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Ray Wlson & Stiltskin - SHE (CD)

When Stiltskin’s debut album "The Mind’s Eye" was released in 1994, Ray Wilson was almost totally unknown in the Genesis camp. Celebrated as a grunge sensation, Stiltskin were hardly in the same league with Genesis. The rest is already history. Ray became singer with Genesis, but only for a brief stint, and Stiltskin disbanded even before that because of arguments in the band. Nothing new there in the music business…

Twelve years later the comeback. Twelve years are an interval one would rather associate with Peter Gabriel, but Ray Wilson has tried and released many things since 1995. Calling All Stations with Genesis, Millionairhead with Cut, his solo records Change, The Next Best Thing and assorted live recordings. But part of Ray is a much harder rocker than his previous albums let on. He always had a 
Stiltskin section in his concerts with loud guitars and smashing drums during which he would occasionally sing a grunge version of I Can’t Dance.
Ray’s time with Genesis has become both a blessing and a curse for him. It is no surprise that there is little Genesis optic in the new Stiltskin CD SHE. Even the name Ray Wilson rarely pops up. So, who is Stiltskin now?
The only original member left is Ray Wilson, and unlike on The Mind’s Eye he has the overall command. The debut album was most of all Peter Lawler’s baby as far as songwriting was concerned. Pete is not here anymore, but he left Ray the bandname. Irvin Duguid was part of Stiltskin’s live outfit; he plays the keyboards on SHE, too. Then there is Nir Z, next to Ray the only link to Genesis on this album. Nir already played the drums with Cut_. Alvin Mills plays the bass, while Uwe Metzler does the guitar work. You can also hear a number of guest musicians and even a string group. The album was produced by Peter Hoff and Ray. More about the development of SHE in a separate item.
She begins with an exclamation mark. After the first minute, everything is put on the table. Fly High is nothing less than a safe bet. Most of all, this opening song makes clear just why SHE became a Stiltskin album. It is a strong song, bumping its way through the verses, shredding the melody itself, as it were, before a furious finale brings things to a melodious balance. It seems that Ray wanted to deter everybody who expected this to be a pop album. He was certainly right when, some time ago, he said that the new album was to heavy for a Ray Wilson record.
Taking Time sounds bit more moderate, but the guitars still rock. It is more sombre than Fly High, a catchy tune. The album first real smasher is SHE, the title song. The melody is carried by an (intentionally) monotonous note which accompanies Ray telling himself in a distorted voice that he is got over her. “Don’t tell me that it’s over – no!”
The album was originally to be called Lemon Yellow Sun, and Ras had already played this potential title song on assorted solo shows. Lemon Yellow Sun is as close as SHE comes to a typical Ray Wilson song. A catchy tune with little grunge and more pop. With this number, SHE takes an unexpected turn but this just means that SHE has a variety of good music to offer. And offer it SHE does.

Wake Up Your Mind features a strong chorus and distinctive verses that make it one of the best songs on the album. A dyed-in-the-wool rock song resembling the music the band LIVE makes. The same goes for Sick And Tired, though the chorus is much tougher and the third verse is not sung by Ray but almost rapped by one Adonis. Disctinctive verses here, too – indicative of the songs’ quality. The band takes it slow for Constantly Reminded. This retro-ballad is very well-produced and a worthwhile addition to the album. And that is something that The Next Best Thing did not have – a clean good sound. Show Me The Way is spectacular. Not only is it a brilliant number, but it could well turn out to be a “summer hit”. It does not take long until one discovers a second song in Show Me The Way, and that is Coldplay’s Clocks. The e-piano/keyboard sound and these sections are almost identical, as is the Coldplay entry of the drums. It does no harm to the song, though, and it’s by the use of acoustic guitars here and on Lemon Yellow Sun that the album gains some space to breathe. Rock strikes back with Stiltskin’s answer to The Barry Williams Show. Fame finds clear words about the fastfood tv culture with its talkshows and pop-idol idiocies. Fame is not only a cynical, but a very bitter song: The music business is no paradise anymore. Fame’s critical approach is the first song on the album that does not deal with things between him and her. But there is a “she” in Fame, and that is probably not a coincidence.
The finale begins with Some Of All My Fears, the only song not featuring Nir Z on drums and the only one to feature Ray playing the bass. This number could have been performed by the Beastie Boys in parts. Summer Days on the other hand has a quite intricate, sophisticated structure, and the verses contradict most of the other songs on the album. An anti-hit, as it were. After hearing it a couple of times one begins to appreciate it. Summer Days ends with a rare guitar solo (Some Of All My Fears had traces of a solo). Finally, Better Luck Next Time offers solid pop-rock and, with this song, the new Stiltskin adventure has come to an end .

Stiltkin have taken twelve years to record a new album, but it really was Ray Wilson who took such a long time to write this album. It was just a project at first, then it was meant to be a Cut_ album before it finally turned into Stiltskin after all. The biggest difference to Ray’s previous records (and particularly the first Stiltskin record) is the quality of the production. Having Peter Hoff produce it at Benztown Studios was a real bit of luck for Ray. One can hear the lavish production all over the album, there is no rattling sound like on Pumpkinhead. Ray’s previous record did not do so well because of mediocre production. It won’t happen with SHE.

Ray has gone on record that SHE was the best thing he ever made. The reviewer agrees. SHE is not just any odd album, it is refreshingly rocky and offers enough variety to avoid boredom. Genesis fans will discover a lot on this record. With material like that, all obstacles for a renaissance for Stiltskin should be gone. But then, who is SHE?

by Christian Gerhardts

translated by Martin Klinkhardt

Ray Wilson

Ray Wilson & Stiltskin - SHE (CD)

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Ray Wilson & Stiltskin - SHE (CD)

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