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    Ray Wilson - Propaganda Man

    The new studio album 2008


    In 2006 Ray Wilson released an album called She for which he used the band name Stiltskin. It was very well-received by the fans. The album was initially available through his website though it became available in stores later where it was labeled “Ray Wilson & Stiltskin”. On She, Ray could indulge in his penchant for hard rock music; some people feel that She has the best song material Ray has written so far.

    The album was followed by a live CD of the Stiltskin tour before Ray slimmed down his tour line-up and played mixed shows and acoustic shows as a duo with Ali Ferguson. Since 2007 he has been working on a new studio album that, in his words, will be somewhere between Change and She. He has played new songs since spring 2008, mainly The Brakes Are Gone and Razorlite. In September he added the song Propaganda Man. During the September 2008 shows he also revealed that his new album would be called Propaganda Man.

    It was released in November 2008 when Ray Wilson & Stiltskin went on their Propaganda Man tour and could be bought at the merchandise stand. In spring 2009 it became also available in stores. See the November tour dates here and the 2009 tour dates here.


    Tracklist:

    Bless Me
    Lately
    The Brakes Are Gone
    Razorlite
    Propaganda Man
    Frequency
    Modern Day Miracle
    Cosmic Baby
    Things Don't Stop
    More Propaganda
    On The Other Side



    The songs


    Bless Me

    You can currently download this song from Ray Wilson’s website. Bless Me is a relaxed mid-tempo song with occasional power surges. Ray sings sometimes calm and deep, or more aggressive with a higher pitch. Assorted guitar effects complete the song. The song really sounds like a mixture of the songs Change and She, which is no surprise because the team that produced She worked on this one, too. 


    Lately

    The album continues calmly with Lately. The song begins with a couple of acoustic guitars and a melody that resembles Alone from The Next Best Thing a bit. Ray pulls his vocals across the bar boundaries which creates an interesting effect. Some subtle cues on the electric guitar lend a feeling of autumn to the song. The arrangement grows more complex as the song develops and the drums come in. Lately is a fine song for the calm part of the album, though perhaps a bit misplaced as the second song.


    The Brakes Are Gone

    This song was played quite frequently in the 2008 shows. It is about a man who drives down a steep hill and realizes that the brakes are gone and he is going to crash into a building. The things that run through his head during these last moments of his life make up the lyrics. It is a quiet song that is hard to place. The main element is Ray’s voice, despite the rich arrangement. The lyrics seem a bit satirical. On the whole the song remains unspectacular and one kind of waits in vain for the song to come around.

    | YouTube video of The Brakes Are Gone (live)

    Razorlite

    Most Ray Wilson fans know this song already because Ray played it a lot in 2008. The studio version hardly differs from the live one. Razorlite is an acoustic song with minimal instrumentation – and it does not need anything else. Razorlite works perfectly as it is. It may not be a hit or a candidate for a single, but this is certainly one of the better songs of the album.

    | YouTube video of Razorlite (live)


    Propaganda Man

    The title song of the new album was part of the set during the Acoustic tour in September 2008 and was well-received. Propaganda Man is an up-tempo song with a catchy tune. Interestingly enough, the acoustic version from the tour can be found on another song of the album, More Propaganda. Propaganda Man features an unusual combination of instruments, gentle guitars, a keyboard with a rhythm that counters, as it were, the restrained vocals. The album version, particularly during the verses, is rather bold. The chorus builds on a rich instrumentation that resembles songs from The Next Best Thing. A good number, but unspectacular again and arranged in a slightly unfortunate way.

    | YouTube video of Propaganda Man (live)

    Frequency

    At more than five minutes length Frequency is one of the longer pieces. Like many songs on the album it is quiet, with few instruments on which the acoustic guitars stand out. The chorus, if you can call it that, resembles Ray’s song Alone. Electric guitars come in in the middle and the song gains some depth. Near the end the song quietens down again and ends in gentle piano sounds. This song is no single material and no party hit but one of Wilson’s better songs. And it grows on you every time you listen to it. A real highlight.


    Modern Day Miracle

    A short song that resembles mid-tempo Del Amitri numbers. It could well be a slowed-down version of their hit Roll To Me. The song has a number of good ideas and grows on the listener. And it was definitely a good idea to not draw out the song.


    Cosmic Baby

    Quiet electric guitars accompany the acoustic guitar in a gentle intro before Ray’s voice breaks through the calm and the drums kick of the song proper. “You better not…” is the recurring beginning of almost all lines.  The quiet bits return before the song finally moves into a sphere of daydreaminess and obsessive defiance. The finale is a bit like Cry If You Want To. Cosmic Baby is one of the defiantly charming highlights on the albums. It is quite indicative that Ray leaves the song behind with a naked “I don’t wanna wait around too long”.


    Things Don't Stop

    The song begins like a demo or alternate version of Cosmic Baby. It follows in the same vein though it is more acoustic and withdrawn. Ray seems to develop a penchant for “singing with out really singing”; you can hear this on many a track. Things Don’t Stop features a warm electric guitar that lets this song shine. At the moment when you think the song fades away there is a solo on the electric guitar and drum fills a la Beautiful Child. This song could be the secret hit on the album.


    More Propaganda

    If you felt disappointed that the title song was not the jaunty piece he would play live in 2008 you will be pleased to hear More Propaganda. This is basically the same thing Ray would play on his acoustic concerts. Just acoustic guitars and his vocals and some drums at the end. It makes you wonder why he did not record a Propaganda suite. 


    On The Other Side

    The album ends on a quiet note. There is no real hook in On The Other Side. It is one of those songs you’ll like to listen to every now and then. Though it picks up on the mood of most songs on the album it is not really an album finale. 


    So...?

    Ray has deliberately stepped on the brake when he wrote the successor to She. Propaganda Man has more to do with Change than with She. And that is the problem with this album. It takes quite a while for the “wow” to happen (if it happens at all) so it is an album for special moments. There are some first-rate songs on it like Frequency and Cosmic Baby, but also some less excellent numbers. What is missing is a real hit, and a bit more rock (as in Wake Up Your Mind) could have been useful here and there. Apparently that was not called for, and so this album is not really a mixture of Change and She, but rather a successor to Change. Friends of good and mainly acoustic rock music will enjoy Propaganda Man; if you preferred what Ray did on She you may be disappointed. There are no exotic or longer songs on the album. Propaganda Man is certainly not a bad album, but it is no masterpiece either nor does it show a consistent development of Ray’s music. And most of the songs – as happens so frequently with Ray – become really good only when they are played live.


    Propaganda Man is available from the merchandise stall on Ray's tours. It will become available in stores in early 2009.

    by Christian Gerhardts
    translated by Martin Klinkhardt

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