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Porcupine Tree - Signify CD (album) cover


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

3.85 | 1364 ratings

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3 stars For me there are two eras of Porcupine Tree music (in broad, general parameters, of course). The first is their 20th century phase featuring experimental and somewhat impressionistic tunes that reflect leader Steven Wilson's youthful indulgences and his passion for creating long, personal pieces of aural art without regard to widespread appeal. Their 21st century stage of development finds him and his gang assembling more unique, dynamic and crisply arranged works of music that consistently push the envelope of what is currently accepted by the mainstream general public. In other words, they've evolved up from spacey instrumentals to a place where they've acquired the ability to create important, meaningful songs containing relevant, expressive lyrics and they now stand at the very forefront of modern progressive rock. When I consider and analyze the history of this group as a whole, I find that "Signify" straddles those two periods of their career more than any other album.

After the CD begins with a tongue-in-cheek, reassuring (and very 50s, Arthur Godfrey- like) commentary the band launches into "Bornlivedie," a drifting, cosmic number that is very representative of where their music had been residing before 1996. "Signify" is an extension of that spirit to some extent but it's really just a riff-based rocker more than anything else. Their very talented drummer Chris Maitland adds a supercharged, compressed intensity to the tune that gives it a brooding malevolency. "Sleep of No Dreaming" is a change of pace song that offers hints of where the group is headed (that being toward the brilliant Stupid Dream album) as it is more of a cohesive, self- contained tune. I admire Wilson's cool vocal delivery, the atmospheric organ sound and Maitland's jazz inflections toward the end as well as the overall Nine Inch Nails aroma that permeates the verse structure. It's an excellent song about finding oneself stuck in a dead-end life. "Pagan" is a simple, short intermission piece followed by "Waiting Phase One," a hypnotic acoustic guitar-based tune that highlights Steven's delicate slide work. Lyrically it describes "waiting for the day when I will crawl away" from whatever dominating force it is that holds the subject of the song down be it drugs or debilitating, destructive obsessions/addictions. "Waiting Phase Two" is a drawn out rhythmic, astral journey that glides along uneventfully until Maitland enters to take everything up a notch or two.

"Sever" is next and it's another step forward for the group with its disjointed, subliminal words layered over stark music and sampled voice effects that cause an enthusiastic radio evangelist to sound like Lucifer would on a late-night infomercial shilling salvation. That irony makes for an effective, disturbing song but the highly monotonous drum pattern grates on the nerves after only a few minutes and it spoils my enjoyment of the number. (Hey, you can't win 'em all, Wilson.) "Idiot Prayer," co-written by Steven and the silky smooth and unobtrusive bassist Colin Edwin, is a bit of a throwback to "Up the Downstair" inasmuch as it gives off a neat Disco-in-Hell vibe that is incredibly intriguing. It goes through various musical sections that keep it from getting tired and the altered voice that repeats "please don't" adds a macabre aura. Next up is "Every Home is Wired" where Wilson utilizes his maturing voice effectively as he intertwines counter-melodies around the acoustic guitar and Richard Barbieri's dense keyboards. The words are truly prophetic in light of the subject matter that infuses 2007's pertinent and innovative "Fear of a Blank Planet" as he sings "Power on the highway/data in my head/surfing on the network/part of me is dead." Chris fades in with some deft sticks and skins work as the song escalates into an ethereal ending. The group-penned "Intermediate Jesus" brings back the disembodied, trippy fundamentalist preacher man in short snippets as he carps over what is essentially a psychedelic jam. Maitland's "'Light Mass Prayers'" is a soothing, dreamy instrumental that's refreshingly calm and serene. It sets you up perfectly for the best song on the album, the excellent "Dark Matter" in 7/8 time. For some reason there's no acknowledgement of this tune inside the accompanying pamphlet but it literally lifts the project from the throes of mediocrity. Yes, it's reminiscent of Pink Floyd in some ways but it has exciting dynamics that differentiate it and it's yet another precursor of the more involved and intricate compositions that this band would go on to produce in the years ahead. And don't miss the humorous tag about electroshock therapy that pops up a few seconds after the song ends.

Unfortunately this album probably didn't and won't satisfy fans who are partial to either the older Porcupine Tree sound or the newer. Like I said before in so many words, it's a bridge between the two styles and definitely reveals them as a band in transition. But the remastered version is extremely high fidelity and with over an hour of music to absorb (not to mention the bonus CD of "Insignificance" which I will review separately) you most certainly get your money's worth. Plus you must keep in mind that I'm comparing it to all their other magnificent albums so, while it's honest for me to give it an average score, it pains me to judge one of my favorite bands so strictly. But it is what it is. 3.2 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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