Review Summary: Extremely talented and absolutely professional, Porcupine Tree releases another strong album, but lacks the true inspiration that has made them one of the most successful bands working in "progressive" rock.
Porcupine Tree, The Incident-
Steven Wilson- Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Richard Barbieri- Synthesizers, Keyboards
Colin Edwin- Bass Guitar, Double Bass
Gavin Harrison- Drums, Percussion
Due to some error in schedule or just a general nonchalance about release dates, I received my pre-order of The Incident several days before the official date of September 14th. I listened to it several times through and immediately found things that I really, really liked, but I realized I was very rarely moved beyond typical enjoyment. When I sat down to begin writing my review, I wrote an incredibly long, overly wordy introduction about how Porcupine Tree has arrived at this unique place in their history...how unnecessary. The more I thought about the album, the more I realized it’s quite a simple album to sum up, requiring little prerequisite knowledge of their discography. (Though obviously it would help)
Simply put, The Incident is an accessible album (which is surprising considering it’s mostly made up of one 55-minute song), that reviews the careers put forth so far by four talented and professional musicians. This professional nature, however, supplies its share of good and bad traits. The good: the writing, playing, and production all have wonderfully deft touches that remind you that; yes, they are very good at this, and the bad: professional musicians can make somewhat uninspired-work sound much better than it would be otherwise (see most of Dream Theater’s recent releases).
Steven Wilson, who is like a man with eleven hands in eleven different cookie jars, has always had a genuine and rare ability to translate his eclectic tastes into Porcupine Tree’s unique sound. In writing The Incident, it seems he has pooled together all of his interests (including electronic-driven industrial, pop-fueled alt/rock, and Meshuggah-crunching metal) to write a summary of what and who his career as a musician has created. Though the music ranges greatly in intensity, mood, and genre, there is a constant atmosphere of nostalgia and mindfulness that exists through the album. And The Incident, which is divided up into 14 extremely diverse movements, absolutely needs that constant sound in order for the feeling of unity to carry through, and fortunately it was provided.
The songs themselves do a fantastic job of highlighting Porcupine Tree’s greatest strengths. Steven Wilson’s knack for melody and choral vocal harmonies is found on almost every track. Gavin Harrison once again proves that he is a uniquely talented and creative drummer, and the overall performance of the band and production of the album would be astounding if it all wasn’t so expected. Movements themselves build and release, but the band seemed quite conscious of the arc of the album itself. There aren’t any redundant statements or too many climaxes; instead, they build tension slowly until the middle of the album. When they reach Time Flies, the centerpiece of the experience, it oozes with so much atmosphere and provides a guitar solo that screams and cries so much, you’d be surprised David Gilmour himself didn’t write it. It is one of the few moments designed to give a release that extends beyond the track itself, and may be the most satisfying moment of the The Incident. The range of the album provides enough variety in the songs to let this lack of climatic events from getting too boring. With so much room between the spacey “The Yellow Windows on the Evening Train” and the heavy-handed, electronic dirtiness of “The Incident” and “Circle of Manias”, the band is left to explore almost every sound Porcupine Tree has ever used. Steven Wilson (and the band as a whole) draw from different parts of Porcupine Tree’s evolution and fit them together in a way that is familiar on a song level, but strikingly unfamiliar in context of a full album.
My largest criticism for this album is the lack of anything truly new. Every Porcupine Tree album seems to have a new evolution in sound, and while The Incident has maybe a little bit more industrial influences, nothing reaches out and stuns the listener. Wilson has never been particularly good at writing interesting guitar rifts, and the production, as beautiful as it is, keeps the sound too controlled to let things get really exciting. This may be most evident on the disc 2 tracks, where the atmosphere of the large scale project disappears. Although four very enjoyable (even excellent) tracks, they lack the inventiveness which defines Porcupine Tree’s best work. As a whole, it is fantastic and professional work, but very rarely does it catch that special, genuine quality that separates an album from the rest of the pack.
The members of Porcupine Tree have reached a point in their careers where it will be difficult to keep things fresh and new. This album, similar to a watching a great movie for the hundredth time, can be fun and enjoyable, but it still misses that sense of wonder and suspense one gets from something totally new. Having evolved so many times before, the choices for expanding their sound into new territories are becoming fewer, especially when taking into account the tastes of the members themselves. I can’t imagine Steven Wilson getting the desire to write a country album, but you can bet that it would be the one of the most exquisitely played, beautifully produced country albums of the century.