Fear of a Blank Planet
Hour of chaos, yes. Black steel? Not so much
Fifteen years after the joke wasn’t funny, white bands are still riffing on the title of an old Public Enemy album—and not nearly their best one, either. The joke is especially thin coming from progressive-rock vets Porcupine Tree, whose record collection leans heavily on Rush and Yes, and outside of an Anthrax greatest-hits record, likely features nothing with Chuck D. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Epic rock tracks with intricate fretwork, symphonic flourishes and dreamy vocals about man’s disconnect—hey, it’s a lifestyle, too. It takes a nation of 2112 fans to hold ’em back...
I mention Rush twice only because drummer Gavin Harrison’s Peart-worthy thump keeps even the most indulgent tracks here (“Anesthetize,” all of 17 minutes) from floating off into the air—also, because Rush’s Alex Lifeson contributes a throwback, ’80s-ish guitar solo to the song. Fortunately, it’s the only tune on Planet that overstays its welcome—around minute nine, it’s hard to care that lead singer Steven Wilson is “lost in the mall” (perhaps the same mall Geddy Lee spoke of in “Subdivisions”? No, no, that would be too much to handle). “My Ashes” and “Sentimental” prove that piano ballads can be dramatic without delving into sap or goth, and the moody “Way Out of Here” deftly combines the jagged edges of Tool with the lushness of later Cure albums. By the sweeping, electronically-tinged finale “Sleep Together,” the band has recast its metal-tinged output into something more akin to Massive Attack.
So Porcupine Tree prove they can play with the best of ’em, even if their message and sound seemed rooted in the past. But there are always those nights when you just want to warm up the lava lamp, pass around a spliff and rock out under a set of Bose headphones. And, if you’ve listened to Tales From Topographic Oceans one time too many, it may be time for an update. Groovy! —Kirk Miller