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Porcupine Tree - Signify CD (album) cover

SIGNIFY

Porcupine Tree

 

Heavy Prog

3.81 | 868 ratings

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russellk
Prog Reviewer
3 stars My head tells me this is excellent music, but I've never been able to connect to it. Listening to 'Signify' is like riding in a tethered balloon after having been for a flight into the upper atmosphere. I bounce up and down, yelling 'c'mon, c'mon', but nothing happens.

I think this is because the album sits uncomfortably between genres, a transitional album, a conservative album, one in which the band struggles to find their voice. Probably because STEVEN WILSON, Mr. PORCUPINE TREE, is coming to terms with being a member of a band.

'The Sky Moves Sideways' gave every indication that WILSON had finally conceded he had a singing voice - but this album is dominated by truncated instrumentals. The title track follows a somewhat spooky introductory number. It is dominated by one riff, underwhelming the listener while further delaying the vocals. Which is a pity, as 'Sleep of No Dreaming' is excellent, with sleepy verses and powerful chorus. But, like every good moment on this album, the idea is underdeveloped, and the songs seem to be separate from each other in a way not encountered since 'On the Sunday of Life...' 'Pagan' is another such moment, a vignette serving as an unconvincing introduction to the excellent 'Waiting'. This track, a ballad with a progressive extension (Phase Two), reminds us of what WILSON is capable of. Finally some big rhythms, a vocal hook and some harmony. The album begins to open out, but never quite reaches the vast vision of the previous two albums: even 'Waiting' remains tethered to the ground. Phase Two feels like an add-on, and is a track like a wrestler wearing a collar and tie: polite and suitably restrained, never breaking out.

The last half of the album is darker and a little more expansive. 'Sever' has another of those lovely choruses PT have become known for, but for all its effort, the track lacks drama. Of the last five tracks, we have two prayers and a Jesus, as well as Dark Matter. All very ominous and claustrophobic, a complete contrast to the galaxy-encompassing space rock of the previous two releases. I can see why the change has been made, and I approve, but I don't think it has been executed well. Too much standing still.

'Idiot Prayer' is five minutes of atmospheric beats following two minutes of pointless intro. This is closer to familiar PT territory, but sounds more like an up-tempo 'Voyage 34' than a space rock classic. Listening to this helps me realise that on this album mechanics dominate over organics. 'Every Home is Wired' is a gentle ballad with an odd, drum-heavy coda, followed by another studious instrumental that seems to be neither one thing nor another, called 'Show Them How Good the Rhythm Section is'. No, it's called 'Intermediate Jesus.' It's ponderous and goes nowhere. The ambient 'Light Mass Prayers' creeps up on us, but again lacks that epic quality such pieces had on their 1993 and 1995 releases. It's almost as if this album has been deliberately depowered. 'See? I told you we don't do prog rock!' This track and 'Dark Matter' allow us to glimpse PT's psych/space rock origins through a telescope. I suppose I should be grateful for a glimpse. In the last three minutes of 'Dark Matter' we come as close to leaving the ground as this album allows, courtesy of WILSON's guitar: the album's one truly outstanding moment. The album finishes with a whimsical (but dark) sample I first heard in THE ORB's 1994 release 'Pomme Fritz.'

This is a good record, without the aroma of greatness I'm accustomed to detecting from PORCUPINE TREE. To me this has the same feel and status as many of the band's lesser 'B-side' or 'outtake' records: solid but unspectacular. Songwriting is coming to dominate over atmospherics, and this transitional album has a bit of both, but not enough of either. Everything is restrained. In the end, despite some good moments, 'Signify' frustrates and disappoints. To listen to these songs with the handbrake off, go pick up a copy of 'Coma Divine', a live album featuring many of these tracks with room to breathe.

russellk | 3/5 |

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