Review Summary: Not the best, not the worst. A very good Porcupine Tree album.
There I was in my room eagerly anticipating the opportunity to listen to the new Porcupine Tree album. I had read negative reviews, I had read positive reviews. There were those who claimed it was the best Porcupine Tree album ever, and on the flipside there were those who said it was the worst; I was only interested in the opinions lingering on the fence.
"It's pretty good, not their best." and "It's not as good as fear." were not uncommon on the user review sites I had visited. To the casual music listeners this wouldn't have been a problem, however like many other Sputnik users I had grown paranoid for my favourite band. What if the band that had been growing and growing in terms of album quality and popularity suddenly took a turn for the worst and released a god-awful insult of an album? A vile attack on the fans senses; What if the rising stars of the prog scene derailed themselves? I suppose there was always Dream theatre... I kid, I kid.
When my Dad finally got home with his copy (Mine was lost in the post, thanks play.com) he told me that he'd had a quick listen and he was disappointed; Jesus, things were getting desperate. I immediately put the album on my IPod and decided to shut out all the reviews from my mind, this was personal. From there on what I heard was neither godlike nor was it car crash Porcupine Tree; It was just very good.
Steven Wilson came up with the concept of The Incident whilst on a motorway; a car crash was slowing the traffic and the authority’s referred to it as an ‘Incident’. Simplifying somebody's trauma by calling it an Incident creates this idea of a detached world; we keep moving on because we have to, but it doesn't mean that, as a society, we get any less personal.
The problem I have with this very good album is that the concept, though imaginative, is its own worst enemy. Instead of a focused narrative like previous efforts In Absentia and Fear of a Blank Planet we have a series of disjointed short stories that don’t really elaborate on any of the situations or feelings they are trying to convey. The band flits between the true story of a religious cult, a car crash, the discovery of a body floating in a river, A séance and possibly a funeral directors account of his own life (if the song is to be taken literally). I’m all for short stories but please give some humanity to these tales of heartache before you take me on another trip based on the same hopeless themes. I want a coherent story not a highlight reel.
Like every latest Muse song must be loud and devoid of any real emotion, Porcupine Tree must have its centrepiece. The rules state that the song must be long, it must feel like a journey and it must rock out. So far we’ve had Arriving somewhere but not here, Anesthetize, Russia on Ice etc but here we’re left with Time Flies. The song is long, it certainly feels like a journey but the middle “prog” section feels tagged on as if the band didn’t know what to do to fill out the remaining 5 minutes. Not a bad song at all, on the contrary it’s pretty damn fine, but it certainly doesn’t stand tall with the rest of the giants of the PT discography.
You’re all probably wondering what with all the negative points I’m giving the album why I’ve given this a 3.5; the answer lies in the song transitions. Though there aren’t many highlight songs to pick from for the casual “one song” listener; the beauty of this album is the journey from beginning to end, it sounds obvious I know, but it just is. The musicianship is top notch as usual and though the lyrics are not up to scratch, the song compositions certainly are. Listen to I Drive the Hearse and tell me it’s not one of PT’s most hopelessly beautiful songs.
The overall tone is another huge factor ensuring the albums success. PT have always excelled in keeping with the darker elements of the human psychology through the use of creepy samples and keyboards, this album is no different. The opening track creates imagery of a dark forest full of mystery and repressed trauma; the song exemplifies the whole concept of The Incident perfectly before delving into the perfect blend of hard and soft rock that is Blind House.
Sure the album stumbles in the lyric department and there aren’t many standout tracks to be found, but this album demands your undivided attention. It is best heard from start to finish, makes sense really.