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Fear of a Blank Planet

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Album Review

Porcupine Tree makes a triumphant return to experimental, non-linear style with 2007's Fear of a Blank Planet. Maybe Steve Wilson was afraid that the comparatively poppy Deadwing and In Absentia were edging too close to the mainstream, because he seems far less concerned with overtly accessible songwriting on Blank Planet. Even still, the cerebral, atmospheric sound on this album remains enormously compelling from almost the first moment. While there is no "radio single" on the disc — certainly nothing with a conventional pop arc like Lightbulb Sun or "Trains" — most songs transcend their complex structure and feel as provocative as any traditional rock tune. The aptly named "Sentimental," in particular, features Wilson's trademark lush arrangement with layers of vocals, piano, ambient synths, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, live drums and sampled drums — but cutting through its tightly contained mosaic is an expertly constructed chord progression that evokes a desperate sense of tension and longing, developing incredible emotional momentum as the track progresses.

Blank Planet sounds like Wilson spent about half of his studio time on the guitar; it's full of buzzy, meticulously distorted solos that you can easily picture him folding into the prototypical Porcupine Tree amalgamation of drum machine, organ, and synthesizers during many long hours in front of the sound board. The quiet, English restraint with which Wilson croons seems to have saved his voice from the decay that so many male singers experience over a twenty year career, and lucky for us (and for him), the style still works perfectly with Porcupine Tree's sound. As a vocalist, he has an amazing capacity for juxtaposing cold, haunting moments against evisceratingly passionate ones, mostly thanks to the control he exerts over his instrument. Wilson's clear, boy's choir timbre sounds like a torrent of frenzy and hunger when he breaks free of it and explores the limits of his vox on tracks like "Sleep Together." His sleepy, melodic approach also has the benefit of ensuring that his poetic lyrics, which run the gamut from acerbic social criticisms to wrenching personal narratives, are always perfectly discernible. Though it's only six tracks long, each of the songs on Blank Planet is exquisitely crafted, even the 17-minute long "Anesthetize." Wilson has a great sense of flow, leading mournful, ambient ballads into graceful crescendos, and over long interludes that sway blissfully throughout rises and falls, only occasionally losing themselves to moments of plodding or meandering. At roughly 51 minutes, Fear of a Blank Planet is short by Porcupine Tree standards, but by measure of quality rather than quantity, it's one of the most substantial prog albums to come out in years.

Customer Reviews

Prog is not dead!

These guys are in the same league as Tool, Rush, Pink Floyd, Yes, ELP, etc. By the way, Alex Lifeson of Rush has a guitar solo in a song on this album. :)

While "Fear of a Black Planet" is not a full-fledged concept album, the songs all follow a common theme of overmedicated, isolated youth, and the songs flow nicely into one another. It has a very dark feel to it.

Among their best

This album is just as good as Deadwing or In Absentia in my book. If you like either of these others, getting this album should be a no-brainer. My favorite tracks are 1,2 and 6.

One of the best prog albums ever.

As a lifelong fan of Rush, I was turned on to Porcupine Tree a few years ago, almost by accident when I saw someone dicussing their music on a Rush forum. Always eager to hear new music I sought them out on iTunes and soon discovered the magic of songs like Lazarus, Shallow and Trains. I downloaded more and more of their music, becoming immersed in their complexities and lyrics, which, in my opinion can make or break any song or album. When I grabbed Fear of a Blank Planet I was intrigued because the small number of songs reminded me of early Rush material like AFTK, 2112 and Hemispheres. The musicianship and song writing contained within this album can take you on a wonderful journey if you let it and Anesthisize is hands down one of the most polarizing prog songs I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. So get it, throw on your headphones and be mesmerized!

Biography

Formed: 1987 in London, England

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Though he initially came to wider attention (at least in the U.K.) with No-Man, his long-running collaboration with Tim Bowness throughout the '90s, singer/guitarist Steven Wilson gained as much of a reputation for Porcupine Tree. Embracing and exploring prog rock inspirations while always keeping an ear out for newer musical connections, thus sidestepping the pointless revivalism of many of the band's...
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Fear of a Blank Planet, Porcupine Tree
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