1. Who is the band? What is their history? What motivates them?
“Porcupine Tree is unquestionably one of the most difficult-to-categorize and innovative bands working today. The music is breathtaking, ranging from psychedelic trip-hop to progressive metal, and a compendium of other sounds and genres in between”
The band was founded by Steven Wilson, initially as a solo project. The first major release was ‘On the Sunday of Life...’ in 1992, an album of psychedelia and studio experiments which bears little relation to the band's current sound. From here, Wilson expanded the sound, creating the progressive rock/ambient trance fusion on the 30-minute long single “Voyage 34.” One of the only constants in Porcupine Tree’s music is how it continues to evolve and confront the expectations of the band's fans from album to album (PT’s Myspace 2009).
2. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?
Their latest effort, a two disc phenomena to really cement their character as one of the innovators in the genre.
3. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?
Part I – Occam’s Razor – Open with a razor to shave away the assumptions. Ok, but what about the similarities to other people’s music. If you are an innovator, why sound like Moving Pictures era Rush in your opening blitz. It’s been done before. However, it still does sound cool, along with all the ‘sound processing’.
Part II – The Blind House – “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” The bellowing guitar and blasting drums add effect and surround you with power. Then you get the ELP Take a Pebble vocals as Steve begins to sing, “If you were to stay always here, all these years, a last frontier.” “The world outside corrupts my child.” Ah, the blame game. A common thread on most of their albums. Back again. The music is good, powerful, but the lyrics, well, leave you wanting more. The song drifts off into sounds of eerie synths and the banging of a pipe against bars, with ‘free love’ and ‘blind house’ being echoed into the distance. Ideas gone…fade to sound processing. Then the roaring guitars are back. Probably sounds and looks really cool live on stage.
Part III – Great Expectations – “A summer day and garlands, I feel secure.” Those Pink Floyd sounds which make so many Floyd fans love this band. Great expectations are what I had for this new album.
Part IV – Kneel and Disconnect – “Kneel and disconnect and waste another year.” “Fill the application, start a new career.” The music is good despite the lyrics.
Part V – Drawing the Line – That No – Man echo sound effect in the background. The first real lyric filled song. Then the refrain comes and you know you’ve heard this before. The guitars and music are good, but the lyrics don’t support the music. The vocals sound emotionless. I know that’s the effect they may be striving for, but the vocals don’t convey the power of the lyrics.
Part VI - The Incident – Eerie synths and whispering. That Halloween effect, just in time for the season. “When the world has gone to seed you’re so detached. Yes, this music is detached. “Got a feeling that I want you to be there.” Well say it like you mean it then. It’s always cool to be the anti – hero, but you can tell he’s trying too hard. “I want to be loved.” Yeh, again, say it with feeling.
Part VII – Your Unpleasant Family – “Your unpleasant family smashed up my car.” Great guitar solos and drums, but the music just kinda meanders.
Part VIII – The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train – A 2 minute sympathetic synth and sound processed instrumental.
Part IX – Time Flies – Then the epic song, with a Pink Floyd Animals opening and wandering acoustic guitar. The best song on either CD. Great music and very positive lyrics open this one after all the doom and gloom of the first eight tracks. “I was born in ’67.” “The year of Sergeant Pepper and Are You Experienced?”
“But after a while”, lifted right out off Animals, “you realize time flies”, instead of “working on points for style”.
The Pink Floyd Animals guitars to bring back the full memory. Then the nice acoustic interludes, with sounds that remind me of some of Steve’s work with No Man. But, then they can’t help but add the dark PF guitars again to bring home the demand that they be the new Pink Floyd, now that they’re no longer recording. Great drums and guitar.
The revving PF/Rush guitars, “how does time break down?” “Can you stop smoking your cigar?” Yeh, Have a Cigar, a Pink Floyd medley. Then back to those Animals guitars.
Part X – Degree Zero of Liberty – Just to remind you this is PT, not PF, you get the blasting guitar and drums from track one again and what must be an interpretation of a slow Hendrix type of guitar plucking. But they can’t end it there, gotta have one more set of crashing guitars and drums.
Part XI – Octane Twisted – Nice acoustic guitar for this transitional instrumental with a few lyrics and a bunch of Rush rev ups!
Part XII – The Séance – That now familiar theme of the music, bringing you back down with acoustic guitar. “Under glass light, the joining of hands.” “Chanting a name over and over.” “Flicker the light and someone is here.” Oooh, spooky. Acoustic guitar and effects to really set the stage for the Halloween theme.
Part XIII – Circle of Manias – Pounding guitars and drums and those eerie sound effects to make you feel like you’re there. Some of the riffs are very good, and I’m sure this would look and sound cool live. But it reminds me so much of Moving Pictures/Permanent Waves.
XIV – I Drive the Hearse – Quiet opening of acoustic guitar and vocals. Time for some early Genesis, to cover all bases. “And silence is another way of saying what I want to say.” “When I’m down I drive the hearst.” Nuff said.
Flicker – One of the better orchestrated songs on the album. Really has that Pink Floyd sound and feeling that everyone raves about with this band. Almost a NoSound opening to this one. Very cool. But the lyrics leave you wishing, pun intended, for something different and more. Although I really enjoy PF’s Wishing You Were Here and Animals, I think they are the only ones some of these band like. They need to explore more of the Pink Floyd catalog on future albums.
You almost expect Steve to sing, “Big man, pig man ha, ha, charade you are”, but instead we get “nothing is new here underneath the sun”; “all the big new charlatans will sneer at us.” Sounds familiar, yeh, he’s correct, from their perspective, nothing new under the sun….
Bonnie the Cat – Ooooh, more scary stuff, just in time for Halloween. The pic in the booklet says it all. “I saw the future and its breeding. I know what will be.” Glad he does, since most of us are more than willing to wait and see. More world destruction from parasitic invasion. But at least this one sounds completely different and experimental from everything else on the album. They still needed that Rush rev up on guitars to make sure no one bolts before the end of the album.
Black Dahlia – More dark subject matter and instrumentation. This one starts off very quietly with good keys and slow guitar. “You have no interest in the past.” “Where you came from or where you’re going.” Lots of sound processing again. “Never seem to get away from this.” “It’s all falling into an abyss.” These guys need a long vacation, somewhere where there is lots of sunlight!
Remember Me Lover – Slow plucked guitar, as if the life is almost sucked out of the band. The music acts in the same way to me. “I’ve been through this with you about 100 times. “ “Agreed to disagree and start again with our lives.” The hard fall after a break – up. Similar to the ending on IQ’s album this year. You feel as if it’s a farewell instead of a powerful climax and look to the future.
4. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
This will be the year I give up on trying to like this band. I have a few of their CDs and was eagerly awaiting this one because of all of the hype surrounding it. Allot of people love this band and more power to them. I’m jumping off the train before I invest any more time and money.
For me, most of this was done already by Pink Floyd and Rush and much better. I really hear allot of Rush’s Moving Pictures in this album. But I have that one already.
With all the new prog and Neo prog bands out there trying hard to create innovative and dynamic music I do not get how this band remains the most popular. But they are what they are. You either love them or can do without them.
If you like PT, you will probably like this incremental progression and tribute.
5. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?
Sure fans will love it and rank it high in their album of the year polls. But will they still be listening to it next year? I know I won’t…
Rating: 6/10 – Good instrumentation, but too many similarities make this less innovative and dynamic as some of their peers work this year. Seems to be an incremental progression rather than the dynamic progression everyone proclaims for their efforts.
I’m ready now to hear Moving Pictures...
Reviewed by Prof on November 25th, 2009