Review Summary: On the Sunday of Life is a strange sonic experiment conducted by Steven Wilson, but it still is an interesting one.
Steven Wilson is an intriguing musical figure. He is perhaps most well known for forming the esteemed band known as Porcupine Tree. However, the band's first official album, On the Sunday of Life, is more of a solo effort from Wilson than anything else, considering he produced and recorded the tracks himself. Before you look at this album as a Porcupine Tree album, understand that it can be better described as an hour-long experiment. Essentially, it's Steven Wilson's science project, just for music. He explores many different aspects of progressive and psychedelic rock without committing to one particular idea or theme. Since the album is a primarily a compilation of songs that he recorded during the two years prior to the LP's release, the record is far from cohesive and only scratches the surface of the band's later styles. Nonetheless, On the Sunday of Life has a few notable and intrepid ideas.
One thing that detracts from the album's quality is its conspicuous untidiness. Despite its very interesting moments, On the Sunday of Life is jumbled, confusing, and disorganized. Aside from a few strange musical bridges like "Hymn" and "Begonia Seduction Scene", there is nothing really linking these tracks. The album quickly leaps from one idea to the next with no sense of handling. That would not be such a problem if the album wasn't so long. However, it is formatted similarly to a progressive concept album when, in reality, it is simply a long trek through Wilson's various musical inclinations. As an experiment, On the Sunday of Life operates in a "trial and error" fashion; some things work, while others don't.
However, that does not take away from the curiosity that the LP evokes. Instrumental tracks like "Third Eye Surfer" and "On the Sunday of Life" collaborate as essentially two separate parts of one song. "Third Eye Surfer" is guided by a turbulent set of drums caressed by a series of colliding ambient sounds and guitar noises before fading into the title track, a mild but heavily atmospheric track marked by an unearthly ambience. These tracks are not indicative of the more relatively structured tracks that follow, however, such as "The Nostalgia Factory", a track that is more straightforward despite its somewhat high-pitched vocals.
Many parts of the LP are unusual blocks of inexplicable noise. Filler comes in the form of weird arrangements of sounds and vocals that do not achieve any genuine musical goal. The haunting segment, "Space Transmission" leaves the listener more bewildered than enlightened, using an unnaturally deep voice rambling about vengeance. Frankly, I just don't really buy it. Without some of this filler and with a few more substantive songs, On the Sunday of Life could have been even better. Songs like "This Long Silence" and "Radioactive Toy" are more engaging and consequential than most of the tracks. For instance, "This Long Silence" features a potent guitar riff during the refrain as well as some tremendous psychedelic sounds invading the background.
The album's strongest track is "Nine Cats", a track which proudly displays its progressive rock influences. The more mellow vibe of the song is an unexpected and enjoyable shift in direction for the album after the more aggressive "Radioactive Toy". Steven Wilson demonstrates the range of his voice and manages to carry an abundance of emotional drive in his words. There are also some neat songs on the backend of the album like the overly quirky "Linton Samuel Dawson", which is a playful, yet interesting number.
On the Sunday of Life does not progress smoothly and that makes it feel superficial. This is a fairly flawed, but interesting musical project. It is not expressive of the beloved band's future, but it contains a decent amount of surprising and amusing moments.
This Long Silence
Third Eye Surfer
Begonia Seduction Scene