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Porcupine Tree - In Absentia CD (album) cover

IN ABSENTIA

Porcupine Tree

 

Heavy Prog

4.24 | 2388 ratings

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FloydWright
Prog Reviewer
3 stars This is one of those albums I've been rather ambivalent towards since the first time I heard it, and I still haven't been able to decide exactly what I think of it, just as it might be hard to decide how to react to the weird cover art (I hope to God that was done in Photoshop). This is my first PORCUPINE TREE album, and I do have to admit the band has got some strengths...but I find myself wondering now if I chose the wrong starter album.

PROS

Although this section is a bit shorter than the Cons section in length, bear in mind that these are serious, very important Pros, and things I really cared deeply about when I heard In Absentia. So, don't decide this album has more bad than good just because of the length of these sections in comparison to each other.

All of the instruments are played quite well, the production is superb, and STEVE WILSON's voice is extremely soothing and pleasant to listen to, especially when he sings in harmony with himself. With the exception of a single song, I find that it flows beautifully to listen to. "Trains" does something very interesting, seeming almost like two different songs, and musically, the section with the strange banjo-like playing and "hand-made percussion" (for lack of better words to describe it!). Another real favorite of mine is "Lips of Ashes", which is perhaps the softest song on the entire album. It's incredibly difficult to resist singing along with the gorgeous harmonies, and that reverb-soaked stringed instrument (a hammered dulcimer?) is mesmerizing. But perhaps the best moment in the song is when the guitar solo kicks in during the wordless vocals...this is the kind of musical moment that can almost bring one to tears.

"3", though, is the absolute highlight of In Absentia. Again one of the mellower songs on the album, this one pretty much has it all. The best part is the string section, which lends an amazing intensity to this song that you can hardly even manage with the blaring metal-style guitars found elsewhere on the album--yet simultaneously with a delicate touch. The lyrics are simple...but it may be the simplicity that spares this song the lyrical trouble that the other songs on this album have. And they are, of course, sung beautifully. The bassline, repeated in a variation in "Strip the Soul" is particularly catchy.

Other notable songs include "The Sound of Muzak", "Gravity Eyelids", "Blackest Eyes", "Collapse the Light into the Earth", and "Strip the Soul", though I have a few caveats for the first two I mentioned. And now on to that stuff...

CONS

The sense that this album is somehow derivative of other works has a tendency to get on my nerves as I listen. While people definitely do take influences from other bands, the trouble with In Absentia is that I keep hearing it way too often, to a point where I find myself wondering if PORCUPINE TREE even has a style of its own, or if its ideas simply come from rehashing other bands' works. I know the OPETH resemblance is a bit touchy to point out, considering that WILSON did indeed work with that band--but he first started collaborating with them before the release of In Absentia, so I found myself wondering if he took even more from them than he gave to their works. In fact, his drummer seems to be copying quite blatantly from the style of OPETH's MARTIN LOPEZ.

"The Sound of Muzak", "Gravity Eyelids", and "Strip the Soul" are the ones where the OPETH influence is the most "suspect"...while they're good songs, they seem quite derivative. There are some other blatant instances as well--"Gravity Eyelids" seems to have taken a major influence from PETER GABRIEL. Perhaps it was just an unfortunate accident, considering that both albums were released in the same year, but it sounds an awful lot like "My Head Sounds Like That" from Up. And "Wedding Nails" seems to rip off PINK FLOYD in a serious way, copying SYD BARRETT's guitar technique from "Interstellar Overdrive" to a T. "Lips of Ashes" seems a bit similar to Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Guinevere", although the two songs are quite distinct from each other. And unfortunately, "The Creator Has a Mastertape" seems to have borrowed from the absolute worst that RADIOHEAD has to offer; with its abrasively distorted vocals and guitar tones, it almost grates on my nerves as badly as RADIOHEAD's "Myxomatosis" or the B-side "Transatlantic Drawl". The song was, to put it simply, irretrievably ruined. Even the best song on the album, "3", seems to have taken a bit from the non-prog band Afrocelt; when I hear it, I am reminded of "Sure-As-Not".

The other real con is that the lyrics are depressingly nihilistic--and not even very good in the first place. One is advised not to pay attention to them in order to avoid the urge to slash one's wrists.

Overall...a 3? A 3.5? I'm not sure, but given the number of problems I've listed, I'll go for a 3 here.

FloydWright | 3/5 |

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