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Music Review: Porcupine Tree – The Incident

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On the first few initial listens, Porcupine Tree's The Incident has both the look and feel of being the British progressive rock band's masterpiece.

Everything about this album — from its elegantly photographed cover art, to the fifty-five minute title track that takes up all of disc one — screams prog-rock epic. In these rather lofty aspirations, The Incident mostly succeeds. But there are a few bumps along the road to getting there.

The distribution of the songs for one thing, is, well a little weird. Clearly the epic track "The Incident," is intended to be the focal point. But in doing so, the four tracks on the second disc, which together comprise all of twenty minutes plus change, make them feel almost like afterthoughts. Compared to the sprawling fifty-five minutes of disc one, disc two comes off as something more like a bonus, Nil Recurring style E.P.

Which is really too bad, because these four songs contain some of the best music on the entire record. "Black Dahlia" is one of those haunting, melancholic sounding short songs that PT mastermind Steven Wilson seems to be able to come up with on a dime. A quiet keyboard intro soon gives way to a rising swell of mellotron voices here, as Wilson intones surreal-sounding lyrics like 'there's a cliche in your eye, file the edges down, soon be underground."

On "Remember Me Lover," Wilson kisses off a former flame with the words "It's so hard to get along, I always know what you're gonna say, and this too, I hated you, I wish you'd learn to keep your mouth shut." Ouch! Musically, this song goes from another one of those great little melodic hooks that Wilson makes seem so effortless, into the sort of bludgeoning metal crunch that dominated PT's last album, Fear Of A Blank Planet.

Speaking of which, there's far less of that — meaning skull-crushing metal — on The Incident than I expected to see on the followup to 2007's FOABP. In fact, Wilson seems to be favoring the proggier sounds of earlier records like In Absentia and Signify again here. No complaints from me.

The nicest thing about the title track, monster-length aside, is the fact that it is still broken up into fourteen parts, each of which carry their own unique title. So despite the length, it still feels more like a set of stand-alone songs. No Jethro Tull style Passion Play indulgence here.

The mini-tracks range from shorter interludes like the minute and a half or so "Occam's Razor," — which opens The Incident with a blast of metallic guitar — to the eleven minute "Time Flies."

On the latter, Wilson sings "I was born in 67', the year of Sgt. Pepper and Are You Experienced." But musically, Wilson's head seems to be more in tune with Animals era Pink Floyd, and specifically the song "Dogs," then it does with the Beatles or Hendrix. While I want to give Wilson the benefit of the doubt and assume this is more of an homage than a rip-off, the similarities are striking to say the least. "Time Flies" basically plays like a sped-up version of the Floyd song — right down to the guitar soloing that closes it.

Still, and with that minor quibble aside, "The Incident" largely lives up to its advance billing as the rightful centerpiece of this album. It's just a great sounding piece of work.

Lyrically, it follows a loose narrative about a traffic accident Wilson apparently witnessed. Musically, it moves from quieter pieces like "The Seance" to eerie sounding, rhythmically off-kilter stuff like the five minute piece within the piece that is also called "The Incident." Wilson ties together all these elements with his usual great guitar playing, as well as his uncannily great ear for hook-laden melody.

In less gifted hands, something this ambitious might not have worked. But what has always separated Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree from many of their prog and metal peers, is the way PT focus on the songcraft first — even with that occasional fifty five minute long opus.

The Incident is a great new album by one of the best kept secrets in music (at least in America). It arrives September 15 just in time for their tour, which also kicks off this Tuesday in Seattle. I can't wait.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    I’m really looking forwards to hearing this.

  • Mark

    (Happy birthday, Chris. I hope you have something fun planned.)

  • Paul Roy

    Excellent review Glen. I anxiously await the copy I pre-ordered from Amazon. I even more anxiously await the show I have tickets to in Baltimore at the end of the month. These guys are so good live.

  • raymond brettman

    The day Porcupine Tree, (some of whom I do like) can hold a candle to the overall imagination of Ian Anderson is the day such a comparison should be made. Having said that, unlike some Tullies who would mark A Passion Play as their pinnacle moment (usually the prog element of their crowd) I would mark it somewhere in the bottom 30 per cent, Thick As A Brick, Songs From The Wood, The Christmas Album and Stormwatch I think are Tull’s best moments of many. Well written, I am hardly saying I am right, just another well meaning fool with an opinion, thank you.

  • fan in pittsburgh

    Howdy, hope I don’t have to register here… knee surgery and its co-pays prohibit me from seeing PT this year, so I bought the deluxe version of The Incident which arrived today. Its big ‘n heavy! Not a bundled jewel case– almost the size of an LP box set. Haven’t listened yet (that comes later tonight!), but have to agree with comments on Time Flies. Indeed,it is the exact thing I wrote to a friend. “It is Dogs: homage or rip off?” Still enjoyable. Big Tull fan. Sad it is no APP, but still so thrilled to have long-form music again. (Does that date my adolescence to the 70s??)I agree with Raymond, Steve Wilson isn’t Ian Anderson, but I also don’t think SW has yet to hit his peak. Time will tell! Everyone going to a PT concert think of me not being there and have a great time!

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Thanks Paul. Tuesday will be my first time seeing PT when they open the tour here in Seattle. I’m stoked for it. The new album is going to sound amazing live, although I hope they cherry-pick some stuff from their catalog too. Thanks to you (and all) for the comment.

    -Glen

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    The band just linked this review at their website. Sweet.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Fan it Pittsburgh…exactly right about “Time Flies”…you almost expect Wilson to start singing the words “you gotta’ be crazy” its so freaking close. Like you say though, still a great track. And I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here largely because of the lyrical references to other bands in the song. I think they have to be paying tribute here.

    -Glen

  • fan in pittsburgh

    Oh oh. its great on first listen. (Can’t believe I’m not going to hear this live.) Time Flies seems homage to PF when in context of the rest– electric guitar riff is from Sheep– Animals was out when Narrator was what? about ten years old if born in ’67? Reviewer forgot that. BORN with Sgt Pepper and Jimi….

    Man! I’m not even through it all and already its totally messed with me. PT fans should REALLY dig this….

    Gonna be playing this through for a while….

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    But what has always separated Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree from many of their prog and metal peers, is the way PT focus on the songcraft first — even with that occasional fifty five minute long opus.

    You had me with a great review up until you wrote this. Sure, I enjoy PT and they do write some great songs(it’s not only Steve Wilson in this band)AND this latest effort is pretty damn good, but, I think they sometimes add too much pop. Is that what you meant? Because, there is no way you meant better song structure.PT can & does sound, from time to time, as pretentious as their peers. Honestly, that The Killers/Coldplay part in “Drawing the Line” is what has held me from getting past track 5. “FOABP” had the same problem in a few areas. I’m just saying that his ideas aren’t flawless. Again, I do truly like Porcupine Tree as they are one of the few acts still producing great material but they just, sometimes, ruin the moment…IMHO.

    Personally,(right now) I think O.S.I. Blood is a bit more solid of a musical statement(structure wise) but I’m torn whether or not its a better journey. I also wouldn’t overlook Guilt Machine’s debut[Arjen Lucassen – Ayreon] as that has a great sound & quite a bit of cohesive statements running a muck. And, I think it’s the best stuff I have heard from Mr. Lucassen since Ayreon The Human Factor (funny enough, that album was about an accident as well).

    Anyways, still a great review,but I’m just sayin…

  • Paul Roy

    Congrats on the PT website link. That is too cool. Enjoy the show tonight. King’s X opening for them is the icing on the cake.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    We don’t get Kings X, we get That One Guy. But I’m still stoked.

    Brian, obviously I don’t go as deeply into this genre as you do (metal), but I think Wilson is one of the most underrated songwriters today. And yes, he has a gift for a great pop hook — both in his work with PT, as well as No-Man, Blackfield etc.

    The fact that he achieves this feat within the usually more instrumentally focused — and frankly often pretentious — metal and prog genres just amazes me. Unlike other bands who work in this arena, with PT I’m not just dazzled by the virtuoso playing when its over — I can also actually remember the songs I’ve just heard. In fact, they stick in my head for days, which to me is the mark of a great song.

    And yes, I was probably remiss in not mentioning the other guys in the band, who are all amazing musicians — especially Gavin who is just a monster drummer.

    -Glen

  • kimjo

    I got the early release of the Incident and at first I didn’t get it. But now after several listens it is sinking in and to me that is what makes a good music investment. My son and i are going from Denver to SF to see them this Friday night at the Warfield. Next summer they should play at Red Rock with Oceansized. Dark Matter Man go PT

  • sonoflife

    Im pretty sure “Black Dahlia” was written by the keyboardist, Richard Barbieri.

  • http://isorski.blogspot.com/ Isorski

    I just posted a review as well. I swear I didn’t read your’s first but I also made the Dogs comparison! At least we’re not both hearing things! I can’t wait to see the band tomorrow night in Portland, and will be sure to post a review of the show.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I just got back from tonights tour opener in Seattle and if anyone has the setlist and can post it in comments here I’d be most appreciative. I already know that set one was The Incident. Mainly looking for set two details.

    Thanx!

    Great show by the way.

  • http://www.spiritmanagement.nl Fred Wiersma

    I think ‘Time Flies’ ows more to ‘Sheep’ than to ‘Dogs’. Anyway, a great song, a great album, and a cool review. ‘The Incident’ is high in my PT list, close to ‘In Absentia’.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    so read the review of the concert

  • BaldySlaphead

    Re: the Animals thing; in an interview with the Dutch Progressive Rock Pages (DPRP), Wilson states:

    The whole album, the whole piece was composed in the sequence you’re hearing. So Time Flies was composed immediately after Yellow Windows of the Evening Train, immediately before the next piece. The reason Time Flies is different is because it’s supposed to be about me, my childhood, what formed me and also what formed me as a musician. The musical reference in it relate more to the music I grew up with. So you hear a very deliberate reference to Pink Floyd for example. The first album I ever bought was Animals. There’s a riff in there that’s very similar, just different enough to not get sued. There are also musical clues as well as lyrical clues to me growing up and to what created me as a musician, what created me as a person. That’s one of the reasons why musically it does take you into a different area perhaps to some of the rest of the record.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Glen – I have to agree that Steven Wilson is a brilliant songwriter and I’m glad he doesn’t get mixed up into the mainstream outlets in order to get rated in any certain way. But, that wasn’t my point nor was I knocking his ability along with the rest of PT to produce great music. I cannot deny it. I totally get that he is fusing the elements of prog within his arena of pop because I loved In Absentia and I still think that was PTs strongest musical effort. However, I think when they try to roam with the prog elements, that’s when they get a little lost. And, that’s where I disagree with your statement. BUT, again, I do like their music and would pick them over 90% of the bands that are out there.

    I just feel that because you don’t go as deep as I do, which doesn’t sound accurate because it’s not that hard nowadays, it would be hard to make the statement that you made. I think you would totally dig Guilt Machine because that project has a kind of PT feel but it is still Ayreon with the epic album length shortened and it doesn’t necessarily go “over the top” like The Human Factor

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    Great album from my one time through so far – too overwhelmed to even make sense of what’s going on yet, but I felt it was clear that disc 2’s tracks really were completely separate, so much so that I almost wish they were sold later as an EP so they could be appreciated that way without the album overshadowing them. Maybe that sounds crazy, I don’t know.

    I have a weird fear that this big statement from Porcupine Tree may be their final one, and that Wilson will continue on as a solo artist after that. Does it technically make a difference as long as we get new music from the guy? Not sure – listen to Insurgentes and The Incident and tell me if they don’t *feel* different. I hope I’m overreacting, but something feels final about this album . . .

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I’m not sure where you get the idea Tom. Maybew you can enlighten me here, because I don’t get swansong from this record at all — and I certainly hope that isn’t the case. I liked Insurgentes, but I like The Incident a whole lot more.

    Thanks for the comment as always (nice to see you around these parts again too — maybe you can stay awhile…)

    -Glen

  • http://everythingisamess.wordpress.com Tom Johnson

    I too like The Incident more but something feels very “wrap up” ish about this one. I absolutely don’t want it to be PT’s finale, of course, but I am getting weird vibes off this one. It seems weird that disc 2 is included, they just don’t feel “right” with the rest of the album, and I got to thinking, if I were putting an end to a band, I’d want that statement to be really powerful with a particularly fantastic album, not a little EP. The Incident is a particularly fantastic album, the best since In Absentia and easily among PT’s best, and the four tracks being included as extras seems kind of like everything’s being thrown in to finish it all at once. And the album’s subject matter address “endings” as well as being somewhat autobiographical in places. It just feels like something’s being finished here. I hope I’m wrong, and I have a lot more thinking to do about the album – I’ve only been through it a couple times as a whole.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    I agree with you about the extras. They are all great songs that stand on their own, but they also feel like afterthoughts after you’ve heard the masterful piece that is The Incident. I also think a separate E.P. for the disc two tracks would have made a bit more sense, and done the other songs more the justice they deserve.

    But this still doesn’t feel like PT’s swansong to me — I think for a guy like Wilson the idea of a split is almost too confining. Wilson’s creative mind and energy is always going to demand the need for him to work in multiple arenas on multiple projects. PT is one of them — and closing that out in a formal way simply limits one of his many options. It’s not the way he operates.

    -Glen

  • Andy Sanderson

    Forget the swansong thing… And stop worrying about the “afterthought” songs on the second disc.

    With Blank Planet, the band wrote too many songs for the album, and had to prune some out, which they then released as Nil Recurring.In fact, they have done similar things on previous albums – not just the sweep-up of songs that was Recordings, but things like Staircase Infinities and so on.

    I know that there were some discussions between the band and the record label about how to release the album – the two disc release that we got, or a follow-up EP in the style of Nil Recurring. The songs were all written at the same time, though, and whilst lyrically The Incident is one piece of work, musically the two discs belong together, as we have got them. In fact, if you listen to the 5.1 mix of the album, all the tracks are on one disc, and DO follow on musically, if not thematically.

    And yes, just to pick up on a point someone else made, Black Dahlia, possibly one of the most hauntingly beautiful songs they’ve ever recorded, was written by Rich.

    A.

  • Germania

    One thing I noticed that many people aren’t picking up on is that there is a hint of Marillion in some of the songs. I know SW is a fan of and worked with Marillion, so it wouldn’t surprise me that they’ve rubbed off on him a bit.

  • Mats Eriksson

    Porcupine Tree, in for the “weed-wane”?

    Weed-wane is a peculiar deliberate ambiguous expression I’ve come up with when
    reviewing contemporary music and especially rock artists. It turned up again when
    listening to “The Incident”. Could be interpreted in many ways. Weed, like in
    ‘prune’ too. Many artists suffers from this. Most will eventually. Say, Frank Zappa was one of them. Just as prolific as Steve Wilson regarding putting albums out. He churned out albums with absolutely no judgement on whether the public should be
    able to accept it or not. Regardless of it was bad/good or in between. Filler material as well as top notch stuff. If only he had someone to weed out the tidbits, and say to him “You know, this actually sucks”. Frank didn’t ever smoke pot (weed). Some other bands, like Dave Matthews band succumbs to the ackadaisical effect smoking too much weed has, eventually. Just producing something that sounds like the band. Sort of just groove, and smoothly sail on top
    of it. Don’t know if Porcupine Tree does this, smoke weed, or any other
    conscious-enlarging substances. But their earlier work sure was geared towards that audience, at least. So, it can be interpreted in either way.

    As a group, Porcupine Tree retains their strengths, keeps their trademark sound
    and timbre, but they encounter a form-over-substance problem. Not that substance
    though. Song substance, composition substance. As such, “The Incident” comes
    off as a high-quality demo of largely unfinished material. You know, way back they
    had all these bonus CDs, limited editions of tracks that wasn’t included on the
    original release. That was for some reason they didn’t fit in in the original release. It seems like today, none of that matters. Release whatever is recorded, people liked
    the second shelf stuff as much as the top drawer. This was already present also
    on FoABP. I mean, I’ve heard that album many times now, but ask me if I can
    remember any tune song on it, I can’t. Not so with “In Absentia”. Full of memorable
    hooks regardless how odd-metered and awkward the lyrics/melodies were.

    Granted, this is the way prog should ultimately be. Taking risks and
    experimentation, and one just have to live with that – now and then – such bands
    release albums that are not to everyones tastes, especially former fans, for
    whatever reason. And then finds their way back to something that sounds more
    anxious to us, the listening audience, and not just sounding important to anybody
    but themselves (Yes: Tales of Topographic Oceans anyone?). Maybe Porcupine
    Tree are in such a period right now. It seems that Steve has so much material in
    other projects including his own recent solo album “Insurgentes” that’s whats left
    over for Porcupine Tree, is not like what it used to be. One credit is, that they are
    no repeating themselves, which is definitely a good thing.

    “The Incident” seems just made up of small sketches, musical unfinished ideas laid end to end of each other, for which Steve Wilson has constructed interesting
    guitar riffs and the occasional sonic effect, plus a lyric tag. A triumph of
    studio-production wizardry over songwriting craft. Yet the band plays tighter than ever.

    Anyway, just riffs,and small motifs full of aural tricks. Effective soundtrack music
    though. The missing ingredient in the album is some skilled outside producer
    sensibility, i e someone who knows how long the compositions could go for maximum dramatic impact without becoming exhausting and cutting it just right after its climax has been reached. Now it just meanders on and on, depriving any form of dramatic effect and tension and release. Repeating bars/riffs ad naseum it seems. Just like there’s no one to weed out the material. Something’s lacking, perhaps time to kill your darlings, mr Wilson? An external producer the next time around?

    Verdict: Too much weed – feel free to interpret it as you wish.

  • a disappointed fan

    “No Jethro Tull style Passion Play indulgence here”.
    oh! how i would love some good old indulgence à la ‘A Passion Play’ here in place of these self indulgence & Floyd rip offs throuhout the two sides of this mis-concept thing!
    Mr. Wilson you’ve lost your way.
    as you said: “arriving somewhere but not here”!

  • http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-porcupine-tree-the-incident/page-2/ rjb

    agree with reviewer’s comparison to Pink Floyd’s “Animals” . . . that’s exactly what I thought of, maybe the edginess of the lead guitar, and the persussive/heavily comp’d acoustic rhythm on “Time Flies” plus background keyboards.

  • http://buymidcalfboots.com/about/ Alex

    I don’t know, for me, The Incident is a little bit harder to get into than any other PT album. The thing is, it seems as though I’ve seen many other PT fans say the same thing on the internet.

    I’m just finishing up my first play through right now and to be honest, it’s a bit strange. In a way, I love it (and there are definitely points in the album that stick out more than others). But at the same time, it’s like I can’t fully appreciate it and in a way, grasp it.

    All in all, I do like it. I’ll just have to “let it sink in”.

  • warren bishop

    Steve Wilson mainly listened to Pink Floyd when he was young & Time Flies being autobiographical, has Pink Floyd references – an ‘in-joke’ by Steve.

  • warren bishop

    As for the comment that Porcupine Tree ‘needs a skilled producer’… you can’t be serious. Steve Wilson is a much sought after producer esp. for surround mixes. He’s done Opeth & King Crimson remasters/5.1 mixes.

  • john

    Listening to the Incident right now… incredible stuff.. saying that, Wilsons ‘ Grace for drowning ‘ is my fav piece from him.. if you haven’t heard it and are a fan of ‘ Lizard ‘ era King Crimson jazz – rock.I would encourage you to listen. PK/ Wilson are at the top of my favorites.