Review Summary: What should attract you to this album is the overall quality of the songwriting, the inherent emotion-energy found therein and the good long-winded ambient space-rock moments as well...
Although In Absentia (2003) may very well be the heaviest prog album Porcupine Tree has ever released, Deadwing certainly continues the trend of alternating between the heavier tracks on offer and the more soothing ones. Personally, I think Steve Wilson hit the ball out of the park with Deadwing.
The North American version contains a previously released bonus track, “She’s Moved On” (exclusive to the North American release only) while a 72 page hardback book special edition version which comes complete with a DVD-V 5.1 surround sound (but without the bonus track) which is also only available via the band’s official website:
(included here for those who may actually be interested in such things.)
OK, lets focus on Deadwing a little bit. The band really rock out on tracks like “Shallow” and “Open Car” while on other songs they spill plenty of atmosphere all over the place. Many will find some of these long-winded moments annoying, unnecessarily slowing down the flow of the album for them, while others such as myself will simply accept them for what they are. Did I forget to mention that Porcupine Tree is a prog band and that Deadwing is a prog album! When you sit down to digest this prog meal, do it just as you would a Pink Floyd album. This should help put the music in perspective for you, now lets look a little deeper into the album shall we...
1. “Deadwing” - 9m46s - (8/10)
The album opens with a sequencer and some brief special effects before the band quickly move into high gear with an aggressive guitar riff leading the way. Steven Wilson introduces the listener to all the different vocal effects that he pretty much uses throughout the album. This includes whispers and spoken word all the way to the clean harmonies. The track includes several very different guitar solos, the first by Steve Wilson himself and the guitar work near the end of the track is by guest musician Adrian Belew of King Crimson. There’s a slow atmospheric moment mid way through the track with some eerie guitar work. The reason for the lower rating has to do with the overall length of the track and the impact this has on deadening the repeated main guitar riff.
2. “Shallow” - 4m17s - (9.5/10)
This was the US single. As mentioned earlier, the band really rock out here. The main riff is perhaps the catchiest on the album. Matter of factly, Steven Wilson himself described “Shallow” as “the closest Porcupine Tree has come to making a big dumb rock song. It is a very enjoyable track and I appreciate prog bands who can really rock out!
3. “Lazarus” - 4m18s - (9.5/10)
The album immediately moves to the other end of the Porcupine Tree musical spectrum with the mellow and melancholic piano driven “Lazarus.” This was the other single that was only released in Germany. This is the softer side of the band...
4. “Halo” - 4m38s - (9.5/10)
What have we here? A track that is bursting with atmosphere, with a lot of talk about God, with a bass line to die for, with a catchy chorus, with interesting guitar licks that will put a big smile on your face, and some excellent Adrian Belew guitar work. God appears to be responsible for much in the world or is that just an excuse? Sample lyrics:
“God is freedom, God is truth
God is power and God is proof
God is fashion, God is fame
God gives meaning, God gives...pain!”
Compare this to Roger Waters "What God Wants - Part II," and you'll understand the connection I made with Waters, Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree.
5. “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here” - 12m02s - (10/10)
OK, Porcupine Tree finally show their true colors on “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here.” This is classic Porcupine Tree, classic progressive space rock with lots of atmosphere, lots of harmony vocals and lots of interesting music and effects. Mikael Akerfeldt makes a guest appearance on harmony vocals and performs the second guitar solo as well. This is the album’s apogee!
6. “Mellotron Scratch” - 6m57s - (9/10)
Steve Wilson has made it known that he does not like his music to be labeled progressive rock. So, what does he do? He writes a song about the Mellotron, the instrument that is perhaps most closely associated with progressive music. And what does he say about it? Near the end of the track, there are some mixed vocal melodies and although it is difficult to make out everything he’s saying, you can clearly hear the following being repeated: “blow it down, shut it down.” And if you haven’t guessed it already, the answer is "no", Porcupine Tree don’t have any use for the Mellotron.
7. “Open Car” - 3m46s - (10/10)
The stop/start opening cadence of the music and vocals in the verses with the rock like riff is misleading the listener into thinking that this might just be another single until the bridge and chorus comes along. Here the Pink Floydish influences take over for an about turn that will leave most meanstreamers perplexed about the whole thing. But, it’s the combination of the two that makes this track so interesting to me and what to say about the acoustic guitar ending? The other thing I really like is the fact that it is very much a progressive influenced track that clocks in well under the 4 minute mark. That in itself is a remarkable accomplishment! I love everything about this one.
8. “Start of Something Beautiful” - 7m40s - (9/10)
More wonderful bass lines, special effects and simply over-spilling in atmosphere. I like the upbeat rock feel of the chorus but Steve Wilson’s over processed voice takes away from the overall energy and impact here. I would have much preferred a dry/compressed clean approach. Anyway, the lyrics are much better here and there’s an excellent balance between the softer melancholic moments and the heavier ones.
9. “Glass Arm Shattering” - 6m13s - (8/10)
The drawn out spacey ambient Pink Floydish opening moments is classic prog through and through. The track actually ends with about 10 seconds of static noise around the 6m13s mark. There is about 5 minutes of nothing but silence that follows. Now, this is the actual end of the normal version of the album and as such, this album would not have been rated as high as it has. It would have merited a solid 4 stars and nothing more. Not sure why the extended silence, but as stated earlier, the North American version of the album contains a bonus track...
10. “She’s Moved On” - 5m02s - (10/10) (bonus track)
The intro to this track reminds one of the opening moments of “Open Car.” But this is a very different track altogether. It’s moody, it’s catchy, it’s one of the highlight’s found on an earlier album released in 2000 entitled Lightbulb Sun, one of the bands true high points. To include it here was a very smart move as new North American fans just getting into the band will know exactly what they are getting into if they go looking into Porcupine Tree’s back catalog, especially the last 4 albums anyway. ;)
The album is an enhanced CD that can also be played on your computer. The liner notes state that the Windows Media version required to view the video is ONLY supported by Windows 2000 and higher. The video content is not all cohesive and perhaps a little scattered but it is additional information that is usually not shared or made available by many artists today.
The booklet does not contain any lyrics, instead it is filled with scattered images and thoughts with the exception of the last few pages which includes the usual pertinent facts about the album and of course - the list of thank you’s. For instance, you learn that Paul Northfield and George Schilling both made guest appearances on guitar but it is not revealed where exactly? Another important piece of information you learn from reading the liner notes is that Deadwing was based on a screenplay written by Steven Wilson and Mike Bennion. Bennion is also credited with the artwork and montage. And for all you music equipment buffs, “this recording makes extensive use of Line 6 modelling guitars, effects, and amplifiers, and software by native Instruments.” Interesting indeed!
I was never a big Porcupine Tree fan as they hadn’t really released anything truly spectacular to me, always good quality music, always above par but always missing a little something to take it to the next level, to take it over the top for me. In Absentia and Lightbulb Sun were both so close, yet I still found that “something” was missing or lacking. With Deadwing that “little something” finally found it’s footing for me. Steve Wilson went further than he ever has and in directions that many would have thought he’d never go. This risk taking attitude has helped Steven Wilson create and produce one hell-of-an album, truly one of the better prog albums of 2005!