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Porcupine Tree - In Absentia CD (album) cover

IN ABSENTIA

Porcupine Tree

 

Heavy Prog

4.23 | 1855 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

CCVP
Prog Reviewer
2 stars What a man needs to do in order to avoid the negative media onslaught

For years, decades, after progressive rock fell from grace among the mainstream media (big newspapers, television and communication networks), many (if not all) artists linked to that genre of rock music have been subject to some kind of attack, which criticized and looked down on their qualities and strengths, as if they were something to be ashamed of. As a result, some have changed their musical direction (Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Rush, PFM, Banco Delle Mutuo Soccorso, Mike Oldfield, etc), others have halted their musical output completely (King Crimson, Van der Graaff Generator, Focus, Magma, etc) and, surprisingly, a number of artists even started to deny they were ever connected or ever produced progressive rock in any way; that last option is the case with Steven Wilson.

After releasing two of the best space rock albums since a very long time in the mid 1990's (Up the Downstairs and The Sky Moves Sideways) and getting some attention from the press, probably negative, Wilson and Richard Barbieri decided to move towards other musical territories which were more widely accepted at that point in time in the UK, the britpop. It was a very smart move because that genre allowed them to have some musical liberty with the psychedelic elements in their sound, because britpop incorporated some (light-aired) degree of psychedelia. Indeed, from Signify on to In Absentia Porcupine Tree downgraded their musical abilities and stopped challenging themselves in order to excel in writing great music because, after all, the objective was to put out pop sounding albums, with some progressive songs here and there. All these years amounted with In Absentia being their least impressive, most boring and less inventive album in Porcupine Tree's career after their debut, but with one fundamental difference: on their first album, Steven Wilson was trying to do the best thing he could musically.

Here, the music recorded has no fundamental difference from their two previous albums, Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun. The songs here are in fact so generic that it is possible to interchange almost every song from any of these two previous albums with In Absentia and there would be little noticeable difference to how they sound, if there is a difference at all. There are, however, some exceptions: the opener, Blackest Eyes, is quite an unique song and seems to be some kind of prelude to the new musical direction the band would take in the near future, despite still retaining the simpler, more pop-inclined sound so characteristic of this PT's era; Wedding Nails also is a nice breath of fresh air, having a similar tone to Blackest Eyes, but having a more experimental edge to it; and the duo made by Prodigal and 3, with their clear psychedelic influence, are also a positive deviance from the overall musical sameness this album is. After 3, however, the album spirals down to a low I wished the band never were, even though the last track manages to avoid the album from ending in such a terrible place.

The poor result this album has to my ears can be blamed on, to some degree, the fact it is what can be considered a transition album: it is the bridge linking the band's previous era with its next. I mean, it (mostly) retains the pop-directed rock from the late 1990's, it has the return of the spacey elements Deadwing and Fear of a Black Planet would bring back (even though this element was also present in Lightbulb Sun) as well as brings something new (the newly acquired heaviness) to the table. Still, Signify was also a transition album and it managed to be miles better than In Absentia.

Besides the forgettable songwriting, this album also has another problem which I find relevant. On mostly all of Porcupine Tree's albums, the keyboards play an important part in the band's overall sound, specially because Steve Barbieri is the main songwriter besides Steven Wilson, but here they are put in a background position, giving place to the guitars and drums, giving the album more of a rock and roll feel than progressive rock feel. OK, I know Gavin Harrison is an phenomenal musician with abilities way above average and that Steven Wilson writes the majority of songs, but is that enough to kill, to throw off the window the entire atmosphere the keyboards create in progressive rock? Again, another of many poor choices made in this particular album. Some songs still retain the keys as an important part of their sound, which are, not coincidentally, Wedding Nails and 3.

Rating and Final Thoughts

In spite of definitely being the lowest point in Porcupine Tree's discography and not having that many good moments, In Absentia manages to have just enough songs in it to keep me from giving it the lowest rating possible. Bad songwriting, forgettable songs and bad choices in mixing the instruments together are some of the most clearly seen flaws here. I'm just glad they moved on from this.

CCVP | 2/5 |

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