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Porcupine Tree - Fear Of A Blank Planet CD (album) cover


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

4.27 | 2659 ratings

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5 stars One of the principal attractions of progressive rock music is the mental adventure it provides in my otherwise uneventful life. Back in the 70s I knew that when I acquired a new album from Yes they were going to take me somewhere music-wise that I had no inkling I'd ever go and they never led me to the same place twice. This also applied to Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd and a host of similar groups and artists. In the 80s and 90s I got the empty feeling that that kind of exploratory spirit was gone forever but I'm pleased to say that in the 21st century, with Porcupine Tree and some others leading the way, that essence of inquisitive risk-taking and aural experimentation is alive and well. With "Fear of a Blank Planet" this talented band has once again given the world a work of art that is intricate, brilliantly stimulating and thought-provoking. It's all I could possibly ask for.

The opening title cut is primo PT in that their highly focused, intense music blatantly contradicts the unengaged subject matter of the lyrics. While the tight track cuts the sky like a vapor-trailed jet, the words describe a young person who is but a shell of a human as he proclaims "Don't try engaging me/the vaguest of shrugs/the prescription drugs/you'll never find a person inside." Modern medicine and society has somehow scooped all the life and ambition out of him to the point where "there's nothing left/I simply am not here." It's the very juxtaposition of electrifying music over depressing lyrics that elevates the song into the realm of true art. Gavin Harrison's drums in particular are forceful and direct as he continues to improve with every record and the blend of different instrumentation keeps the tune from ever becoming predictable. Steven Wilson and Richard Barbieri intertwine guitars and keyboards into a tapestry so deep and rich that it's hard to distinguish one from the other. "My Ashes" is a slower ballad that mixes acoustic guitar and piano with an orchestral score that is refreshingly understated. The lyric here is much more indistinct and stream-of-conscious as the singer seems to be a disembodied personality reviewing a life full of wasted chances. Wilson's undeniable gift for melody is intact and his charismatic voice is more versatile and mature than ever before.

"Anesthetize" is a suite in three parts that engulfs the senses. Starting with Harrison's Phil Collins-like rumbling drum patterns rolling over sparse guitar, keyboards and a glockenspiel, the song describes a troubled kid who is seeking help but is being answered with an unsympathetic response of "shut up/be happy/stop whining/please." The tune then segues into a more rocking beat with guest Alex Lifeson contributing a biting guitar solo before things take a distinct metal heading as you learn more about the protagonist's confused life. The help he sought has come in the form of numbing pills instead of loving interaction. He tells us he's "watching TV/but I find it hard to stay conscious/I'm totally bored/but I can't switch off." Again the driving music contrasts the hopelessness of his existence. It's like a river that keeps twisting and turning across the land, never allowing itself to stagnate. This second part of the suite builds and builds to a ferocious explosion of double-bass drum propulsion and metallic density that would rival Dream Theater and make them proud. Dropping down into a 12-string- dominated vocal collage of cascading words, the dreamy third section is elegant in its simplicity. I get the impression that the boy in question has met an untimely death and his mourning friend is sitting by the ocean, thinking about him and his brief time on earth. "The water was warm that day/I was counting out the waves/and I followed their short life/as they broke on the shoreline/I thought of you" That is poignant poetry, my friends.

The next song, "Sentimental," expresses a universal feeling that every generation of teenagers shares. "I never wanna be old/and I don't want dependents/it's no fun to be told/that you can't blame your parents anymore." In other words, it's no easier growing up now than it was 40 or 50 years ago (and it was no piece of cake back then). Here Gavin utilizes just his toms and high hat in the beginning, creating space for Colin Edwin's underrated bass playing to act as the glue holding the song together. Toward the end the band tosses in some dynamic accents and a strange, diffused carnival-in-the-distance sound whispers hauntingly around the ethereal music. Beautiful. "Way Out of Here" follows and it is a stupendous union of Wilson and the great Robert Fripp wherein they create something so unique that it's almost indescribable. (But I'll try). It features another subliminal lyric about someone wanting to escape the guilt of a horrible deed be it real or fabricated in his spaced-out brain. Fripp is credited with "soundscapes" and on some subconscious level I actually know what that means. The tune alternately lulls you to sleep, then smashes into metal heaven profundity. Harrison's drums are phenomenal and the ending is almost spiritual as the orchestra slowly ascends into the upper reaches of the stratosphere. Wow.

Wilson has never been one to shy away from embracing the darkest corners of the psyche in his music and "Sleep Together" is no exception as it starkly bear-hugs the tragedy of suicide as a solution for all this ennui. A pulsing synthesizer pattern establishes an ominous aura before Gavin slams into the song with a power that would impress even the legendary John Bonham and Dave Stewart's string arrangement of the orchestral climax is nothing short of exhilarating. It's a perfect album ender. The couple in this tune sees no point in continuing their walk on this planet and they contemplate whether they should dramatically "switch off the future/right now/let's leave forever." Of course that doesn't work because it's my belief that you will pick up right where you left off in the next world. And so it goes.

I find it interesting that Steven writes so fluently about the apathy and torpor of today's youth, yet he is a classic introvert who refused to succumb to inaction or sloth and has never stopped in his determined effort to find and express his inner visions. He may be a tortured artist but he's a fabulously prolific artist, nonetheless. This album is another masterpiece in a string of astounding recordings by this band and the fact that they're still not universally recognized and admired is a befuddling mystery to me.

Chicapah | 5/5 |


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