“Ding, Ding, Round One!” - The new Stiltskin vs. Genesis release by Ray Wilson reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Well, it has been a while, hasn’t it? But here we are with a new Ray Wilson project under review here at TWR. First of all, the new Stiltskin album, Unfulfilment which is the follow up to She. Opening with Accidents Will Happen, which sees Ray deliver a vastly improved vocal performance. Not an out and out rock track, it obviously has its heavier elements but these are accompanied by some impeccable acoustic playing too.
From the West side…. Hmmm… More Than Just A Memory’s opening line made me think I had picked up a Mike & The Mechanics album by mistake. No such worries though, as the song soon takes on Ray’s own character. This without doubt should be a single in my opinion, the hook is both catchy and pithy in equal measures. There are echoes of the great Thin Lizzy resonating throughout this song for me and it has become an instant favourite of mine.
The 7th Day is another one of Ray’s love lost songs. Isn’t it amazing that the best songs are always based round misery? This is a melancholy classic with a brilliant hook and superb playing all round, especially the haunting electric guitar riff towards the end - shivers down the spine time!
American Beauty is a stunning indictment of American foreign policy and the
lyrics are particularly poignant. Ray has always been a great observer of the
human condition and this is another superb thought provoking song, nowhere more
so than in the line: “The Only fight I have’s with people I don’t
know” you simply don’t get a more succinctly expressed idea than
Voice Of Disbelief takes apart the mythology behind the image of rock and roll, or perhaps it is the manufactured “pop” that is X Factor? The hopes and expectations of a latter day wannabe are superbly laid bare in this song - not for the fainthearted!
First Day Of Change has echoes of Not About Us in the initial guitar refrain, and to a certain extent in the lyrical content as well. Lush and superbly augmented by strings and some understated electric guitar playing, this is another potential single and if there was any justice (which sadly here in the UK these days, there isn’t!) this would be a serious contender for the top of the charts.
Tale From A Small Town unusually opens with an acoustic piano introduction, soon accompanied by guitar and percussion. Small town repression is brought into sharp focus here. The darker side of life is shown into sharp relief here especially in the lyrics which certainly serve to show that Ray has certainly come of age on this album. It is on tracks such as this that I really do wonder what might have happened if Ray had been given his head as a writer in Genesis as many of the songs on this album would not have been out of place within the context of that band. Genesis’ loss is our gain though, as the brilliance of these songs shines through here.
14th March 1962 - not Ray’s birthday, nor mine funnily enough although I was born in 1962! Memories of a lost youth? I am not entirely sure what this one is about but I like it!
She Flies contrast imagination against stoicisim, or enthusiasm against resignation. A dark and angry song which takes no prisoners in its emotional resonance.
Guns Of God, ostensibly inspired by Israeli conscientious objectors. A damning indictment of the futility of conflict in the name of God. Opening with quotes from the objectors themselves, the song opens up into a heavy riff-laden monster, rampaging across a bleak musical landscape every bit as desolate as anything you see on TV coverage of the Middle East. Never one to shy away from subjects which might touch a raw nerve, Ray certainly pulls no punches here.
Old Man And The Portrait, a wry and unsentimental look at life from the wrong side of forty. Deeply cynical and written from an undoubted dark place, this one really takes no prisoners.
Ought To Be Resting concludes the album. Ray is definitely reflecting on his own growing sense of age here, no more so than in the lyric: Act like you’re 12 but you’re still 41”. Who among us hasn’t shared a sentiment like that at some point? Another superb observation of the human condition. An unremittingly dark picture of life from which there is no hope of redemption - a truly thought provoking conclusion to an album which challenges the listener at every turn.
There you have it, Ray’s latest offering. As you can hopefully gather from the review, this is not an album for the faint hearted. Nor is it one which can be listened to in the background. Unfulfilment demands that the listener pay full and complete attention to it. Failure to do so will only result in you losing out on some incredibly moving music. Ray has definitely come of age here both musically and above all, lyrically. Strongly written and composed, this album should cement his reputation as one of the best song writers to emerge from the UK in the last ten or so years - superb stuff!
As if that wasn’t enough, however, the package comes replete with a double CD which contains the soundtrack to the final show of Ray’s 2010 Genesis Klassik Tour and as such, it is a great souvenir for anyone who was fortunate enough to witness any of those gigs, and for those of us such as myself who weren’t, now I can finally hear (and see thanks to the accompanying DVD) what I missed!
Everyone seems to be getting in on the orchestral act these days so it doesn’t come as any surprise that this performance is in that mould. I had always wondered what some of Genesis’ finest moments might sound like with orchestral accompaniment. Now I know. The proceedings get off to a fine start with the pairing of Turn It On Again and That’s All placing the emphasis firmly on the “pop” side of Genesis’ sensibilities. The latter has always been a bona fide toe-tapper and it is just as good here. The string section certainly add an unexpected element to the song and the audience obviously enjoy it.
Carpet Crawlers was a highlight of Genesis’ shows back in 1998 when Ray was very much the front man. My own memories of that period in the band’s history were brought sharply into focus again by this excellent performance. Musically this works extremely well, and the orchestration throws Ray’s vocal into even more impressive relief here.
Congo has always been one of those songs which I can take or leave, but here it has to be said, the song is turned into a party complete with whistles and everything else. With a marvellous bass part played by Lawrie MacMillan, the orchestral accompaniment manages to bring an unexpected depth to this song, and it is evident that everyone is enjoying themselves during the performance.
Just as with 2006’s World Of Genesis shows, Ray has decided to extend the net to cover some of the better known songs by the various solo protagonists from the band and the first recipient of the Wilson treatment is Phil’s classic Another Day In Paradise. Acoustically driven, this version is a respectful rendering and one which suits Ray’s vocal style extremely well. The blending of orchestral and rock elements of music is equally as enjoyable, too. This is followed by the first of only two acknowledgements of Ray’s solo career in the set. Constantly Reminded from 2006’s She album, a marvellous reminder of how good a songwriter Ray is and a good example of how big a mistake Mike and Tony made by not continuing with the Calling All Stations line -up.
From the dark to the light next with Another Cup Of Coffee one of Mr Rutherford’s finest. Here we have it in a stripped down version akin in many ways to the original demo perhaps? Here the strings and backing vocals certainly come into their own making this a delight to hear.
Sadly, Jesus He Knows Me has never been a favourite of mine and Ray’s interpretation of it does nothing to change my mind on this one - sorry, Ray!
Calling All Stations however, is an entirely different matter! A favourite of mine from the very first hearing and still up there with the very best that Genesis have to offer. Ray’s delivery is as impressive as ever but the addition of the strings gives an extra element of tension to an already dramatic track - great stuff!
The drama continues with another song from the Phil Collins songbook; In The Air Tonight. It is almost impossible to describe the impression that this song made on me back in 1980 (yes it really WAS that long ago) when I first heard it. Ray’s version once again keeps the integrity of the original intact but manages to bring a whole new dimension to a familiar favourite.
Disc Two opens with Shipwrecked, one of the weaker tracks from Calling All Stations but here, the addition of the orchestra brings unsuspected elements out of the song and the end result is a delight to hear. Ripples is another classic slice of Genesis and one which I would have loved to see the band perform with Ray - it WAS rehearsed for the 1998 tour but unbelievably omitted from the final set! Here at least we get that chance and it is a truly beautiful performance in which the harmony vocals really bring out the depth of the song. Stripped down to acoustic guitar. strings and piano, this would have been incredibly effective as part of the acoustic medley back in ’98! And yes, it still makes me cry!
No Son Of Mine and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway succinctly contrast both the Prog and the Pop sides of Genesis with equally impressive results. The former works incredibly well with the addition of the strings giving an even more chilling element of menace to an already dramatic piece. Ray’s vocal has gained even more power as he has matured and this is a masterful performance. The Lamb… too is a firm favourite, vintage Genesis delivered piping hot and kudos to Filip Walcerz who serves up a note perfect introduction. This one definitely suits Ray’s vocal style and he is evidently having a whale of a time performing it as well!
Follow You Follow Me too is one of those songs which depending on which era of the band’s story you follow, you will either love or loathe. As the And Then There Were Three album is effectively where my story with Genesis really began, I have to admit to loving it. Simple and effective can be every bit as enjoyable as overblown and extended I can tell you. Anyone who saw the 1998 tour will tell you that the acoustic performance of this one was one of the show’s highlights and here we have it again but this time with the added bonus of strings - superb stuff!
Change is the only other acknowledgement of Ray’s solo career in the set. Taken from the 2003 album of the same name, this one underlines Ray’s credentials as a writer of songs which have much more to them than appearances would have you believe. Not About Us was the hit single that never was in my opinion. A drastically re-arranged piano intro leads us into the song proper. Already an emotional piece, this addition gives it even more emotional clout than normal. Once a classic, always a classic in my book!
Land Of Confusion and I Can’t Dance, have always been songs which leave me cold personally. I still remember Ray’s evident distaste at having to perform the latter during the Calling All Stations shows but he seems happy enough presenting it here and both tracks are pleasant enough without being exceptional.
Solsbury Hill, always a get up and dance song, and here we have the “it’s Saturday night, let’s party” version. The audience, restrained up until now, finally take their place as part of the show and this is a joyful celebration of one of Peter’s finest compositions.
The CD concludes with Ray’s first hit back in the days when bands like Stiltskin could get a fair hearing in the UK. Inside is a surprise track to be given the orchestral treatment but guess what? It actually works. The strings once again add that certain something to the end result but the real meat of the track is that incredibly dirty bassline which still grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let go.
There you have it for the album but don’t forget that this package comes armed with another weapon in its armoury in the shape of a bonus DVD of some of the highlights of a show which was simply packed with them. On this showing, if Ray was to bring this show to the UK, it would do incredibly good business. As a demonstration of what Genesis might have sounded like had they explored the potential of an orchestra, this is an intriguing and above all, entertaining album and one which I can heartily recommend to fans - well done to all concerned!