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


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

4.26 | 2606 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Fear of a Blank Planet is an ambitious, cohesive album. The music is expertly performed and wonderfully arranged. And the sound is every bit as good as you'd expect from the foremost mixing-desk wizard, Porcupine Tree bandleader Steven Wilson. Overall, it's a good record. What keeps it from being great, in my opinion, is the composition, both the music and in particular, the lyrics.

It may seem petty to complain about the lyrics of a prog-rock record. After all, some of the most celebrated progressive artists have some of the least impressive lyrics. Besides, the cleverer the poetry, the more likely it is to get lost in the bombast, right? Anyway, I'm certainly not the only one to have excused poor lyrics on an otherwise good album. But Porcupine Tree's ninth LP is different for an important reason.

Fear of a Blank Planet is a concept album whose ideas are explicated via the texts sung (and written) by Wilson. And it's no loose concept; said Wilson in a interview, "Fear of a Blank Planet was an album about how technology affects the world we live in, particularly how it affects the younger generation, how it's created a lot more dysfunction, [a] lack of communication." Wilson - - who cites Andy Partridge and Joni Mitchell among the songwriters he respects the most - - considers lyrics vital to his music. In the same interview, he said, "as you can probably tell from my music, I love the idea of using songwriting as a means to tell stories." So to me, the lyrics are fair game as I evaluate Fear of a Blank Planet.

On his home page, Wilson says that the album's protagonist is "this kind of terminally bored kid, anywhere between 10 and 15 years old, who spends all his daylight hours in his bedroom with the curtains closed." On he says the kid "can barely form a sentence" and "treats his parents with complete disdain." From the opening track, we learn that this prepubescent boy's parents medicate him as a means of dealing with his problems; on "Anesthetize" he muses, "I'm not really sure if the pills I've been taking are helping" - - which seems a bit self-aware for a self-described "stoned" "zombie," much less for a 10- to 15-year-old. His fourth-wall-breaking claim that "X-Box is a god to me" similarly sounds unreasonably precipient. Then there's "Sleep Together," where he describes an existential choice, "do or drown / do or drown in torpor," before resolving to "burn my Prada trainers." Would this protagonist use the term "torpor?" Don't get me wrong; "torpor" is a great word here, but it sounds more like the diction of a prog-rock songwriter a few months short of his fortieth birthday.

So instead of a necessicarily confused, first-person narration, we have a bit of a screed (perhaps not unlike this review). In effect, the 10- to 15-year-old is a puppet mouthing the words Wilson thinks the kid would say. Ironically, the protagonist would despise Wilson for it, or maybe laugh at his attempt to understand. "I'm saying nothing," he might tell his creator, as he says on "Anesthetize." "Shut up, be happy / Stop whining please!" Wilson made his perspective clear in a series of interviews leading up to the album's release. He told Revolver magazine that "parents these days seem to deal with their kids' problems not by sitting down and talking to them but by sending them to the doctor and getting them prescription drugs." And to MTV's Chris Harris shortly before the album's release, he said that "it's almost like everything has become so easily accessible that none of it means anything anymore. These kids will grow up without any sense of curiosity or motivation, and they'll grow up without a soul, or a real sense of who they are."

To be fair, Fear of a Blank Planet has plenty going for it. Some of the lyrics are, in my opinion, actually pretty good, as far as progressive rock goes; they're just ridiculous in context. Since the entirety of Fear of a Blank Planet invites comparison to Rush (and would even without the Alex Lifeson guest turn on "Anesthetize"), I'll remark that Wilson is every bit as poetic as Rush lyricist Neal Peart. And on Fear of a Blank Planet, his singing is every bit as good as that of Rush vocalist Geddy Lee. None of my focus on Wilson is intended to detract from the other members of the group; drummer Gavin Harrison in particular is excellent throughout. The orchestral arranging, by Dave Stewart (of U.K., Bruford, and many other groups) and Wilson, is also remarkable.

In short, Fear of a Blank Planet is a solid album which is a bit lacking in the composition department.

patrickq | 3/5 |


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