My experience with Steven Wilson related material is limited. Very limited, in fact. As far as I know, Opeth's Damnation would probably be the first album that I have listened to which Wilson had helped put together. And I loved Damnation. Steven, I believe, also produced Opeth's Blackwater Park and Deliverance a pair of albums which I readily enjoy. After observing the proggy influences of Damnation and knowing that Steven Wilson was part of progressive rock band Porcupine Tree, I was definitely looking forward to hearing the band's newest album, Fear of a Blank Planet. And after hearing Porcupine Tree's latest output, their ninth since the band's inception in 1987, I'd have to say that the album could definitely be one of the year's stronger releases.
At 51 minutes, Fear of a Blank Planet isn't exactly the longest record you'll ever hear, especially in the progressive rock. As there are only six tracks, the dangers of trying to add too much to one song just for the sake to increasing the runtime is ever present. But for the most part, Porcupine Tree does not fall victim to this trap. From the beginning of the title track to the closing notes of Sleep Together, the quartet manages make nearly every moment of every track count. With Fear of a Blank Planet, Steven Wilson guides the listener through a dark, bleak journey through Wilson's pessimistic view today's youth. Whether or not you share his beliefs is beside the point. Porcupine Tree manages to take the sense of apathy displayed by the lyrical work and reflect it in the melancholy of the music. Sometimes calm and haunting, as can be heard in Sentimental, other times monstrous and faced paced like in the title track, Porcupine Tree does a very good job in creating a captivating atmosphere which engages the listener quite well.
At 17:42 it is quite obvious that the centrepiece of Fear of a Blank Planet is the third track, titled Anesthetize. While perhaps a little bit on the lengthy side, the song combines both the angry, high paced attitudes as well as the chilling sombre attitudes. Particularly effective in getting the song's point across is the vocal efforts of Steven. "Only apathy from the pills in me / It's all in me, all in you / Electricity from the pills in me / It's all in me, all in you / Only MTV and cod philosophy," is the message conveyed by Wilson's crooning vocals during the song's chorus. A short, yet emotional and catchy guitar line follows the second and third choruses, a guitar line which defines the musical ideals of the album. Through the depressive melody you can almost feel the disturbing transition into the apathetic state of mind, blank planet if you will, which Steven stresses in his lyrics. This might very well be the most powerful moment of Fear of a Blank Planet, as the imagery conveyed is so effective.
With that in mind, my favourite track would definitely be the title track. Lyrically the track is the most scathing of its contemporaries, taking the standpoint of Wilson's stereotypical youth who is seemingly losing his way in life. The music is, as expected, rather dark and heavy, feeding off the negativity of the song. By far the catchiest track off the album, it is, for the most part driven by slightly overdriven guitars and steady bass work, as well as Wilson's fast, yet calm singing. About five minutes into the track the guitars take over for a lengthy instrumental section in which Porcupine Tree offer listeners some of the heaviest riffs on to be heard on the album. But while the pessimism never really leaves the album, there are a few moments where the band seems to be a little more sympathetic rather than aggressive and harsh. My Ashes is one of these songs. The shortest song on the album, the track maintains a mellow, almost magical feel. Porcupine Tree makes excellent use of piano, mellotrons, and sporadic electronic effects here and there. The chorus is exceptionally effective, as Wilson's vocals really complement the mellotrons, creating a soothing, infectious sound.
Overall, Fear of a Blank Planet is a superb effort. Combining an interesting, valid lyrical concept with dark, sombre musical efforts, Porcupine Tree has crafted themselves one hell of a recording. Throughout the six track, 51 minute album, the band manages to reflect the frighteningly angsty, apathetic world which the lyrics describe with a varied, captivating approach. True, some of the songs could have been a bit shorter but despite this minor flaw, I find Fear of a Blank Planet to be a very entertaining effort. With its intense, driving the title track is probably the strongest effort of the disc, but the album is solid enough where you could enjoy to any of its songs. Fans of progressive rock should definitely give this a shot, as it will likely go down as one of the year's stronger releases.
Only apathy from the pills in me / It's all in me, all in you
Fear of a Blank Planet
BTW, anybody besides me realize that part of the mellow section in Anesthetize was one of Wilson's solo recordings? I can't remember the name of it, but it was made entirely out of tracks of his voice. _____ Grave or something. I'm ranting on and nobody knows what I'm talking about.
As much of a great album as this is, it's actually been making me hella depressed lately. Of course, I have missed taking my happy pills for a few days, so I don't think that's helping. Still, the album's a pretty damn heavy one - when people ask me what it's about, I usually just tell them "the terminal boredom of an entire generation", and their expression gets all glum, and the conversation kinda ends there.
This album is far and away superior to Deadwing, and it really hits home as far as psychologist pill obsession is concerned. I feel like a complete pussy, but the live performance of Anesthetize managed to steal away a couple tears from me.
I'm probably a fanboy, but PT is the best thing to happen to modern rock.