Review Summary: Although no doubt a benchmark release for Porcupine Tree, In Absentia is thoroughly overrated and showered with far more praise than necessary.
4 of 6 thought this review was well written
The evolution of Porcupine Tree through their long and winding career really has been something special. Emerging as a psychedelic, trippy and thoroughly Floydian one-man band, Porcupine Tree gradually gained more members and more influences, and, at the turn of the century, rather strange things started happening to this rather strange band. The Pink Floyd likenesses were becoming less and less vital to the music’s survival. Steven’s songwriting started to become more condensed, more refined; ten minute tracks of rambling guitar work and ambience were being replaced by four or five minute prog rock gems. Other influences started to gain a foothold; poppy melodies and heavy riffs began to shine through. And it was 2002’s In Absentia that saw Porcupine Tree set these changes in stone. In many ways, In Absentia is the thorough “modernization” of Porcupine Tree, the true refining of their style, and that is why this release has become so important to this band’s discography; it was truly a landmark album for them in many respects.
But importance and musical excellence do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. For the first (and probably last) time, a Porcupine Tree album became overrated, showered with way more praise than needed. In Absentia has its highlights for sure, and is, in general, a more than satisfactory release to say the least, but is not as impressive or original as people would have you believe. It does mix in a bit of everything Porcupine Tree have explored thus far; the heavier side, the poppier side, and the atmospheric side are all present here, yet all mixed perfectly into the album’s sound and style. And as previously mentioned, there’s no doubt this album has its moments. “Trains,” one of Porcupine Tree’s more famous songs, is certainly one of them, incorporating beautifully emotional melodies, atmospheric guitar work and a cacophonous climax in one of the album’s most well-paced and well-written moments. “The Sound of Muzak” shows Stupid Dream’s poppy melodies more refined and better-written than ever before, while the bass-driven “Strip the Soul” mixes atmosphere and heaviness into one concise 7-minute package. “Collapse the Light Into Earth” ends the album with luscious keyboard melodies and violin harmonies. “Lips of Ashes” provides a moment of simplistic, emotional beauty after the stunning “Trains.” In fact, the album doesn’t really have any bad moments, but aside from a couple of the tracks mentioned above, it doesn’t really have any moments that I can say I found myself truly impressed with.
And there isn’t much else to say. In Absentia is a versatile release that has proved to be a very important moment in Porcupine Tree’s history – and also a very overrated one. It’s a fantastic album, just not one impressive enough to be worthy of all the praise it receives. It definitely deserves a listen from anyone…just maybe not the hugely elevated position it has gained.
Trains, Strip the Soul, The Sound of Muzak, Lips of Ashes, .3
I haven't written any reviews because I think they would suck but I think you should have focussed less on discrediting the praise the album has received than you have in this review. Good review nonetheless. Album rules BTW
Yeah Rail I see your point, but it's not that there's particular parts of the album that I feel are overrated, it's the album as a whole, if ya know what I mean. There's no particular songs or moments that make me think "...Well this sucks," but there's nothing that really impresses me either. It's a great album, but that's it as far as I'm concerned. Not really worthy of a 4.3 average rating if you ask me. I guess I should have elaborated on that more...criticism noted. Can't change it at the moment though!
Looks like I got my first neg too! Would be kinda nice to know why and who from, but, y'know, whatever...
Hey there. I just wanted to give some reasons as to why I believe this is one of the greatest album of all time, and perhaps shed some light on why this album gets so much praise.
In no particular order....
#1, Songwriting: The songs on this album are so memorable and diverse, but feel like they belong together. Most importantly, they grow on you.
#2, Song placement: The album is constructed in such a way that each new song perfectly compliments the next and as a result, you don't feel listening fatigue.
#3, Sound design: This may be the best sounding album I have ever heard. Everything sounds pristine and crystal clear, yet organic.
#4, Production: Perhaps the most tasteful production I have ever heard. I still have a lot to learn about production, but as a musician and recording enthusiast, it is one of my greatest passions, and this album just hits the exactly right spot for me. It's hard to describe in detail, so I won't try.
#5, Musicianship: From Richard Barbieri's wonderfully understated and atmospheric input to the 6 incredibly memorable guitar solos by Steven Wilson (Trains, Lips of Ashes, Sound of Muzak, Wedding Nails and Prodigal) to the MANY memorable Gavin moments to the simply stunning string arrangements on .3 and Collapse the Light Into Earth, it's all fantastic and strikes the right balance between tasteful and technical. (run on sentence, I know.)
#6, Staying Power: This is perhaps the single most important thing an album must posses in order for me to think it great, and "In Absentia" has it in spades. An album can wow me at first listen and then 5 or 10 listens later, I won't be so interested. But In Absentia actually underwhelmed me on first listen. I thought to myself "Blackest Eyes and Trains are good, and I like that Sound of Muzak.... but what's with this boring instrumental song and the one at the end where he just repeats the same 5 chords over and over again?" but today I can say my appreciation and love for this album has only grown since first hearing it around 2008.
And that, good sir, is why I believe "In Absentia" deserves more than a 3.5 out of 5.