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Porcupine Tree - The Incident CD (album) cover


Porcupine Tree


Heavy Prog

3.67 | 1493 ratings

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4 stars The Inevitable Drop

Unlike a lot of people, my experience with The Incident was somewhat backwards. Following an album as exquisite and fantastic as Fear of a Blank Planet was always going to be a difficult job, and the fact that Porcupine Tree had been steadily improving for decades must have had many people eager for something perfect. I can imagine the disappointment, because I have experienced it before with other albums. The Catalyst Fire and Coal come straight to mind, in terms of albums that I took some time to enjoy because of the fact that they were weaker than their predecessors. When I first got into this album, and thought it was nearly Steven's best, and I wrote off all the negative criticism as simply people being disappointed. This was the second album from Wilson that I properly got into, after Fear of a Blank Planet sparked my interest in all things progressive. And I really loved it, at the time. I loved how it wasn't a collection of songs, but a series of shorter tracks that add to each other, and while I never raised it to the levels of Fear of a Blank Planet, I did think it was an incredible album. Not so much anymore.

The biggest problem with The Incident is that it drowns under its own ambition. The material here isn't bad, and it could be really good, with a hell of a lot more focus, but that's what is missing. Steven has tried to outdo Fear of a Blank Planet, the epitome of his ambition and musical greatness, and in doing so has kind of crushed himself. It's an album with decent material to build songs from that has been built together in the strangest way - elongated out to an unreasonable length, mashed together to form a faux 'epic', and the in-between bits laced with filler.

Obviously, I must first address the "55-minute song", which, as my quotation marks suggest, is not a 55-minute song at all. It's a very odd piece of music that seems to regularly forget what it is aiming to be. During the first few tracks it definitely feels as if it could be a legendary epic, with "Occam's Razor" and "The Blind House" making for an explosive and epic introduction, and the next few songs, essentially up to the title track, all flowing together smoothly. I always loved "Great Expectations", even if its length left so much to be desired. It has such a simple and beautiful chord progression with a great vocal melody from Steven floating over the top. And then it transitions nicely into "Kneel and Disconnect", which does nearly the exact same thing, again. Both of these songs could have been great, if they had been fleshed out more, and The Incident, as a 55-minute song, could have been great, if it had used these as central motifs to base the music around, but instead it just goes from one piece to another without any sense of continuation. All the parts are good, but on the whole it just stacks up to? a stack of half-songs.

And honestly, I would be fine with that, if there was a bit more to remind us that this was a 55-minute song. Where are the recurring themes? Where are the lyrical plot points? Are these songs even about the same thing? Why is there silence between tracks? I understand that I could just ignore these and treat it as a piece of music, but the thing is that it ends up in this weird middle ground where half of it feels like it's trying to be an epic and the other half just doesn't bother. The only distinct melody that gets reprised later on is the one from "Octane Twisted", which also appears in "The Seance". And that would be cool, if The Seance wasn't the next song. Seriously, a thematic reprise melody should hark back to the introduction, or to a part way back in the song, not to a part that happened two minutes ago. I'm sure Steven was patting himself on the back for being conceptual when he re-used the (admittedly excellent) chord progression from "The Blind House" under the verse of "Octane Twisted", but who actually noticed that? I did, but only because my band covered The Blind House, and one day it dawned on me. The possibilities for this "epic" are limitless and amazing, but it just doesn't click. At all.

Now that I've had a bit of a rave about what irritates me about this album, I feel I should touch on what is great about it, because I do still like it. While the melodies and progressions on here may not be as good as the ones on PT's previous three record, they are still excellent. Learning how to play many of these songs on guitar has really showed me how much Steven has matured as a guitar composer. The chords here are weird, they're unique - there are some shapes here that I've never played in my entire life, and yet they feel so natural melodically. The recurring progression from The Blind House, that reprises under Octane Twisted and The Seance is one of those one that you can play to yourself and come up with a million different melody variations on - it's amazing he didn't just use it for the entire 55-minute piece. "Time Flies", the weird epic-within-an-epic, has another excellent progression for the song's main melody, which is possibly what saves it from being a complete Pink Floyd rip-off. It's clear that the use of these weird and interesting chords shows Steven running low on ideas and trying to find new ones (the only song here with the world-famous Steven Wilson chord is "Great Expectations"), but I certainly admire his ingenuity in composition.

Aside from "Circle of Manias", which is one of the terrible filler tracks here, the first disk does get an excellent last section, after the mini-epic Time Flies (which neither flows into the rest of the first disk nor has any lyrical or melodic relevance). Both "Octane Twisted" and "The Seance", which are more or less the same song, are amazing - containing the chord progression from "The Blind House" with an even better lead melody, a great layered vocal refrain, and one of those trademark huge riffs. Those guitarists out there will also recognise this as a shifted and rhythm-changed version of the album's opening riff, but the 5/4 time signature shifts it so much that it becomes so much better. It's so good that when the melody reprises in "The Seance", I actually get a bit disappointed that we don't get that riff coming back in again and going for another round. And then there's "I Drive The Hearse", which is the disk's acoustic-led closing track. The capo fiddling reminds immediately of "Trains", and the melody has such a wonderful sense of closure to it. If I were to rearrange this album (and I regularly think about how much better it could have been), i don't think I would change this song at all.

Outside of the "55-minute song", we have a bonus disk of four extra tracks, that are obviously all pretty good quality, given the fact that Porcupine Tree's b-sides are generally excellent, but I still can't help but feel they're B-sides. "Flicker" is pretty useless, although it's not bad. It just sort of floats by without much happening, good or bad. "Bonnie The Cat" is another of PT's kind of unnecessary alternative metal tracks, in the vein of Strip the Soul or Cheating the Polygraph, or even the almost-bad "Circle of Manias" from the first disc. And it really doesn't amass to much - it's a weird rhythm-heavy track that rips of Tool a tad much. But the other two songs on the end are excellent. "Black Dahlia" is one of Steven's best acoustic tracks, nearly reaching the greatness of some of his ballads on In Absentia and Deadwing, and "Remember Me Lover", with its excellent heavy section at the end, feels like the first true Porcupine Tree song on this album.

The Incident is still a great album, because it still contains Steven's trademark brilliance in constructing melodies and chord progressions, but as a whole it feels weirdly unfinished. The first disk contains some odd decisions in structuring, as well as some downright weak moments, and the second disk just feels like an annex of pretty simple b-sides. I can feel for the people who are disappointed, because even if this album was properly structured, and a proper length, and threw all the filler tracks out the window, it would probably still be their weakest album since Lightbulb Sun. As one of those people who loves Steven completely, I still enjoy this, but on the whole this is nothing that Steven hasn't done better in the past. But it could have been so much more.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Gallifrey | 4/5 |


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