Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Album review: The Incident by Porcupine Tree


Porcupine Tree, The Incident (Roadrunner: 2009)

In the run-up to the release of this album I had two conflicting emotions. The first was great anticipation, because I’m a big fan of Porcupine Tree and their last album (2007’s Fear of a Blank Planet) was of very high quality. The second was a degree of trepidation when I heard that the new release would actually be a single 55-minute song split up into 14 tracks. That led me to expect a spaced-out affair like The Sky Moved Sideways, and I have more than enough albums like that already.

I needn’t have worried. While this (concept) album definitely sounds like an album, a single piece of work, it also contains a great deal of variety. So, for example, there are downtuned riffs liberally spread throughout, but also haunting synth-glockenspiel on ‘Drawing the Line’, Nine Inch Nails-esque robotic menace on the title track, a soaring guitar solo on ‘Time Flies’ and acoustic guitar atmospherics on that track, ‘Great Expectations’ (also featuring calming piano and vocal harmonies) and album-closer ‘I Drive the Hearse’, which sums the mood of the whole up beautifully with the genius simplicity of its chorus lyrics ‘And silence is another way of saying what I want to say / And lying is another way of hoping it will go away’. At the same time, the unity of the record is shown by the fact that the riff on the album opener ‘Occam’s Razor’ keeps popping up in different places without sounding incongruous, and by the recurrent lyrical themes. When the same few lines unexpectedly turned up on ‘The Séance’ as had on ‘Octane Twisted’ I nearly punched the air. This unity is such that first single ‘Time Flies’ sounds much better in the context of the album than it does on its own; although I should point out that the album version is also considerably longer.

In fact, I can truly say that on this album Porcupine Tree have perfectly married the soft prog (and sometimes spaced out) sounds of their 90s albums with the heavier metal of this decade that got them signed to Roadrunner. You can tell that the band have worked really hard on this piece of work, without falling into attendant traps like over-production. This is the best album that Porcupine Tree have ever released and I can’t see how they will ever be able to top it; but I would love to be proved wrong.

All the above is about CD1. CD2 isn’t up to the same standard, or even, really, that of the Nil Recurring EP, to which it is quite similar in spirit. But, frankly, you can treat CD2 as a bonus. CD1, The Incident, is the album of the year.

Track list: CD1 – The Incident

  1. Occam’s Razor
  2. The Blind House
  3. Great Expectations
  4. Kneel and Disconnect
  5. Drawing the Line
  6. The Incident
  7. Your Unpleasant Family
  8. The Yellow Windows of the Evening Train
  9. Time Flies
  10. Degree Zero of Liberty
  11. Octane Twisted
  12. The Séance
  13. Circle of Manias
  14. I Drive the Hearse

CD2

  1. Flicker
  2. Bonnie the Cat
  3. Black Dahlia
  4. Remember Me Lover

Monday, 14 September 2009

Album review: The Resistance by Muse


Muse, The Resistance (Helium 3: 2009)

There are probably at least two types of Muse fan out there. If you thought Black Holes and Revelations was their best release to date, and genuinely deserved a Mercury Prize nomination, you’ll probably enjoy this album quite a lot. If, however, like me, you felt let down by BHaR, thought that it was mostly filler, and suspected that Muse were halfway to becoming a pop group (and didn’t like the idea of that), you’ll want to give The Resistance a miss. Maybe I’m the only one. Anyway…

  1. Uprising: You’ve almost certainly heard this already. Prominent bassline and sci-fi sounds seemingly straight out of the Doctor Who theme tune. Pretty funky.
  2. Resistance: The intro reminds me of ‘Interlude’ from Absolution. Overall, it is really rather bland, despite some interesting twiddles in the final section. ‘Love is our resistance’. Ahhh.
  3. Undisclosed Desires: Ugh. This is a straightforwardly corny pop song that spends a while threatening to do something interesting, but never does.
  4. United States of Eurasia / Collateral Damage: The other song you’ve almost certainly heard already. The piano work is good, but I think Muse’s Queen fascination has been taken to unhealthy levels. I don’t mind admitting that I don’t like Queen.
  5. Guiding Light: There’s an 80s synth-pop beat going on here. At 1:00 a riff kicks in, then at 2:06 a guitar solo. I’m not sure at what point exactly, but somewhere between the two it becomes obvious that this is a power ballad. Skip.
  6. Unnatural Selection: Finally the album gets somewhere near heavy. Pretty cool riffs; a good, threatening middle section with slowish guitar solo and vocal harmonies that actually remind me of System of a Down (maybe I’m going mad). The standout track so far.
  7. MK Ultra: Some more good riffs on both synth and guitar, but a bit of a rubbish chorus. There’s more to like than to dislike here, just.
  8. I Belong To You / Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix: Quite funky in parts, although not in a way that I think would bear much re-listening before it gets annoying. Not sure about the production, but meh. Terrible lyrics: ‘Then she attacks me like a Leo, / When my heart is split like Rio, / But, I assure you my debts are real’.
  9. Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 1 (Overture)
  10. Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 2 (Cross-Pollination)
  11. Exogenesis: Symphony, Part 3 (Redemption): The band and orchestra merge perfectly. If this three-part ‘symphony’ were being released on its own, say as an EP or single, I’d give it full marks and recommend everyone go out and buy it; but it’s not, and these three tracks can’t save the album from being average.

So there you have it. In keeping with the title, a whole load of songs on this record complain about a mysterious ‘they’. I can understand why a lot of people will like this album, and they’re welcome to it, but I’m not among them.