Porcupine Tree



by BlazinBlitzer USER (8 Reviews)
June 27th, 2022 | 1 replies

Release Date: 2022 | Tracklist

Review Summary: The last time!?

The best way to summarize my feelings on Porcupine Tree and the band’s discography comes in a claim that will understandably jeopardize any appropriate objectivity I might have when discussing the album critically. The fact of the matter is: Porcupine Tree have been my favorite act in my (so far) ten years of musical exploration. As ordinary as they are, the reasons for my long-lasting gravitation toward the band have always been quite simple. The first is that I have not once grown tired of their work. The sheer volume of Porcupine Tree’s discography helps with that judgement, especially when it contains enough unique eras to allow seemingly eternal phasing through one stretch of albums to another based solely on current mood. Secondly, at the time my discovery of the band was made, I imagined their work as a grand culmination of beloved artists from my tween years. Embarrassingly enough, that does mean Imagine Dragons played a significant role in my fascination for a band who only shares the same genre in a handful out of hundreds of songs. The last of these are strong emotional resonances I’ve had with the lyrics and stories the band has provided over the years, especially in times of teenage confusion and severe self-deprecation. So, with the hiatus’ fate being constantly left hanging in the balance, it was apparent to me that, if the band were to rejoin, a new release would hold higher responsibility in upholding the discography’s legacy than any record before it.

Well, the hypothetical return of the band came to swinging fruition with the first single, “Harridan”, where those familiar with the later stages in Porcupine Tree’s 2000’s run can correlate the single’s recording and targeted atmosphere to that more metal-inclined era. It’s a solid opener on the album that would’ve made a competitive highlight on The Incident had this re-recording of the track been released then. It also provided a clear boost in aggression from the bass and drums to a surprisingly clear focus on the keyboard’s contribution. In addition to the release of “Of the New Day” and news of C/C’s relatively short seven song tracklist, I had a suspicion that most, if not all, of the album was imagined as a proper successor to The Incident, even if less conceptual in scope. After getting my hands on the album through the obnoxious eight month (and thirteen year) waiting period, I can say that those projections only partially come together. In fact, the incompletion of those projections is what ultimately makes defining the album’s general sound and songwriting style somewhat complicated.

How Closure/Continuation goes about its business is rather unusual. Its first three showings draw the most prominent inspiration from The Incident on the album. Although I’ve always thought of The Incident as an unfortunately mediocre footnote relative to other albums in the band’s discography, I was keen on the possibility that the band may have the notion on how to rethink their approach towards another concept album in that style. However, this stretch of tracks were individually focused in the lyrical department, which numbed the expectation of a concept album at hand. “Harridan” presents the harsh nature of bitterness and how that pessimism can diminish self-worth. “Of the New Day” acts like an emphasis to revitalize that self-worth as the subject is letting past worries go for the idea “of the new day”, so to speak. Its spacious, much more relaxed production even creates a juxtaposition with the tightness and franticism of “Harridan”, matching their opposing situations. By the time “Rats Return” comes around, however, the album’s script flips to an entirely new topic onto selfish, condescending leaders. Since the focus on individual thematic strength at this point was quite clear coming into “Dignity”, I wondered how that would serve the rest of the album. As it turns out, that focus was certainly going to be needed for an album as stylistically erratic as it is.

To begin, “Dignity” takes a sharp left turn into an art rock sound heavily reminiscent of David Bowie, especially emanated by Steven’s vocal performance and the resulting instrumental arrangements. Its subject matter and progression fascinatingly reminds me of the 2021 progressive pop highlight “Boys at School” by Spellling with the similar sense of mysticism that shines through the mockeries of life. It’s an excellently written song that carefully toes the line of cheesiness and genuine self-empowerment in a manner similar to one of Porcupine Tree’s previous poppier records (Lightbulb Sun in particular). After hearing the album several times over, though, “Dignity” stands out as a stylistic black sheep so stark to the LP’s surrounding tracks that it becomes somewhat of an eyesore. I think a partial cure to the eyesore would be to this song as the closer over “Chimera’s Wreck”, but I suppose relatively upfliting conclusions are not the band’s known forte, after all.

“Herd Culling” is probably my favorite song on the record outside of the bonus tracks, which shifts gears into a sound that calls back to the days of Deadwing. As many of those who were underwhelmed with the track’s single version have expressed, the fully fleshed-out, developed version of the piece has done wonders for its standing on the album. The instrumental work is especially wonderful with the Richard Barbieri’s constant synthesizer coloring, the fittingly grimy guitar tones, and Gavin’s keen balance of groove and purposeful unsteadiness. In fact, this statement can be made for nearly every piece here. By what the band has said about the record in interviews, it was intended for Gavin and Richard to be a larger part of the productional and compositional songwriting process than ever before, which I think has been successfully realized as evident by what’s on the resulting record. “Herd Culling” continues the album’s shifts into unusual lyrical territory with its focus on the idea of paranoia and the arrival of the unknown. Voyage 34 was the last record from Steven Wilson I remembered tackling the topic as a pure center of attention. In that sense, “Herd Culling” is a great example of the more impressively challenging aspects of the record’s songwriting. Only two tracks on here, “Rat’s Return” and “Chimera’s Wreck”, are lyrically more typical for Steven’s wheelhouse.

The LP takes a rather bizarre turn with the track “Walk the Plank”, an eerie and somewhat aquatic number not too different from the vein of “Song of I” from Steven Wilson’s solo record To the Bone. This song is the closest the band gets at reenacting Steven’s most recent artistic direction. Having a song like this on an already diverse record only increases the general intrigue; however, with the robust and grandiose nature with the album’s other compositions, this track’s attempts that nature fall short in comparison. It’s because of this I can’t help but mentally place “Walk the Plank” as just an interlude into “Chimera’s Wreck”. That’s why it’s relatively modest length at four-and-a-half minutes feels like the record’s biggest drain. In short, it needed the “Transcience” treatment from Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Then there’s “Chimera’s Wreck”, a potentially final send-off to the band’s entire career. It’s a more familiar sounding song than one would expect with that moniker in both safe and bold approaches. What I mean by this is that the song’s lyrical themes have been well-explored by the band up to this point; depression and general hopelessness are infamously associated with Steven Wilson’s work in the progressive rock community for a reason. However, the bolder part of this work comes in it’s vintage progressive rock composition, a sound only truly explored by Steven Wilson with The Raven that Refused to Sing. This revelation might be a disappointment for those looking for an “Anesthetize”-sized finish or a venture into completely uncharted territory, but even now its role as the album closer becomes more satisfactory with every listen. The album’s bonus tracks are just as, if not more, terrific than the majority of the album’s main material. This being a commonplace opinion amongst fans has caused debate over whether the bonus tracks should’ve made the album proper. While I wholeheartedly agree that they deserve make a hypothetical future Porcupine Tree record, for these songs to fit on the record while maintaining its sub-50 minute runtime would have required a rework of the album’s entire structure. Considering that the album was recorded over about a decade’s worth of time, I think the band is at least justified in not causing more inconsistency than there naturally is with a comeback record like this.

While I was ecstatic about the band’s return and the realization that new Porcupine Tree material actually exists now, there wasn’t a feeling currently greater for me after my first few listens than gratefulness. I’m grateful that the band was able to find a stable direction after Colin Edwin’s departure, grateful that the album resoundingly stamped its rightful place in a frankly legendary discography, and grateful that, even if not necessarily perfect, the band kept their word on staying true to their sound while simultaneously challenging its own customs. Many will compare the moment of this album’s release to that of a comeback record from a few years ago by another band that has a dear history with me: Tool. I now know that I overrated the record on its release because I, like other long-time fans, got a new material from a band that was predominantly familiar to us, not accounting for how its significance would wane when comparing its sound to the band’s classics. The overall feeling’s different this time. Now, there’s not as much relief, per se, as there is curiosity. Perhaps that’s helped by having the album title cheekily refer to the band’s unknown fate, but the band knows the resulting discourse will keep us busy until they eventually make that decision. I suppose as a final sense of gratitude, I’m grateful to be a part of that discourse for as long as it lasts.

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user ratings (372)
other reviews of this album
Benjamin Kuettel EMERITUS (4)
A reunion almost too good to be true makes for a lovely comeback album with a faint glow of nostalgi...

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Comments:Add a Comment 
June 27th 2022


Very well written review and I am glad you got so much out of this release.

Porcupine Tree are also one of my favorite bands and a handful of records rank among my all time favorites as well as some SW solo records.

I feel that like many I should just be grateful that we have a new PT record.

Unfortunately I am quiet underwhelmed by this record so far. It maybe be in part by the way Steven marketed this record where it was sold as a potential final record by the band. It does not feel to me like a necessary full stop on their discography.

I am aware that a number of these tracks were started as ideas for a follow up to The Incident. I don't feel that this album is better overall than The Incident nor as a logical progression from the sound of that record or from FOABP.

This to me sounds like a bunch of ideas that didn't make it onto the better albums ranging between Stupid Dream and Deadwing, with many of the ideas sounding similar in vibe to the latter.
The hooks in particular to me sound unimaginative and lazy to be honest. Pretty average riffs and vocal lines in the choruses.

The album has good moments for sure. I like the latter half of Harridan, Rats Return, Chimera's Wreck, Never Have and Love in the Past Tense. And the most genuine moments to me sound like ideas that would have been potentially used for the next SW album.

I think Barbieri and Harrison carry this album and where Steven shines is in the more melodic and atmospheric sections where the classic vocal harmonies are prominent.

My opinion might change on the album overall but I feel like this is a collection of b-sides at best. I don't feel that the release is entirely genuine either. When he marketed his last solo album as the "Ök computer of this generation" and it definitely was neither as good or received as well I predicted he might resurrect Porcupine Tree and this is how this album kinda feels to me. Some good parts but i can't at this stage see myself choosing this album over any of their others when I want to listen to Porcupine Tree.

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