Review Summary: "The Incident" is just 76 minutes of ambitious songwriting that feels more like a demo than a complete album, with most songs not reaching their full potential or needing to be scrapped altogether.
Steven Wilson has become somewhat of a polarizing figure in the last few years. In the 1990's, Wilson created some of the spaciest, ethereal melodies progressive music had seen, with pieces like "Dark Matter" and the mesmerizing "Moonloop" cementing him as a prog mastermind. However, when the band signed with Snapper Records, things began to change (Although at this point for the better). The two albums they produced with Snapper, Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun showed more simplified song structures and less emphasis on psychedelic elements, but they were both solid releases with Lightbulb Sun being my favorite PT album. However, once Wilson produced Opeth's Blackwater Park, everything went downhill. Basically copying and pasting their formula to create a degenerate, vapid and repetitive version of their sound, In Absentia was a shocking fall from grace after the awe-inspiring Lightbulb Sun. It's easily their most polarizing record-despite being their highest rated album on the site, its detractors have their reasons for straying away from it, all of which are justified. Wilson continued to churn out his vanilla prog metal through most of the 2000's, until early 2008 when a road sign (yes, you read that correctly, a road sign) inspired him to create a long, winding double album made up primarily of one song, complete with new songwriting elements such as industrial samples. In the end, 2009's "The Incident" is just 76 minutes of ambitious songwriting that feels more like a demo than a complete album, with most songs not reaching their full potential or needing to be scrapped altogether.
Wilson's lyrics have improved two-fold from Fear of A Blank Planet, where he hit lyrical rock bottom, literally writing songs about kids sitting in their rooms playing video games. However, this is relative to his previous works: the lyrics are still not stellar, or anything to shake a stick at, really. There's still the occasional laughably bad line such as "your unpleasant family smashed up my car/your unpleasant family, how vile they are" and Wilson is not above using big words like "charlatan" to prove that his intelligence quotient is superior to the listener's. Gavin Harrison is still an incredible drummer, on-point and rocksteady when he needs to be, spicing up the more energetic tracks with his signature flams and cascading tom rolls. However, due to Wilson's new bias toward bland industrial music, on some songs Gavin is replaced by-and-large by a machine which does nothing interesting nor adds any magical atmosphere to the song like Steven intended it to. The guitar riffs are nowhere near as enjoyable as they once were, with the supposedly "heavy" riff on the title track that was hyped up by so many of my friends turning out to just be a boring industrial chug-fest. The guitar isn't even the main focus of some of the songs (gasp! so innovative!) with some tracks being based off basic piano hooks or equally mundane industrial samples that sound like they could have been mashed together by my brother. Not to mention that when guitar lines take the forefront, Wilson doesn't know what the f*** he's doing: the opening track "Occam's Razor" and "Degree Zero of Liberty" are literally the exact same thing; a boring, annoying excuse to use distortion dragged out for 2 minutes by repeating the same mind-numbingly boring riff 20-30 times. Wilson also doesn't forget to pause 5 seconds before playing the riff again: that makes the song a whole lot more interesting. The acoustic lines he uses can be exciting at times, but once again taking pointers from Opeth, he takes their formula to the extreme and repeats them so many times it starts to make your head hurt: it's almost as if your brain is commanding you to hit the stop button.
As usual, the bass is pretty unimpressive and doesn't do anything when it's audible, which is about 5 minutes of the whole entire record. Then there's the vocals. Wilson can be a pretty amazing vocalist when he's on point; after all, his performance on "Trains" is one of my favorite of all time. So then explain to me why he sounds so damn bored here. It seems like he wants nothing to do with the album; his performance on "Drawing The Line" is especially uninspired, repeating the same lines over and over again with no power. Sure, people may argue that he's practically shouting the chorus, but the melody is sloppily written and he just sounds out of it, like he spoke the line into a machine and the machine shouted the lyrics for him. But my main gripe with the vocals is why Wilson finds it okay to just whisper half of the album. It's a good atmospheric tool to use on an album; provided that it's used sparingly. This isn't the case with The Incident; Steven whispers in nearly every track, and when he's not whispering, he's sure to make his vocals as quiet as they can possibly be, even during the louder songs. This is why I think Steven sounds so out-of-sync with the band: he's so quiet and restrained, he just sounds like he doesn't want to be there. No wonder he put PT on hiatus to go pursue his solo work. Then there's just him ripping his influences from other bands: "Yellow Windows of the Evening Train" sounds nearly identical to the opening track of Sigur Ros's "Takk" album, while he takes some chugs from Meshuggah and blends them with the snore-inducing repetition of Opeth.
However, it's not all bad. Underneath this massive load of crap called an album, there are 4 or 5 decent songs believe it or not. Opening track "The Blind House" is everything Steven was trying to do with the record melded into six minutes of progressive glory. Opening with a crushing 5/4 riff featuring one of the most triumphant riffs Wilson's played in years, the song has everything: Harrison's top-notch drumming, a cool piano segment, a chilling, eerie industrial sample, and a climax that will leave you craving more. Soon after, the piano interlude "Kneel and Disconnect" will make your jaw drop. This is easily the best thing Wilson has written in years: bone-chilling instrumentation, an ethereal vocal performance, beautiful acoustics, and some truly breathtaking harmonies. Plus it's only two minutes, which proves Wilson may not have the thought in his head anymore that he needs to write songs that are at least 15 minutes in order for them to be classified as "good". The end of the 14-track suite that comprises most of the album, "I Drive The Hearse" features another inspired vocal performance from Wilson, with more of his signature harmonies and an acoustic line that you will be humming for days. Last but not least, "Flicker" is the throwback song of The Incident, hearkening back to day when psychedelic undertones and relaxing riffs were Porcupine Tree's calling. The two-chord acoustic riff is so simple, yet it works perfectly when combined with the rocksteady drums and melodic soundscapes.
The main issue here is that Wilson is just too confident now. Since his band is basically one of the most successful progressive acts on the planet now, Wilson knows that no matter what he writes, his legions of loyal fans will flock to the new record, heaping insurmountable amounts of praise on it that would make the critical acclaim for Nevermind seem totally justifiable.
The Blind House
Kneel And Disconnect
I Drive The Hearse
'kin ell im drunk but actualy read all that, i dont dislike it as much as you but agree with a lot of what you say, i actually like the more metally albums deadwing and fear but this left me cold, have a psos bcos im drunk and still have 4 beers in the fridge
I've actually been waiting to see a negative review from you dude. You didn't disappoint, great job. While I agree that this record does in fact have the flaws you pointed out, I don't agree that they kill the album this much, but you address how you think it really makes it suck quite well. Have a pos!
@YoYoMancuso I read that one back when you first posted it dude lol that wasn't really negative, it was a 2.5, so I guess it kinda was negative, but whatever, that was a good review of yours as well from what I remember.
@breakingthefragile: haha well normally when I find out about albums from this site I don't download them unless most people really enjoy it, so I don't have a lot of bad albums I've listened to lately