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Ray Wilson - The Next Best Thing (CD)

Ray Wilson, the actor ... well, sometimes, at least
Ray copes with the past on "The Next Best Thing" and exudes confidence

Early in 2003 Ray Wilson surprised with Change, a thoroughly melodious acoustic album. Lots of great tunes chased each other, the album followed the ideas of his Live & Acoustic fun tour. Many people reckoned he would develop the Cut sound after his time with Genesis, but Ray wanted to do other things. Change was a succès d’estime, the title song received quite a lot of airplay, the album entered the German charts. A good basis for a solo career.

All that is in the past. When he returned from the band tour last autumn Ray began work on his second solo studio album. Twelve songs between melancholy and powerful rock music are the result. The Next Best Thing is much more thoughtful than it sounds at first. Most of all it is no fastfood album, but a record that you have to listen to more than once to fully appreciate its quality.

An important change is the special role of piano and keyboard sounds, the department headed by Irvin Duguid. Duguid had played with Stiltskin ten years ago, though only on live gigs. Stiltskin is a shadow from Ray’s past that he cannot shake. His greatest hit so far, take or leave Genesis, is Inside. “I want people to associate this song with me”, Ray admitted at the Rayvent, and it should not be a big surprise that Inside can be found on The Next Best Thing. Ray had re-recorded the Cut song Another Day for Change for precisely the same reason. Speaking of Cut, there is another Cut song on the new album. Adolescent Breakdown was a B-side on the Another Day single. It was re-recorded for this album and really fits the mood.

Ray spans a big arc of inventive melodies full of powerful rock and even a little bit of prog. These Are The Changes is a song in which Ray makes a political statement for the first time. This statement was made intentionally because a remix of These Are The Changes was put out as a single. The same could happen to Inside. The new version is a solid effort. The song has lost nothing of its dark power and feels right on this album. One can find out what happens when the experience gained on the acoustic tour is combined with electric guitars and intelligent lyrics on How High. It is a high-quality song, which probably means that it’s not suitable for release as a single. How High illustrates the high level of musicianship Ray has reached meanwhile, and it is one of the highlights on the album. The level is kept up on a playful The Fool In Me and a refreshed Adolescent Breakdown.
At the RayVent Ray introduced five new songs, among them How High, which he only played once, and the ballad Sometimes, which he played both nights. Sometimes is based on a piano melody. It lives from Ray’s plaintive voice and is further proof for Ray’s development. The same goes for another ballad called Alone which exudes an almost Caribbean Sunday evening flair before Ray cuts down this atmosphere with the first line “Autumn leaves are falling down”. Magic Train could work as a single, but then it is perhaps a bit too hung-over. It, too, has a strong melody which was cleverly arranged and powerfully performed. The topic of the song is one we are all familiar with: “She said she wanted me, but it might take a little time”, and then it just breaks out of him. With a bit of anger in his stomach he sings about this rollercoaster called love. The Actor on the other hand, perhaps the album’s highlight, does not have much to do with love. It is about Genesis – Ray’s day of reckoning for the emotional desert the rock machine left. “I swallow what I want to say … I’m broken up I cannot breathe” – these are clear statements by a man who, despite it all, enjoyed being part of this, shall we say, experiment. Perhaps this song also helped Ray a little bit to develop a more relaxed attitude towards that time. At the RayVent Ray announced this as a song about a man who has lost his audience. Before the titlesong, a fine sound collage, closes the album there are another song in an aggressive Stiltskin style, Pumpkinhead, and another gem, Ever The Reason, which worms its way into our ears. At times it reminds one of Coldplay, which is quite a proof of quality these days.
Making albums not longer than 50 minutes seems to be the new fashion. The recent releases by Starsailor, Herbert Grönemayer, Alanis Morissette, Mike & The Mechanics and Ray Wilson all have that playing time. If nothing else it makes it easier to listen to a whole album in one go. This is a good thing as far as The Next Best Thing is concerned, it is a colourful album and still of a piece. It is an extremely good album. If Ray continues like that, he has a big career ahead. How High can you go?

RayVent Rumours ...

These Are The Changes: Peculiarities of a single release

these are overThere were many guesses in the Wilson camp which song was to become the first single. Inside was a strong contender for a long time, but one could not really agree on one of the twelve, that is, eleven songs. Suddenly it seemed that they had found it. These Are The Changes and its political statement fit the current political atmosphere, so it “might work”. Three live tracks (Gouranga, Ghost and Gypsy) were quickly selected as bonus tracks. But this version never came about because somebody noticed that the standard length of a single in some countries, e.g. the UK, but not Germany, was three tracks. Production was stopped and another version was set up with Ghost and Gypsy and without Gouranga as B-sides. When the production had almost finished, they got the offer for a remix of the track which would broaden the chances for chart success. InsideOut withdrew the single version with two live tracks from its catalogue (it is now only available from Ray) and produced another single with the remix, the album version and – surprise! – Gouranga as a live track. It will be released on July 19, 2004. The promo video for the song has already been shot.
The running gag in the Wilson camp must have been this: “Any news about the new single production?” – “Yes, these are the changes we made…”

Author – Christan Gerhardts
Translation – Martin Klinkhardt