Only the most optimistic of Porcupine Tree fans could have expected the arrival of a new album so long after the band had gone in to hibernation twelve years ago in 2010, following the tour for The Incident. The group seemed defunct following repeated statements from Steven Wilson that he had no intention of returning to Porcupine Tree. It had seemed to have run its course. Steven was pursuing an increasingly successful solo career. Richard Barbieri was releasing solo albums in the interim too, while Gavin Harrison was busy with both King Crimson and The Pineapple Thief. But unknown to just about everybody else, the trio that currently make up Porcupine Tree continued to interact. Gradually, musical ideas were developed from jams and accumulated into songs over time. Some of these songs took a decade to be completed. But the enigmatic band remained taciturn until a few months ago when a track, Harridan, was released along with the announcement of the new album. Anticipation rose. Would the new material be up to the high standards that Porcupine Tree had set for themselves?
The answer is resoundingly positive. Closure / Continuation is as good as, or even better than anything the band has released before. You could argue that other individual songs are better, but in the context of an album few gel as well as this new collection. It is a fertile amalgam of traditional Porcupine Tree, styles and approaches that the band members have accumulated over the intervening years, and a touch of something new. Everyone who sees themselves as a Porcupine Tree fan will undoubtedly have a preferred album, but this one is easily amongst the best.
Harridan gets things going, with a great opening bass line and cracking drums from Gavin. It is a well- paced track with contrasting lighter and heavier sections. Harridan is a powerful song, almost traditional Porcupine Tree. Of the New Day is a more melodic piece that shifts its gears with tempo changes, with heartfelt vocals. Rats Return again slips into an almost familiar Porcupine Tree vibe, though with the twist of political awareness with a naming and shaming of tyrants, from Genghis Khan to Mao, Kim Il-Sung to Pinochet. Dignity deals with the bullying of someone for being different, starting early in the school playground, the sombreness of the music reflecting the engendered loneliness. It features some great sound sculpting from Richard, and is a richly evocative piece. Herd Culling is a heavy track, powerful but not metallic. There’s great interplay of guitar, drums and electronica here as the musicians play around with a bluesy riff. Walking The Plank reeks of misery with the chill touch of alienation never far away. The track is doused with keyboards and electronica. The final track on the standard release is Chimera’s Wreck, featuring tight playing from the musicians whilst moving through varied tempos and atmospheres. At around the nine-and-a-half-minute mark it is the nearest to an epic on the album, and includes some playful vocal progressions from Steve that aren’t that usual for Porcupine Tree. It is an excellent end to the standard main album, although other formats include two or three bonus tracks.
The artwork for the album seems somewhat simplified compared to what has happened before with Porcupine Tree. The CD itself does not include a booklet but rather it is an unfolding pamphlet styled one that appears to be a little flimsy.
So, is this the end of Porcupine Tree? You should not suppose that anyone knows, least of all the band members themselves. The band’s following has grown exponentially since The Incident was released in 2009, an album that was good but a little messy. Closure / Continuation (itself a playful summation of the band’s current situation) would be a much more fitting album to close on, if indeed the band decides it is time to do so. There is so much to enjoy on this album for now though. The song writing is strong throughout, you would guess benefitting from being allowed time to develop ideas without any interference from outside the band. The three musicians all perform excellently. Richard has one of his better outings on keyboards, creating interestingly apposite sound sculptures. He will never challenge, say, Rick Wakeman in a mini Moog race but his creation of atmospheres and colours is superb. A brilliant feature throughout the album is Gavin’s peerless drumming, which is a real ear-catcher. Without sounding rushed or cluttered, he produces varied artful performances ranging from the subtle brushed snare work on Chimera’s Wreck to the more powerful drive on Harridan, and much more in between on other tracks. His is a masterful display. Steven coaxes both the familiar and the unfamiliar from himself. There’s the sterling work on guitar, from the bitingly energetic heavy metal stylings, to the acoustic gentleness as at the beginning of Chimera’s Wreck. On this release he has taken on the role of bassist too, putting in excellent displays that vary from the tentative to the brilliantly funky Harridan. His vocals show a maturity and confidence now too, enhanced as they are with a more choral effect when required, which work very well in these settings. His voice is plaintive and melancholic, impassioned and yet analeptic. The song structures, arrangements and production allow these facets of individual musicians to compliment and support one another. It is the songs themselves that win out in this case. There is no extraneous soloing as such, any instrumental breaks being keyed to the songs. It remains a melodic album, one that retains an accessibility that has always been a part of what Porcupine Tree do. There has always been a poppish element in the band’s make-up, and that remains the case here. This release is a triumph of modern progressive rock. The band itself concludes: “Time will tell, but right now we feel it probably is in the top three best records that we’ve ever made, alongside In Absentia and Fear of a Blank Planet. It’s pure Porcupine Tree but at the same time it sounds fresh, there’s a lot of space there. We hope you enjoy it.”
2. Of The New Day
3. Rats Return
5. Herd Culling
6. Walk The Plank
7. Chimera’s Wreck
8. Population Three (Bonus)
9. Never Have (Bonus)
10. Love in the Past Tense (Bonus)
Steven Wilson – Vocals, guitars, bass, mixing
Gavin Harrison – Drums, percussion
Richard Barbieri – Keyboards, synthesizers, sound processing
Release date: 24th June, 2022
Label: Music for Nations
Formats: CD, vinyl, cassette, digital, special editions available