Porcupine Tree – [Album]

Friday, 11 September 2009

The are moments (this might be one of them) when one has to ask, “At what point does high concept become an enactment of self-indulgent drivel?” Sure – multi-passage songs are not unheard of in the context of concept albums – everyone from Pink Floyd to Ween to Green Day has don them in some capacity at one point or another and done them well – but when a band's album has to be a two-disc set because the first CD is a fifty-five-minute, fourteen-movement song (just one), the eyebrows of any reasonable person would go up on instinct alone. How does one justify such an enormous song cycle? An opulent endeavor like that instantly raises questions about the band's own self-importance and such is exactly the sort of release that Porcupine Tree has unveiled with The Incident.

Now, after an introduction like that, most readers' impressions are going to be tainted or at least colored, but the fact is that they needn't worry too much; while recurring themes and motifs dominate “The Incident,” there are some passages that do easily stand on their own as autonomous songs; an argument could actually be made for the disc being a song cycle in aspiration only because there are no hard stops to mark the beginning and end of each movement.

Even so, it's hard to not acknowledge the questionable design of the record. While tracks like “ii. the blind house,” “vi. the incident,” “xi. octane twisted” and the absolutely mammoth, eleven-minute epic “ix. time flies” all rock hard and incorporate textural elements to build in the cycle's chaotic air (for an idea, imagine what you'd get is you crossed Jane's Addiction, 30 Seconds To Mars, Trail Of Dead and a lifetime supply of eyeliner and you're on the right track) and punch through to register as dynamite songs in their own right, a fantastic over-abundance of very short (two minutes or less) asides slow the album down in spite of their brevity. As well, exceedingly lengthy instrumental passages disguised as “bridges” have much the same effect  and the combination of the two will have fingers drumming as listeners impatiently for the band to get around to the next “what next.” That is not to say that there aren't moments worth listening to on disc one – singer/guitarist Steven Wilson's megalithic riffs command respect and at least some of the movements are worth the price of admission – but it would be a hard sell to convince anyone that this nearly-hour-long opus couldn't have been pared down to a really poignant twenty minutes. Of course, that would require some spectacular sound editing skills so as not to lose most of the point of the endeavor, but nothing good comes easy.

Without meaning to be coy, as disc two warms up with “flicker,” it becomes apparent just how easy the band plans on taking it through the second side of The Incident. Flipping back and forth between really tight but rudderless gothic psychodrama (“bonnie the cat”) and ooey-gooey early Jane's Addiction throwaways (if you've ever heard a non-electric version of JA's “Kettle Whistle,” don't worry – that idea is reprised here but called “flicker”), somehow disc two feels tacked – except that couldn't possibly be – right? Because that would mean Porcupine Tree chickened out of a single disc because fans might find their concept unsatisfying. Happily, “black dahlia” and “remember me lover” redeem the “extra effort” that the band puts in by cross-wiring some incredibly morose “Fell On Black Days”-era Soundgarden touchings and the understated delivery of any late-period Pink Floyd album. Still, one has to wonder why the band elected to tack on an additional disc with only about twenty minutes of music on it.

So what, in the final analysis, do listeners get from The Incident? To be fair, it's not tediously unlistenable (it really could have been much, much worse) but it's hard not to feel like Porcupine Tree's ambition has overshot their ability here; The Incident has some decent moments, but not anywhere near as many as the band has alotted itself in regards to run-time.



The Incident comes out on September 15, 2009 on Roadrunner Records. Pre-order it on Amazon .

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