While you’ll often find them lumped into the ‘metal’ category in HMV, the group’s music has always incorporated elements of psychedelia and even ambient music, often giving over-excitable fans the opportunity to call them ‘the Pink Floyd of the 1990s’.
And if this sends your prog-rock gag reflex into overdrive, then there’s some more bad news – members of both Rush and King Crimson guest on this, an elaborate concept album about a bleak future of children ruled by computers and MTV. It sounds like any sane music fan’s worst nightmare, but incredibly the band pull it off with some aplomb.
Apart from the Public Enemy-pilfering title, this is one of the most original and imaginative albums released this year. Porcupine Tree have never been known for their levity, and have in the past been accused of the kind of portentous posturing that makes progressive rock so unpalatable to vast swathes of the record buying public (the title track of their album The Sky Moves Sideways is 35 minutes long, and they’ve put out songs with titles like Collapse the Light into Earth).
None of that is evident here, and while you won’t find many people playing this at family barbeques, this is a taut, epic and well-rounded piece, dripping in atmosphere.
It is also a startlingly accessible album, as long as you don’t mind 17-minute tracks, rapid-fire tonal changes and lyrics about “Xbox is a god to me, my mother is a bitch”. Lead singer Steve Wilson seems to take on the personality of a teenager “sullen and bored…shuffling through the stores like zombies” in the near future, longing for escape (quite possibly from the frankly terrifying kids who populate the album’s inlay card).
Sonically, Fear Of A Blank Planet is a treat, spanning just 6 tracks and just under an hour of bombastic strings, thrashy guitars, bonkers synths and the odd calm moment of picked guitar before the wave of noise comes crashing back down again. The tracks of the record seem to orbit around Anesthetize, the near-on 20 minute centrepiece which is also the album’s best track, incorporating everything that’s best about Porcupine Tree – huge choruses, at least 3 different songs battling for air and some remarkable musicianship bouncing about like an overexcitable puppy.
Alongside the disgusted lyrics about the neglected yoof of tomorrow, this is about as subtle as a brick through a television screen, but it is refreshingly chaotic, cathartic and more than a little silly (whether intentionally or not, the unrelenting desolation on display here can’t be taken completely seriously). While this still won’t please the Marillion-haters out there, Porcupine Tree can be pleased to have produced their best work to date, an exciting and challenging beast of a record that should finally see them taken out of the ‘Metal’ rack, and hopefully put into one created just for them.