Ever since I was recently reintroduced to the music of Marillion — a band I used to like quite a bit in the eighties that I'd long since forgotten about — I've been repeatedly hearing the name of another prog-rock band called Porcupine Tree. In e-mails and in comments on my articles about Marillion people have been telling me that this is a band I need to check out.
So earlier today as I was doing my laundry, I stopped into my neighborhood record store as my clothes were drying and saw a promo copy of Porcupine Tree's Fear Of A Blank Planet in the used CD rack and picked it up. And you know what? They were right. I haven't been able to stop listening to this CD since I got it home several hours ago. In fact, Porcupine Tree has just officially become my favorite new band.
In a sense, this kind of pisses me off on at least one level since they played here two weeks ago and I passed on going because I couldn't drum up any interest in going from my friends. The guy I usually go to shows with these days passed because — like me — he hadn't heard any of their stuff. Based on what I have heard on this CD, I hope they come back soon.
Musically speaking, Porcupine Tree are all over the map on this album. On Blank Planet's seventeen minute long centerpiece "Anesthetize" alone, they go from a lilting melody centered around light bells right into metallic riffage straight out of Tool territory. The sound here just washes itself all over you. Somewhere in the middle of all that, Rush's Alex Lifeson provides a great guitar solo.
What is even more interesting about these guys though is the lyrics. Steven Wilson sings about everything from drugs to pornography on this album, but mostly he sings about drugs. From the title track, there is the line "the pills that I've been taking confuse me." Later in the song he lyricizes about a friend in a band that "sound like Pearl Jam, the clothes are all black, the music is crap." I knew there was something about these guys I liked.
But back to the drugs. On the absolutely gorgeous sounding "Sentimental," Wilson asks if "the pills I've been taking are helping" while some very haunting minor chords played on a keyboard are augmented by some of the most beautiful guitar I have ever heard. Did I mention by the way that I am an absolute sucker for minor chords? The acoustic version seen on the video below gives you some idea, but doesn't begin to do justice to the version on the album. This is just beautiful stuff.
If there is a central theme here (outside of drugs anyway), it seems to be the search for escape. On the album's closing track, "Sleep Together," Wilson equates "the act" as nothing less than that in the lines "this is fate, this is your escape." On another track, "Way Out Of Here" the opening line is "Out at the train tracks, I dream of escape." On this same track, Robert Fripp also provides some very nice atmospheric background soundscaping. The fact that guys like Fripp and Rush's Alex Lifeson apparently endorse these guys should tell you something right there.
This is just great stuff, and Porcupine Tree is a band that I can promise you I will be exploring much, much further. Since this band has a pretty deep catalog for someone so few people have actually heard of, I can also report that my wallet already hurts.
I just hope they get back to Seattle sometime soon.