"Sweet Melancholia" - Ray Wilson's new album, Songs for a Friend reviewed by Alan Hewitt.
Ray has come a long way since I first saw him in his Stiltskin days His all too brief stint with Genesis was something that I for one still cherish and since he became his own man with his own career, I have followed it with fascination and enjoyment. Ray is back again with his fifth solo album, one which takes a different tack to its predecessors, as we shall see…
If you read the introductory notes to the album, or have seen the press release that accompanied it, you will realise that here we have an altogether more personal album, one with a more reflective edge to it than those which have gone before.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on the album’s opener: Old Book On A Shelf, inspired by the book by Paolo Coelho, here we have someone reflecting on their own life, loves won and lost successes and failures, all set down in the pages of his own life. Indeed, we are our own books of life and we wear the reflections of our own experiences on our faces, perhaps they are the covers to the books of our own life stories eh? Elegiac in its simplicity, this one sets the tone beautifully for the rest of the album.
How many times have we all said the phrase “Over My Dead Body” eh? I know I have on more than one occasion! Life will deal you cruel hands, friends will let you down but what matters is how you deal with those disappointments. Bitterness and jealousy serve no useful purpose and resentment of someone else’s perceived success is every bit as destructive. A lesson that we all should take to heart brilliantly brought to light in a superbly written song.
We stay on the same theme of jealousy for the next track; Cold Light Of Day, another song which has personal resonance in my life and I am sure that everyone will have the same experiences at some point in their lives. Don’t be fooled by the jaunty acoustic guitar melody, there is a serious message being shared here.
Song For A Friend, the album’s title track, is another superbly evocative examination of when inner strength fails and you no longer have the will to live. Where does the strength to face the day come from? I honestly don’t know. The same question How Long Is Too Long is asked in the next track. Both of these songs resonate with me for personal reasons, my late father effectively gave up on life when my late mother died, but he took a long time to join her eventually succumbing to cancer and dementia. Many were the times, I looked at the shell he became and I am sure he must have been screaming this question inside. These songs are simply superb examples of the song writer’s craft, ones which anyone can relate to and hopefully draw strength from.
Not Long Till Springtime is all about drawing strength from inside, using the challenges that life throws at you to make yourself a better person, whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger so they say.
I love the idea behind Backseat Driving, an extended metaphor for life’s journey. Our lives are indeed full of inane chatter from our very own backseat drivers, politicians, friends, anyone who thinks they know what’s best for you. Be your own judge, make your own decisions, good or bad at least they will be yours!
Parallel Souls is another song with an important message. Spirituality is not in the pages of a book, its inside each and every one of us, I love the line…”you were made this way/unique one and only/shining like a light/in the mist…” enough said, I think.
Tried And Failed. I am sure we have all done this, when you try to overanalyse things, make the wrong choices by letting others make them for you. Self confidence is not something that comes naturally to any of us, but when it does, it will serve you better than anything else.
The album ends surprisingly enough with a cover but if you are going to cover a song then choosing one by the mighty Pink Floyd is as good a place as any I suppose. You can read your own meaning into this one.
And there you have it. This album is a road trip for the soul as well as the body. Superbly crafted songs, thought provoking lyrics what more can you ask of any album. Ray has definitely come of age with this one, it is his best album thus far and I love it.
TWR was also fortunate enough to chat briefly to Ray about the ideas behind the new album so over to you, Ray….
TWR: You seem to be perpetually out on the road with one version of your band or another. Where on earth do you find the time to write material for an album?
RW: When I am sleeping! (laughs) I find that the busier life is, the more I have to say. I really enjoyed writing these songs more than ever before. The music, created by Uwe (Metzler) was very inspiring to me and made the process of writing the lyrics very enjoyable.
TWR: When did you start working on this album?
RW: Well, we started a couple of years ago, but the first ideas were actually for a rock album. I felt, after creating a few songs, that the rock album idea wasn’t for me this time and I asked Uwe to work on some acoustic ideas. That then became the sound and stule for the new album.
TWR: This one has an altogether more intimate feel to it than some of your previous albums, was that by choice or by accident?
RW: I think the acoustic musical style dictates that to you. The lyrics all tell stories, so allowing space for the narrative to work was important.
TWR: There is some amazing imagery on the album. Tell us where the ideas for Old Book On A Shelf and How Long Is Too Long in particular came from, as they have a resonance with me.
RW: When I was thirty I read a book called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The book changed my life and the way I was thinking about life. At that time my solo career was beginning and it helped me to understand myself better and what I wanted for the future, which was to take control of my life and not allow it to be dictated by others. Old Book On The Shelf is, in many ways, that story. Even though the storyline and location are fictional, there is a parallel to my reality at the age of thirty.
How Long Is Too Long is a story of having to fight the challenges in life. It is about the way we sometimes isolate ourselves when we have problems and keep them to ourselves as other people are too busy and have their own stuff to deal with. That is the point when you have to dig down deep and find the inner strength to fight and get back to where you belong.
TWR: Keeping on the personal feeling of this album, were you drawing from your own experiences for all of the tracks or did some of them come from others?
RW: No, it was a mixture of my own and others and sometimes a fictional location or character, but still based on reality.
TWR: Parallel Souls explores the spiritual side of life. What is your viewpoint on this side of things?
RW: many times in life we feel that there is someone who we should share a part of our life with and we feel this strongly. However, life knows better and this connection cannot be fulfilled, mostly because of timing or the fact that they don’t share the same emotions or desires. Some people come into your life for a short spell and help you move to the next stage of life, but then they move away in a different direction, having served their purpose to you. Sometimes they come in to challenge you or expose a part of your character that needs to be improved, thus forcing you to improve that part of your character and develop as a human being.
TWR: Song For A Friend and How Long Is Too Long are evidently written from an intensely personal viewpoint. Did you feel as if you were perhaps getting something out of your own system by writing them as well as paying a wonderful tribute to James at the same time?
RW: It is hard to say. I have certainly experienced the feeling of loneliness, but never on a scale that must have been felt by James.
TWR: Tell us a little bit about the ideas behind the other songs on the album…
RW: Well, I talk about jealousy, anger, hope, self belief, love, hate, frustration, regret and so on. It’s all in there. I always however, try to have a positive message too. I didn’t want this to be negative in any way. Just soul-searching. I think it is better if people take their own meaning from the songs, just as many times it can be read in more than one way, depending on your own character.
TWR: You have been collaborating with Uwe Metzler for some time now. How did you meet him?
RW: I met Uwe in 2005 while recording a version of the Duran Duran song Wild Boys for a German movie. Peter Hoff, my producer for the She album introduced us and also played me some of his musical ideas. The first song I ever wrote with Uwe was Better Luck Next Time on the Stiltskin album, She. We have now written many songs together and will continue to do so, I am sure.
TWR: While on the subject of band members, tell us a little bit about the rest of the musicians that feature on this album…
RW: Well, Uwe is the main player. Ali Ferguson also features, mostly playing atmospheric stuff, plus a guitar solo. Lawrie MacMillan on bass, Kool Lyczek on keyboards. Steve (Wilson) does some backing vocals, Mario Koszel does percussion, Peter Hoff has don some programmed loops and Nir Z plays drums on How Long Is Too Long.
TWR: I love the idea expressed so well in Backseat Driver of the inane chatter that gores on in our lives as we undergo our very own road trips. Wold you perhaps say this song, and the album as a whole, can perhaps be viewed as a road trip for the soul as much as for the body?
RW: Well you put it better than I did! Yes, that is a fair assessment. Not much I can add to that! (laughs).
TWR: How do you get your ideas down for songs? Do you jot down ideas, and then come back to them? How do you get the material together for an album?
RW: It varies. On this album Uwe sent me some musical ideas and I simply put on the headphones and sing whatever comes into my mind when I hear the music. I try not to listen before I do this in order to be totally spontaneous. I sing across the track three times and then listen to what I have created. I normally find a strong melodic or lyrical idea has been created, even if it is only a short phrase. I then build the song from there. That isn’t always the way, but mostly that is how I work.
TWR: With such a hectic touring schedule, don’t you ever get tired of life on the road and living out of a suitcase?
RW: No more than anyone else doing their job. I have ups and downs like everyone does, but I know how lucky I am to do what I do so you won’t hear me complaining.
TWR: What is it do you think that makes sad situations such great inspiration for music?
RW: I guess music works best when it touches the soul and sad situations perhaps touch the soul deeper than others. Although I also like humour in music and anger too. If you’re going to get angry, best to express it in a song. Sager for everyone! (laughs).
TWR: You are constantly touring in Europe, is there any chance of any gigs in the UK?
RW: I hope so. I have many offers now, so I just have to get things in order. I built my live career, mostly on the Continent over the years simply because there was more demand there. I guess if the demand for me to play in the UK increases, then I will be there.
TWR: You have another album coming out later this year, is that still a work in progress, or is it finished and ready to go…?
RW: I just received a copy in my hands two minutes ago! (laughs). It comes out in October, thanks.
And our thanks to Ray for taking the time to talk to us and to Sharon Chevin at The Publicity Connection for organising everything for us.