Review Summary: Porcupine Tree’s awesome new album contains many musical and dynamic contrasts as well as being an intriguing conceptual album about today’s youth.
When I first saw that the subject of Steven Wilson’s new album was going to be about today’s youth I was very interested in what exactly he was going to say about them. I know all about this topic because I’m seventeen so it was especially interesting for me to interpret the lyrics. Written from a satirical standpoint of a rather standard modern teenager, Fear of a Blank Planet brings us Wilson’s views on the topic of today’s MTV, video game, and I-Pod generation.
Not only is it lyrically interesting but musically as well. This CD shows Porcupine Tree with a harder and darker edge than ever, often using crunchy and even death metal riffs. A good example of this sound would be the hard section of the song “Arriving Somewhere but not Here” off of their last album. However, while that ferocious section was admittedly slightly out of place, the harder parts on this album are not because they are more numerous and more strategically placed. Fans of the quieter Porcupine Tree do not fear. This album balances itself out fantastically with even better placed quiet sections that range from sad to scary in sound. Whether this CD is pummeling your ears with Porcupine Tree’s own brand of distortion or their signature spacey atmospheric interludes, the consistency in production and musicianship is as good as it has ever been.
Fear of a Blank Planet (7:28)- This beginning track begins with quick and dark acoustic guitar plucking followed by a drum beat, some distortion and the rest of the instruments. The verse here is fairly catchy, talking about the daily habits of a standard teenager. Backing up this vocally driven verse is a solid bassline, some crunchy distortion and some atmospheric synthesizer. While still moderately heavy, this song remains melodic with a good higher and clean electric guitar and Wilson’s catchy vocals. Some of the more interesting lyrical examples in this song are:
- “TV. Yea it’s always on. A flicker of the screen, a movie actor screams. I’m basking in the *** flowing out of it.”
-“X-Box is a god to me. My finger’s on the switch. My mother is a bitch. My father gave up ever trying to talk to me.”
-“I’m through with pornography. The acting is lame the action is tame. Explicitly dull and rather a lull.”
-“My friend says he wants to die. He’s in a Band. They sound like Pearl Jam. The clothes are all black, the music is crap.”
The choruses and backing vocals are mixed into the background instead of the usual foreground. After a few verses and choruses we are treated with some quiet guitar but again they launch us back into the rougher stuff. This song has an excellent sense of balance in dynamics. A key part of these transitions are the drums which create great fills and then a steady beat during non-transitional moments. The song wraps with a very pretty quiet part that has some very nice piano and clean electric guitar. Overall, an excellent first track for this album and an interesting window into Wilson’s views. 4.5/5
My Ashes (5:07)- Continuing in the vein of the last part of track 1, My Ashes begins with some hauntingly dark melodic guitar followed by piano and acoustic guitar. Wilson’s vocals are powerful in the verse but the chorus is probably one of his least catchy ones, maybe even a little annoying. During the choruses there are some violins and other orchestral instruments which also return in the verse later on, adding a mystical effect which more than make up for the slightly annoying job they have in the chorus. Nothing amazing on this track as far as guitar, bass and drums go but the piano and synthesizer work is very dreamy and creates that mystical feel that really drives the song. In the end, this song does well in balancing out the heavier parts of the first and third tracks but suffers (at least for me) from the sub-par chorus. 4/5
Anesthetize (17:42)- This eighteen minute monster is completely awesome in almost every way and never gets boring. It starts off quietly with some synthesizer and clean electric guitar while still keeping that dark sound. This first part is driven mostly by a very unconventional drum beat and the bouncy guitar which sounds like something from the movie Donnie Darko. Wilson’s vocals, which are assisted by some synthesizers and clean a guitar, are once again mixed in the background for the chorus which ends on a good note and then transitions right back into the verse. Bass work during this part is quite interesting and carries us after the second chorus into an extremely odd sounding wall of sound which is created by a synthesizer effect and the layers of melody. After this we are back into the quiet part only to have the first distorted guitar of the track begin which serves as a good transition into the first guitar solo, which I believe is done by Rush’s Alex Lifeson (he does some sort of guitar part on this track and judging from the style I would say this one is his). This guitar solo, while not extra quick, is dark and extremely interesting and he uses a good choice of notes that adds to the feel even if it is slightly off style.
The production is highly noticeable during this next part as the mildly distorted riff goes from right speaker to left speaker in a mesmerizing manner. Some cool and quiet piano and synthesizer is played during this section and provides for some cool melody. Wilson did a highly good job at not making this song repetitive as the transitions are often seamless. One hardly notices the transition from synthesizer melodies to a crunchy and full blown distortion which lasts for like 15 seconds then we’re back into this driving riff and some more vocals. There are a lot of electric percussion noises in this song which is fairly noticeable here. After a few cool verses and choruses which are driven by a good bassline, we are treated with a low end guitar solo which is quite cool and then after that a catchy and syncopated guitar riff with a tight effect, followed by a soaring and ambient synthesizer which adds to the mystique. This next section which lasts for about 15 seconds has the heaviest stuff the band has ever done, utilizing two distorted guitars, one melodic and one menacingly loud and lots of quick drumwork with double bass pedals. After this and one more chorus the song becomes quiet with only a synthesizer and some electric percussion left.
As awesome as the first 2/3 were, this section really stands out because it is very beautiful and a little happier sounding. Wilson is back to his beautiful layered vocals and clean guitar and these carry the rest of the song along with a cool double noted bassline and steady beat. The song ends with a good clean guitar chord and some more ambience. Overall, this monster never lets down and is some of the best stuff the band has done. 5/5
Sentimental (5:26)- This shorter song is driven by some piano and a cool drum beat. The verse comes in and then the chorus, once again catchy as could be with superb layering of the vocals and a higher clean guitar motif. The acoustic guitar here is noticeable and so is the ambient piano. After a few more choruses, we are treated to an odd acoustic guitar solo and then the song fades out with more ambience. Lyrics here deal with stoned teenagers wondering the malls and wasting their time. Most of these lyrics on this album could cover at least like 10 people I know so it’s not really just Wilson exaggerating all this stuff. While this song is not musically interesting in many spots, it is a very chilled out tune and it is great at breaking up the harder tracks that were Anesthetize and the following, Way Out of Here. 4.75 / 5
Way Out of Here (7:37)- This song is defiantly a candidate for my favorite track even after the epic track 3. Robert Fripp of King Crimson contributes to some of the soundscapes on this track. If Porcupine Tree can get two all-star musicians as guests from two hit 1970s bands (Rush and King Crimson) you know their doing alright for themselves. Beginning quietly with some electric noises and ambience, the vocals follow and at first they may be a little cheesy but it is made up for by the cool guitar motif that follows which assists with the mood. After the beat and bass comes in the chorus hits us like a wall of sound; loud, distorted and melodic with some ambient wash over the whole thing. You will notice that instead of using growls or screaming to add to the intensity of the chorus, he slips the vocals into the background and distorts them slightly, which produces more or less the same effect. Just when you think Wilson is going back into the previous verse format, he jumps into a sweet, bassdriven and slightly distorted interlude with some great lyrics.
“And I’m tryin’ to forget you, and I know that I will, in a 1000 years or maybe a week. Burn all your pictures, cut out your face. … And I’m tryin’ to forget even your name and the way that you look.”
This right here sounds like standard teenage melodrama and Wilson pulls it off extremely well. After one more chorus, we are treated a guitar solo which is as psychedelic as some of the stuff on his first recordings but it fits perfectly because it’s backed by heavy distortion and some great drum fills. An ambient part follows, which sounds like some stuff out of the video game Final Fantasy 7 but the chorus comes once again preceded by heavy distortion and followed by the same kind only with spectacular drum work. After one last chorus, the song cools down, using the same scary riff from bridge one but this time with some more atmospheric piano parts and a cool bass hook. The song fades with some electric percussion and more ambience. Outstanding track. 5/5
Sleep Together (7:28)- This song begins with some strange synthesizer noise, followed by the verse. This verse uses strange effects everywhere and it’s hard to know their origin. The chorus comes in and is really rather abrupt this time heavy and even using some orchestrated strings. While having some good lyrics, this chorus is kind of annoying and too abrupt to be catchy. A big bassline comes in afterwards, carrying the song through some dissonant sounding verses. After another chorus which utilizes some backing vocals, the song quiets down and some mystical sounding piano comes in. The instruments here are quite a bit more experimental than normal and it is kind of cool during this part but suffers during others. The song slowly adds layers of instruments first drums then bass then strings and some more background vocals. The song concludes with one last orchestral chord and an abrupt halt of other instruments. Overall, not a bad track but for an ending track it could have been better. It doesn’t leave me with a great since that I listened to a truly great album like some final tracks do. 4/5
Although it lacks an exquisite final track, this album is one of the most interesting and cohesive things Porcupine Tree has put out. The theme is extremely intriguing and provides great social commentary at the state of youth today. Even if you’re not a teenager, you can get the picture and it is really quite relevant. Musically and composition wise, Fear of a Blank Planet is an extremely well balanced album and shows that the band is at the top of their game, creating a convincingly haunting album with excellent balance in dynamics. This would be a great CD for any newcomer or longtime fan.
Way Out of Here
Fear of a Blank Planet