Album Spotlight: Steven Wilson – “The Raven That Refused to Sing”

Album-cover-with-title1. Luminol

When you hear that funky bass roll in, you know that Steven Wilson’s “The Raven That Refused to Sing” has begun. With such a strong opening, you can only hope that this opening song won’t disappointed. In storytelling, it certainly does not.

“Luminol”, like all the stories on this album, is a ghost story. That doesn’t mean, however, that each story follows the same rules. This opening track is about a single person, but two kinds of ghosts.

“Here we all are/ Born into a struggle/ To come so far/ But end up returning to dust”. This is a story about a lone musician, playing the streets for cash. This poor guys plays day in and day out, but rarely is he ever noticed. There isn’t a soul alive that would notice if he died. Truly, he is a living ghost. There is nothing special about him, contrary to his own peasant ego (Oxfam panache).

“He strums the chords with less than grace (Songs we all know)/ Each passing year etched on his face (Sun, rain or snow)”. He doesn’t even play these songs well! He expresses someone else’s emotions. He sings someone else’s songs. He is lost even as he lives, as his soul cannot be found. Who is this guy?

Steven Wilson said that he imagines this street musician would be quite a sight after death. You see, this ghost of a man has followed the same spiritless routine for so long that it is unfathomable that death could put an end to it. And, so, this empty caricature will play on for eternity; never truly feeling, and never truly being heard.


2. Drive Home

Here we come to the second best track on the album. “Drive Home” is a dreary, sad thriller, and the music video is one of my favorites. The story from the video can be a tad confusing, though.

“Pause without end/ A moment in time suspends/ How could she leave?” The protagonist of this song is a young man who is madly in love. Not only that, but he’s found a girl that loves him just the same. Their lives are perfect. Yet, one night, she simply disappears before his eyes from the passenger seat in his car. She’s gone without a trace.

Then, one night many years later, her ghost appears to him (I’m getting shivers just writing this). She bids that he come with her—she needs to show him what he missed. “You need to clear away/ All the jetsam in your brain/ And face the truth”.

That night so long ago, they had been in a horrific car accident. The love of his life had been killed violently that night right before his eyes. But, like trauma can do, all of this had been edited out of his own brain. He refused to admit the truth of what had happened. He couldn’t—or wouldn’t—handle it. His pain was so great that she simply disappeared from this life.

Drive home, love. Drive home. It’s time to be yourself once again. It’s time to move on in life and come to grips with the past. Your life awaits you, and you can find love again. The darkness always ends: Find life once again.


3. The Holy Drinker

“The holy drinker and his curse/ In constant serfage to unquenchable thirst”. We all have that one vice that has taken over our minds. We all have that obsession that we guard ever so closely. We all pretend that we are truly free, but there is always something caging us underneath it all.

“The Holy Drinker” is a song about an ultra-pious guy that we all know: that one guy who is always judging, always criticizing, always being the guard dog for society. Well, this “perfect” person has a secret vice: he’s addicted to alcohol. Even with all his years of telling others how to live, he himself has never been free.

“With shaking hands and blackened heart,/ The glass he pours, this time it’s also the last/ In rapt communion with himself/ The holy drinker is going straight into hell”. So this holy drinker finds himself wasted in a nasty pub one night. He decides to challenge one of his bar mates to a drinking game, except that bar mate turns out to be the Devil himself. Needless to say, our holy drinker loses miserably. As the he pours more and more glasses full, his very soul drains away into nothing.

The Devil has him now. Forever. He spent his whole life trying to live other people’s lives for them, but now he is nothing more than a ghost in the torment of eternal suffering. Eternal misery. Eternal judgement. He will never be free. “Take me down… down…/ Put me in chains…”


4. The Pin Drop

So much tension that you can hear “The Pin Drop”. Yes, the next song on “TRTRTS” is all about tension between two lovers, or, at least, people that used to be in love.

Steven Wilson has made the statement that this particular song is being sung from the perspective of the wife. Indeed, she and her husband lived together because of convenience, not love. The hate grew. The resentment flourished. The tension grew so thick that something was bound to happen.

“I tried to be the way he wanted me to be/ I did not hear the pin drop down/ I did not hear my heart.” Did I mention that this song is being sung by the wife after she has died? After she was murdered, rather? Her body is floating down the river, lifeless and limp. Her ghost sings a ballad to the lost time, the lost energy, and her own life lost.

The tension was so thick that a single pin drop set him off. He killed the one he was supposed to love. Now, the ghost of his poor love will exist in resentment of what could have been. What could she have accomplished had she ended the dead relationship? What love could she have had? Whom could she have become? It’s all over now. And all for nothing.


5. The Watchmaker

“Time has left its curse upon this place”. The second to last track on this album is called “The Watchmaker”, and appropriately so, as it is about a watchmaker who is ever so technical and focused. Indeed, he is a meticulous man, but he never FEELS anything. His hands work with fine and precious materials, but he couldn’t see the riches he had with him.

Eliza was just convenient. They started dating because it just wasn’t feasible that they could be alone. And so they ended up together—seemingly unmarried—for fifty years! It was always a matter of convenience and waiting for the “gold”, or that better someone out there. Once they had been together for so long, though, not even death could separate them. “This thing is broken now and cannot be repaired/ Fifty years of compromise and aging bodies shared/ Eliza dear, you know, there’s something I should say/ I never really loved you, but I’ll miss you anyway.”

Was it just about sex? I find the words “aging bodies” interesting, almost as if he had only noticed the passage of time because Eliza’s body stopped looking young. And once he was no longer interested, he murdered her. Yes, he killed her in cold blood and buried her beneath his floorboards. Death, however, could not separate them.

“Cogs and levers mesh/ We are bound in death/ Melt that silver down/ I’m still inside you”. The watchmaker did have pain. He missed Eliza. Because he was so cold and unfeeling, he didn’t recognize it. He did, however, recognize the dark figure stalking him just out of his line of sight. Eliza had never left, and now she had come back to take him with her. She was here to take him to eternity. He had wasted his life and hers, and now they would live as ghosts together til the end of time.


6. The Raven That Refused to Sing

“Heal my soul/ Make me whole”. If there is one line that defines the lyrical content of “The Raven That Refused to Sing“, that is it. This album is a collection of ghost stories, but it is also a study of what many think is our most defining feature: death. Wilson is a rather morbid guy, and he is rather fascinated with death, but he is also interested in living death and the people that never quite seem to have lived while they were living.

This final track is the best on the album, in my opinion. It is the story of an old man who is getting ready to die, but he has never truly lived. Well, perhaps he did in his past, as he had a special relationship with his older sister. They loved each other, and she calmed him with her soothing singing voice.

As happens so often, she died at a very young age, leaving her brother to grasp life on his own. But he never did. He is “afraid to wake” and “afraid to love”. Here he is, then, an old hermit when he comes upon an extraordinary bird.

This bird, a raven, becomes a picture of his sister for him. Indeed, he is obsessed with the idea that this bird represents his sister reaching out from the grave. He begs it to sing, as that is the only thing that will confirm it for him in his mind. “Sing to me, raven/ I miss her so much./ Sing to me, Lily/ I miss you so much.”

Was the raven really his sister? I like to think so. The lyrics don’t say as much, but the video seems to show that the bird was at least connected to her somehow, and her ghost finally comes back to drive off her brother’s demons. She invites him to a place of wonder and peace. And he finally overcomes. He finally can live. He can let go at last. Live life while you can. Don’t be a corpse even while you live.


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