(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
Porcupine Tree is back with a major label debut that finds them exploring their accessible side even further while simultaneously becoming more adventurous with it. There will probably be many hard-core fans that will claim the band is "selling out" for whatever reason, but I believe in absentia is a bold and important statement from them and deserves a close listen...perhaps several.
It didn't take too long before I could tell they are taking full advantage of a big label budget for this one. I haven't heard a PT album that sounded this full and lush before. New drummer Gavin Harrison is an excellent addition to the band. I must admit that I'm going to miss Chris Maitland's heavy contributions but Gavin has an intricate style that's quite impressive. Colin Edwin's bass playing is as steady and inventive as ever. He's always provided a consistent foundation to the character of the music. Richard Barbieri has a very subtle but extremely important presence. After the first listen, I thought he was being underutilized but on further examination he's just all over the place. He doesn't do any flashy playing or soloing and his main focus seems to be more on the atmospheric level but I don't think the music would be the same without him.
What stands out the most for me is Steve Wilson's playing. He's always been an amazing musician and this album is no exception. There are tons of layered guitars and the acoustic guitar parts (which are abundant) are simply beautiful. And speaking of layered elements, there are quite a few instances on the album with multi-tracked vocal harmonies, something that hasn't been explored as much on previous PT efforts. Steve's lyrics are deeper than ever, exploring topics like isolation, domestic abuse and the impending collapse of the music industry.
Some of the standout tracks for me include "Lips of Ashes" which features an eerie cavernous sound effect that sends chills down my spine, "Wedding Nails" an intensely heavy instrumental, "The Creator Has A Mastertape" a very wild, spirited tune with distorted vocals and an awesome sequencer part and "Collapse The Light Into Earth" a very depressing song to end the CD containing a heart-stopping string section. I'm only mentioning a couple songs that I'm getting into now but next week it could easily be a different bunch that I'll be concentrating on. Everything here is top notch.
This isn't the sort of album that can be fully appreciated with one or two listens. On deeper exploration, the true beauty of this disc will open up to the listener. PT have been on the virge of worldwide recognition for quite some time now and I think an album as good as this on a major label will get them some of the attention that they deserve.