I felt a little bit like Bastian wandering with Atreyu through the world of progressive music.  My parents' world of music and older friends discussing the beauty of King Crimson, the phenomenon of Italian progressive music or free jazz inclinations – all of them clearly perceptible in the progressive rock of the 70-ties. And Grace For Drowning is a journey into the world of progressive sounds. However, it’s not a simple time travel:  Steven Wilson sets new trends in album production. How typical of him! Anyway, I cartainly wouldn’t call it preying on the listeners’ memories. Wilson transposed in a unique way his ideas into the easthetics known from the past and therefore created something of a new quality. He seems to be absolutely free in his search for music, unencumbered by schematic thinking, and this time his unlimited musical imagination  leads the listeners into the land of extraordinary sounds. The wonderful air of unlimited freedom hovers over the album and makes one want to replay it again and again. There are no redundant notes, no artificial musical space fillers. Wilson assembled this jigsaw puzzle of sounds cleverly. Seemingly unmatching sounds match perfectly. The variety of styles, the homogenousness and genuineness at the same time are a delight. Wilson deconstructed the genre and reconstructed it in a completely different way, leaving the epigoni of progressive rock far behind. The album is a beautiful and touching journey; fairylike and affecting with its changing shades and climates, with this “wilsonian” elusiveness (in lovely Belle de Jour or in “beatle-blackfieldian” Postcard), with the musical contrasts and “crimsonian” trips (Raider II, Sectarian). The music in Grace For Drowning is tender and flexible, magically colourful, mystically misty, almost confessional (Wilson’s guitar sfumato). Sometimes it’s also sharp, flipping and almost scratching the hearing with its claws. It reveals elements of dodecaphony, atonality and serialism, in effect of which it may be considered a little unaproachable. Then it disturbs (Index, Track One, No Part of Me). The hell it disturbs! It’s a music of shadow, generating a kind of dusky luminocity. Oh, how beautifully begins Deform to Form a Star with wonderful sounds of the piano played by Jordan Rudess, whom we generally associate with the cybernetic Dream Theater. It’s so gloomily joyful or joyfully gloomy in Reminder The Black Dog, in which the guitar part belongs to Maestro Hackett. It’s full of gut-splitting sounds and moments of stillness, as in Like Dust I Have Cleared from My Eye at the end of the album. I’m happy that there are so few vocal parts by Steven Wilson of which I’m not a big fan. This time the vocal plays a small role, being only one of the instruments subject to the sound of the whole. This is what I like.

In Grace For Drowning the artist shows the true story of a human being, shut in the world of light and darkness. He draws a picture of a egoistic and multidimensional “self”. He plays with the dualism of the soul and the authenticity of the lost innocence. Every one of us is Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde in one body, even if we deny it. His (SW's) emotions are parallel with the emotions of the audience. All of these pieces constitute a nice whole. 

From On The Sunday of Life to Grace for Drowning. Creating music, exploring the worlds of music, enchanting with sounds. For more than 20 years he’s been running in his marathon at his own pace. Sometimes uphill. He’s stumbled and he’s been short of breath occasionally. Like all of the solitary racers he’s had his crises but he persists in running further. He takes over the laggards and those who have lost the will to race. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. Even if he doesn’t record anything after the success of Grace For Drowning - which seems impossible due to his being so hardworking, full of energy and passion for creating – he already belongs to the aesthetic canons of music due to this very personal second solo album.

At the beginning of this review I’ve written about my scepticism concerning the material. Well, I’m still a sceptic when it comes to Steven Wilson. Nevertheless, Grace For Drowning has been the first Wilson’s album for many years to shake me. Since the release of The Sky Moves Sideways (1994) I haven’t felt this kind of emotions: the fits of shivers, this “something”. Maybe it’s an overstatement but I think I finally managed to get to the core of Steven Wilson’s music visions. Apparently I needed more time, selfconsciousness and maturity to be able to appreciate the beauty of his own separate and unlimited world of music.

And now we’re on the brink of the beautiful autumn full of music. We’re wandering through the shelves full of fresh CDs. How wonderful it is to relish the fruits of the artists’ emotions. It’s like receiving a letter or a postcard addressed to every one of us personally. Sometimes it’s worth to stop in the middle of the rushing world and begin a dialogue with an artist. Listen to his emotions, hear the words and sounds. Don’t be ashamed of your tears. Everyone needs to cry sometimes. I wish you, dear listeners, experiencing this kind of feeling, much more than the analytic thinking. Listen to Grace For Drowning and let's drown with Him :-).

The album of the year? The release of the decade? I don’t know. But I’m sure of one thing: this is the best thing that Wilson could give to us, the listeners.


lost in translation: Joanna Bajer.

MLWZ album na 15-lecie