Porcupine Tree (PT) is a good thing for music at a number of levels. When I first heard a PT song (I think it was Blackest Eyes from In Absentia), what I loved was the textural and structural complexity of Progressive music without losing such fundamental things such as melody and groove. It was important for me to hear this, because at the time when I heard it, I had pretty much lost faith in whatever direction Prog was taking. I was a huge fan of Dream Theater until Scenes from a Memory, after which they got lost in exhibitionist instrumental masturbation, and lost focus on melody, except for a brief period during Octavarium. The more I looked back, the worse it got. From the ‘classic’ 70’s prog, I only found relatively simple and textured stuff wonderful (like Lucky Man by ELP and Roundabout by Yes) and truly compelling. The rest was mindless theory lessons. What I wanted was something as real as a bulb being engineered. What I got was the string theory.
And along came Porcupine Tree, who taught me complexity in simplicity. Steven Wilson cannot hit glass shattering notes. Yet, his voice has a unique hum to it that makes it unforgettable. His guitar playing is not virtuosic (indeed, many of his solos betray an incomplete understanding of soloing), but his riffs are probably more unique than anything Emerson, Lake and Palmer might have managed.
Richard Barbieri seems to have absolutely no interest in playing anything other than atmospheric keyboard chords. Yet he gives a performance worthy of Pink Floyd, and they truly breathe life into the otherwise slightly sterile world of keyboard programming.
Similarly, neither the drummer or the bass player are anything other than decent at their respective instruments, but their individual parts are so well thought out, that I’m compelled to hear them again and again.
I’ve heard this album multiple times, and I don’t need to hear it again to tell you, that it’s fantastic. Utterly fantastic. Metal, rock, and ambient music and seamlessly woven together in a rich and satisfying journey that fills the ears and calms the nerves. It’s not happy music, for sure, but thankfully, the album gets over before things start to get harrowing.
The highlights of the album (and indeed any Porcupine Tree album) in my mind are the performances of Steven Wilson and Richard Barbieri. While Wilson’s lyrics aren’t poetic, or well phrased in isolation, they are usually sparse and the general mood is conveyed in a few short words. The music fills these words with meaning. The chorus of the title track is a truly beautiful thing, and rises from the down n’ dirty riffing of the verses in inimitable PT fashion. Also to be noted is the last track ‘Sleep Together’ which starts with one of the coolest electronic grooves I have ever heard, and later segues into an eastern sounding orchestra thing that (don’t kick me, Zepplin fans) out-Kashmirs Kashmir. Unfortunately, it also ends in the world’s most pointless drum roll, which irritates me a little after so many minutes of satisfyingly full-sounding music.
Thankfully, however, this is one apple that doesn’t spoil the bunch. I might sound like I’m gushing a little, but PT restored my faith in music on two levels. First, it told me that the future of progressive music doesn’t necessarily mean higher playing proficiency, but in better thought out melodies and grooves. Secondly, it taught me the importance of putting feel and mood ahead of everything. Virtuosity adds an element, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of the mood. I’m grateful to Steven Wilson and friends. This sounds very right.
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