Porcupine Tree exists within a musical spectrum so vast, it makes most other music feel claustrophobic by comparison. Steven Wilson's neo-prog juggernaut rolls on into the ether and beyond with a new release, Deadwing, that should serve only to conscript more and more musically adventurous lads into their campaign against musical vanilla. Billed as the soundtrack to a screenplay by Wilson and Mike Bennion, Deadwing remains true to some of PT's more tongue-in-cheek roots, but wanders off into some seriously interesting tunes. Wilson has turned an about face of sorts from the more commercial experiments of recent albums like "In Absentia", while still keeping the heaviness that has steadily increased in the band's sound. The landscape is often laid bare with leveling guitar riffs and then built back up into mountains and clouds with gentle piano and dulcimer passages. Break out the headphones for this one, brave traveler because we're headed for the land of experimentation, creativity, and pretty much general weirdness.
Porcupine Tree may be lumped in with neo-prog, but this is no ELP tribute band and you won't hear any Yes covers. There is a constant push, an urgency, in the music Steven Wilson creates to find some place new. The ten minute epic, "Deadwing" kicks off the trip, and doesn't disappoint. Far from the sloppy noodling of songs of this length by so-called jam bands, every note is perfectly placed to compliment those before and after. Adrian Belew lends some stellar guitar to the song as well, and if there were still a place on radio for anything but five minute bursts of fluff, this could be a hit single of sorts. The sound is lively throughout, never getting bogged down by too many electronic effects and instruments. Flourishes of electronica and acoustic instruments are there to add to the overall sound, not to define it. Wilson almost plays at a game of slight of hand here, just when the guitars seem to dominate, some intricate drumming or a piano diversion will creep out of the sound and draw the listener away. Lets not fool ourselves, computers are used, by the bands own admission in the liner notes, extensively. This music isn't meant to sound live in the studio, though, it's delicately crafted and painstakingly written and anything outside of the basic instruments only adds to the experience.
Steven Wilson has the gift of being able to wed intimate sounding music and crashing metallic noise in perfect harmony. "Lazarus" stands in stark contrast to a song like, "Shallow", but they work together perfectly. He makes whole albums sound like "Stairway to Heaven" in the sense that they take wild turns and employ scads of different elements but never sound haphazard or out of sync. Anyone able to blend staccato guitar and blast-beat like drums from track to track must be doing something right. The ultimate success of Deadwing is that it is, from start to finish, completely listenable and engaging. I found myself wanting to stick around for just one more song, at the end of each song, just to find out what was coming next. I've got to imagine the crowds at their shows feature everything from headbangers to hippy waifs doing some kind of butterfly dance. Takes all kinds, I suppose, a fact which Wilson and company seem to understand completely.
At almost seventy minutes, Deadwing takes the listener where it will, and not in a hurry. The concise structures of the songs on "In Absentia" had given way again to the more sprawling, prog-like, compositions of earlier efforts. Some listeners may have trouble with longer tunes like, "Arriving Somewhere but not Here", but the effort is fully rewarded. The lyrics are not just intelligent (for a change) they're even interesting by and large, which I never expect heading into a rock album. "Glass Arm Shattering" also ranks among the band's best songs. Under the layers of instrumentation and intricate song writing is buried a very catchy pop album. It takes some digging to get to it, but if you don't own that shovel, you're probably not buying a Porcupine Tree album. This music requires an open mind and a little patience for the newly initiated, if only to pay off the big question, what exactly is prog-rock progressing towards? In the case of Porcupine Tree, they're progressing to better and better albums, and maybe that elusive greater consciousness.