In an unusual move for TPA, here we offer a selection of views on the forthcoming and fervently anticipated (by many) new album from a reanimated Porcupine Tree, due in one month from… Now.
Porcupine Tree finally return with a new album and tour after a thirteen-year hiatus. When Steven Wilson decided to call it a day after 2009’s sublime The Incident, the band were at the height of their critical acclaim and commercial success. Wilson himself was regarded by many as the man who had saved prog from obscurity, so the news that Porcupine Tree would enter indefinite hiatus stunned the fans and, probably even more so, the rest of the band. With Wilson then going on to work on his second solo album (alongside all his other projects), the hiatus looked increasingly like being permanent.
The aptly titled Closure/Continuation leaves fans delighted by their return, but also wondering if this is to be a definite end or a new dawn. The good news is that fans of the band’s output from Lightbulb Sun onwards are unlikely to be disappointed by this latest effort. The new material can be heard to plough furrows that have been left untouched since the closing strains of Remember Me Lover rounded out disc two of The Incident. Well, that’s how it might appear, but actually, that’s not entirely true; some of this material has existed as work in progress during the last thirteen years. Moreover, some of Wilson’s solo work (Grace for Drowning and the magnificent Hand.Cannot.Erase) share much in common with Porcupine Tree. Fans of the band may be relieved to hear, though, that the poppier style of Wilson’s last two solo albums is not in evidence here.
Overall, I’d say the new album’s closest kindred spirit is 2005’s Deadwing, which is no bad thing. The caveat I would have, though, is the fact that how good this album is rather depends on whether we are considering the standard 7-track version of the album or the eye-wateringly expensive 10-track deluxe edition. I will return to this later on.
Perhaps the best tracks on the standard edition are the three longest ones, which account for about 27-minutes of the 48-minute runtime; opener Harridan is one of these. A funky bass groove opens this track (performed by Wilson after Colin Edwin’s departure reduced PT to a three-member group). A brace of verses and choruses precede a haunting vocal melody which sets up the sort of instrumental exchanges that made PT’s later albums so distinctive and effective. The song is rounded out by that haunting vocal again.
Of the New Day is typical Porcupine Tree fare, though in this case more in terms of their five-minute ballads. Despite the apparent positive tone of the lyrics, this song’s lighter musical passages drip with melancholia and the heavier contrasts smack of nostalgia. Is the ‘new day’ really so great after all? Rats Return calls out the sort of political mess populism has created in today’s world. This track is driven by a fairly strong guitar riff, backed by swirls of synths. Whilst some fans will probably really rate this, it’s not for me. It brings to mind echoes of material found in the catalogues of Spock’s Beard and Enchant, which do not resonate so well with me.
Things get right back on track with the album’s next longer track, Dignity, which could have been one of the slower numbers on one of Pink Floyd’s mid-’70s efforts. There’s a great chorus and the pace never drags. The instrumental section, led by Barbieri’s synths, drifts effortlessly along, awash with late ’60s psychedelia. The closing section is a great Wilson/Barbieri workout. Whether this or Chimera’s Wreck is the best track on the standard version of the album, I can’t decide.
Herd Culling is quite a creepy number, built around big contrasts. The slick percussion and guitar riff threatens menace which duly arrives as it breaks into a much heavier section. It’s a decent track, likely a favourite for those who enjoy PT’s heavier offerings, but it’s also not for me. Walk the Plank follows and, if it really was necessary to leave off any tracks (I don’t believe it was), then I cannot understand why this made the final cut in favour of any of the three tracks that were ultimately left off. The track is four-and-a-half minutes of what sounds like incidental music. The chorus is nice enough, but it never really feels like it’s going anywhere. A track this short shouldn’t feel like it drags, yet it does.
Chimera’s Wreck introduces itself with a pleasingly melodic arpeggiated guitar riff across a suspended chord which is reminiscent of the opening to Genesis’ White Mountain. The guitar then picks up the pace with triplets for the chorus line before moving, in the song’s second half, into another instrumental workout which ends with the opening melodic piece being delivered by the keyboards and overlaid with a more straightforward on-the-beat standard time guitar part. Very effective and a great end to a great track.
Now to the best tracks – the ones which will only feature on the deluxe editions. Population Three is entirely instrumental with a really strong melodic ‘chorus’ theme at its core (kicking in around the minute-and-a-half mark). The instrumental verses and bridge hooks are no less ear-catching. The second half of the track builds a variation on the theme and features another great keyboard/guitar exchange.
Never Have is without a shadow of a doubt the best track on the new album. The whole song hinges on a very simple riff which is played across piano, keyboard and guitar in a series of variations across almost the entirety of its runtime. Comparisons with Piano Lessons aren’t out of place. Some might find the repeated theme annoying, but the band cleverly do so many different things with it across the song’s duration such that it never becomes tiresome. This is one of PT’s best ever songs; too bad not all fans will hear it.
Love in the Past Tense begins with some superb guitar work before leading into a verse which is built up around a three-chord progression. The chorus which follows is one of the best on the album. This track has all the hallmarks of a great single but, as with Never Have, it will only be heard by those forking out for the deluxe edition unless, as listings currently suggest, it will be available for download.
Porcupine Tree do have form for these bizarre (some might say cynical) decisions about how they make their music available. Drown With Me missed the cut for In Absentia, as did the George-Harrison-playing-Spanish-guitar sounding Meantime. As I mentioned above, listings currently show that the three extra tracks will be available for download. What I cannot understand is why the band would make acquiring hard copies of these tracks on CD or vinyl so prohibitively expensive, especially when they will make comparatively little through streaming. Moreover, with the album being just 48-minutes long, I can see no justification for excluding these tracks.
When one considers that the 48-minute standard edition of the album, the £50-£65 price tag for the extra three tracks feels like a bit of sucker punch. A pity, as this would make a very good 7-track album into a really brilliant 10-track one.
I’ll be clear from the start:
I bloody love some of Porcupine Tree’s stuff.
Nevertheless, Porcupine Tree have always divided opinion amongst some of the TPA campers. The inconsequential differences in opinion probably stem from our liking different aspects of Porcupine Tree, which is probably a good thing. It means that their output was varied enough for them to perhaps be considered at least open to experimentation, if not actually progressive.
Overall, I believe that they were never dismissed by any one TPA camper and were respected by all. One thing we could always agree on was that The Incident was probably a signal to everyone – including Steven Wilson – that they should stop. Apparently, he forgot to tell the rest of the band, but that, as they say, is another story…
I was too busy playing at being a semi-pro musician myself throughout Porcupine Tree’s early career, starving myself of other people’s music and surviving on a meagre musical diet of Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. Consequently, when Porcupine Tree released Deadwing I arrived on their doorstep like a hungry gate crasher with a bottle of Cinzano Bianco. Everything I liked from days of yore was there; virtuoso drumming and superb yet restrained musicianship, melody and arrangement, but executed with modern metal guitar tones and darker, denser storytelling – and I was hooked.
When I came across Harridan on YouFarceTubeBookFace, I was more than a little intrigued and excited. Punchy. Like it (but where’s Colin?). I’ve always liked the metallic tracks – perhaps it’s because my taste leans toward the heaviness and dark variety of NIN rather than the early whimsy of Floyd or spacey rock of Gong. It’s the vibe, the groove, the visceral yet precise feel of Gavin Harrison’s drumming. Harrison is a machine, if machines had emotions that they express by hitting things with sticks, and my goodness, does he use everything in his skillset on Harridan.
I had high hopes.
I thought I’d listen to this album, lights off, no distractions, re-living the mid-teens single-minded Relayer fan I’d once been in, oh, 1978(?). Perhaps it’s my old brain’s decreasing ability to concentrate, perhaps it’s because that’s a bad combination – the dark and the music – but I have seldom been able to get past the first four or five tracks without my mind wandering or just plain falling asleep. So even now I don’t feel I’ve properly got to grips with the last half of the album. But it should grip me, shouldn’t it? It should! Yet here I am.
Closure/Continuation is beautifully produced and executed. Steven Wilson’s production skills have never been in question, and here he’s upped his game still further. After six-and-a-half (or so) studio albums, he’s also now a far more versatile vocalist than he ever was as part of Porcupine Tree, and his capabilities have made him a more adventurous singer.
Yet something is definitely missing about this album. Nostalgia wants me to see the old band back together, but with all respect to his playing, I don’t think Colin’s the missing component, and I can’t put my finger on what is.
Some of the songs, because of the inimitable drumming and the subtle yet soundscape-heavy keyboards, are pure Porcupine Tree. Some of the sections in part sound like they could have come from Fear of A Blank Planet. Sadly, some of this album sounds as if it were made from bits left on The Incident‘s cutting room floor. Others are pure Wilson, albeit enhanced by the inventive beauty of Richard Barbieri’s ambient goodness, the secret ingredient in all Porcupine Tree recipes.
Some of the tracks have a “new” element in them, like a certain section of Dignity, replete with some rock tropes that would have fitted well into the earlier albums recorded after Porcupine Tree became more than Wilson’s alter-ego, an actual band, with Chris Maitland, Colin Edwin and Barbieri. Herd Culling, an uncharacteristically synth-heavy track, has some very Japan-esque synth in it. It’s as if Porcupine Tree are trying to appeal to the fans of all their incarnations – and to the people who are more familiar with Wilson’s more recent and “successful” solo material.
One track, though, the moody, reflective nigh-on ten-minute Prog Epic Chimera’s Wreck, stands out to me – for all the wrong reasons. Constructed like an early Genesis track, I actually cringed at the lyric “Couldn’t care less if I was to die”. I really hope that this isn’t indicative of a Chester Bennington style cry for help, but it comes across without conviction or sincerity. Perhaps it’s no surprise when it comes from the same band who once pointed out that:
Makes you want to rage
But it’s made by millionaires
Who are nearly twice your age”
and then went on, oblivious to the irony, to write an entire album (Fear of A Blank Planet) about angsty, disenfranchised teenagers at a time when the band members themselves were probably all at least thirty-five years old (though probably not millionaires).
In summary: I want to love Closure/Continuation. It definitely has some cracking bits and I hope it grows on me, though I shall probably always skip Chimera’s Wreck. But as a whole I think Closure/Continuation is more than likely set up to be as Marmite as Porcupine Tree will ever get.
This is a very sad album. Well, obviously, it’s Porcupine Tree, is it not? Never a band to skip carefree through a meadow, with field flowers waving gently in the scented breeze. Oh no, Porcupine Tree have always worn their frowns on their black sleeves. But that’s taken as read, what I mean is that this is a very sad album. Immaculately sad, but sad nonetheless. There’s an all-pervading “down” feeling to it. This is not helped by the, as it turns out, highly wise absence of Colin Edwin, whose precisely thunderous bass lines are replaced in part by synths, and in part probably by Steven’s depping. It all feels a bit vague, which is why the prog metal numbers, like opening song Harridan, come over as if played by rote.
The slow songs, as in second track Of the New Day, are standard Porky slow/crunchy efforts barely breaking sweat. Given that the basics of these tracks were rejects from The Incident sessions, is it any wonder it sounds half-comatose? That title, you’d expect it to be optimistic, would you not? Instead it lays on the trademark melancholy with a massive trowel, before churning out another tired old riff. It’s ok, but it would be nice to have been surprised out of my cynicism for once, rather than have it underlined, and more so on track 3, the dreary Rats Return, which resurrects another zombie march through prog metal tropes and seems to go on forever, even though it’s less than six minutes long. Yawn…
Herd Culling does have a great riff and, while it lacks Colin’s propulsive power, is well up there with anything on The Incident, and also, it’s an actual song, the lack of which was the downfall of Porky’s last album. Extra electronic plinky-plonky is included for added effect too. In isolation I quite like this one. The following Walk the Plank, a barbiturate creep through a dimly illuminated electronic soundscape with Mr Barbieri’s prints all over it, is the least “Porcupine Tree” song on the record, and thus the best thing here.
Mostly however, this album is tired, and in dire need of musical Sanatogen. That’s the thing, the album sounds like a band who should be putting their feet up, dignity intact. The fact there’s a track here called Dignity did make me smile, I’ll admit. Steven Wilson used to tell anyone who was listening that Porcupine Tree had reached the end of their natural cycle with the ultimately disappointing The Incident – one HUGE riff and one deliberately derivative song/homage does not an album make – so I suppose it was inevitable that a reunion would happen sooner or later, as very few successful (I use the word advisedly!) bands have split and meant it. The fact it was sooner, or indeed, at all, was no doubt down to COVID nixing Wilson’s first solo stadium tour, which had it gone ahead would probably have secured him financially for a good few years, thus removing any need to revive his band, which he had split fairly soon after they broke through with Fear of A Blank Planet. A brave move, and since then, whatever one might think of his progression (ha!) from Prog Captain to Synth Pop Magus, you had to admire his wilful artistic streak.
Sadly, Wilson’s volte-face kicks all that into touch, and prog fans, who to my mind are far too easily satisfied, will no doubt buy this by the barrowload, only to fawn over it for weeks on soshul meeja, and they will flock to the gigs to shake their now thinning barnets as all the old numbers are rolled out. I doubt anyone will remember Closure/Continuation in a couple of years, it really is nothing special. The question posed by the album title I can only hope is answered by its first word, if Mr Wilson has any sense.
I will sign off by saying, who am I, as someone who is increasingly finding most rock music passé in the extreme, and whose opinion is worth no more or less than yours, to say you shouldn’t be enjoying it? Still, punch me in the stomach, I can take it. I have no doubt that in our little pond the media buzz over Porcupine Tree’s comeback will get much louder before it subsides. Still, it could be worse, there could be a war on.
01. Harridan (8:07)
02. On the New Day (4:43)
03. Rats Return (5:40)
04. Dignity (8:22)
05. Herd Culling (7:02)
06. Walk the Plank (4:26)
07. Chimera’s Wreck (9:40)
~ Deluxe Edition & Download Bonus Tracks:
08. Population Three (6:52)
09. Never Have (5:08)
10. Love in the Past Tense (5:50)
Total Time – 65:50
Steven Wilson – Vocals, Guitars, Bass
Richard Barbieri – Keyboards, Synthesisers
Gavin Harrison – Drums, Percussion
Record Label: Music For Nations
Formats: CD, Vinyl, 2CD/BR Deluxe, 3LP Deluxe, Digital Download
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 24th June 2022