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Porcupine Tree
#1
I've mentioned this band a few times on the forum, and it's become apparent that most people here have never heard of them. That's criminal, in my opinion, but not all that surprising because they get no exposure on commercial radio and little or none on "alternative" radio either, nor in the mainstream media. Possibly they fall into that uncomfortable zone where they are too progressive to be acceptable to the mainstream, yet not unconventional or extreme enough to generate a cult following.

The history of the band is fascinating, and it's all on Wikipedia, so I'll just give the bare bones of it here:

The inception of the band is generally dated from about 1989; however the name "Porcupine Tree" did not originally refer to an actual band. It was simply a fictitious name concocted by Steven Wilson, somewhat in the manner of "Spinal Tap", as a name under which to release his material. Early tracks (sometimes it's a stretch to call them "songs") were composed with lyrical input from Alan Duffy; many of them are mostly spoken word over a musical backing - and yes, there is at least one that would probably qualify as "rap". Themes typically centred around science fiction, fantasy and Gothic horror; no teenage love songs here.The album "On the Sunday of Life", the first official Porcupine Tree album, is in fact a compilation of material previously put out on limited edition cassette releases; Wilson selected what he considered the best tracks for the album.

The next couple of PT albums featured a more or less stable set of musicians as the studio band, and show much more refinement in the production. These early albums are often compared to Pink Floyd, and Wilson has a couple of times stated that he regrets having maybe too much Floyd influence. Personally I think the similarity is overstated; I hear the influence, but they were by no means clones of pink Floyd.

By the time of album 4, Porcupine Tree officially consisted of four musicians: Wilson, keyboardist Richard Barbieri (formerly of japan), bassist Colin Edwin, and drummer Chris Maitland. This line-up would persist until 2001, when Maitland was replaced by Gavin Harrison. This has been the only line-up change.

Now to the music.... and this is the hard part, because there is no such thing as a typical Porcupine Tree song or album, and that's one reason why I like them.

I categorise their output into three main phases:

(1) psychedelic/electronic (-> 1997)

(2) progressive pop-rock (1998 - 2001)

(3) metal-influenced progressive rock (2002 ->)

First phase: psychedelic/electronic

Albums:

- On the Sunday of Life
- Up the Downstair
- The Sky Moves Sideways
(this one is the most Floydian)

Many of the tracks on these are instrumentals, or mostly instrumental, and of extended length.

There is also a release called Voyage 34, originally intended to be part of Up the Downstair which was planned as a double album, but eventually released as a single. EP would be a better term, as it is quite long. the title is a reference to an LSD trip, and consists mostly of voice-overs recounting someone's trip experience, set to a musical backing that many people think was inspired by Pink Floyd, but the musical inspiration in fact came from the krautrock band Ash Ra Tempel.

Second phase: progressive pop/rock

The songs become generally shorter in length, and are more like actual songs in the conventional sense of the word. Lyrical themes are also becoming slightly less strange - there are even a few "relationship" songs.

Albums:

- Signify
- Stupid Dream
- Lightbulb Sun
- Recordings
(a limited release of additional songs recorded during the Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun Sessions; this was later given a proper full release.

Signify is the first full band album, and a bit of a maverick, not really fitting neatly into either the first or second phase. In some ways it more resembles their later albums from the metal-influenced period, though it is probably the most unique of all their albums.

Third phase: metal-influenced prog rock

This coincided with the departure of drummer Chris Maitland and his replacement by Gavin Harrison, though whether there was any cause-and-effect operating here is open to conjecture. The opening track on the album in Absentia announced with a bang the fact that Wilson was now not afraid to use heavy drumming and guitar riffs that people might have been more inclined to associate with bands like Led Zeppelin.

Albums:

- In Absentia
- Deadwing
- Fear of a Blank Planet
- The Incident


While the songs from this period contain a great deal of beauty, there are heavy moments here that you would not have found on their albums from their earlier periods. Themes are very dark. In Absentia is believed to be mostly about a certain serial killer in the UK. Fear of a Blank Planet was inspired by a character in the novel Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis, and is basically lamenting the disconnect of young people from the physical world around them and their retreat into the virtual worlds of TV and the internet.

The Incident was released in 2009. Since 2010 the band has been inactive, and while it has never officially disbanded, most people acknowledge that PT is effectively no longer a going concern, with Wilson concentrating on his solo career.

Now to my favourites:

I've said a few times on this forum that I am not a fan of heavy metal, so it may surprise you that my favourite PT album is one from this period, Fear of a Blank Planet. It may have something to do with it being the first album I heard by the band. (On the other hand, the second one I heard, Deadwing, is my least favourite.) I don't want to overstate the "heavy" aspect here; much of the album is not heavy at all, and the parts that are use it very effectively.

Second place goes to Up the Downstair, which I consider the best work from their psychedelic phase.

Third place: probably Lightbulb Sun - but this is a difficult choice, as Stupid Dream and Recordings are very good also, and there are times when Signify is the only one that will hit the spot.

Least favourites:

- Deadwing (a couple of great songs, but also some dumb heavy rock songs)
- On the Sunday of Life (much of this is actually very good, but it's a real hodge-podge with a few throwaway tracks).

I'll post a few clips, but three or four songs can only go so far in giving an impression of this band. Bear in mind that Porcupine Tree are not like Status Quo or AC/DC, where if you have heard one song you know what the rest sound like. Every Porcupine Tree album has its own feel; in fact one could almost say that about each PT song.

---------------------------------------------------

There is much more to be said about Steven Wilson, his other band projects and his solo career, but one has to stop somewhere. i consider myself lucky to have seen Porcupine Tree perform live in Melbourne in 2010, as they have not performed since around that time and do not appear likely to.
#2
Up the Downstair - title track from the album.

Some spoken words from Richard Barbieri's wife Susan.

[video=youtube;kJNPFjdWA0c]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJNPFjdWA0c[/video]
#3
Lightbulb Sun - title track from the album.

[video=youtube;3RoA-CMCy00]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3RoA-CMCy00[/video]
#4
Anesthetize - the monster 17-minute centrepiece from Fear of a Blank Planet.

[video=youtube;MSEQZ8reJA4]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSEQZ8reJA4[/video]

This song has three distinct and very different parts, and is sometimes spoken of as three songs in one.


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