Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet

By Doug Rausch

Porcupine Tree - Fear of a Blank PlanetIf Porcupine tree were prodigal musicians, we’d have perfection on our hands. But let us not forget… there’s no such thing as perfect. Within the context of Steven Wilson’s vision, it’s an A+. So you can’t touch him – he knows what he is after, and I’m convinced that he gets it. But to insert objectivity into a review, it must be from the global perspective. How does this perform on a broad musical spectrum?

And again I find myself yearning for just a bit more musicianship – not much – but a bit. Perhaps this is made obvious when viewed against the more definitive perfection of the lyrics. In my book, lyrics have always been about 40% the weighting, with the music being responsible for the 60%. So lyrics alone don’t carry an album (do you hear that Bob Dylan????). But they damn near do on this one. What is so amazing in Porcupine Tree’s music is that it truly takes you on a journey, on an adventure. The careful attention to detail in the ambient soundscapes enhance and solidify the legitimacy of Wilson’s exploration of mental disorder, topics of isolation, depression, and… well just count how many times he returns to address “pills”. Quite a bittersweet and brutally realistic testimonial on life’s effects on the human condition. I relate 100%.

So again, perhaps it is this complete identifiability in the subject matter that gives me the feeling of mild let-down musically. Lines such as “It’s no fun to be told that you can’t blame your parents anymore” beg for a rollercoaster of melody, a cacophony of crashing chords, something….

But rather, strictly musically speaking, there’s a wanting. And maybe that’s the point. But I’ve always held the Tree a bit higher musically, dare I say, than even Pink Floyd or Radiohead themselves. This album finds good company in such idioms, but doesn’t quite truly transcend. It’s an hour of similarly repetitive ideas that too often recall the monotonous drones a la U2, and not often enough does it break out. It’s great zone-out music, but nothing Floyd hasn’t taken to glorious heights some 30 years ago. A little more distinctiveness and identity to the songs as individuals would give the album more contrast and as a result, more impact. It’s a body of work that gets deeper with each listen, but you have to want it.

Which I do.