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.