I have loved every single Porcupine Tree album, for various reasons. You might want to read thatdoesntsoundright‘s reviews of In Absentia and Fear of a Blank Planet to get some concurrence on that. As a result, my expectations for the rather detached sounding The Incident were very high. In anticipation of the same, I read loads of Steven Wilson interviews, absorbing the lyrical themes and- breaking a music reviewer’s taboo- even read some of the reviews, all of which were glowing.
Sadly, this album has the distinction of being the first Porcupine Tree album to disappoint me by its lack of soul. I detected some similar song structures in the beginning, such as the soft-loud dynamic and heavy chords sustained longer than intuitively expected. Is Porcupine Tree starting to run out of ideas, I wondered? Are they going to the Dream Theater way? 7 minutes into the disc, and I was feeling just a tad shortchanged, not in the least because of the unsuccessfully grandiose opening on Disc 1. I found this album curiously joyless. It lacks the magic that made each and every PT album until now shine.
Steven Wilson’s vocal phrasing has subtly shifted to sound less distinct and more….poppy. The lovely falsetto is missing, as is the slightly breathy style, replaced by a croon that wouldn’t go amiss in something like Third Eye Blind. I wouldn’t jump to conclusions and say that Porcupine Tree are selling out. It’s just that this is a subtle shift in style that isn’t exactly endearing.
By the middle of the big track on Disc 1, I was starting to panic. It seemed to me that the first sign of a band losing out on its creative steam is coming out with ambitiously huge songs. Think of all the major Prog bands that came and went. Think ELP, Gentle Giant and Dream Theater. If Porcupine Tree’s discography were to be placed parallel to Dream Theater’s discography, I’d place Scenes from a Memory and Fear of a Blank Planet on the same pedestal. And sadly, Six Degrees and The Incident on a lower, slightly shabby level.
The big song on disc 1 is irritating; it lurches between musical motifs, none of which are established into coherent movements, before the band seems to decide, “Hey, let’s try THIS!” Even held on their own merits, the motifs (except the sexy synth doodle in the beginning of the sub-track titled “the Incident”) are not really catchy enough to be heard again and again. I’m sad to report that Porcupine Tree’s first monster epic is a bit limp.
Don’t for a minute think that The Incident is a bad album in isolation. Its just that, PT has had so many excellent albums, that a relatively weak album immediately after their best work sounds disproportionately soggy. For a long time, while I was listening to the songs again and again, I was wondering what crucial element was missing here which was present previously. Then it hit me; the clean guitar hooks are missing. Remember “Blackest Eyes”? “The Sound of Muzak”? “Trains”? Exactly.
The second side, with 4 separate songs, is much, much better from the get go. “Flicker” is a great song, and its sound neatly bifurcates In absentia and Fear of a Blank Planet, falling in the middle in terms of the heavy/mellow scale. “Bonnie the Cat” is a crappy mid-
tempo song until the three minute mark, where it has a great psychedelic solo (keyboard?) followed by a truly sexy distorted bass-anchored metal section that would make most Thrash Metal bands hide under the table and ask for their mommas. “Remember me Lover” is also good, with it being the only song on this album in which the lyrics are simultaneously discernible and immediately comprehensible in the mix. It also has a deliciously familiar hooky clean electric guitar lick around which the song is built.
The band itself has an extremely produced sound (as always), but the performances are not that great. Colin Edwin’s bass sounds good only occasionally, and Steven Wilson gets sludgy on occasion. One of the real positives though, is drummer Gavin Harrison. His sound is extremely distinct, slightly echoey and trebly without being tinny. He is surely one of the great drummers of this century.
But sadly, one great drummer cannot completely assuage this album. PT have started to show some classic signs of a Prog band past its peak. I’ll give them many chances, of course, because I love their previous material so much. I sincerely hope the next album is much better. Though a good album in isolation, by Porcupine Tree levels, this does not sound right.
– El Bajista