Band of the Week - Porcupine Tree

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Sunday, 14 December 2008

Insurgentes review

Steven Wilson’s first official solo album (I still like to refer musical pieces of work as ‘albums’ even though they are ancient history now that we are in the digital age) came out last month. A couple of trailers were released and widely available to watch on You Tube, which had diehard fans salivating for more (including me), ready to fork out whatever it cost to purchase the CD. Actually the price was too much even for me (a diehard fan remember) even as an indulgence, so I was resigned to wait until next February when the much reduced priced retail version comes out. However, it is at the moment available to pre-order and you can get a download version until the actual CD arrives. So I have succumbed to the temptation of the download I have it safely tucked away in my iPod.
Speaking of indulgence, Wilson has mentioned several times that he writes music for himself, and if the fans love it…great. If not…tough shit! It’s so refreshing to know that there are such artists out there, who don’t pander to the record executives and mass marketing pressures, and produce under the direction of whatever creative force that surrounds them. There is so much anyone can write about love and getting ‘your woman between the sheets’. It’s been done to death for the last 5 decades! Wilson writes about what he sees around him. A great example is the last Porcupine Tree album ‘Fear of a Blank Planet’ (2007). A concept album (heard of them before?) about the state of the disaffected youth of today, it is a social comment on how Wilson sees most of the youth of today behave and spend their existence. The songs deal with their preoccupation with computer games, iPods (yes even the fantastic iPods!), MTV and dependence on prescription drugs (and illegal ones I may add), which result in the aggressive and unpredictive behaviour that we read about and see on the news everyday. Pretty gloomy state of affairs really, but who can argue with him. On the day the album was released a student went on the rampage in an American University and killed many, just because nobody was paying attention to him! This subsequently resulted in the video for the opening track being withdrawn for a while because of the scenes depicting young kids wielding guns, but Wilson’s point was hammered home well and truly.

This album takes a few listens to really get into it (as do all albums really), but the opening track blew me away from the first listen. True the 1st trailer Wilson released did constitute pieces from this track, called Harmony Korine, so I had an advanced warning. It encapsulates what Wilson’s music is all about. His music always makes you wander what is round the corner, for example if he starts all mellow at the beginning, I can almost guarantee that it won’t end up mellow! A couple of minutes into this track he lets rip with trademark heavy guitar riffs, then goes back to mellow, but doesn’t forget the riff because it keep coming back. A fantastic opening track.

So, I’m thinking, if it carries on like this then I’m in for a treat, and continuous play on the old iPod. True to form, a completely different track for the second! It’s the one that is slowly growing on me, and sort of reminds me of No-Man, the band he collaborates with Tim Bowness. A haunting song, it almost ends with a heavy drone, which I think spoils the song. Overall my least liked track.

The third track, Salvaging, is back to rock territory, layers of guitars for a maximum power riff, and again you wonder where the track is going to take you. More guitars! A sort of a later Rush sort of song, and transforms to a lovely mellow and violiny direction towards the end. But that’s not the end. The final part builds into a crescendo of noise, rather like some of the tracks on his Bass Communion albums. Interesting track to listen to.

The next track starts like a re-working of the ‘The Sky Moves Sideways’ track, a 1995 album of Porcupine Tree, and the lyrics could come out of a ‘Blackfield’ album, another project of Wilson’s. This is a very well arranged track, plenty of instrumental overlays (as all of them are really). No rock parts, the track almost takes you away to a far flung island somewhere.

‘No Twilight Within the Courts of the Sun’ is the 5th track as the name suggests this is a progressive rock track, but progressive Steven Wilson style. Brilliant guitar work embedded with a killer background rock riff, a la Led Zeppelin, it takes you to No-Man territory, circa ‘Wild Opera’ for a while, then gentle harmony, which remind me of Mike Oldfield’s ‘Incantations’, with a little bit of piano that reminds me of ELP’s track ‘Trilogy’.

The sixth track ‘Significant Other’ is gorgeous and second favourite track. Brilliant opening, melodious and catchy echoy guitar, leading to a wonderous guitar riff which eventually gets heavier as the track progresses. In this track, Wilson proves that he can write brilliant catchy melodic songs, as he has done on numerous occasions with PT, Blackfield and No-Man. The track ends chaotically, imagine hurtling down to earth at great speed, and finally with a gentle xylophone. Honestly!

Only Child opens quite lazily and plods along like a Kings of Leon song. So what can Wilson do to pep it up? Not much I’m afraid. It also reminds me of later Genesis somehow, something that they did as a B side, but I can’t think of the track. It’s ok, nothing special. One of the few occasions that Wilson doesn’t follow his own template of changing music styles within a piece of music.

Twilight Coda is a lovely instrumental piece that could easily be a piece in a film soundtrack, a direction that Wilson will surely sample in the near future. In fact a lot of his music could easily find its way into film.

Some of the pieces from the next track ‘Get All That You Deserve’, was used for the second trailer and I wasn’t that enamoured with the music when I first heard it, but the track has to listened to fully to appreciate it. Again it starts off slow, painfully slow really, but builds up to a magnificently moody rock piece with Gavin Harrison’s heavy drumming complementing the chaotic and sometimes painfully sounding almost out of control guitar that ends the track. Definitely 21st century progressive rock.

The title track ends the album and it’s amazing how often Wilson will have a sad, slow and mellow track to end his albums. Refer to ‘Stop Swimming’ on the Stupid Dream album, and ‘Feel So Low’ on Lightbulb Sun. The piano at the beginning reminds me of Sarah McLachan’s ‘Possession’, a great track and one of my favourites.

Overall a very enjoyable journey into Wilson’s first foray into solo territory. I look forward to receiving the CD in a couple of months which also has an excerpt from a forthcoming documentary he made with long term collaborator Lasse Hoile which will be shown at various film festivals next summer.

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