Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Porcupine Tree—Fear of a Blank Planet (Atlantic)
I know the score with a new Porcupine Tree release. The music will be impeccably played and produced. Steven Wilson's melodies and songwriting will far outstrip any "prog" or "prog metal" outfit going today. I also know that it'll take me a few listens to fully appreciate the sonic richness that saturates every Porcupine Tree album. And Fear of a Blank Planet proves me right. So why do I feel a little underwhelmed? Maybe I'm feeling they haven't brought anything new this time. The gut-punching tech-metal moves they introduced on their Atlantic debut, In Absentia, still rise up at crucial moments. So do the searching, intense ballads, like "My Ashes" and "Sentimental," which reprises an acoustic guitar riff from "Trains," a standout track from In Absentia. There's a surging title track to open the album, just like the title track from Deadwing. But I'm looking back at the previous couple albums and realizing that "Deadwing" is a better song, and "The Creator Has a Mastertape" (a like-minded bit of mayhem from In Absentia) is more inspired than either of them. I'm thinking "Trains" is a better ballad than the more sedate songs on this new album. So why bother with ...Blank Planet then? Well, there's "Anesthetize," all 17:42 of it, where Porcupine Tree's Floyd-meets-Tool method reaches its apex. It's divided into three sections (almost songs within the song) of which I like the second—the heaviest—the best. Alex Lifeson adds some keening guitar textures as a bonus, and the whole thing zips by effortlessly. The album plays itself out on two strong tracks, "Way Out of Here" and "Sleep Together," the former distinguished by its tsumani of a chorus and crushing denouement (with drummer Gavin Harrison performing unspeakable wonders), the latter by its ingenious string arrangement. If you're a fan already, you're on board and nothing's going to stop you from diving right in, just as I did. There's 50 minutes of excellent music to enjoy. I just don't think they've bettered previous albums or hinted that they're going somewhere new in the future. I think this album and Lightbulb Sun are destined to be the dark horses of the catalogue, holding pattern albums ripe for rediscovery when I've spun classics like Stupid Dream and Deadwing one too many times.