Review Summary: Sharp and concise, Fear of a Blank Planet may draw your attention because of its lyrics, but you'll stay around because its got some of the best songs Steven Wilson has ever written.
Of all the people to write a harsh social critique, focusing on the downsides of teenage consumer culture, I really wouldn’t expect it to be Steven Wilson The prolific prog rocker usually chooses his lyrical fortes as bleak Morrissey-isms (Stop Swimming
) ghost stories (Deadwing
) or creepy tales of psycho killers (Strip the Soul
), but never social criticism beyond the odd attack on the record biz. And then, how do I judge his lyrics? As a teenager myself, how do I react to his contempt for so many aspects of my generation? I myself do not think I fall under the category of people he is describing, nor do many of my friends, but its still my generation he’s often attacking. How does one even describe a social grouping or class without putting people on a pedestal or making generalizations? I don’t know I do not know the answer to these questions, but there’s no denying he has pulled it off with class and conviction. None of this would matter, of course, if the songs he writes here were not so solid, so it’s a relief that they are.
Fear of a Blank Planet
shows, in many ways, the culmination of Steven Wilson and the rest of Porcupine Tree’s influences and ambitions. Metal riffs weave in and out of spacey reverb, programmed drums interact with the remarkably fluid drumming of Gavin Harrison, and captivating melodies and lush harmonies abound. Even more importantly, the band sound even less like a less pretentious, Opeth inspired update of a 70s prog group and more like something entirely new and original. Wilson has released the industrial influences that have been flickering around the edges of past songs, while retaining his affinity for mellatrons and spacey guitar. The groups mélange of stylings has never sounded so perfectly streamlined.
On the title track, Wilson arranges surprisingly catchy riffing around a dense, rapid fire vocal delivery. “X box, is a god to me/my finer on a switch/my mother is a bitch/my father gave any hope of trying to talk to me,” his distorted vocals intone, setting the theme for the rest of the albums exploration of modern youth. But even with his obvious distain for so much of what he’s writing about, Wilson sounds honestly sympathetic on the Robert Fripp collaboration Way Out of Hear
. Wilson sings of despondence and despair over Fripp’s churning soundscapes, and Fripp’s influence can clearly be heard in mid-song a breakdown that screams Discipline
era King Crimson, before the song merges into some serious headbanging riffs.
The albums two ballads are mixed bag, however. My Ashes
is the only dull track on the album. Although it features some nice work during the verses, there just something about its chorus that doesn’t click. Sentimental
, on the other hand, is a beautiful little track with simple but effective piano lines, a stunning chorus, and a welcome, brief homage to Trains
. But nowhere has the band ever come together so perfectly as on the epic Anesthetize
, a stunning three song suite that moves from spacious, shimmering guitar riffs (with a solo from Alex Lifeson) through industrial breakdowns that wouldn’t sound out of place in a song by Trent Reznor and massive metal riffing before coming full circle to beautiful harmonies and melodic guitar. The closer, Sleep Together
slowly builds to a crushing, bombastic crescendo that leaves the album on a foreboding note.
Porcupine Tree have crafted a brilliant record, and a highly effective follow up to the wonderful Deadwing
. It’s six songs move through a variety of moods and genres, and Wilson handles his lyrics with care. Its safe to say that there won’t be another album this year that sounds like this one, and that alone is reason enough to buy this album, not the presence of two prog legends or socially conscious lyrics.