Year Of Release: 2007
Record Label: Roadrunner
Recommended for fans of: Tool, Opeth, Anathema, Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Massive Attack.
- “Fear of a Blank Planet” – 7:28
- “My Ashes”– 5:07
- “Anesthetize” – 17:42
- “Sentimental” – 5:26
- “Way Out of Here” – 7:37
- “Sleep Together” – 7:28
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.
Steven Wilson – vocals, guitars, piano, keyboards
Richard Barbieri – keyboards and synthesizers
Colin Edwin – bass guitars
Gavin Harrison – drums
Alex Lifeson (Rush) – guitar solo on “Anesthetize”
Robert Fripp (King Crimson) – soundscapes on “Way Out of Here”
John Wesley – backing vocals