Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning
Being brutally honest, it has been a while since Steven Wilson has created a truly great album as a musician; circa 2003 were a golden couple of years with the likes of Ghosts On Magnetic Tape, Together We're Stranger and Deadwing all enthralling folks everywhere. But as his reputation as a producer and surround-sound engineer has risen, his own music has seemingly suffered. So it is with great relief to find that on Grace For Drowning he has at last rediscovered the magic key and crafted not only one, but two discs worth of ambitious and exciting aural delights.
The gentle opening strains of the title track, picked out in indomitably reflective Wilson style on piano with sweet wordless vocal harmonies, draws us slowly and calmly into a beautifully realised and immense artistic vision; whereas Insurgentes was a heavy-handed mismatched collision of styles and genres, Grace For Drowning weaves them effortlessly together. ‘Sectarian’ takes an immediately darker turn, rising and falling from the sparse remains into a King Crimson-esque prog/jazz fusion jam that moves beyond the sycophantic hero worship that characterised the previous album into more distinctive and unique territories.
These are very much the two primary threads running the full length of both discs: on the one hand, the introverted, almost simplistic melodies born from the Cover Version series Steven did a few years back; and on the other, a new exploration of jazz music, seemingly stemming from the Crimson reissues he is in the process of remixing. Other elements constantly drift in and out, all familiar to fans of Wilson's rather large collection, but it is these two that repeatedly prove to be Grace For Drowning's driving force and formidable foundation.
The epitome comes with 'Raider II', a twenty three minute mind-blowing hypnotic voyage deftly subsuming drone, jazz, rock and even a dash of laid-back pop, a crowning glory of a song that will without doubt reside alongside the likes of 'Arriving Somewhere But Not Here' and 'Photographs In Black And White' as one of Steven Wilson's greatest songwriting moments. I remember upon first listen, in its full surround sound majesty, emerging from my reverie as the coda faded feeling both elated and drained by the monumental journey – an effect that has remained undiminished by repeated listens.
As disappointed as I was with Insurgentes, I am equally enamoured with Grace For Drowning and its swirling, otherworldly dynamics with a subtlety befitting the title; despite the length of the album and breadth of music covered, it never drags nor feels forced or clunky, inviting the willing audience in slowly and gently. As easy as it is to become jaded with some of Steven Wilson's work of late, here is a timely reminder of just how bold, adventurous, and plain bloody good he can be.