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Porcupine Tree - Lightbulb Sun CD (album) cover


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

4.03 | 1584 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars Let me come clean about something right up front. I'm a fanman of Porcupine Tree. A porker. A tree hugger. I'm a sailor on the PT boat. Whatever you want to call it, that's fine with me. Steven Wilson and his cohorts make the kind of prog that fits my needs and sensibilities like a favorite pair of sneakers and there's a lot to be said for that in today's world. They're also one of the few modern bands that delve into mature subject matter that I can pore over and derive meaning from. So when I finally got the newly remastered/remixed CD of "Lightbulb Sun" I fully expected it to delight me and I gotta say the boys didn't let me down at all. It's magnificent.

Being able to view it in light of the three albums that came after allows for my opinion that it marks the end of a phase that sprouted with the uneven "Signify," bloomed with the spectacular "Stupid Dream" and reached ripe fruition with this fine collection of songs. After this Steven would shift his lyrical point of view from first to third person, keyboard man Richard Barbieri would get to play a larger role and drummer Chris Maitland would be replaced in order to pave the way for the group to go in a new direction. All of these changes proved to be dramatic but they don't subtract from the greatness they collectively achieved here. This is excellent progressive music from start to finish.

"Lightbulb Sun" has a deceivingly delicate beginning with acoustic guitar and piano streaming under Wilson's vocal until a striking slide guitar and Chris' forceful drums turn it into a strong rocker featuring their signature stacked harmonies. While Steven sings about a sickly, quarantined child spending his lonely life in a bubble I get the feeling that it's all a metaphor for his personal yearning to break free from his self-imposed insecurities and try to make a bold splash in the world. "The curtains stay closed now/on my little retreat/but after a while/the noise on the street/is making me wish/I was back on my feet," he sings. "How is your life Today?" embodies the spirit of the previous album in this stripped- down, piano-based tune presented sans drums. The symbolic words convey that he's packed up his belongings and is ready to vacate the premises, leaving his comfy but too familiar surroundings behind. "The neighbors have guessed/'cos I've cancelled the milk/and they don't hear your voice/through the walls anymore," he sings. He's ready for a challenge.

A strange, raga-like Indian aura pervades the outset of "Four Chords that made a Million" until Maitland's drums roar in and take the wheel. It's an obvious slap in the face of the record biz "morons with checkbooks" that undoubtedly dispensed reams of worthless advice into their ears ad infinitum. Thank God they weren't listening. It's a straightforward, no-frills rocker that doesn't let up in the sarcasm department, making a defiant statement that I admire. "Shesmovedon" is brilliant. (Having said that, I must confess that the version included as a bonus track on "Deadwing" with the amazing Gavin Harrison on the drumkit blows this one clean away.) A well-crafted number containing densely layered harmonies and an emotional guitar solo, it thoroughly describes the pain of realizing that the one you love has hopped a train out of your life. If you've never experienced that feeling be grateful because it's like a hollow, empty hole in the middle of your being that lingers for years. "I'm left behind like all the others/some fall for you/it doesn't make much difference if they do," he laments.

Ever unpredictable, they segue seamlessly into a lighter mood fronted by strumming banjos and acoustic guitars for the odd "Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before it is Recycled." Colin Edward's fretless bass playing is excellent as, bit by bit, the group slowly transforms the song into a playful psychedelic jam session. Lyrically Wilson initially describes a somewhat carefree summer of romantic love before a frank spoken word segment ensues, the speaker sounding like an extraterrestrial lecturer orating from a college classroom podium. It's a weird juxtaposition but it works. "The Rest Will Flow" follows and it's a gorgeous mix of an orchestral string section, acoustic guitars and organ beneath an understated vocal. Here Steven relates that he's going to let his creativity be led by his muse and trust her guidance with "eyes closed/all the rest will flow." (This kind of sensitive songwriting would rarely grace future albums as Wilson would soon join forces with Aviv Geffen to create "Blackfield," providing a needed outlet for his more personal tunes.)

Stalking bass lines characterize the opening of "Hatesong," creating a tension heightened by hot, distorted guitars that cut like a sharp scythe. Here Steven indulges in the malicious resentment that he often feels towards his former lover, spewing lines like "this is a hate song just meant for you/I thought I'd write it down while I still could/I hope when you hear this you'll want to sue." The group later introduces a hard rock riff into the proceedings and then a sound like Lucifer cranking up his demonic Harley in the bowels of Hell for a beer run to Dylan's desolation row ensues that is terrifying. Afterward they lead you through an interesting spacey segment to the tune's conclusion. Good stuff. Fat, lush acoustic guitars provide the backdrop for the next track, the bittersweet "Where We Would Be" in which Wilson reminisces a time when everything was perfect and he and his lady love would talk of the future they would share together. "Strange how you never become/the person you see when you're young," he sadly reminds us. The guitar lead he performs is exquisite. It conjures a mental image of a fiery sparkler creating streaked patterns on a black velvet canvas, as brittle and edgy as his shattered heart.

As impressive as the album is to this point, the final two cuts send it soaring into the stratosphere. "Russia On Ice" is an epic song that takes a backseat to no other in their rich repertoire. After a mysterious beginning on electric piano a wonderful, moody atmosphere augmented by a symphony surrounds your consciousness as Steven calls up from the well of self-pity. "You think I deserve this/you said I was stupid," he cries, "Can't stop myself drinking/can't stop being me/If I call will you come/and will you save me?" The man's soul has been annihilated and some of us know what that feels like. But one thing you can count on from Porcupine Tree is that they'll take you on an intriguing musical journey and when a monster, industrial/metal guitar line is added to the equation the track approaches the sublime as Mr. Maitland shows us all what a talented stick man he really is. He's ferocious in his attack. The whole thing dissolves into what brings to mind church bells tolling in the night under an ocean of stars. The final song, the tragic "Feel So Low," is awesome in its simplicity. Over a combination of acoustic guitars and a string quartet Wilson lays out his broken heart one last time. There is no pain equal to the wounds caused by unrequited love and these lyrics may be the best description of that physical and mental ache I've ever heard. "I hated every minute/I was waiting for your email/and each day that you forgot to call/just made me feel so low/so low." I've been there. I know of what he sings and the memory of that agony stays with you throughout your life. You never forget it. As the beautiful strains of the score settle to the ground he utters a humble, condescending "thanks" to the woman who abandoned him. There's a world of hurt contained in that one single word. It's genius.

In all fairness you should digest my review with a grain of salt. Every CD since "Stupid Dream" has been 5 star caliber in my estimation and I haven't repeatedly awarded that kind of accolade to any other artist/band I've encountered in my many years of listening. These guys just write, arrange and record music that strikes at the very core of my being with amazing accuracy yet I realize that not everyone shares my enthusiasm for their art. So be it. I only hope you find someone who thrills your soul the way these artists thrill mine.

Chicapah | 5/5 |


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