Review Summary: Although no doubt a benchmark release for Porcupine Tree, In Absentia is thoroughly overrated and showered with far more praise than necessary.
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 over
rated, 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