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Porcupine Tree

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5 stars Best of the Best!

It has always been my contention that Porcupine Tree sounds best in a live setting. Anyone who's attended their concerts knows exactly what I'm writing about. While live, one would be hard-pressed to know it by listening to this pristine recording. This would fall into the category of a session recorded "live" in a studio, as opposed to "live" in- concert. There is absolutely no crowd noise or in-between tracks filler.

While there is still much debate as to what the "best" Porcupine Tree recordings are, the question usually divides listeners into two distinct categories of PT fans. Those who prefer the atmospheric, ambient works of the nineties, and those more in-tune with the band's more recent pop-oriented and straight-forward rock leanings. I consider myself of the former, and consider PT's finest moments to be Stupid Dream, Lightbulb Sun, Recordings, and Signify.

If you agree with me, you owe yourself a listen to XMII. This CD is tough to find, as it was sold exclusively at PT concerts this past year, and the small amount of remaining inventory was made available exclusively through the band's own website. You may have to pay the big bucks from those eBay purveyors (aka leeches), but worth every penny.

Performed live, the band breathes new life into jems from some of the previously mentioned albums. The highlight for me is the rendition of 'Fadeaway' from 'Up The Downstair' featuring John Wesley's vocals. John is a touring member of Porcupine Tree, and is an extraordinary singer, songwriter and guitarist is his own right. Anyone who has taken in a recent North-American Marillion concert knows John as their opening guest artist. While 'Up The Downstair' has recently been re-recorded and re-released, this to me is the "definitive" version of the song. VERY powerful.

If you're new to Porcupine Tree and want to get a good idea what this band is all about, I say start with their live recordings; Coma Divine, Warszawa, and this. You'll get a great sampling of the best tracks from their best albums, all done with energy and urgency that is often missing in the original studio versions.

Now, where can I get me a copy of the first XM recording...? I need to hear this! I know... (sheesh!)

Report this review (#38014)
Posted Wednesday, June 29, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Awesome! It's cool to hear old songs with Gavin Harrison on the drums -- it kinda creates a new version of each old song. This is a stellar recording that deserves to be bought by any fan of Porcupine Tree. Hopefully we'll get a re-issue of the first XM sessions soon. But unlikely. Anyway, 5-star album. These days, no-one does it as well as Porcupine Tree.
Report this review (#60617)
Posted Saturday, December 17, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars While people are wishing for the first "XM" album to be reissued as it's out of print (hopefully that doesn't happen as it would ruin the collectability of it), most were able to get their hands on "XMII". Reasons for getting this include 'Fadeaway' with John Wesley's vocals, the fact that Gavin Harrison is playing drums instead of Chris Maitland (makes it a bit different), and that it's a limited prodution run and could be collectable in the future.

Since PT has put out several live albums, it's not really an essential purchase for casual fans. The reissue of Coma Divine is a much better release, not to mention cheaper and easier to find.

Report this review (#60634)
Posted Saturday, December 17, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars "XM" from 2003 was really good, but I thing "XM II" recorded in 2005 is even better!

Just like its predecessor "XM II" was recorded live, but without the "disturbing" audience at the XM Studio's in Washington.

1.Shesmovedon (5:09)

This is one of my favourite PT tracks from the Lightbulb Sun album together with "Russia On Ice" and "Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth." which are all present on this live recordeing!

2. Fadeaway (5:18)

Fadeway was originally sung by SW on the1993 "Up The Downstair" album, but now even more beautiful with John Wesley singing. WOW! Superb!

3. Trains (5:30)

The track "Trains" from "In Absentia" is always nice to play in an acoustic session.

4. Hatesong (8:29)

Also from the "Lightbulb Sun" album and played with surgical precision, like any song on XM II however.

5. Pure Narcotic (5:10)

From the famous 1999 "Stupid Dream" album, another nice track.

6. Russia on Ice (12:04)

Probably my favourite track from "Lightbulb Sun" because of its complexity and ability to make 1 song out of 2. Or should I say blend 2 songs into 1? When you think the song is about to finish it completely takes another direction like it's transforming into another song. This was a big surprise for me when I heard it the first time and I think it is great and almost a PORCUPINE TREE trademark. There are only musical rules to break them and do something completely opposite. Very well done!

7. Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before it is Recycled (4:57)

The thing that intrigued me most about this song is that you actually hear the voice of the leader of the Heaven's Gate religious cult Doe. This U.S. cult believed they were from another planet only visiting earth. In order to return to their own dimension "before the planet earth was recycled" they committed mass suicide. The words are taken from a video they made before killing themselves to explain to the rest of the world why they had done it. Quite eerie that the guy who's talking so nice and clearly made others commit suicide because he made them believe "his story".

8. Feel So Low (3:51)

Another nice track from the "Lightbulb Sun" album.

This album is certainly a MUST HAVE for all fans of PORCUPINE TREE, but also a very nice introduction to the band for the ones who don't really know them yet. I think in the near future it will become a collectible CD just like "XM" because to my knowledge it was only pressed as a limited edition.

Go get one copy immediately if you still can!

Report this review (#90872)
Posted Thursday, September 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars This is an absolute peach of an album.

The "Recorded live at satellite radio performance studio" schpiel reminds me of Spiced Doubt by Ozric. That having been said, to criticize this recording would almost be churlish.

"A thoughful and intelligent selection of tracks, beautifully executed" sums this album up.

My one concern here is that there is a certain "sterile" feel to to the music.

It makes it into my top 10% but it's not a masterpiece by any stretch.

Report this review (#120082)
Posted Saturday, April 28, 2007 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
3 stars A nice improvement over the first "XM", with a stronger set list and improved playing throughout. The band plays their older material with renewed energy on all of the songs, with the inclusion of Gavin Harrison and John Wesley adding new depth to the mix. The sound is similar to that in the first "XM", coming across as very refined and crisp-- sounding nothing like a live album at all, which makes owning this one redundant for the casual fan; however, dedicated fans will enjoy the updated sound to songs like "Hatesong", "Shesmovedon" and "Last Chance...", the latter of which being a vigorous improvement over the studio version.

Setlist 4 Instrumental Performances 4 Stage Energy 2 Live Experience 2

Report this review (#150376)
Posted Monday, November 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
Prog Metal Team
3 stars Just like its earlier companion XM, XM II finds the band performing live without audience in the studio. Unlike XM, there's quite a bit of material here that could be of interest to more people then just the ardent fans. The main reason is the setlist, which contains some gems rarely performed live.

Shesmovedon is an good version, with an inspired solo and nice vocal harmonies between Wilson and Wesley. Wesley's high-pitched tone is a perfect match for Wilson's lower mumble. Wesley gets the lead vocal on Fadeaway, one of those great PT tracks that sees few live performances. It always takes me a few bars to get used to Wesley's voice but he builds up the emotional tension of this song very well. It's certainly one worth hunting down, also for casual fans.

If there's one PT song that I have heard too much, it must Trains. It's one of Wilson's best songs though and this version certainly does it justice. It's performed very subtle, tender and restrained. Probably my preferred rendition. Hatesong by contrast is a song I can't get enough of. I prefer the version on the Arriving Somewhere DVD, but back in the day this was the only available version with Wilson's wonderfully dissonant noise-solo and the improved ending with Harrison's delightful drumming.

Another rare live feature is Russia on Ice. It has different synth arrangements in the verses and the Wilson-Wesley harmonies in the chorus work out very well. The space-rock finale benefits from Harrison's powerful drumming but unfortunately Barbieri's majestic mellotron parts are buried too deep in the mix. The unplugged Pure Narcotic is the most interesting from the remaining tracks, Last Chance probably the best, and Feel so Low the saddest.

Overall, quite an upgrade over the original XM. The surprising song selection and the subtle changes in arrangements and vocals make this a worthwhile addition to the PT catalogue. 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#363863)
Posted Sunday, December 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
4 stars This is a well-recorded live performance for XM satellite radio done on July 21, 2003. This is the second XM recording done by Porcupine Tree, and this one is slightly better than the first in that the set list is better and you have the entire band, including John Wesley who was considered a session musician, but should be considered part of the regular line up because he was always there for studio and live performances. There is no audience noise, because this was a recording for the airwaves, no audience involved.

The recording is exceptional, giving the listener alternate versions of songs that had already been released from the studio. That is the main draw for the album, in that the performances are as they happened, and the songs are given that live-as-it-happens feeling. The songs are not much different from the studio versions except you are missing the polished feeling, the songs are a little more raw. It's always great to hear songs of this caliber in live settings though, and when the recording is this pristine, it gives you a new experience with older but tried and tested songs. Five songs are from "Lightbulb Sun", "Trains" is from "In Absentia", and "Pure Narcotic" from "Stupid Dream" are more acoustic-based songs, but the entire band is involved in each, and "Fadeaway" from "Up the Downstair", this one in this case is sung by John Wesley where it is normally sung by Steven Wilson, and it's nice to hear his take on it.

The two epic songs are "Hatesong" and "Russia on Ice". Both are excellent performances, as to be expected, and as are all of the songs. Nothing is really new here, except for the vocal by John, but as I said, the draw for this recording is the chance to hear alternative versions of the excellent songs. The album was only sold at live shows and on the band's "Burning Shed" website, so it is rather rare. But it is still possible to find, just difficult to find. If you do find it or get a chance to download, do so, it is worth it. But you don't have to overexert yourself unless you are a collector, these songs are readily available elsewhere, just not in these versions. Seeing as this is an excellent performance and recording, it is an album that would be great to have in your prog rock collection.

Report this review (#1949898)
Posted Friday, July 20, 2018 | Review Permalink


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