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Porcupine Tree - Up The Downstair CD (album) cover


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

3.90 | 939 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Pure genius.

I enjoy this more than any other PORCUPINE TREE release. While I'm prepared to admit STEVEN WILSON has come up with better music and more acclaimed records than this one, I find this record, even more than 'The Sky Moves Sideways', fulfils my latent post-FLOYD space-rock yearnings. There are a myriad of records out there with the tag 'For fans of PINK FLOYD' associated with them, but none is more deserving of the (perhaps unwanted) tag than this.

At this point PORCUPINE TREE was still STEVEN WILSON fiddling about mostly on his own, and what he did was to combine soaring guitars, subtle, spacey keyboards, warm bass lines and electronic percussion (replaced by drums in the 2005 re-issue) with thoughtful, sometimes whimsical lyrics. His songs have their own sound, largely due to his embracing the rhythms of the then-current dance scene, but the comparisons to PINK FLOYD come because of the shape of the songs. Simple beginnings, slow builds, fabulous shining guitar solos, interesting segues, with short song fragments interspersed with longer epics.

Nothing illustrates both the his interpretation of the classic space-rock sound and the FLOYDIAN shape of the compositions more than the beginning of the album. A short, spacey intro segues into 'Synesthesia', a repetitive track built around a dance rhythm but with enough vocal and guitar complexity to see us through five minutes. It doesn't sound like 70s PINK FLOYD, but it's the sort of thing 1970s FLOYD might have done if they were young in the 1990s.

'Always Never' is simply a stunning track, with its synth and acoustic beginning, along with WILSON's understated, BOWNESS-influenced vocals. This track reveals a growing compositional confidence, with the song having enough space to incorporate a fabulous solo as well as an excellent chorus. WILSON has never been afraid to combine his BEATLEsque pop sensibility with whatever project he's working on. For me this is the most valuable of attributes: whether a song is prog or punk or jazz or whatever is only a matter of arrangement. The engine that drives a song is its ability to get into you, not how it is arranged, and 'Always Never' does just that.

The title track is a proper space-rock epic, with blissed-out tranquillity, enigmatic samples, weird keyboard motifs, burbling synths and galaxy-wide soundscapes, augmented with a pulsing techno beat.I'm reminded of nothing so much as STEVE HILLAGE and THE ORB working through remixes of their early 90s material: WILSON's more recent influences are clear when listening to this track.

The next three tracks form an extended piece, the first and third substantial enough to have their own haunting melodies. Oh, and a guitar that could tear your soul to pieces with yearning. 'Small Fish', in particular, is a wonderful CAMEL-like sub-three minute song. Then 'Burning Sky' offers the best guitar workout on the album. WILSON's guitar, like GILMOUR and LATIMER before him, doesn't bedazzle with technical proficiency, it woos with beauty. There's a bit of OZRIC TENTACLES about this track, but much more happens here than in a typical OZRIC piece. 'Fadeaway' proceeds in a dreamy fashion, performing as advertised, closing the album with a final heavenly guitar hook.

I'll draw your attention to one other point. This came out not long before PINK FLOYD's 'Division Bell'. For those interested in comparisons, I find every track here to be superior to anything on that album. Space-rock clearly had a new standard-bearer.

The particular triumph of this album is it sounds like something you've heard all your life, yet at the same time it bears repeated listening. I'm certainly not tired of it. Most amazing of all, PORCUPINE TREE was at this point a side project for STEVEN WILSON: his major compositional effort was being poured into the techno-pop of NO-MAN. All the more reason to be astonished by what this man could achieve in his spare time.

russellk | 5/5 |


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