Category: Porcupine Tree



This is my first blog post in over 7 years! (Naughty, Naughty!)

I’ve recently bought a new record player and starting buying Vinyl as a new hobby and during the last few months I’ve already picked up 4 Porcupine Tree Albums (Deadwing, In Absentia, Fear of a Blank Planet and Up the Downstair) and having spun them up a couple of times it’s really got me back into my favourite band of all time!

It got me thinking that if I had to rank all 10 of their studio albums from worst to best what would my list look like? So I’ve decided to list them!

I also want this list to be a bit of a love letter to Porcupine Tree as officially they have called it quits, according to this interview with frontman Steven Wilson in March 2018 and the wording on their Wikipedia entry. 😦

10 Albums (and countless EPs/Live Albums/B-side compilations) over a 20 year career isn’t bad and Steven Wilson is still going strong with a very successful solo career having just released his 5th solo album ‘To the Bone’ recently (which hit the number #3 slot in the UK album charts!) so all is not completely lost, we are still getting music from the Maestro!

Few disclaimers first:

  • This is my list therefore only reflects my opinions of the 10 albums and by no means should be taken seriously.
  • I’ve listed my standout track and a second recommendation for each album based entirely on the songs that engage with me and that I enjoy the most – these might not be the same songs that do it for you!
  • I’ve also listed what I consider low point of each album (with one exception!) for me personally, these are songs that generally don’t resonate with me like the rest do. It does not mean these are terrible songs and there may be some controversial selections on my part but again, these are just my opinions.
  • Whilst I have ranked these albums from worst to best – worst is a bit misleading as actually enjoy all these 10 albums IMMENSLEY – but some do it for me more then others!
  • I’ve provided links to the songs I mention that will take you to YouTube if you wanted to listen to my recommendations.

10. The Incident

The_Incident_cover

Released: 2009 (10th and Final PT Album)

I reviewed this album in full some years ago and looking back now I can say that the prediction I left in that review that PT would be around for countless years to come was something I got completely wrong! I must have been completely absorbed by it at the time as my review is really positive, in reflection 7 years later it’s not as strong as I remember it!

Despite this album hitting the bottom position on my list I do enjoy it however there are parts of the Incident (it’s 55 minutes long divided into 14 parts) that to put it bluntly are not as strong as others! It is an incredibly diverse album that covers a lot of ground but some of the smaller parts do not do enough to engage with me successfully and I find I don’t really listen to this album as much as the others.

Controversial statement: I cannot stand the album closer ‘I DRIVE THE HEARSE’ just don’t like it, never have never will!

Standout Track: Times Flies

Also Check Out: Flicker

Album Low Point: I Drive the Hearse

9. Stupid Dream

Porcupine_Tree_-_Stupid_Dream

Released: 1999 (5th PT Album)

Stupid Dream marked a change of direction for the band as everything prior to this release mostly fell within the psychedelic/space rock bucket. This was the band’s first attempt at writing more cohesive songs that definitely sound more commercial then anything they had released before, which is kind of ironic as one of the themes of the album is about ‘selling out’ and that music is treated like a product to be sold rather then an experience to savoured. By no means am I suggesting PT sold out on this album but it did mark a massive transition in their sound.

The issue I have with this album is that the songs I really enjoy on this album are just too good compared to the ones I don’t and therefore it comes across as a bit inconsistent especially compared to just about everything released after this.

Standout Track: Even Less

Also Check Out: A Smart Kid

Album Low Point: This is No Rehearsal

8. Up The Downstair

Porcupine_tree_up_the_downstair

Released: 1993 (2nd PT Album)

In terms of sheer production quality there is a massive jump between the 1st and 2nd PT albums (although I enjoy the debut more – see below) and Up the Downstair marked the first inclusion of future PT band mates Richard Barbieri (Keyboards) & Colin Edwin (Bass) who both contributed to the album with their unique styles.

There’s some really good music on Up the Downstair and highly recommended for those who like space rock in general, there’s a big emphasise on electro-rhythm with this album, many of the tracks have a pulsating groove to them and ‘BURNING SKY’ (just go listen to it!) would make my 10 ten PT songs of all time for sure.

Standout Track: Burning Sky

Also Check out: Fadeaway

Album Low Point: Always Never

7. On the Sunday of Life

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Released: 1992 (1st PT Album)

I’m not sure many people will agree with me placing the debut album this high up, most top 10 lists I’ve seen on the internet consistently place this is in the bottom slot. It can’t really be considered a full band album as it’s just Steven Wilson (playing everything you hear on the album) basically experimenting. It does have it’s low points, there are far too many filler tracks lasting less then a minute or so that are just noisy/ambient segue tracks; but it also has ‘RADIOACTIVE TOY’ which is still a fan favourite to this day.

I have a real soft spot for this album, it’s raw and kind of meanders all over the place like your drunk uncle would at a family gathering but there’s so much going off that it’s hard to ignore the fact that if this is where it all started. It has a wonderful naivety to it that I still very much enjoy to this day.

Standout Track: Radioactive Toy

Also Check Out: It Will Rain for a Million Years

Album Low Point: Third Eye Surfer

6. Lightbulb Sun

220px-Porcupine_tree_lightbulb_sun

Released: 2000 (6th PT Album)

It would be on later albums that PT would shift to a more metal orientated sound with their overall style but certainly the genesis of this evolution started with this album. It almost feels like the album is broken down into 2 parts with poppy short numbers dominating the 1st half of the album and longer more progressive pieces nearer the end.

Despite this, I feel that the album flows very well and compared to Stupid Dream (the album before it) I would say it’s a far stronger effort. The heaviness of the metal sections in ‘HATESONG’ and ‘RUSSIA ON ICE’ contrast nicely to beautiful lighter songs like ‘THE REST WILL FLOW’ and ‘FEEL SO LOW’.

Standout Track: Hatesong

Also Check Out: Russia on Ice

Album Low Point: Four Chords That Made a Million

5. The Sky Moves Sideways

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Released: 1995 (3rd PT Album)

The first time I heard this album I was blown away by just how good it was! I wouldn’t say it’s immediately accessible due to the long tracks that bookend the shorter tracks (both phases of the title track are 20 mins long each!) but this album is one that always takes you on a journey. I wouldn’t say it’s post-rock in the traditional sense but it’s the most post-rock sounding album in PT’s catalogue!

Lot’s of reviews I’ve read compare it to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album (which I also adore) but I think that is an unfair comparison! Both albums have 5 tracks but the music is very different. It’s very ambient and electronic in places and loud and rhythmic in others being mostly instrumental. It’s actually my favourite PT album to listen to on headphones whilst drifting off into a lucid dream as it has that floating away vibe to it.

Standout Track: The Sky Moves Sideways (Phase One)

Also Check Out: Dislocated Day

Album Low Point: The Moon Touches Your Shoulder

4. Signify

Porcupine_tree_signify

Released: 1996 (4th PT Album)
This wasn’t the first PT album I listened to in full, however it has the distinction of hosting the very first PT song I ever heard being ‘SEVER’, and it was love on first hearing!! Signify is a very dark sounding album for their earlier days and I don’t think it gets as dark again until they enter their metal phase many albums after this one.

It has some excellent music from the Kraut-Rock inspired ‘SIGNIFY’, the dreamy rock of ‘WAITING PHASE ONE’ to the trance-like criticism of organised religion in ‘IDIOT PRAYER’ there’s lots that I enjoy on this album and it flows very well, everything fits in place perfectly and I’d say this is the album sounds like the 1st actual band effort rather then an entirely Steven Wilson focussed effort.

I do need to address the elephant in the room though, the album closer – ‘DARK MATTER’ is often considered one of PT’s best songs and is well revered by the fan base but I’ve got to be honest it does absolutely nothing for me, everything on the album before it I enjoy more!

Standout Track: Sever

Also Check Out: Signify

Album Low Point: Dark Matter

3. In Absentia

Porcupine_tree_in_absentia.jpg

Released: 2002 (7th PT Album)

So we’re into my top three and what I’ve noticed here is that my top three were all chronologically released in order starting with this entry. It’s very tight between my top 3 actually, but I needed to rank them nevertheless. In Absentia is often cited as the best album the band released and with good reason its an absolute beast of an album and enjoy it very much.

What I enjoy about this album is thematically its a powerhouse covering everything from serial killers, youthful innocence gone wrong and it’s very much a criticism of the modern world and it’s problems.

It also marked a shift towards heavier sounding music and this is the first album that has what is now considered that ‘classic PT metal sound’. Steven Wilson had recently discovered Opeth and Meshuggah and whilst the sound of the album is nowhere near the brutal heaviness of those two bands you can certainly tell the influences he had been drawing upon. The album also contains the track ‘TRAINS’ which is possibly one of the most requested encore songs at live PT performances because it’s fantastic! (one day, a reunion, he hopes!).

Standout Track: Gravity Eyelids

Also Check Out: .3/Strip the Soul

Album Low Point: Prodigal

2. Deadwing

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Released: 2005 (8th PT Album)

Deadwing has the honour of being the first PT album I bought and listened to and I probably wore out a few CD Players back in 2005 when I became obsessed with it. I played it that many times, it even got my best friend into the band as it was always on the stereo when he visited me at the time!

As a concept album Deadwing is a ghost story, apparently the plan was to release it as a soundtrack to a film that Steven Wilson had written a screenplay for but these plans were ultimately scrapped and the music became a PT band project instead.

‘ARRIVING SOMEWHERE BUT NOT HERE’ held my #1 favourite PT song slot until a certain song on the follow-up album to this replaced it (see below) and represents everything great the band is capable of in one 12 minute swoop. Shorter Songs like ‘HALO’ and ‘LAZURUS’ are extremely well crafted and you can tell the band are having fun. The album also contains the vastly underrated ‘THE START OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL’ and my vinyl edition contains the B-sides including the heart wrenching ‘HALF-LIGHT’.

You can read my full review here.

Standout Track: Arriving Somewhere but Not Here

Also Check Out: Halo

Album Low Point: Mellotron Scratch

1. Fear of a Blank Planet

FOABP

Released: 2007 (9th PT Album)

This is the album I would recommend to anyone to listen to first who had never heard Porcupine Tree before despite the fact is contains a 17 minute beast of a track ‘ANESTHETIZE’ which I’ll go on record now and say is my number one PT song of all time.

It’s also the only album on this list where I cannot say there’s a low point on the album, every track in my opinion is of the highest quality, all the songs are brilliant and cover a variety of aural delights. The album has one of the strongest opening tracks of any PT album in the form of the title track and the features my favourite PT closing track in ‘SLEEP TOGETHER’ which is a dark delicious electro-rock treat.

The band were definitely at their strongest peak with the music they released on this album with all members dominating with their contributions, and although Gavin Harrison (Drummer) had only replaced old drummer Chris Maitland on the album before, on this album I feel he gives an absolutely stirling drumming masterclass.

You can read my full review here, this is a 10+/10 album in my opinion, a desert island disc, a must have for anyone who gives enjoys music to have in their collection.

Standout Track: Anesthetize

Also Check Out: Sleep Together

Album Low Point: NONE!

So that’s my list, feel free to post your own in the comments section below, no doubt it will be different to mine but that’s the great thing about music, it can be a deeply personal experience and as long as you enjoy what you hear, I say go for it!

DP.

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 Genre: Rock\Metal

Year of Release: 2009

Record Label: Roadrunner

Recommended for fans of: Tool, Opeth, Anathema, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Massive Attack.

Track Listing:

DISC 1:

  1. The Incident                                      55:15                                        
  • I. “Occam’s Razor”
  • II. “The Blind House”
  • III. “Great Expectations”
  • IV. “Kneel and Disconnect”
  • V. “Drawing the Line”
  • VI. “The Incident”
  • VII. “Your Unpleasant Family”
  • VIII. “The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train”
  • IX. “Time Flies”
  • X. “Degree Zero of Liberty”
  • XI. “Octane Twisted”
  • XII. “The Séance”
  • XIII. “Circle of Manias”
  • XIV. “I Drive the Hearse”  

DISC 2:

  1. Flicker                                                     
  2. Bonnie The Cat                                    
  3. Black Delilah                                         
  4. Remember Me Lover                        

Review

Well, well, well!

I remember when I originally reviewed ‘Fear of a Blank Planet’ 2 years ago thinking that whilst the album was pretty amazing, we only got 6 tracks of ‘pretty amazing’, admittedly one of those tracks was 17 Minutes long; being the epic ‘Anesthetize’.

So what does the band go and do for their follow up release?

They release a double album with the first side comprising of 1 track that is 55 minutes long! Awesome! Sweet! Amazing! You know what’s refreshing about this? If you read on I’ll tell you.

As history as shown since the late 1970’s the album as an art form has declined from the mainstream quite severely, entering the digital age has been both a blessing and a curse. Never before has music been so readily available for the consumer, however I would argue that the download single culture has been to music what McDonalds is to the meal: FASTFOOD!

What Steven Wilson and Co have done here is very brave, and indeed has been praised by the post/progressive/alt rock communities! A massive finger up to the mainstream norm, we don’t want your repetitive churned out nonsense anymore!

Now I don’t expect critics of the album as an art form to be reading my reviews, however I will admit that whilst The Incident is 55 minutes long, and is regarded as a single track, it has been split down into 14 interconnecting suites, all very varied.

The idea for ‘The Incident’ came along when Steven Wilson was driving along the motorway and came across a crash on the way, this got him thinking about how the various incidents happen in people’s lives and that we can feel quite disconnected from certain events if they are not affecting us directly, but nevertheless will be affecting someone else. So there you go, that’s the concept. I don’t want to examine this in any more detail, as I’m a big believer in interpreting music by what it means to you individually.

The Incident opens with the dissident metal thrashes of ‘Occams Razor’ that completely catch your attention, indeed this intro riff is one of the only musical themes revisited later on in the album, a rarity for many concept albums. Any Richard Barbieri fans amongst you are in for a treat as he really shines on this album; listen to the evil ambient synths on the opening track! So if ‘Occams Razor’ sets the scene, ‘The Blind House’ leaves no doubt about the presence of metal influences that PT have started to incorporate more into their music over the last 10 years.

‘Great Expectations’ is a wonderful acoustic led segue into ‘Kneel and Disconnect’ a keyboard led downbeat affair which closes this little trilogy of songs with ‘Drawing the Line’. I must admit that the latter is a song that I didn’t particularly like for a long time; the chorus is quite frankly too poppy sounding for PT! However one day it just clicked, and as part of the suite, ‘Drawing the Line’ is one of the stronger songs on the album.

The album gets a title track next in ‘The Incident’ and oh my gosh, has Steven Wilson been hanging out with Trent Reznor?  This track screams epic Nine Inch Nails style electronic merged with PT style songwriting. This atmospheric track is definitely one of the highlights of the album.

‘Your Unpleasant Family’ wins us round next with a tongue in cheek approach to that of nightmare neighbours, a special mention must be made about the sublime slide driven guitar solo on this track, one of Wilsons best solos!

Prior to the epic centrepiece of the album ‘The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train’ showcases Richard Barbieri going all Brian Eno on us, admittedly doing a better job as well! A gorgeous little ambient interlude which leads straight into…

‘Time Flies’, well PT you’ve done it again, written another long belter of a track, whereas ‘Anesthetize’ was a rollercoaster ride through the genres of modern rock, ‘Time Flies’ is a nostalgia inducing mellow-fest! That’s not to say it’s not beasty loud, it has some nice loud guitars in it, but the overall feel is one of bittersweet contemplation. Comparisons have been made to Pink Floyd time and time again with this track, and Steven Wilson has said it is a bit of a PF tribute, and it does contain some nice nods towards PF, certainly tracks on the album Animals in particular.

The song is reflective, time flies so make the most of it, the beautiful middle section is the highlight of this track which is positively screaming in raw ambient emotion – you can feel the time slipping away from your grasp and can do nothing about it! Sheer genius! Extra kudos to Colin Edwin on this track for some well played resonating bass guitar!

‘Degree Zero of Liberty’ is a connecting track that conjures up the raw chords of ‘Occams Razor’ indicating we’ve moved onto the penultimate part of the album. ‘Octane Twisted’ takes things back to basics with some almost classically played guitar and lovely multi-layered singing from SW.  Not too much quietness though as Gavin Harrisons drumming enters the fray and the raw guitars are back for the 2nd half of the song, pure electric excitement!

‘The Séance’ is another nice connecting piece, play special attention to the cleverly played acoustic guitar at the end of that segues into ‘Circle of Manias’ which is without a doubt one of the most brutal songs PT have ever composed. Not brutal as in Opeth style death metal, but hard rocking nevertheless. The definite ‘loud’ highlight of the album for me.

The album closes with the curiously titled ‘I Drive The Hearse’, whereas ‘Sleep Together’ on ‘Fear of a Blank Planet’ was a delicious dark electro-rock closer, this time the Lads have decided to close the album with a far more downbeat number. The song fits into the suite perfectly and builds up pace before coming to a classic PT finish.

‘The Incident’ is by no means a perfect album, in complete honesty I actually prefer ‘Fear of a Blank Planet’ as I found it a darker more satisfying experience. However ‘The Incident’ is a 55 minute road trip that you won’t be forgetting about anytime soon, the production is what we’ve come to expect from the London lads and the musicianship is once again 2nd to none.

I was actually lucky enough to see the album performed live in its entirety, an experience I am going to get again later this year in October when they play the Royal Albert Hall for a special gig, and the album works fantastic in a live environment!

CD 2

I’m conscious this is already an epic length review, so I will be brief in my discussion about the 2nd side of the album. These 4 songs are unrelated to The Incident in theme but were written at the same time. ‘Flicker’ is a wonderfully textured experience with more of that excellent Barbieri ambience that showcased much of the first side. ‘Bonnie the Cat’ is pretty out there, Messuggah style riffage and crazy lyrics abound ‘the cells divide and grow inside you, I know what will be’.

 ‘Black Delilah’ is a slow spacey balled, my personal highlight of the 2nd disc, it really is quite breathtaking! The 2nd disc closes with the ‘Remember Me Lover’. Ahhh a good old PT love song to bring the double album to a close. Whereas ‘shesmovedon’ from ‘Lightbulb Sun’ was about lost love and ‘The Start of Something Beautiful’ from ‘Deadwing’ about unrequited love,  this little opus is about that bitter, pent up angry feeling we’ve all felt at sometime in our lives when things just didn’t work out, and it works quite well.

Porcupine Tree have proven that they can consistently deliver the goods time and time again, whilst this is their 10th album they show no sign of slowing down, in fact I’ll go out on a limb here and predict that just like Rush they will be around for a very long time to come, and I look forward to carry on taking their musical rides until the end!

Lineup:

Steven Wilson: Vocals, Guitar, Piano and Keyboards.
Richard Barbieri: Keyboards & Synthesizers
Colin Edwin: Bass & Double Bass
Gavin Harrison: Drums & Percussion

4/5

D.P


   

 

Genre: Rock\Metal

Year Of Release: 2007

Record Label: Transmission\WHD\Peaceville

Recommended for fans of: Tool, King Crimson, Anathema, Opeth, Robert Fripp and Nine Inch Nails.

 Track Listing:

  1. “Nil Recurring” – 6:08
  2. “Normal” – 7:09
  3. “Cheating the Polygraph” – 7:10
  4. “What Happens Now?” – 8:23

Review

This will be my last Porcupine Tree review for a while, with the addition of this one, I’ll have the last 4 releases done and dusted. The PT back catalogue can wait for a while whilst I concentrate on other bands and artists from my collection. I feel like a swan about to take up flight and spread his wings!

First off ‘Nil Recurring’ is not a full album, a brief look at the track listing above will tell you this! What ‘Nil Recurring’ is, is a mini-album containing 3 tracks that were written during the ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’ sessions, and 1 track that was originally going to be on the album, but later dropped in favour of ‘Way Out Of Here’.

This is not a bad thing though, these tracks are not ‘rejects’ at all, its just they didn’t fit onto the 50-minute conceptual album that became ‘FOABP’. Instead of letting the tracks rot away in some dark corner of Hemel Hempstead, the band decided to show them off in this E.P release! Quite rightly so!

There is no messing around either, the title track ‘Nil Recurring’ which is entirely instrumental, starts off with some nice guitar-work. Robert Fripp, [who also guested on ‘FOABP’] plays the lead guitar in his instantly recognisable style, whilst the rest of the band plays around his licks. The metal riff sounds a whole lot of fun, and the layering of the instruments is very well done. The quieter middle section, which features Colin Edwin’s groovy bass playing, is almost a nod to the bands improvisational days last witnessed on ‘Metanoia’. The track ups its ante for the last 2 minutes and finishes on a high, one of the better instrumentals the band has produced!

The next track ‘Normal’ is almost like a companion track to ‘Sentimental’ from ‘FOABP’. In fact the chorus is almost identical, however I actually prefer this track to the effort on ‘FOABP’. It has lots of energy, a typical ‘lets catch the listener off guard’ section before some thrash metal is injected into the mix. The vocal harmonies in this song are almost as good as the ones in ‘Drown With Me’. The guitar playing is quite complex mostly because of the tempo, lets just say that Steven Wilson had a little trouble playing the part, so much so he rang Robert Fripp up for technique advice!

‘Cheating The Polygraph’ was originally debuted with the rest of the ‘FOABP’ material on the fall 2006 tour, yet wasn’t as well received by both the fans and the band. ‘Way Out Of Here’ ultimately replaced it on the final edit of the album, which was a good choice. Not that ‘Cheating The Polygraph’ is a bad song at all; it’s just its like biting into more chocolate cake, after you’ve already eaten too much. It’s terribly sweet on the old ears, the guitar solo whilst initially sounding awesome goes on for too long, and everything is just drawn out for too long. The main riff sounds like ‘Futile’, a PT song that I’m not exactly thrilled about. It all adds up…

However despite my criticism, ‘Cheating The Polygraph’ fits very nicely onto this E.P instead of being forced onto ‘FOABP’. A brilliant decision to include it really!

The E.P closes with ‘What Happens Now?’ that features a frequent collaborator of SW, in the form of the very talented Ben Coleman. Fans of this song might want to check ‘No-Man’ one of SW ‘other’ bands! Mr. Coleman features quite prominently on a lot of ‘No-Man’ material. Whilst this song has some lyrics in, its largely instrumental and it closes the E.P off quite nicely indeed. Richard Beriberi’s talents are used alongside Colin Edwin’s during a wonderful elevated middle section that almost seems to make you float along with it! Echoes of ‘Anesthetize’ appear soon after, which is a nice nod to the epic centrepiece of ‘FOABP’ before the song finishes with a rather crushing melody and disjointed sound effects. It would seem at the moment, gone are the days of ‘Stop Swimming’ and ‘Feel So Low’ type album closers, rather the band are finishing heavily and abruptly. Loving it!

Now, recent scouring round the old internet has shown me that ‘Nil Recurring’ has been getting very positive reviews everywhere; [for an E.P that’s tremendous] I don’t want to upset anyone with my score for this review, but it might be slightly lower then you expect it to be. This is because:

  1. I don’t want to get into the habit of giving every PT release top marks, just because they are my favourite band.
  2.  It’s an E.P not a full album so should get scored accordingly.

Ok, so that’s the disclaimer out of the way! ‘Nil Recurring’ is a worthwhile addition to your PT collection, and if you were going to pick up a copy of ‘FOABP’ I’d get ‘NR’ as well, because they complement each other very nicely. Very nicely indeed…

Lineup:  

Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards
Richard Barbieri – keyboards and synthesizers

Colin Edwin – bass guitars

Gavin Harrison – drums, percussion, tapped guitar on “Nil Recurring”

 

Guests:

Robert Fripp – lead guitar on “Nil Recurring”
Ben Coleman – electric violin on “What Happens Now?”
 

Score: 3.5/5.0 

D.P


      

 

 

 

Genre: Rock\Metal

Year Of Release: 2007

Record Label: Roadrunner

Recommended for fans of: Tool, Opeth, Anathema, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Massive Attack.

 

Track Listing:

  1. “Fear of a Blank Planet” – 7:28
  2. “My Ashes”– 5:07
  3. “Anesthetize” – 17:42
  4. “Sentimental” – 5:26
  5. “Way Out of Here” – 7:37
  6. “Sleep Together” – 7:28

Review

 

This is possibly my most listened to album at the moment [as of early 2008] and I guess I’m going to give it a rest for a few months or so; therefore now is the best time to write the review, seeing as I’m retiring it for a while! Now the clever ones amongst you will notice that since it has been my most listened to album lately, then it must be a good one. It is, in fact its that good that it’s the first review I’m going to give full marks for on this site, and believe me when I say that I won’t be handing out full marks that often. 

Before ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’ was released, it was probably the most eagerly anticipated Porcupine Tree album yet, the fact that the band were playing the album in its entirety live during autumn 2006 added to the excitement. I was present at one of these ‘preview’ gigs, when the set was divided into 2 parts, the first part was ‘FOABP’ albeit in a pre-studio form, and the 2ndset comprising of mostly stuff from the previous 2 albums [Deadwing and In Absentia] with some classics thrown in.  I have to say on hearing the material in its early form, I was both overwhelmed and delighted, the freshness and complete unfamiliarity with the material was fantastic, and fan reaction was very favourable. So after this batch of tour dates, PT went into the studio and recorded the penultimate versions that you hear on the final album, and what an album it is! 

Now, ‘FOABP’ is a concept album, I don’t want to go too in-depth about the concept, rather add little slithers here and there when I see fit. SW was heavily inspired by the novel ‘Lunar Park’ by Bret Easton Ellis. The novel is written from the perspective of a father, what SW has done is turned things on its head and made the story in ‘FOABP’ from the fathers sons point of view. That of a terminally bored kid with little to do other to sit in a darkened room playing playstation games, watching hardcore pornography whilst being addicted to prescription drugs. The album is very much ‘this’ kids view on his life as he see’s it.  If you need further clarification, all you have to do is read the lyrics. What is equally as important as the lyrics, is the music, this album is one of the best albums for production and musicianship I’ve ever had the pleasure to listen to! 

So the album opens up with the title track ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’after what sounds like someone typing on a computer keyboard [the kid, possibly googling for pornography] a vibrant fast paced guitar enters which is soon joined by Gavin Harrison’s immense drumming. If you though GH sounded good on ‘Deadwing’ you’re in for a treat, his drumming on this album is fantastic. The song is joined with some great rhythmic singing from SW, which opens up the song and sets the scene for the next 7 minutes. The song features some nice playing by all the band members, and it’s a fantastic album opener which draws you in from the very start, the metal section mid-song is awesome, and the outro section bringing a change of pace for the next song. All the tracks on ‘FOABP’ merge into one another, SW has said that he wanted the album to be heard as one continuous piece of music, the transitions are wonderfully done.

So when ‘My Ashes’ appears next you are ready for it. This could be described as the ‘Lazarus’ of ‘FOABP’, with lush acoustic guitars and SW’s soothing voice leading the way. What I like about this song though is the soundscapes provided by Richard Barbieri, they really add a punch to the song in creating a delectable atmosphere. This song works really well in luring the listener into a false sense of security because the next track is possibly the best Porcupine Tree song ever created, at least in my opinion.  

Before the album tracks were officially named, the 3rdsong on the album was affectionately known my fans as ‘The Beast’ and quite rightly so. ‘Anesthetize’ is one hell of a 17 minute ride. Now I don’t initially dismiss long songs  as being pretentious, or overly bloated like many people would do, that’s not to say that some aren’t. ‘Anesthetize’ certainly isn’t, it could be described as being divided into 3 distinct sections, the 1stsection features Gavin Harrison’s drumming at its best, a georgous chorus plus a fantastic guitar solo provided by Alex Lifeson. [Rush] The 2ndsection comprises of a lengthy instrumental part followed by a vocal part that’s so full of texture and hidden depth it comes bursting out of the speakers by the bucketload. The talent displayed by each band member during this section is a delight to hear. The 3rd section is what could be best described as total sweetness for the ears, completely contrasting the other two sections that came before it. The vocal harmonies are out of this world, and overall I couldn’t possibly think of a better way to end the song. Perfection.

 The rest of the album is still fantastic, although nothing comes close to beating the 17 minute centerpiece, the next song ‘Sentimental’is sort of a companion song to ‘My Ashes’. It has some wonderful piano in it, and even manages to give a sly wink to ‘Trains’ off of ‘In Absentia’. The only thing that I didn’t like about this song at first was the weird Banjo solo [if it is indeed a Banjo] that is played over the ‘Trains-like’ riff. I’d hate to listen to the song without it now! 

‘Way Out Of Here’is a little bit of a anomaly, you see this song wasn’t originally debuted with the rest of the album back on the 2006 fall tour. The reason being that a song called ‘Cheating The Polygraph’ was in its place. SW either decided that ‘CTP’ wasn’t good enough to make the final album or just didn’t fit in very well, so the band got together and wrote ‘WOOH’ to fill the void. Good choice because its miles better then ‘CTP’ which actually ended up on the ‘Nil Recurring EP’. The song also contains some rather inspired soundscapes by none other then the legend himself Robert Fripp [King Crimson] who is actually a very good friend of SW. These soundscapes fit lovingly into a section of the song before a big chunky metal riff comes in and rips everything apart. I love the interplay on this song, and the outro features some fantastic bass work off of the wonderful Colin Edwin. 

The album closes on ‘Sleep Together’. One of the best PT album closers yet, normally a PT album closer is a fairly downbeat affair such as ‘Stop Swimming’, ‘Feel So Low’ or ‘Glass Arm Shattering’. Not in this case, what could be best described as Nine Inch Nails meets Massive Attack meets ELO is the meal of choice. I’m an absolute sucker for dark electronica, more-so for strings, you meld the two and oh boy what a result! The outro section is one of the most memorable pieces of music I’ve heard in a decade. 

‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’ is without a doubt the best PT release yet, only one other PT album in my opinion would score the same, that being ‘In Absentia’, and I’ve not reviewed that one yet! If you like to lose yourself within the dark corridors of your mind for 50 minutes, and indulge yourself in a reverse ‘Lunar Park’ then I can highly recommend you order this work of art immediately. You won’t be disappointed. 

Lineup: 

Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards
Richard Barbieri – keyboards and synthesizers
Colin Edwin – bass guitars
Gavin Harrison – drums  

Guests: 
Alex Lifeson (Rush) – guitar solo on “Anesthetize”
Robert Fripp (King Crimson) – soundscapes on “Way Out of Here”
John Wesley – backing vocals 

Score: 5.0/5.0 

D.P

 

 


       

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Rock\Acoustic

Year Of Release: 2008

Record Label: Transmission

Recommended for fans of: Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, John Wesley and Steven Wilson.

 

Track Listing:

  1. “The Sky Moves Sideways” – 4:02
  2. “Even Less” – 3:27
  3. “Stars Die” – 4:33
  4. “Waiting” – 3:52
  5. “Normal” – 4:52
  6. “Drown With Me” – 4:09
  7. “Lazarus” – 4:29
  8. “Trains” – 4:04

Review

 This recording is quite a treat for long-time fans of the band, however it didn’t turn out as originally planned. The full band were set to appear at Park Avenue CDs in Orlando, Florida, however due to lack of space, it was decided that only Steven Wilson and John Wesley would play to 200 fans that had managed to cram themselves into the store.This is very interesting because John Wesley isn’t even a full member of the band, he just helps PT in the live environment, and adds to the studio recordings when needed. I’d argue that he may as well be part of the band full-time, something which wouldn’t bother me at all, but seems to have some PT fans divided.

Whichever camp you belong to, you can’t deny the mans talent, and it shows on this recording! The first 3 songs are played by Steven Wilson on his own, and then John Wesley comes and adds to the last 5, the songs are mostly semi-acoustic arrangements of the full band versions, most of which work extremely well in this kind of setting.

 The album starts with ‘The Sky Moves Sideways’and is probably the hardest to re-arrange given the source material, the original being 36 minutes in length divided into 2 parts that bookend the album it comes from. It has been arranged so only the section with lyrics has been used, which makes much sense, and is one of the best parts of the original song anyway! Before the song begins, it is announced that Porcupine Tree are coming onto the stage, to which SW replies ‘actually, its only me!’ which is met by an enthusiastic applause, its nice that the SW/Audience interaction is kept on the record, it enhances the performance. The song itself is wonderful, with the omission of an acoustic arrangement in favor of an electric approach, at first I thought the vocals were too high in the mix, however its just because of the new arrangements sounding different to the originals, the mix is perfect for a live recording. 

The albums only low-point follows the fantastic opener, it’s in the shape of ‘Even Less’a song which has been acoustically performed before and sounded wonderful. The problems lies in the way SW decided to perform it on this occasion, full marks for creativity, none for the execution, its performed entirely on an electric guitar in a sort of jazzed up tempo, which just sounds plain wrong. The electric guitar just doesn’t work very good with the sung verses. You know you don’t like a song when you skip it on your winamp playlist everytime its about to play. 

However bad the arrangement of a PT classic, the next track makes up for it 100-fold, we’re told by SW prior to him starting, that ‘Stars Die’ was the first PT song to get radio play back in 1993. It’s also a song that very rarely gets played at all these days, and almost never by the full band, so its inclusion on this album is an absolute joy to the ears. I’m conflicted to whether I prefer this version to the original album version, it’s a close call! 

John Wesley joins the fun for the next song ‘Waiting’ which is one of my favourite PT songs of all time, it appears on the album ‘Signify’ in 2 parts [or phases!] this arrangement doesn’t stray too far from ‘Waiting Phase 1’, the solo sounds refreshingly different, which I’d guess JW is playing. Again this song is also a rarity these-days for the full band to play so it’s great to hear it in any form. 

The only new material on this release comes in the form of ‘Normal’, a song that is from the recently released ‘Nil Recurring EP’. There is some hilarious talk from SW addressing the issue of how hard the song is to play live, with the finished product the result of much studio wizardry [and multiple takes!], he even rang up Robert Fripp [King Crimson] to ask for advice on learning the part he had written speed wise, since Fripp is a big fan of guitar discipline. The song itself is largely stripped down from the EP version, and its essentially just the chorus, however it works because of its freshness. This is because as far as I’m aware it wasn’t even played by the full band on the FOABP/NR tour dates, so its already cemented itself in history as the only live recording of the song in some form! 

The next song is the highlight of the album, ‘Drown With Me’ has always been a bit of an oddity in the sense that it didn’t make the final cut on the ‘In Absentia’ album. It’s possibly one of the best PT songs ever written, and better then a lot of the tracks that did make the final cut of the album. Regardless, this version is an absolute treat to behold, it’s a song that has always sounded good due to the fantastic harmonies that it contains. I’ve always liked JW’s singing, he does sing at a higher pitch then SW, so when the two combine on this track, the end result is awesome! It’s worth buying this release for just this one song, if you’re having any reservations. 

The last two tracks are fairly standard PT tracks that have been getting regular playings on tour dates for years, both being fan favourites.‘Lazarus’ is always a treat to hear, and I think it works better like this then played by the full band, as such it’s sparser, but it actually increases the strength of the song. Typical for a finishing song ‘Trains’ follows, to which the crowd go nuts about, only fair really being quite an amazing song. The live version has always been different from the studio release, in a faster tempo and lower key, and I prefer the live arrangement, has far more energy and is a treat to see played live. 

So with ‘Trains’ the 33 minute live event closes, I read somewhere that ‘Stop Swimming’ was going to be played, but ‘Lazarus’ replaced it at the last minute. So my only other criticism other then the poor version of ‘Even Less’ would be why not to have included ‘Stop Swimming’ as well?  

‘We Lost The Skyline’ is a good addition to any PT fans collection, however I’d wouldn’t recommend it for PT newbies, they’d be better starting off on the full albums before they would enjoy the material as it appears here.  

Lineup: 

Steven Wilson: Acoustic and Electric guitar, Vocals
John Wesley: [Tracks 4-8] Electric guitar, Backing vocals 

Score: 3.0/5.0 

D.P

Porcupine Tree – Deadwing


 

Genre: Rock/Metal
Year Of Release: 2005
Record Company: Lava
Recommended for fans of: Tool, Opeth, Anathema, Radiohead and Muse.

 Track Listing:

1. “Deadwing” – 9:46
2. “Shallow” – 4:17
3. “Lazarus” – 4:18
4. “Halo” – 4:38
5. “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here” – 12:02
6. “Mellotron Scratch” – 6:57
7. “Open Car” – 3:46
8. “The Start of Something Beautiful” – 7:39
9. “Glass Arm Shattering” – 6:12
 

Review

Deadwing is the first ever Porcupine Tree album I heard, I had always wanted to check these guys out after I heard the track ‘Sever’ on a classic rock CD that came free with the magazine Classic Rock UK. Having checked the bands website I downloaded and watched the promotional video for the album which I enjoyed, watching Steve Wilson and Co mess around in the studio. So right after watching it, I thought the time is now and immediately ordered a copy, and I wasn’t let down when it arrived.Now there are two kinds of people [in my opinion] when listening to Progressive Music, the 1st would listen to the album once, form an opinion [usually a bad one] and move on. The 2nd person is like I am, an active listener and actually gives the album a chance by many a repeated listening. Truth be told I heard the album once, even twice and thought its alright, nothing special, but nothing could be further from the truth, for it’s essential to have many a repeat listening before it strikes you just how good this album is. Then the quality and production of this album really hits you!

‘Deadwing’ opens with some soft synth in a repeating rhythmic phase, it catches your attention because on the first listen you have no idea where the song is going, and this is crucial for the opening track. Then wham, straight into a hard-hitting progression that’s in drop D [gotta love lowering your bottom E!] it carries for a few measures and then, ‘what’s this you’re saying?’ it sounds like ‘Opeth’, yeah it does but with a bit of PT magic in there, SW goes crazy on the guitar and gives us a meaty palm muted riff. Then his voice enters ‘Something warm and sumptuous passed me by’ he softly sings, what can he be on about? More I must hear more! ‘My bleeding heart does not extend to charity…’ you can almost feel pain in SW’s voice, the lyrics in this song may be on the depressing side, but there’s something to relate to for everyone. Midway through the song the main riff is repeated with a mini-solo that sounds cool layered on everything else, and then the best bit of this track begins. It goes all quiet the synths come back, followed by a quiet guitar solo. Then the main theme comes back and the song finishes on the quiet side, it is a 9-minute mini-epic that is very cleverly written.

‘Shallow’ follows the title track, and is possibly the most aggressive [at least in the sense of all the way through] on the album, and is the most radio friendly, lets hope it gets some airtime. Nice killer riff is prevalent throughout. With gentler prechorus and consistent drumming. I’d like to think that this song is about how Shallow some people can be and take things at face value ‘it’s easier to talk to my PC’ and ‘All I know is on my own’ would seem to confirm this. The middle 8 of the song has a cool guitar based jam with some excellent sound FX’s and voice manipulation, it just screams ‘frustration’. This is a good track to show to potential listeners, as it will draw them in real fast! It’s not my favourite track on the album though, because it’s not as varied and progressive as the others.

The next song ‘Lazarus’ is a gorgeous acoustically led track, with some synth piano backing, it shows just how good a writer SW is, he can write soft tracks and hard tracks no problem [he combines the two perfectly in Arriving Somewhere Not Here] and this is a great chill out track. Has a sort of Banjo Solo near the end of the song that sounds sublime, only a short track but it has the desired effect. ‘Follow me down to the valley below, moonlight is bleeding from out of your soul’ beautiful! If Coldplay had written this song it would have been MASSIVE. So fans of the band should check this song out.

‘Halo’ starts with an immense bass line, backed up with some drums and synths, then a crazy bit of fast picking guitar line enters, as the lyrics continue. This song seems to be about the errors of religious fanaticism; the lyrics, especially the chorus is very catchy. I think SW is trying to imply that a lot of religious people seem to think they are better then non-religious people, when it doesn’t really matter. Still the song is awesome, nice heavy middle 8 with a crazy solo in it, before the main theme is reprised and the song ends.The 12-minute

‘Arriving Somewhere But Not Here’ is arguably the best track on the album; it’s so immense and achieves its aim. The way it builds up is very clever, it starts soft and you’d be mistaken in thinking it’s going to keep like that, for as the song builds up and segues into the middle 8 section, it’s happy days for headbangers! Such a forceful riff that changes into another forceful riff, and then by the wonders of multitracking is joined by another cracking riff that drives the middle 8. The drumming is very rhythmic near the end, almost sounds like bongos. One of the best tracks that PT have written without a doubt!
‘Mellotron Scratch’ starts with a nice clean electrically led riff, with some decent electronic percussion, then SW’s voice enters, sounding rather downbeat before the song picks up some pace. It’s the chillout track of the album there’s no doubt about that has a decent enough chorus and the lyrical content is ok. It is a little sublime though, especially the outro, which I think, is the best part of the song. Has a nice repeating riff, backed by a light electric guitar solo. My least favourite track on the album but its still top notch.

‘Open Car’ is a track has grown on me a lot; at first I thought it was just a Shallow clone, but its actually better then shallow and a lot heavier in places. Opens up with the kind of palm muted riff that Tool or Opeth would use extensively with SW hitting you with strong lyrics. Then wham into a heavy metal riff, as the drums enter. The chorus is a little lighter on the ears at least till the end, killer riff and excellent vocal work by SW, ‘Hair blown in an open car’ he yells! I’m still trying to figure out what this song is on about; I think maybe it’s about things falling apart in your life. Nice song to rock to.

‘The Start Of Something Beautiful’ is at least initially the least accessible song on the album, at least for me; the music itself is very strong, what you would expect Porcupine Tree of delivering now. I particularly like the solos, which sound quite menacing in places. The main riff is good, and the piano that follows it is a bonus. The outro is very simplistic in the fact it’s just the main riff but heavier and some uplifting SW lyrics, about not giving a damn. I think this song is about being knocked down at the beginning of a relationship, when you in fact think it’s all right, but then after thinking about it not actually giving a shit about it. That’s cool.

‘Glass Arm Shattering’ is the final song on the album and its wicked, perfect for rounding off what’s been quite a trip throughout the whole of the album. Starts off with some static and some nice guitar, then some spacey synths enter [bonus!] before SW starts singing in an uplifting [as if he’s come to a conclusion about something] voice, which is very relaxing to listen to. The track progresses quite nicely, with a nice piano led middle 8. The song finishes after a heavier section more or less as it started, nice and mellow, the lyrics lead out to finish the song. Lovely!

So there you have it, it’s pretty much their best album to date as regards progression of their sound, since they have leaned towards a harder edge this time round, which is certainly refreshing. Be nice if the soundtrack could accompany a film of some sorts as SW originally intended. The futures bright for this band, you never know quite what you’re going to get and that’s what progressive music is all about.

Lineup:

Steven Wilson: Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Bass, Keyboards & Hammered Dulcimer.
Richard Barbieri: Keyboards & Synthesizers
Colin Edwin: Bass
Gavin Harrison: Drums & Percussion

Guests

Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) – Guitar & Vocals
Adrian Belew (King Crimson) – Guitar

Score: 4.5/5.0

D.P