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Porcupine Tree - The Incident CD (album) cover


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

3.68 | 1599 ratings

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4 stars Tristephobia?

After having been constantly bombarded by road-safety propaganda, it was almost a relief to find myself in a real accident. JG Ballard (Crash)

I'm glad I didn't review this album when I originally intended to (several months ago) as I would have probably given The Incident a near fatal rodent flogging it certainly doesn't deserve. Yep, a real stealthy and prowling 'grower' this one so be patient with it, as the melodies, hooks and goodies within will take some time to worm their way into your affections.

The old music-hall adage of 'keep them begging for more' takes an ironic twist here as the pre-release teasing indulged in by Roadrunner Records (and probably abetted by the band) created unrealistically high expectations for Porcupine Tree's 10th album. As far as 'a seamless 55 minute conceptual piece' goes it ain't on a par with Echolyn's sublime Mei but as a thematically linked song suite a la Supper's Ready, it really is rather nifty. However, shackling an unfinished and rudderless collection of experimental 'ditties with the fuller figure' by way of a second helping onto the whole enterprise merely has a sated public heading for the exits long before the cessation of this dubious fan fare. What niggles I have with this otherwise fine album are centred around two main fronts: 1 - the 2nd CD simply runs out of steam well before the end with Bonnie the Cat redolent of an affectionate but wretched homage to NIN. Wilson has the wistful and poignant tonsilry down-pat but his attempt at latent whispered menace a la Trent Reznor comes across as a librarian attempting an obscene phone call secure in the knowledge that his target recipient is out of town. Ditch the excess baggage fellas. 2 - Wilson has a very endearing and musical voice but it simply ain't got a second gear within which to rev into. This seems to be why the emotional peaks are arrived at either via massed harmony vocals as compensating weight or explosive salvoes of distorted guitar riffing where you would otherwise expect to hear the suitably anguished visceral holler of a Robert Smith or a Black Francis. I'm haunted by the idea that in the future there will emerge a storage medium sufficient to hold every single recorded version of Wagner's Ring Cycle, Greg Lake's weekly groceries list, the entire zip codes of Middle Earth plus 3550 bonus tracks on an object the size of an ant's contact lens. We may live long enough to see this phenomenon but probably not long enough to sample one of its contents. If entities as prodigiously talented as Porcupine Tree cannot fill 76 minutes with music of an unremittingly high standard, what chance do their lesser spotted brethren have?

It's unlikely that the endemic phobia that afflicts our present age i.e. 'fear of sadness' will earn sufficient brownie points to warrant acknowledgement by dint of a name from the staunchly carefree or terminally cheerful in our midst. The irony of the 'unspeakable' undergoing a makeover from roadkill the cat dragged in to flouncing down a catwalk decked out in designer neurosis gear would not be lost on you I hope.

When a car crash gets you off you've lost your grip When a f.u.c.k is not enough you know you've slipped When the church is full you know you've just been had When the world has gone to seed your'e so detached

This is bleak but never wallows or gorges itself from the trough of despair. I also think it carries echoes of the themes explored on Bowie's Outside album and Ballard's frankly repellent 1973 novel Crash (I'm trying to get through this review without recourse to using the word 'dark' - Bugger, I just blew it.) By way of mitigation, the angst in the roomy Wilson pants is mollified by The Incident's central song Time Flies being the most uplifting and (gulp) hopeful on the entire album. It's interesting that Wilson drops salutary references to pre Prog landmarks such as Sgt Pepper and Are You Experienced? here i.e. it's the soil that begets the fruit: prickly, spiky or otherwise according to your taste. Like many of us, Steve is fascinated by the disparity in his perception of time as the ageing process takes hold. Those summer holidays he experienced as a child seemed to last forever while now in adulthood, time appears to have acquired Nike running shoes. It's hardly a piece of insightful genius but it's expressed with a touching vulnerability wedded to music that is genuinely inspired and carries not a trace of excess sentimentality.

She said nothing ever happens if you don't make it happen And if you can't laugh and smile and laughing in the summer showers that's still the way I see you now

PT would I'm sure be the first to admit that Roger Waters nailed this sucker over 20 years ago:

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time, plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines

I am five years older than Steve Wilson and I suspect that we both spent our formative years listening to the Cure, U2, the Banshees, the Pixies, Depeche Mode, Rush, Television, NIN and cast a fond gaze in the rear view mirror to give way to the likes of early 70's classic Prog, the Beatles, Hendrix et al. Keith Emerson is now 67 years old, so picture him if you will circa 1971 sauntering down Portobello Rd in fringed Indian jacket whistling a nagging tune. We can only guess at what the melody might have been but it sure as hell wasn't I'm Stranded by the Saints. That progressively minded musicians from different generations should bring a wide array of unprecedented influences to their oeuvre is a plain vanilla no-brainer so why is this album criticised in some quarters for being 'too indie rock/too poppy' or routinely dismissed as 'post-post punk?' On reading such barbs, Wilson must feel like a fish that's being criticised for refusing the offer of a towel. Some of the wonderful guitar timbres dialled up by Mr W on this record reference the likes of Hendrix and Gilmour but sit quite comfortably and very effectively with the more contemporary sound palettes inspired by John McGeoch, Tom Verlaine, the Edge and Robert Smith (so suck it up hippys)

The aforementioned colours that Wilson sprinkles into his work are mostly textural anyway i.e. the compositional aesthetics hold sway to the primacy of lyrical and memorable song-writing with exploratory instrumental departures being but the icing on the cake. (Ya gotta eat yer meat and two veg to earn yer puddy mateys and even the most revered and complex prog has always exemplified this hard won lesson)

That enormous pealing and unresolved chord at the outset which is reprised later on in the piece carries a hint of 2112 by Rush and could be punningly emblematic or serve as a leitmotif for the entire undertaking. As is the norm for the British School of Melancholy nothing is ever solved or remedied but merely confronted and grudgingly acknowledged as real. The fantasy elements that are such a staple of Metal and Prog are here equated with a perishable innocence that the author concedes is well past its bedtime but still pines for the wonder and awe that maturity can never hope to replicate. Wilson's muse shares with that of Water's Dark Side of the Moon an unnerving candour and refreshing humility when faced with fears of our own mortality and the futility of our search for healthy stimulus in an ever increasingly jaded world.

Silence is another way of saying what I want to say Lying is another way of hoping it will go away

What I particularly admire about Steve Wilson is his refusal to appease a lucrative demographic with sugar coated pacifiers e.g. he knows full well that 'Prog Messiah' status is but a sprinkling of Mellotron, Hammond, Moog and 13/16 time signature from his grasp but steadfastly declines to dress his noughties model in retro chic apparel. Free of virtuostic blather and hippy cosmiche w.a.n.k, Porcupine Tree represent a glimpse of where rock music might be heading in the future.

BTW Portobello Rd in London is home to the world's largest antique market (you work it out)

ExittheLemming | 4/5 |


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